The Drought Short Film Review (with writer/director interview)

People who’ve suffered the loss of a beloved life partner have to convince themselves to move on. But how does one do it? The Drought tells the story of a senior Brooklyn native whose umbrella-selling livelihood takes a serious hit when the city suffers a drought. It is beautifully shot, gorgeously moody, and has a perfectly understated and moving musical score.

One of the things I noticed about the movie was its thriftiness when it comes to dialogue; there is very little of it. Instead, location, action, and inserts are what move the story forward with great results. This tightness of story and clarity of vision are something I’ve come to associate with projects where the writer and director are perfectly in sync. Or, as the case is here, they are one and the same person.

Writer/Director Kevin Slack gave me the scoop on the secrets behind his impeccable film…

Q1. Thank you for agreeing to do this. To start,  I noticed on your website that you’d written all the scripts for your short films. Is this because you find a lack in quality scripts or simply because you have your own stories to tell?

A bit of both really.  I’ve put ads out looking for scripts but unfortunately I never found anything that I could relate to.  Making films is incredibly time consuming and exhausting so you have to feel a very strong connection to the script to make it worth it. So until I come across a script that I truly love, I will continue to write my own films. It’s fun when the ideas flow out easily and naturally but it can be incredibly frustrating when you have writer’s block.  I admire people who write for a living, because I think it’s such a tough and underrated skill.

Q2. Which do you enjoy more? Screenwriting or filmmaking, and why?

Definitely filmmaking. There is nothing like being on set, in the moment, with all the moving parts working together.  Although there are 16 hour days and constant troubleshooting, it’s exhilarating and I always feel a buzz at the end of each day. Then it’s an absolute blast in the editing room. It becomes a puzzle trying to figure out what makes the scene work best.  Sometimes you see things you never thought of while writing the script or on set.  Just adding a few frames after a reaction can change the entire meaning of a scene and discovering those moments is so much fun. I get a huge kick out of collaborating with people and throwing ideas around.  Writing is a lonely process so I much prefer the actual making of the film.

Q3. Of all your films, which is your favorite?

 The Drought is by far my favorite.  It was the first time I felt really confident and prepared while shooting.  The images I had in my head while writing the script ended up on screen almost exactly the same way and that’s a rare thing to happen.  It also seems to be getting the most positive feedback from people and it’s always exciting when someone likes the work you do. Also, another test is how much I hate the film a year or so after I make it.  I usually can’t watch my older films because I can only see the flaws. But every now and then I find myself rewatching The Drought.  I think Ed Lyndeck, the lead actor, did such a subtle and beautiful job so I haven’t gotten sick of the film yet.

Q4. That makes sense. I enjoyed all the performances, including supporting actor Ivan Goris and actress Kathleen Hope Reilly. But the lead Lyndeck’s portrayal was certainly remarkable; very honest.

He has done a ton of stuff. He is most well known for these comedic character roles in Adam Sandler’s Big Daddy and Road Trip. I believe he was also in the original stage production of Sweeney Todd as the judge.

Q5. He is very talented. Now, how did you get the idea behind The Drought?

Well I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of what happens to someone when their longtime spouse dies.  A year before I wrote the script, my Grandfather died and so my Grandma found herself alone at home for the first time since she was a teenager.  It was a topic I thought about exploring in a film before but wasn’t sure exactly how I’d do it.  Then one night I was watching the local news and there was a huge rainstorm hitting Manhattan.  They interviewed an umbrella salesman on the street who said he was probably the only person excited to see so much rain.  He said the umbrellas put food on his family’s table.  I thought that would be so interesting to explore that guy’s situation.  So that night I wrote the first draft. I had my girlfriend read it, a test that is always important to take, and she loved it. So I decided to move forward with it. It all happened very organically and I think that always results in the best finished product.

Q6. So where did you get the funding for it?

I’ve mainly funded my films through crowd sourcing… and begging! The Drought was funded by using and it was an incredibly successful campaign. I don’t think I’d do it again though, because I feel like I’ve used up all my favors from family and friends.

Q7. I think after seeing the end product they’d be happy to do it again. What about the cast and crew? How did you find the right people?

I still work with some people I went to film school with.  Also the more projects you do, the more contacts you make.  A lot of the time a crew member will recommend I work with someone they know, and then I build a relationship with that new person.  This industry is very much about networking and who you know.  The more people you connect and network with, the better chance you have of getting more jobs and finding talented people to team up with. I’ve also used some job finding sites online like I met my DP on The Drought, John Paul Clark, through it.  We also just shot a music video for Cursive together and possibly have a few more jobs coming up.  When you meet someone in a blind date sort of situation like we did, you never know how it will turn out but it has been great.  I think we push each other in a really good way and we work really well together so it’s been fun. I’ve also taken advantage of Twitter.  I met my composer, Rob Gokee and one of the producers Allison Vanore on Twitter.  I’ve met a few other people that I worked with on there as well, so it’s a really great networking tool.

I caught up with producer Allison on twitter. This is what she had to say about producing the film and what the hardest part of the job was:

Kevin approached me and after reading such a beautiful script and knowing it would be shot in NYC I wanted to be a part of it. I produced from LA and there was a NY Producer as well, Nicole Scarano.  Producing remotely worked fine for me and Nicole did a great job in NY with execution. I did line producer stuff – budget, contracts, SAG. It was hard not being in the NY area to help with other aspects of pre-production. I wish I could have been there but the budget went to making a beautiful film – which is the most important thing. As to the hardest role for a producer, it’s making every dollar stretch and count. Putting every penny in the most important places. -Allison Vanore

Q8. Now Kevin, you mentioned the music was composed by Rob Gokee. Was the score made specific to your instructions, a result of a collaborative effort, or solely his responsibility?

I worked with Rob previously on a comedic short film called The Support Group.  He is a very easy person to work with and I liked the relationship we had built so I asked him to do the score again for this film.  We had more time to tinker with it this time around so there was more back and forth between us.  I wanted the score to feel organic and more of a tone in the background than an “in your face” dramatic piece.  I remember giving him a song from the band Murder By Death that I loved the opening to and we also referenced the score that Trent Reznor did for The Social Network. We live on opposite coasts so he would email me a few examples and over the phone we would talk about it.  It was a very easy and enjoyable process all around. I absolutely love the music he did and it is always one of the biggest compliments I get about the film.

Q9. And how long did it take to film?

We shot for 4 days in Brooklyn and Jersey City, NJ.  We had a few months of pre-production and then probably a month or two of post production. To be honest, at this point it has all blurred together and I have a hard time thinking about the time frame of it all, so I could be way off.

Q1o. Which festivals will be screening The Drought and how did you choose which ones to submit to?

It’s been accepted into the Capital City Film Festival, Montclair Film Festival and Rose City Short Film Festival.  They are all happening within the next few months.  We still have 15 or so more fests to hear back from though so it’s a very long journey.  One of my producers, Nicole Scarano, knows that world much better than I do so she really took the wheel for that and sort of made up our game plan.  The festival circuit is a tricky thing to conquer, so it’s hard to figure out exactly where you should submit and which place will actually be worth your time and money.  Submitting to festivals is an incredibly expensive thing, so I would recommend to any filmmakers starting out that they should absolutely budget for it beforehand!

Q11. I’ll be sure to let you know of any good ones I come across. Now this next question is a bit awkward, but is something I ask all independent filmmakers: do you direct full time or do you need to supplement your income?

Unfortunately directing does not fully pay the bills, yet.  Most of my income comes from freelance editing, mainly for VH1. I am also signed as a director with Anthem Films for music videos and commercials.

 Q12. Finally, did you always know that you wanted a career in filmmaking? What prompted this choice? 

I realized I loved filmmaking in high school when I had to shoot a scene from the film Scarface.  Naturally it was horrible, but I had such a fun time shooting it with my friends.  Although at that time I didn’t think about filmmaking as a career, it was just something fun to do.  I then went off to college for graphic design in Vermont, but quickly found I didn’t feel a connection to it at all.  I had a few video classes and fell in love again with making films so I made the decision to leave that school and transfer to the School of Visual Arts in New York City to study film. I don’t know if there was one moment that I realized I wanted to do this as a career, it was just always something I felt confident doing. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else now and when I’m not on set or editing, I’m going crazy in my head and can’t wait to be working on the next project!

Kevin Slack

Reviewbrain: I’d like to thank Kevin for his time. If you’d like to learn more about it’s filmmaking process, a Behind the Scenes feature by Dylan Steinberg is available here.

A wondrous marriage of subtlety and honest to God emotions, The Drought is an example of the short film at it’s finest. You can watch the film here.

*Images courtesy of Kevin Slack. All other material in this blog is the intellectual property of reviewbrain (unless otherwise stated). Readers are free to make use of the information provided they cite the source (this blog) either by name (reviewbrain’s blog) or by linking to it. Please extend the same courtesy to the authors of the comments as well (by mentioning their names) to ensure that credit is given where credit is due.

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Muslim writer, compulsive critic, editor, artist, student of life, pacifist, parent. View all posts by reviewbrain

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