Arlington, Texas Director Frank Mosley’s Short Film “Little Boy” Is Haunting Meditation on The Birth of The Bomb.
Film Title: Little Boy
Director: Frank Mosley
ShortFilmTexas (SFT): What is your short film “Little Boy” about?
Frank Mosley (FM): It mainly concerns an everyman named Michael Morse who works for the Manhattan project. He gets a call from the hospital that his first son has just been born. A moment later, he gets another call from his superior who tells him that the bomb has just been completed and that they’re going to test it soon. The film essentially gets into the mind of this man as both these calls overwhelm him with juxtaposed images of both life and death, from both staged actions and old archival footage I’d come across online….a fusing of past, present, and future all from this one nightmarish moment. The color images follow the boy’s birth and growing up, paralleling it with the black and white images of the bomb’s creation and it’s (never-ending?) lineage of evolving destruction.
SFT: What was your inspiration for making the film?
FM: When I was much younger, I’d written a poem entitled THE SAD BALLAD OF MICHAEL MORSE. Â It had all started because of my horrific fascination with seeing the old “duck and cover” films on some PBS documentary. An interest in the atomic bomb started, a kind of early, pre-pubescent acknowledgment of one’s own mortality. I used to write poetry all the time, and upon discovering how wonderfully that the two words womb and tomb rhymed, and the kind of weird mix of emotions they stirred up in me, I decided to write a poem about it, showing the correlations between birth and death.
SFT: Pretty insightful for someone so young. How long was the poem?
FM: The original work was only three or four mini stanzas, but that idea stayed with me for years. I was always haunted by this character I’d imagined…coming from a Catholic upbringing laced with emphasis on responsibility and choices. Seeing DR STRANGELOVE had blown my mind so much that I put together a play version we performed in high school. When I got to film school at UTA, I wanted my last project there to be big. And after digging around for old ideas, it was perfect timing to come across that old poem and turn it into a script…a small script with an epic emotional story.
SFT: From poem to play. Tell me a little about the journey from poem to film.
FM: The script had gestated for so long that I’d already known how I’d wanted it to be shot, in terms of certain compositions and certain juxtaposed cuts. I have a massive love for theater and for something as timeless as the atomic bomb, I thought putting it on a stage and literally “highlighting” with spotlights these specific moments in time could provide an interestingly objective approach aesthetically into a very subjective story, content-wise.
SFT: The use of the stage is perfect. It feels almost like a your character is caught in a trap.
FM: Exactly. With a stage, we were able to use the stark contrasts of light to provide a very moody, noirish quality that goes with the period nature of the story. By going the minimalist route and not having a whole lot of sets, were able to focus on specific actions of the characters and also have plenty of room to move about for several setups per scene. The prep time took three to four months. Shooting took three days, with one night of pick-ups. Â Post took a year, actually.
SFT: The film also has a very Twilight Zone feel to it. Was this intentional?
FM: By TWILIGHT ZONE, I’m not sure exactly what you mean. If you mean the staged nature of it and being somewhat eerie, then that’s good.
SFT: I mean the setting, the theme, and the way the film unfolds. It really challenges you to think and haunts you from the get-go.
FM: Thank you. I grew up on on a lot of classic television shows. Rod Serling was a big influence on my writing…that sort of ironic, intellectual sensibility. And in a way, LITTLE BOY is really just a visual poem or short story. A brief investigation into a single moment. Alain Resnais’ HIROSHIMA MON AMOUR was a big influence as well. So were the stark rooms of Lumet’s FAIL SAFE and the sets of Samuel Beckett plays, like KRAPP’S LAST TAPE.
SFT: What was the most difficult aspect of making the film?
FM: By far, post was the most difficult. What had been in my head as a kid didn’t always work at present, and newer ideas sometimes weren’t ever as good as the original ones in the script. But the non-linear structure gave us a lot of room to play. Editing was tough, though, because we had so much great footage. I went through hours and hours and hours of old Prelinger footage of royalty-free clips that I could use to juxtapose the images I’d already shot, to make smooth cuts. It was also a tough decision to make, but we trimmed the opening sequence with just the Morse footage to get to the fantasy images more quickly. Lots of unnecessary dialogue, but some great performance stuff. Then sound design started.
Originally, there was going to be a sweeping score to accompany the images, but after talking with some other filmmaker friends like David Lowery, we decided to nix the music and have an ambient score based in sound effects. Frederick Trevino, my sound designer/co-producer and I had talked about Revolution Number Nine from The White Album as an influence. To be this sort of cacophonous overlap of sounds…but all sounds that were based in reality….that pertained to Morse’s life, both domestic and work-related.
SFT: That sounds like an incredible amount of time and work.
FM: Oh it was. Then to organically fuse them together along with the images took quite a while. The film is so reliant on the sound and images working together to make a nightmare that we went balls to the wall….and this experimenting took some time.
SFT: Tell me about your cast and crew.
FM: We were very, very fortunate to get some amazing people for both cast and crew. Because of our painstaking, relentless search for the perfect, Clark-Kent dressed Morse, we were able to get Reece Rios, who came in on a recommendation from our buddy Jonny Cruz.
SFT: Yes, I had to laugh to myself when I realized that was Reece Rios. If you haven’t seen Jeff Hoferer’s “Dallywood” web series you should check it out. It practically revolves around Reece booking every good role.
FM: That’s hilarious! Yeah, Reece just came in and knocked it out of the park. I truly think that some actors just come in and understand the character so well that every nuance works to reveal a new layer of the character’s personality. Reece did that well because the role is virtually silent. Morse is essentially a reactionary role that has to carry the whole film with a face. And Reece was born to play the role. With Kelly Grandjean, we were extremely lucky. I’d called her in based on her classically beautiful look and some great clips I’d seen online of her work. She came in and auditioned with the birthing sequence. And my God…any actress who goes into an audition room dressed up, then goes into tears and convulsions for a birthing without stopping until I TOLD HER TO, immediately goes on the list. She was perfect.
As for the rest of the cast, I cast old friends from the UTA theater department to comprise the nurses, and put my godfather, John Rainone in the role of the doctor. He’s a good luck charm and an actor who can do anything. I try and put him in everything I can, and this was a very strong supporting character, so I knew whoever it was, had to be someone I could trust.
SFT: Who played the military man on the phone, General Groves? You never see him but he still makes a BIG impact.
FM: That was Bill Flynn and he was actually the first one cast. He was a big Dallas actor (SAG) who came in to read for the voice over role of the General just strictly based on how much he liked the script. Which was a huge compliment. He took what could be a nothing voice over role and brought a soul to the words.
Thomas Lumpkin and Frederick Trevino were UTA film buddies and we worked on all our stuff together. Frederick dips his hand into just about everything. He had supported the script from the very beginning and for his first time doing sound design, really got meticulous with it and took some concepts from my end and elaborated on them in ways that totally surprised and delighted me. Tom’s got a real eye for lighting and shots, and I had a blast collaborating with him on the cinematography. He had some amazing moves. I felt very blessed to have all these people involved.
SFT: What did you shoot on? Edit on?
FM: We edited on Frederick’s G4 using Final Cut Pro. It was a first time for me really getting used to Final Cut, having come from a background of PCs and Adobe Premiere, but i enjoyed the ease and simplicity of the computer and programs so much, that I eventually got a Mac and now wouldn’t want to use anything else. We shot on GR1 miniDV, mostly handheld, with just a few tripod and dolly moves.
SFT: You’ve mentioned a few but what other artist’s inspire your work?
FM: I have tons. They all work in different ways. Cassavetes, Bergman, Hitchcock, Romero, and Kieslowski just to name a few. I’m also very inspired by literature…Dostoevsky and Faulkner and lots of plays….Albee, Mamet, Beckett, and so forth.
ShortFilmTexas: And lastly, what are your working on now?
Frank Mosley: I just finished my first feature film HOLD, due out this fall. And I’m currently editing my latest short film, HOT/COLD, yet another investigation into responsibility and the “roles” one plays in life, but in a much more romantic way. HOT/COLD deals with the three lives of three women (each of a different age) and how they all mirror one another’s failures and victories so much that they could essentially be the same woman. I’m really excited about the footage (was shot on the RED) and am planning on submitting it to both film festivals and galleries by next spring. If you liked LITTLE BOY, I really think you’ll get a kick out of HOT/COLD.
WATCH THE SHORT FILM “LITTLE BOY” BELOW
Check out more of Frank Mosley’s work at http://www.frankmosley.com
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