Dining Alone - A Lonely Comedy
Written & Directed by Connor Farrow-Griffiths, this short drama/comedy I acted in towards the end of 2017 has now been made public. So I thought I'd talk a little bit about it...
Around October 2017 I was asked by a friend of mine who I had worked with before to read over a short film script - a university project for our second year entitled 'Dining Alone' which she was producing as part of a small team. The screenplay, mostly dialogue in a singular location, followed an unnamed writer attending a restaurant on his own only to be interrupted and then charmed by a fellow visitor who has been stood up on her date.
The writing was introspective and fast-paced throughout, with the two of them challenging to one-up each other with every remark like sparring partners. Each of them trying to achieve the truth from one another. Of course I said yes to being in it as soon as I read it, the script offered up some meaty dialogue and the chance to achieve a flow with another actor, something's that's quite rare in the majority of student productions. It didn't hurt either that the wonderful Abi Dolan was playing opposite me.
I had already met Abi the year before where she played the role of radiologist 'Marie Curie' in a live children's program my friend James and I had written/presented. She was the first person I had met at university who actually seemed to put full effort into the performances she agreed to, and the chance to go back and forth with her with Connor's words honestly made me feel a bit like the opening scene in The Social Network, where Aaron Sorkin's Mark Zuckerberg and Erica Albright are each fighting over each other verbally. Of course, the main difference being the limited runtime attributed to a student production and...you know, us all being students who are mostly making things up as we go along.
After meeting with Connor and doing a short series of table reads (all of which went remarkably quickly) we soon left for Nottingham where the set of a local diner (The Saltbox) had been secured. The actual location really impressed me, and helped greatly. It's always good to have an actual secured set rather than a makeshift lecture room filled with props and sound effects made to look like a restaurant. It also helped that The Saltbox looks luxurious on screen, and was made better by the team's cinematographer/camera operator Izzi Walsh, who also took control of the colour grading during the edit. The red of the curtains and the chilliness of Nottingham's night-life looks amazing in the finished film.
We arrived on location in the morning, though the shoot didn't plan to start until it turned dark outside. This gave us the entire day to block the conversation and go through the script again and again (The Saltbox was closed during this time too). The team themselves were wonderful through the long hours, and as the sun went down and the restaurant extras (including the team themselves) started arriving, we soon began filming as quickly as we could.
Whilst the majority of the film is composed of shot-reverse-shot, the small movements of the camera and glides across the floor highlight the sly, personal nature of the film. Both Abi and I must have went through the script several times, gathering enough footage to cut the film a dozen different ways (and most likely giving editor Lauren Davies a nightmare in the editing booth). But the pacing was good and kept everyone awake, with sound operator Kieran Walsh keeping spirits up too.
After the first day, we then travelled back to Nottingham to film the exterior opening sequence of me walking through the town center. Nothing particularly spectacular (though we did witness the theft of a deliveroo bicycle) outside of looking mournful as I paced through various neon lights and a horrendous giant big wheel in the center of Nottingham...seriously I had no idea that was there at all. After that, this being a student production of course, the final segment was appropriately hasty. We filmed my character's house in Connor's own room with a single frame - a huge contrast to the extravagance of The Saltbox. Due to scheduling it was just Connor, Lauren and myself on this day - essentially a skeleton crew for what was a single line of dialogue to close off the film and send it off into the edit for the fast-approaching deadline that is university.
Overall I'm still quite proud of the short. I think Connor's script is strong and his direction is slight enough to allow focus on the flow between Abi and I in the diner. There are nice little touches in the edit too, I like that the majority of the match-cuts sync up perfectly - something that you notice in a lot of other films, and that the shot-reverse-shots seem to maintain the same pacing throughout. I'd argue the ending's quality feels a little bit off compared to what comes before it, but for what it's worth Dining Alone is still a nice little short film I was proud to be a part of. And you can't even tell that the trousers I wore had a huge gaping hole in the side of the leg...
So check it out above, and check out Connor's other work too - especially if you like your stuff veering towards the dark and surreal. Speaking of which, the next year I worked with Connor on a longer, more-ambitious project too. Whether that ends up going public remains to be seen, but the moment it does I'll be sure to write about Sleep.
Dining Alone was Written and Directed by Conner Farrow Griffiths. Cinematography by Izzi Walsh. Produced by Yve Odell. Sound by Kieran Walsh. Edited by Lauren Davies. Also starring Abi Dolan, Martin McSherry, Edward Hammond. Shot on location in The Saltbox, Nottingham.
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