Some of the best selections premiered at this year’s, HollyShorts including the monumental story, An Occurrence At Arverne.
The short film, written and directed by Brooklyn-based Robert Broadhurst, follows an unknown man attempting to gain access to an unknown home as a woman entering her car regards him warily. Once inside the home, his purpose is interrupted, rattling his nerves. As the ambiguity of his agenda sharpens into focus, wariness on the streets escalates.
The film stars Curtiss Cook Jr. and Vika Dove.
In addition to HollyShorts, the Vimeo Pick of the Week, the film has screened at CineOdyssey Film Festival, Maryland Film Festival, Montclair Film Festival, Nashville Film Festival, Retrospective of Jupiter and Rockaway Film Festival.
Awards Daily’s Jenny Boulden calls the short film, “A meticulously crafted, surprising mini-story full of nuance and ambiguity.”
Robert is an east coast suburb-raised, Brooklyn-based filmmaker. He earned his MFA in filmmaking from Columbia University where the short films he wrote, produced, and/or edited played festivals from Tribeca to TIFF. After film school he worked as an editor in formats from commercials to trailers to fashion to broadcast docudramas.
Following his work on Kanye West’s first three Yeezy fashion launches, he made the move to directing with campaign films for Adidas Y-3, Alexander Wang, and Armani Beauty among others. He returned to narrative filmmaking with An Occurrence at Arvene, his first short film as writer and director.
Broadhurst joined Reel 360 for a conversation about the film.
What was the inspiration behind your film?
I didn’t sit down with any particular agenda other than to write something meaningful that would also challenge the usual conventions of short form storytelling.
I wrote quickly and, really of its own accord, this script is what flowed out.I had definitely been reading and thinking a lot about race for a long time before writing it, and I felt and feel accountable as a white person to contribute productively to the conversation around race in America, so it’s not surprising that I wrote something that would engage that conversation.
I also wanted to see if I could use the language of suspense to create a kind of Rorschach to explore and maybe expose bias in a short time frame with limited ingredients.
The goal was to make something where the experience of watching it,and any impact it might have, would depend almost entirely upon what each individual viewer brought to the table.
How did you prepare for this shoot?
I did all the usual research and mood-boards, but technical prep mostly entailed going to the shooting location a few times to make floor plans and workout all the blocking and lenses. The small space put limits on where we could put the camera, yet everything had to be super precise because of how information needed to be dealt out from beat to beat–also because with only one character I couldn’t really justify any coverage.
I wound up with a strict shot list and lens-accurate storyboards separately, the content of the project was a minefield, and I would only ever make it with a Black producer, so a lot of time also went into getting myself and the script vetted by potential producers and, of course, actors.
Beyond the nuts-and-bolts questions of whether the subjective or narrative conceit could even work as a film, there were lots of appropriately thorough conversations about my own character and intentions.
Thankfully that process yielded a deep alliance with the brilliant Curtis Cook, Jr, who plays Marcus, and the equally brilliant producer,Charles Hayes IV.
How did you approach bringing this story to life?
This film is a one-man show with one-sided dialogue,so we knew its success or failure hinge don the right casting. It’s so easy for one-sided dialogue to go bad because it’s ex positional by necessity. The audience needs context. The trick was creating tension between the ambiguity of what the audience sees and the clarity of what it hears. Still, even with a solid script, everything came down to the performance. It’s just plain hard to sell a one-sided phone conversation and even harder when it’s the only dialogue in the whole film.
We needed someone who could not only sell that dialogue but also connect with the audience instantly by imparting a sense of character that would go beyond the confines of the written word. When I met with Curtiss, it was clear that the could do all of that and then some. The nuance of his performance is the reason we have a film that people are responding to the way they are.
Even people who don’t respond overall to the film still respond to his performance, and that speaks volumes of his talent, skill and realness.
What was the most difficult part of production?
Something always goes wrong and for us, in the frigid March of the Rock aways,it was the plumbing at the location. The pipes froze, the basement flooded, and anything flushed down the toilet gurgled up through the bathtub drain. We lost a lot of time managing the situation and shuttling crew back and forth to a pizza place a mile away for bathroom breaks.5. What can viewers take away from this film?
Ideally viewers take away from the film a consideration of whatever they brought to it. There was a drastic change in response to the film after the murder of George Floyd, but reactions have still been pretty polarized.
When we set out to make the film we anticipated a divisive final product,and that’s what we got.Whatever the response is, it’s probably worth investigating.
What can viewers take away from this film?
Ideally viewers take away from the film a consideration of whatever they brought to it. There was a drastic change in response to the film after the murder of George Floyd, but reactions have still been pretty polarized. When we set out to make the film we anticipated a divisive final product,and that’s what we got.Whatever the response is, it’s probably worth investigating.
Jessica Velle is writer from Los Angeles, CA. She focuses on shining a light on culturally diverse stories. You can reach her at Jessica@Reel360.com.