Between Two Thieves (Jordan Barnett, 2011): USA

Reviewed by Kathleen Amboy.  Viewed on YouTube.

Fear and regret are like two thieves that come in the night.

Jordan Barnett’s short film Between Two Thieves, is a brief scenario which begins bleakly with the protagonist cleaning blood from a carpet, and ends with the disposal of a body.

Our passive protagonist, who remains nameless (portrayed by Maggie Miklus), is one-half of a couple.  Her lover (Asher Millhollin), is a good looking young man, but quite easily agitated and behaves oddly.

“…The violence we create are nothing,” he babbles, while viewing images of Dr. Death on Television.  He hangs with loser friends who deal in drugs, but it’s not enough to cause her to walk away – not until he strikes down a bumbling, insignificant salesman in cold blood.

It’s at this point where her brighter past becomes lucid, vivid and in color – she begins to see the reality of their life together, which was not so solid nor so bright.

Cleverly shot in Black & white, due to the hopelessness of the situation, she is caught between her comfort zone and taking accountability – clarity comes for the protagonist, as does the color.

Brilliant storytelling for Barnett who co-wrote the twelve minute film, utilizing great camera work, where the camera observes the characters in several shots waist-down, lending an impersonal touch, with characterized framing, reflective, and confined shots for the protagonist.

Between Two Thieves will first run the film festival circuit in Southern California and later be available for viewing on the film’s website.  I conducted a brief Q & A with the film’s director Jordan Barnett, as follows:

K. A.  How did BTT come about?

J. B.  BTT is loosely based on Alan Beard’s story Background Noise – I chose to put my own spin on the story, interpreting the ideas, characters and plot in my own way.

K. A.  Explain a little of the collaborative process – did everyone share your vision, or was it a dictatorship?

J. B.  It was definitely run like a dictatorship.  I made some room for collaboration during pre-production and a bit during post, however while we were shooting, I kept things too tight for anyone to deviate from my original vision.

K. A.  I am especially curious about the cinematography and editing process – how much did you guide your cameraman and editor, and how much was their personal input?

J. B.  Our shoot schedule was extremely aggressive, having only four days to get the primary scenes shot.  In an effort to save time during production, I used storyboards to quickly explain the shots to the crew, which detailed exactly where the camera was to be placed, including the angle, shot, lens and specific focal point for each frame.  With the editing, I laid out specific instructions for the color palette, scene arrangement, transition cues, and pacing.

K. A.  Short films can be a bigger challenge than feature films, if you consider the demand for a cohesive and concise plot line, within the few minutes of screen time.  As co-writer, did you originally plan a 12 minute film, or did you start big and break it down from there?

J. B.  Originally we had nineteen minutes of screen time, which was then cut down to fifteen, and finally twelve.  Since each frame was shot with a purpose, cutting it down was exceedingly difficult.

K.A.  What prompted the use of B & W to color transitions?  I’ve often wondered why filmmakers don’t tackle this transition more – it is the very element that drew my attention to the film.

J. B.  To me Black and White is indicative with having to make a choice between two opposing ideas.  In the case with BTT, we see a young woman faced with this dilemma of choice.  Aside from its obvious use as a symbol for past/present, the absence of color serves as both the reminder of her dilemma, as well as the visual representation of the hopelessness the young woman feels.

K. A.  Discuss your budget of $1300 – did you pay your cast and crew in egg salad sandwiches?

J. B.  Ha ha, the entire budget went into rental gear, including a camera mount for the hood of a car.  It’s my belief that people tend to forget what they ate on set, and are far more likely to thank you for putting the money into the production, versus craft services.

K. A.  Lastly, advise us on your camera equipment.

J. B.  Most independent filmmakers would scoff at our choice to shoot on the standard-def DVX100B, as the trend right now dictates the use of HDSLR cameras.  I simply didn’t feel the crystal clean look you get from those cameras was right for the film.  So we went against the grain, going as far as scratching the old canon lenses themselves to further the look of a distressed image.





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