״The film gods were on our side that day״
Creating a successful film isn't an easy task, let alone when dealing with a difficult, taboo topic. But Molly Ratermann, writer, director and lead actress of Suicide, touched our souls with her movie. She sheds a new, beautiful light on mental health issues, in a humorous, elegant way.
Suicide was September big winner, collecting no less than four awards: Film of the Month, Best Comedy, Best Actress and Best Director. Our lead judge, Casey Ruggieri, described the film as 'a whimsical and satirical look at how we in modern society maybe seek too much attention for all the wrong reasons.' Ruggieri rated Molly's performance '10/10', stating that 'her performance as Carson is a brilliant mix of the impetuous and stubborn nature of a child and the sense of longing and turbulence felt by someone coming into an adulthood they may not be all that equipped for.'
In the following interview, Molly shares some of the unique ways she chose to approach the project.
What was the inspiration for Suicide? Is this based on true events?
Well, a few things. I wanted to highlight a new angle toward mental health. It’s become such a taboo subject in the world and I believe it needs more light shone on it. The story for Suicide was partially inspired by a few people I knew who would threaten suicide as a means of getting what they want rather than actually being suicidal. Suicide is obviously not something to cry wolf about, it’s a serious, real thing people struggle with. It’s so easy for people to go through life ignorant to the other misfortunes people go through in the world. This film is more of an exaggerative, satirical approach to hopefully put into perspective how good their life might actually be and appreciating that.
Suicide - official trailer
What technicalities, if any, do you have in mind when writing a script like this?
The hardest part while writing this was not getting carried away. I of course had to keep budget in mind and practicality of being able to shoot the ideas I had. It was also hard to fit an entire story into a short, which are generally just a moment in time, not a full story. Because this film has a mixture of comedy and drama, I also had to make sure the transitions would play out successfully. We would sometimes shoot a scene and on set we’d look at the script for what follows and either cut it or keep it if we still felt it made sense. We even cut out about 3 minutes of other scenes in the editing room.
You had some really beautiful shooting locations in the film. Can you tell us about the desert locations, how did you scout them, what were some of the challenges shooting those scenes? (And the driving scene as well?)
Finding the shoot locations for this film was one of my favorite parts. I was going through a desert obsession at the time and in particular Death Valley’s many different terrains was really exciting to me. There are a ton of hidden places there with incredible, out of this world aesthetics. I went down to Death Valley a few weekends before to scout it out. A lot of it was off road so we had to make sure the cars we were bringing could handle it as well not take too much time to get to. We only had the day to check out locations before we needed to get back to work, so we literally parked, ran into canyons, out in the desert, onto sand dunes, whatever the terrain was, and took a few panoramas,sent it to Andy the DP and then jumped back in the car. It was like extreme sightseeing. For the driving scenes, we shot on the road trip down to Death Valley to save time. At one point we had Andy hanging out the side of our other car on the highway filming and Church the sound guy laying down in the back of the car under people’s feet while the two cars were hauling down the highway to also make it in time for sunset… At one point we got followed by a police officer into a gas station in the middle of nowhere, literally nothing within 40 miles. We thought for sure we were getting in trouble for our highway shenanigans, but even worse he said, “You know I should tow your car?” (The car with all of our expensive equipment) Turns out I forgot my registration sticker on my car. I am now without cell service, 8 hours from home, and have dragged a whole film crew into the middle of nowhere to be stranded before we even make it to the desert. He seemed like the type reluctant to have any sympathy for our situation. Luckily he loved that we were filming and let me off with a fix it ticket. The film gods were on our side that day.
We loved the humor of the film. Was everything written in the original script, or were some parts improvised?
It’s nice to know someone got a kick out of the film. I normally love improvising scenes, but on this one we mostly stuck to the script. I think the only scene that was improvised was my reaction in the “coming out” scene. It had a written guideline but we filmed a bunch of different versions each with different dialogue. Kenna, who plays Franny, had the best reaction faces.
Can you share some insights about directing while being the lead? What was this experience like for you?
Directing while acting in almost every scene was definitely a challenge. I found myself having to be in the scene as the actor who is needing to listen and respond but while also trying to imagine how the take was going from the outside as well as paying attention to the other actors in the scene to make sure we were all hitting the right beats of the scene. It helped to have a DP like Andy. We didn’t have the time to rewatch takes so Andy would give me feedback on each take. Being really clear with Andy about how I imagined the scenes as well as him seeing the rehearsals of them helped a lot. More than that, Andy also has a great directing ability and I got lucky to have someone who understood the film as well as he did. Other than that, it was a lot of just trusting my gut.
We must acknowledge the great use of songs in your soundtrack ("Sunny Days", "Far Away"). Can you tell us a bit about the collaboration with the band, Electric Strawberry? How did you find them, were the songs created especially for the film, or licensed after? What was the process?
Actually, Electric Strawberry is my best friend Emily Gunn’s band. I loved their album and their music was a big inspiration while writing the script, so it was a bit of a reverse situation. They were nice enough to let me use a few of their songs pro bono for the film and they fit absolutely perfect.
How did you cast your co-stars? Were there auditions?
Since I’m an actor, I have all kinds of very talented actor friends, so for this film I immediately had in mind who I wanted to have as my co stars. Luckily they all wanted to do the project and gave great performances.
What was one mistake you did during the pre production, production or post that you would do differently next time?
Well aside from taking on every job in pre production, I’d say post production was where I learned the most. I was still pretty new to how the higher level post production part of film worked when doing Suicide. I didn’t have people lined up ahead of time and wasn’t even 100% sure what we needed or where to find the people to do the jobs. Because I didn’t have them lined up ahead of time, it was a lot of working around their schedule rather than the film’s schedule. It didn’t help we were low budget as well. At one point we had to rehire for the post sound department because it was taking so long to get it done and it wasn’t what we wanted at all. Ever since, I have become really strict upfront about our timeline, due dates, and what we want.
How did you get your wonderful DP, Andy Hoffman on board?
I was lucky enough to meet Andy on a project I was acting in. He had a really unique work ethic and was quirky but very on top of it. I could tell he was doing his job for the right reasons; because he loves telling stories and creative collaboration. Andy and I did a few shorts before this one and he’s helped take each one to a new level. He’s very smart and knowledgable about every job on set. For some reason he trusts me enough to jump in on my projects and I am very lucky for that.
How many shooting days did you have?
We only had 3 and a half days that everyone could agree to commit to with their busy schedules. One day was in the Bay Area of California and the rest of the time was in Death Valley. It wasn’t a lot of time, but it forced us to give our best performances upfront.
If you do not mind sharing, how did you get the budget to create this film? Were you crowdfunding?
I funded this one myself. I tried to find as many ways to cut costs and keep the filming efficient, just like any indie filmmaker. A portion of my crew did it for the love of film, and I’m very grateful they let me use their incredible talents for mostly just food, beer, and a trip to Death Valley.
What is next for you? Do you plan to make more dark comedies?
Oh, of course! I love the dark comedy category because it gives you the freedom to tackle normally cringey subjects and make them funny and relatable, while also being able to really make an impact. Right now, we have a short in post production and we’re in pre-production on a dark comedic feature which is mostly in the lovely funding stage right now, but will be a fun one when we get it going.
Is there anything you'd like to add?
We had an absolute ball making this film. I only hope you enjoy it as much as we did making it.