Nitehawk Shorts Festival: ‘Brute,’ a Twisted Take on Playing in the Dark
Two disenfranchised teens rob houses for quick cash. Their night takes an unexpected twist when they find a young girl chained up in a basement.
The year was 2011. Jennifer Lawrence received her first Oscar nomination, Kim Kardashian began and ended her second marriage, and Harry Potter said goodbye with his eighth and final movie. This year also marked the opening of Williamsburg’s Nitehawk Cinemas and overturn of New York’s liquor law prohibiting the serving of alcohol in movie theaters. Now in 2014, Nitehawk provides a haven for independent film in Brooklyn and it was an honor to screen a film at this year’s Nitehawk Shorts Festival.
I’m the co-writer and producer of the short film, Brute, written and directed by Bonnie Black, shot by Samuel Moskowitz, and starring Danicah Waldo, Montgomery Sutton, David Logan Rankin, and Amina Alzouma. Brute screened on November 21 in the festival’s “Midnite” category, a section reserved for movies more appropriately viewed after dark and included David Cronenberg’s The Nest among many other compelling films.
Brute is the story of Mac and Jesse, two disenfranchised teens who turn to robbing houses as a form of recreation and quick cash. Their night takes an unexpected twist when they break into a home and discover a young girl is being held captive inside. With this, they are faced with a decision to continue a life of selfish behavior and moral ambiguity, or to rise to the heroic opportunity placed before them.
Bonnie and I completed Brute as part of our Senior Thesis for Drexel University’s School of Media Arts and Design in 2013. Bonnie came up with the idea and wrote our first draft. From there we worked together on developing the relationships and character motives. With Mac and Jesse we wanted to establish a friendship that was mostly a product of their common situation and enclosed world. In a strange sort of parallel, our actors’ friendship began in this same way.
We rented a house in New Castle, Delaware, that doubled as our filming location and lodging for the actors. Danicah (“Mac”) and Montgomery (“Jesse”) quickly went from strangers to roommates, and by the time we started shooting they developed a genuine friendship that came to life on screen in a way we didn’t expect.
We spent a lot of time creating a backstory for our “Man” played by David Logan Rankin. I’d write these pretty disturbing short stories about what was going on in his head at work while he had the young girl chained up in his basement. The home was a direct representation of his character, so in place of dialogue, we used props and set design to convey his story. David delivers his one line with such crippling eeriness that then tied it all together. Amina Alzouma (“Young Girl”) surprised us all with her disturbingly beautiful displays of vulnerability and intensity. With no lines, she could steal a scene.
Our young and talented crew was compiled of friends and fellow classmates. First to get on board was our Director of Photography, Samuel Moskowitz. Brute was shot almost entirely handheld, which Sam masterfully executed on our school’s brand new Red Epic camera. I remember when we first tested our squib, fake blood came squirting towards the crew and camera. He reacted so instinctively you’d have thought he was taking an actual bullet for the camera. The caliber at which Sam and the entire crew preformed dubbed them professionals not students.
That is not to say we didn’t have our moments. We eventually perfected the squib for the shot, but later found out that the homeowners returned to fake blood still dripping from the ceiling.
My sisters Sarah and Katie inspired the female dynamics in the film. It was important to have a strong and competent leading female character because that is something there should be more of just as there should be more female directors, CEOs, presidents, and superheroes.
I remember a female teacher in elementary school telling me that I couldn't play in the puddles at recess because it was not “lady-like.” I remember a boy in high school telling me that I shouldn’t talk so much and should focus more on being pretty. I remember a man at the bar last weekend calling me a “bitch” because I said “no thank you” when he asked to buy me a drink. It is memories like these that inspire me to write female characters that challenge this wrongful notion that women’s capabilities and roles are somehow limited. It is also memories like these that make it easier to write scenes of inflicting pain upon male perpetrators.
Screening in the “Midnite” festival took me back to the long nights Bonnie and I spent building this story and learning it’s fun to play in the dark. It may not always be our best film, but it will always be our first.