I really enjoyed watching the feature film BRAKE the other day. It reminded me of the kind of script that we dreamed of writing while in film school. The one location script. Back then, using one or two locations, and a minimal cast meant “low budget.” But I’d have to say that this film did not seem anything like a low budget film — at least it didn’t cross my mind while I was watching it. The story was very compelling, and I was never taken out of the film. The thoughts that I’m sharing with you today are in retrospect.
Today, I’m going to analyze the movie, and I have to warn you that I’m doing this based upon what I’ve seen on my TV, not on a director’s script breakdown or other production document. I’m writing this from my point of view, and I’m going to talk to you as if you and/or a film-buddy are considering producing a film, OR I expect that you’ve either watched Brake or you’ll possibly watch it on Showtime or online sometime. Here’s a peak…
I have no idea what the budget was for this film, but I would assume that the lead actor, Stephen Dorff would require some serious financial backing. And that monetary guesstimate is more than what the typical film student can drum up. Anyway, he did a wonderful job. But again, the cast, crew, and other production talent, is not what I’m breaking down today. Today, we’ll talk about some other elements in the movie. Let’s have some fun and “Brake” it down…
Let’s look at the Script. While in film school, I imagined myself to be the kind of filmmaker who would come up with an idea that I thought was marketable, and then instead of writing it myself, I would go out and hire someone to write it. Low budget was my main interest. (Of course, because I had no money 😉
So, to shoot a film in one location, with minimal lights, cast, and crew was a major aspiration for me. 16mm film was expensive, and it required good lights and a crew that knew how to handle everything from sandbagging a reflector board to running cables to several outlets so we wouldn’t blow a fuse. I love the challenge of lighting a film. So let’s look at Cinematography.
When I look at Brake I don’t think the script called for sets that required allot of lighting. The first location, which is one set…runs for nearly the entire movie. Let’s analyze the lighting on the main set or scenery. The story is set in our time – we are not given any information that would indicate that this is a period piece, futuristic or anything else but a contemporary movie.
The main “set” requires the actor to be lying down. He will roll from side to side and change positions, but he doesn’t walk around. So there’s really no EST or “Establishing Shot” like you would (typically) see in the beginning sequence of a movie. Instead we ‘establish’ that he’s inside a small dark, enclosure. There’s direct lighting on our lead-man, and minimal lighting that hits the walls surrounding him. So, it’s an Interior shot -which means a sound studio or home studio. When you’re shooting with budget in mind, then this is sweet because there are no concerns about being rained out or losing your light.
SPOILER ALERT! If you have not yet watched the trailer…Soon we discover, he’s in a trunk of a car. Or I should say a constructed set that looks like the trunk of a car. Our lead-man, Stephen Dorff is trapped inside a coffin-like glass box, inside of a ‘car trunk.’
So INT’s or “Interior Shots” are a plus when you’re scheduling a film shoot. Shooting indoors is sometimes preferable because anytime that you have to shoot outside you then have to schedule around acts of nature, and that can cause delays. A delay like running out of daylight, rain, or snow may require rescheduling. And it’s a nightmare when your cast/crew can’t show up for a makeup shoot. A filmmaker could even lose his leading man, and that could ruin the entire production.
To wrap up my comments about Cinematography…You may be wondering about shooting glass (or acrylic.) It typically reflects light, and sometimes the crew will “dull” reflective surfaces in order to eliminate a reflection on camera. In this movie, it appears that they didn’t have to shoot Dorf (through the glass box) for most of the shots. So from where I sit, reflections on the glass were not much of a concern.
Let’s talk about Sound. Sound is another factor that eliminated the need for all the talent to be on set or in the studio. Brakes used off-screen voices throughout the film. But these VO’s or “voice overs” were likely recorded later, after the shoot — in a sound studio. This is also where they would have recorded audio like Police sirens, road noise, phone-calls and CB-radio-conversations. So, I’m going to once again go out on a limb and assume that in this case the sound crew was minimal on the actual days of Principal shooting.
Oh, bye the way, do you mind if I reveal just a little about our leadman? His name is Jeremy Reins. That’s all I’ll say. Now, instead of saying “Dorf” — I’ll refer to him as “Jeremy.” Okay, moving on.
Props! Inside of the trunk was a CB radio, a digital clock, and a speaker that was taped to the glass box. There also was a old style flip-phone. So let’s see — that’s about 25 bucks in prop cost!
Let’s look more at the cost of things on the Set. Jeremy was in a car that was moving. This could have been simulated easily by manually pushing the car (aka box/trunk) from side to side, and rocking it up and down. There was one shot of him looking through a hole in the glass into the interior of the car. The audience sees a car-dash – no actor was revealed. So, that was a second-set that needed to be prepared for shooting. I could see the front windshield of the car, but no exteriors.
Later on in the movie there was a gunshot hole in the trunk. This allowed Jeremy to look through it – into an alley, the pinhole shot revealed one actor and a dog. Okay, so you might need a dog “wrangler” if you’re doing a film that features a dog in many scenes. But in this film, I’m guessing that one of the cast/crew brought their well-behaved fido in for a day of shooting. Similar to the POV (point of view) shot that I described prior to this, it could have been done inside a studio. The alley could easily have been a pseudo alley.
There was another POV from inside of the trunk, and this is a third set-up worth mentioning. I could see that the “car” was moving, and the (trunk) popped open just a crack, and Jeremy could see a police car, ramming the trunk. So, a police-car grill, hood and lights would be required. Again, this could be fabricated — there would be no need to rent an expensive cop car. And this again could have been shot in a studio as long as the filmmaker was clever enough to emulate the back and forth motion of a moving cop-car.
Next, an interior of an ambulance. A filmmaker would need a truck and/or two swinging truck doors painted white with red stripes. Props needed: A hospital gurney or similar wheeled stretcher. An oxygen tank, accessories and various clutter. No equipment was really focused upon, and the set looked genuine.
A quick mention about Special Effects. Jeremy has been hurt, after all IF you’ve seen the movie or trailer, then you know there is a BEE scene. Okay, so that’s a special effect or practical effect to be reckoned with. I for one, would use a leaf blower or a powerful hair dryer and blow fake Bee’s into the trunk. (Maybe you have a better idea.) Moving on – from inside the moving Ambulance, the audience gets a quick glimpse of the Washington Monument outside. This was shot through the dusty-glass of the Ambulance back door, and easily could have been just a poster, OR a Special Effects shot done in post. (Note that when a filmmaker uses a green screen while shooting principal photography then they are forced to do composite work in post.)
Back to Set analysis. There is a “redressing” of the Alley shot used earlier. It’s an EXTERIOR shot that is not a POV taken from inside the car! A black Excalibur or similar vehicle pulls up and a CAMEO actor — Tom Berenger delivers a few lines.
Then there’s some minimal coverage of an action shot. This kind of coverage actually requires an EST, a three-quarters shot, and some close ups. And trust me, this is rare coverage for this film, remember most of this movie is about a guy in a car trunk. I won’t discuss how his connection to the outside world is done in detail because it’s part of the charm of the movie, and I don’t want to ruin it for you. There is one prop in this scene worth mentioning. A gun.
Let’s talk more about the talent. For those of you who know the actor Tom Berenger, I think you know that including him would add some considerable cost to this film. (Funny enough, the Showtime description of the movie did not credit him — and I for one think he’s what would be considered “Marquee Value” or “bankable talent.” We do see some extras in the background. We do meet Jeremy’s wife and she also has a few lines. And Jeremy’s partner is in the shot — we see a brief cameo with the actor, JR Bourne.
And finally, while we’re talking about Marquee Value talent — let us not forget the lead man, Stephen Dorff. I’m quite sure he is the most expensive asset in the movie, and worth it. He just did a fantastic job, and this film is terrific. Consider hiring an actor like this when/if you ever shoot a film because it will make or “brake” your movie.
I wish I could afford to license Brake and stream it to you free on my channels, but that won’t happen right now. For those of you who have never worked on a film, or have not yet had the pleasure of seeing this particular film — I urge you to see this movie, or make a movie — and then return to this article to see how I’ve done in my “Brake-down.” And feel free to let me know your thoughts! Cheers. (c) Dean Lachiusa