The Making of my Short Film “Contentment”-
Contentment is a short film that I wrote based off of a poem I had previously written. Like all of my best writing, it started after a breakup. I found myself wondering if I had lost the true love of my life and if I would ever find a love like that again- the kind that you feel tickling at your stomach and crushing your bones all at once (SPOILER ALERT: You do). I feared living a life in which I was only content- not truly happy.
This led me to a poem titled “Contentment” in which I discuss the difference between contentment vs. happiness. I uploaded the poem to my Instagram and that was that- until one Saturday morning. I was sitting at the front desk of a yoga studio that I was working at-supposed to be making phone calls to potential clients. Instead, I sat there doodling and daydreaming when an idea popped into my fast-paced mind. I quickly started to write it down on my phone. I envisioned a girl wearing her wedding dress at an open mic night. That was all I knew. I also knew I wanted each scene to flow in such a way that it appeared as if the film had been shot in a single take. There was to be no dialogue- just a voice over of the poem. The yoga class had ended and people were walking out so I quickly put my phone away so I seemed like a somewhat professional employee.
After I left, I quickly texted my friend, Stephanie. Steph and I met back in an acting class my first year of college. She was an AMAZING cinematographer and we had worked on many projects together before. I trusted her advice and abilities on film more than anyone. We got together over coffee one evening to discuss the idea. She loved it and agreed to film!
So now we had me- writer & actress- and Stephanie- the cinematographer. Stephanie contacted a friend of hers, Jessica. Jessica majored in business for film and agreed to take on the role of producing. It was an all girl’s dream team. We also needed a director, which was difficult to find in the short amount of time we had until filming. After approaching the people we knew and trusted- who were unavailable- I took on the role and honestly, I was scared shitless. Acting and directing were both difficult tasks, so now the challenge would be doubled trying to juggle them simultaneously. I’m one who likes to face fears so, I was up for the task. But we still needed to put a complete crew together- actors, a first and second AC, a gaffer, etc...
I knew plenty of actors from school but one who I knew that was amazingly talented and could deliver a memorable performance had unfortunately moved back to Chicago after graduating. But some kind of aligning in the stars had planned it so that he was being flown out here to do another film at the same time we were filming “Contentment.” The universe had my back. This project was meant to be.
We casted my friend from Chicago, Tyler, planning around his other schedule and also casted my talented friend, Liam, as the role of the other male lead. Now we needed a crew. We reached out on multiple Arizona Film pages via Facebook. We quickly put a team of people together. We were somewhat skeptical at first, not knowing these strangers. But with a $500 budget and filming in less than a month, there wasn’t room to be picky.
We also needed to find an editor who would have time to put this together. Stephanie recommended a mutual friend of ours, Joey. I had worked as an actress on one of his films before and I knew how talented he was. Thankfully, he was available and was able to join the team!
Location scouting was a process. We knew we would definitely be filming at my house for a majority of the scenes but we also needed a coffee shop to film the open mic scenes. We originally discussed filming at a coffee shop in Old Town but the problem was we would need to be able to stay after hours for a significant amount of time. We brainstormed some other ideas when I realized my friend worked at one of my favorite wineries. It was such a beautiful location and I could ask her if she’d be able to stay late. Thankfully, the angels were looking out for us- she was in. The owners of this winery are so generous and made the process so easy. I am so grateful to them.
The date was nearing, only a week until filming, when I found out Liam had an emergency and would not be in town. This was a problem but I knew it would be resolved. He gave me a list of names of other actors he knew. I scrolled through them but also asked Tyler who he knew. Both of them gave me Farrell’s name. I decided that it had to be fate. Farrell joined the cast last minute! Everything seemed to fall into place perfectly.
Friday the 8th fell upon us so suddenly, I barely felt prepared. I’m such a last minute person, I was still rummaging for most of the props that we would need by morning. We held a meeting at my house with the crew that night in which was also an introduction for most. Our Facebook ad had done us well. Our small crew felt like family instantly. Everyone was so motivated and driven and, overall, likeminded. What more could you ask for from the people you’d be working with for the next 48 hours?
Saturday came quickly. The crew showed up to my house by 10 AM to start putting the equipment together. I felt frazzled, trying to make sure everything was going to run as smoothly as planned as my house was being reconstructed into a film set. By noon we were filming, the first shot being on my driveway/street area of my house. I come from a large Armenian family in which everyone lives within a one-mile radius. So the trouble at first was just making sure they weren’t all pulling in and out of my driveway as we were shooting. Everything ran pretty smooth. Around 4:30 we had lunch- I ordered Jimmy John’s.
We had to shoot a party scene in the evening with a bunch of extras (who I am SO incredibly grateful to). It was a lot of fun even though they had to do a lot of waiting around, but surely enough we finished in a timely manner. After that, we had to drive to Fountain Hills to shoot one last scene for the night. It was a scene shot on the sidewalk along a main rode in which Tyler and I were supposed to be walking on the curb, with a wine bottle in hand, tipsy from the party. Earlier while setting up for the scene, we saw “two lights” walking up the mountains across from us- mind you, at this point, it was pitch black out. Fast forward to when we were shooting the scene, a cop drives by and does a U-Turn to pull up to us. I’m pretty sure it’s illegal to have an open bottle of alcohol on you like I did, so I tossed the bottle into the ditch next to us ASAP!
Thankfully the cop was a super nice guy- Tyler insisted it was because he was a “nerd.” LOL. He had stopped us to see if we knew anything about the people on the mountain from earlier. But honestly, I think he wanted to see what we were up to. But again, he was super nice. He said, “You guys aren’t bothering anyone, you’re just filming, right?” and then left us to filming. We continued on, a few obnoxious cars full of teenage girls here and there shouting stupid shit at us.
We finished shooting around midnight. When we got back to my house, the crew put all of the equipment back together and went home. Except for Stephanie and Jessica. They stayed longer to unwind with some Rosé! Getting tipsy after a long day of shooting with people you can call friends and coworkers is always a good idea.
The next day we were able to sleep in (THANK GOODNESS), but of course I was up by 8:00. Crew call wasn’t until 3:00, so I spent a majority of the day getting things together- props and all of that fun stuff. I convinced my dad to bring his RV on set- hey, we totally needed a trailer if we were going for the full on filming experience. We showed up to the winery in Old Town, somewhat nervous about the weather situation. It had been raining on and off all day and we needed to utilize the outside patio so we had to improvise FAST in case we got rained out.
Extras began showing up- again, so grateful for those who volunteered their time to help with this project. Thankfully the rain had ceased for the duration of time that we needed to utilize the outside. The universe was once again on our side! I think that this film overall was meant to be from the people involved to each scene filmed- it was almost amazing how smoothly it had gone. Even when we ran into speed bumps along the way, we were able to accelerate past them.
Setting up for these scenes took quite a while but they turned out so beautiful, the hard work was worth it. We finished filming probably around midnight- so glad we were able to use this space and my friend was willing to stay past her shift.
I went home that night and crashed so hard- after pigging out from a day with very few calories- and slept in the next morning. I was so exhausted the next day- emotionally and physically. The next step was recording the voice over of the poem, with Colin, Stephanie’s brother (who is a very talented music producer). We recorded in my mom’s closet so that there wouldn’t be any background noise. It turned out AMAZING.
The film is now in the editing room, being prepared to get submitted to film festivals. The ultimate goal is to make it eligible for the short film category of the Academy Awards. It will be A LOT of hard work, but so far that seems to be paying off. I think it has just as good of a chance as any other short film out there.
This film also goes to show that in order to make art you don’t need hundreds of thousands of dollars. You don’t need Steven Speilberg or Universal Pictures in charge. YOU can create something beautiful with $500 in your pocket and a handful of talented individuals that have dedication and drive embedded into their hearts. One of my favorite quotes by Andy Warhol is, “Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art.”
You can really do anything you put your mind to- with a little support, drive, connections and even a little luck. I know I couldn’t have done this without the help of this crew and actors who volunteered their time to this project. They had faith in this story and breathed life into words on a page. For that, I am forever grateful. I also am so thankful to my parents who have always supported my sisters and I in all that we do. They’ve always encouraged us to chase our dreams.
I think in the end, it is really about the passion behind the art. No matter how much recognition it gains, when you have created something with such love behind it knowing it may or may not make it, you have demonstrated that you are capable of living a dream- sometimes a dream bigger than yourself.