Other Worlds Short and Sweet: "A Grievance With Gravity"
Filmmaker Kelli Horan on wrestlers, breezeblocks, and Barophobia
By Richard Whittaker,
9:18PM, Fri. Dec. 11, 2020
Welcome to Short and Sweet, our look at short films playing at film festivals in Austin. This time it's "A Grievance With Gravity." In this far-from-grounded but immediately identifiable short, written and directed by Austinite, Kelli Horan, Zoe (Kelsey Thomas) has a very real problem of keeping her feet on the floor.
Zoe just isn't affected by gravity any more, which is really inconvenient when you're trying to date. The magical and realistically romantic short plays through the weekend as part of Other Worlds Film Festival in the Shorts 4: The Inevitable Magnetism of Us package. Horan talked with the Chronicle about shooting
Austin Chronicle: The core image of Zoe held down by breezeblocks is so evocative and loaded. Where did that come from?
Kelli Horan: When I first started writing this film it was based on creating a story around the fear of gravity – or Barophobia. I leaned into the idea that the lead, Zoe, wasn't affected by gravity anymore, and she could just float away. I wanted to make this aspect be pronounced both visually and in the character's life. So, I thought of the most exaggerated but McGyver-y way that a person could choose to cope with that and came up with the cinder blocks. Zoe was constantly trudging the weight around through her daily life in a way that was super visible to other people, which helped communicate the metaphor of dealing with anxiety or depression
AC: Post-Summer League, you've specialized in these shorts that interject a single fantastical element - defying gravity, stopping time, a violin made from a human ribcage, a psychic - into an everyday environment. What's the appeal of that to you, especially in the short format?
KH: I really love genre films – scifi, fantasy, horror. From the visuals to the inferred meaning behind how the genre is used, I love playing with how we see the world. I think having a fantastical element can be a great way to say something without it being so on-the-nose – it makes the audience think about the emotional relevance of the character in a way that could relate to their own life.
AC: This is the third time you've worked with Kelsey. Was she always going to be Zoe?
KH: Kelsey is amazing. I love working with her – this time I got to as a director! She was definitely my first thought for Zoe when I finished writing the first draft of the film. I knew she could really add some great depth to the character, delivering a performance that showed Zoe as both alienated but vulnerable. I reached out to her to see if she was into the story (she was!) and from then on, I kept her in my mind for future drafts. We talked a lot about motivation, how Zoe would feel and be when she was alone, and even how we would feel in these situations. Kelsey is a great collaborator!
AC: I'm guessing you didn't have the budget to do a full Inception/Royal Wedding/"Dancing on the Ceiling" rotating room, so how did you approach shooting the gravity-less sequences?
KH: Since this film definitely had a low (but well-used!) budget, I knew we were going to have to optimize any effects as much as possible. We decided to shoot one real 'money' shot of her floating for the beginning and have the rest be more subtle with practical effects. For the scene when she's on the ceiling of her bedroom, we shot a plate of the room then one of her on a green screen – making sure to get the lighting as spot on from the bedroom. Then we flipped it and removed the green screen.
Fun fact from this shot – we made sure to have her hair in a braid and used string to pull it straight up so when flipped it would look like it was hanging down. Huge shout out to our Travis Ward (DP), Corey Kline (Gaffer), and Phil Lybrand (Editor) for making this work!
AC: And is it me, or is that AEW star Ricky Starks in a brief appearance?
KH: Yes! That is Ricky! I was so happy to get to work with him. We've seen him at (Austin's Inspire Pro Wrestling promotion) a ton – he's such a talented wrestler and actor – and we knew he'd be great at the part and just a great presence on set. Working with him on a film was great – I hope he keeps doing films along with kicking ass in the ring at AEW.
"A Grievance With Gravity" is available to stream as part of the extended Other Worlds 2020 virtual edition, running through Dec. 13. Passes, ticket packs, individual screening links, and info at www.otherworldsfilmfestival.com.