Early on in the pandemic to pass the time, Frank Mosley and Hugo De Sousa logged onto Zoom for a table read set up by their friend and fellow filmmaker Mylissa Fitzsimmons.
“There was obviously a nice vibe on the virtual read we did for Mylissa, and it was one of those vibes where it was like I think we could do something [together],” recalls Mosley, both a prolific actor and director. The two swapped links of short films they made before and then the unthinkable happened. They actually watched them immediately.
“I saw Frank’s ‘Parthenon,’ which I loved, so I was excited to maybe try to do a short film with Frank,” says De Sousa, who also could even draw inspiration from the exchange for what would become “The Event,” premiering today as part of the weeklong Slamdance Film Festival online.
In roles that couldn’t be further from themselves, De Sousa and Mosley star as Vince and Jack, roommates who are living with a terrible gap growing between them as the latter builds up the courage to ask his longtime friend why he hasn’t yet watched his short film. If it’s anything like the 11-minute comedy that De Sousa and Mosley made, you’ll wonder why as well, but “The Event,” which is bound to be a favorite on the festival circuit as it taps into the deep-seated fears of many who fear their films will never be seen, accompanies its laughs with sharp observations about how the most supportive people in an artist’s life may be the most difficult to wrangle for an opinion of their work.
Although Vince waking someone up in the dead of night with a long-winded monologue comparing the heart that was poured into their film with the care that Italians put into making pasta by hand may not exactly rouse Jack from bed, even with his girlfriend (Jennifer Kim) suggesting it may be worth the effort, “The Event” itself proves irresistible as the pair behind the camera, along with cinematographer Kenneth Wales, involve elegant chiaroscuro lighting for this most uncomfortable conversation and the more ridiculous the situation gets, the more authentic it feels. On the eve of the film’s debut, Mosley and De Sousa spoke about teaming up for the film — a successful collaboration that’s already led to another in the works — and how they’ve created the ultimate meta joke as they try to get their own friends and family to watch it.
How did you crack the idea for this?
Hugo De Sousa: After we decided to make a short film, we decided we’d meet over Zoom once a week, basically [with] me pitching ideas to Frank for a couple months. We found some good ones, some were just bad, but nothing really excited us. Then I had this idea that came to me while I was driving and it felt like a throwaway idea, but I told [Frank] over Zoom about two roommates who live together and then one of them wakes up the other one because he wants to confront him about the fact that he hasn’t watched his short film. I already had the pasta monologue written in my head, so I kind of performed it for Frank and we couldn’t stop laughing.
Frank Mosley: I couldn’t stop. I lost it. I was like, “Oh, this is it. This is the magic one.”
Hugo De Sousa: Yeah, I would perform it like it’s life or death because honestly when you’re trying to get someone else excited about an idea, it has to happen the first time you say it out loud. It’s really life or death, so when it made him laugh, that’s when we knew, “Okay, this is something we need to get into.
Frank Mosley: And it was also something where the other ideas we had toyed with doing, but we needed a hospital location or a car, so this one was like we can do this because it’s in a bedroom in the middle of the night, so it seemed feasible, but also the concept also was so great.
When this is a two-hander that you’re both starring in, is breaking the story actually an acting process or did Hugo come with a complete script?
Hugo De Sousa: The first time I pitched it to Frank, we did riff a little bit and I used some nuggets here and there, but I just went away and wrote the script and then sent it to Frank. He had a few really good notes, like for instance, the pasta monologue in the first draft didn’t happen right away. It was more towards the end of the scene and Frank had the great idea like, “Why don’t we open with the pasta monologue?” Once I made that adjustment, things unfolded really naturally and I wrote a couple more drafts, but it it was like two weeks until we had the final draft.
Frank Mosley: And the writing was so good, it wasn’t like any searching for anything. The only thing we had fun with was it was a few days before production, Hugo had the ending completely locked, but the question was like how and what’s the vibe? Hugo took it up to a next level because he has Vinnie enter in off-screen, so when I look up, it’s like such an elliptical moment where I’m watching [the short], almost like a punchline feel, and it’s over, he hints that there’s a whole other scene that’s about to happen and then we cut short, which I thought was such a great idea.
How did Jennifer Kim enter the picture?
Hugo De Sousa: She’s the best.
Frank Mosley: She brought the third wheel, yet for a lot of people who see the film, she seems to be the barometer [for] the audience. She’s the one watching these two guys going at it, so it was such a pleasure to get her involved. We had gone through a couple friends who we thought might be interesting for the role and could bring a lot of nuance to Beatrice even though she’s in two very quick scenes, like how could we hint at a whole relationship with her and Jack and how is she a person who does well with pressure? Does she have a boiling point she’s reaching? We were going through a few names and it was actually my partner Joslyn [Jensen] who was like, “What about Jennifer Kim?” It was this lightning bolt moment and as soon as I said the idea to Hugo, it was like, “Don’t want to hear anybody else. She’s perfect.” We were just thankful she said yes.
Hugo De Sousa: Honestly, we were like self-conscious because it’s such a small role, but you’d be surprised how many people after they watch “The Event,” they go straight to Jennifer Kim, like “Oh, I love her in this.” That made us really happy. She had such a great attitude. She came in, did her thing and left, but she was such a good energy to have on set.
Was this actually your first time back on a set since the start of the pandemic?
Frank Mosley: Yeah, that was the other incentive for me and Hugo because I know I hadn’t been on a movie set since November ’19, so when he says, “Let’s make something,” I thought it’s going to be tough because it was still the pandemic, so how do you do it safely. We knew immediately we needed a small crew and it helped that we were going to be at one person’s house, so it’s a place that we could control for safety. We could have the CCO on set, spraying things down with sanitizer. But it definitely put a lot of fire under us because we miss making movies [and we thought] we’re going to put everything we have into it. It was just a one-night shoot — a dark night of the soul — but we did it.
The lighting in this is particularly great in terms of conveying where these two guys are coming from during this conversation in the middle of the night. Was is tricky to figure out?
Frank Mosley: Yeah, the trick was we didn’t want it to be brightly lit and we didn’t want it to feel like TV lighting because on network TV when it’s dark, it’s still very much lit and very bright. That’s always one of my biggest pet peeves in movies is “Where is the light coming from?” It’s like some unseen source that would not be natural to that place. So I was really getting back into Gordon Willis cinematography and revisiting “Klute” and “Parallax View” and all those films that are so beautiful, and we kept talking about night and it’s like, “Hugo, why don’t we just light this thing like a noir,” [where] if we light this thing so dark, it’ll bring out the pathos. It’s already funny, but it’ll heighten the characters and make the stakes feel so much higher. Thankfully, we got Kenneth Wales, who came as a recommendation from Benjamin Weissner and had just done “The Beta Test” to DP for us and at last minute, he just crushed it. It was like one of those things where it’s like, “Here’s the influence folder, buddy,” and he’s like, “Yeah, I can do that.” And then we were just so blown away by how efficient he was on set.
Did anything happen that might’ve been unexpected but made it into the film?
Hugo De Sousa: We went so fast, there was not a lot of room for like welcoming all those amazing, magical moments, unexpected moments. But what Jennifer Kim did with the role did surprise me because it wasn’t exactly what I imagined in my head and then of course in editing, I was like, “Oh yeah, she completely elevated what I had in my head.” That was very cool to witness.
Frank Mosley: Yeah, we took out a couple lines here and there during the bedroom exchange, just a few moments of tightening, but nothing huge. It was more just finding that right beat to keep the momentum going, the ebb and flow from scene to scene, so just where you’re taking a breath, it puts you back into the next scene before you can relax.
Have you actually run this past some of your filmmaker friends? I imagine this gets at existential fears for most.
Hugo De Sousa: That was what was funny to us about the short film is we all know it’s impossible to convince strangers to watch your stuff, but it’s also impossible to convince people who love you, your friends and family. It’s impossible, and I know they want to support us, but the amount of friends that come to me and are like, “I really want to watch, I feel so bad I haven’t watched it, can you send me a link, where can I watch it?” And I’m like, “Okay, if you’re asking, I’ll send it to you of course,” and then when I send it, they won’t watch it for a year or two…
Frank Mosley: And the link is expired…
Hugo De Sousa: The link expires. [laughs] That was really interesting to me and I wanted to know why. I actually confronted a few friends when I was writing [“The Event”] and it was so cinematic – the look on their faces when I confronted them. I felt like I asked them the most private of questions, [like] the most intimate thing about their relationship with their wives. They looked at me like they couldn’t believe I was asking them that. It was so uncomfortable and awkward and I’m [thought] this is so cinematic because it’s like I don’t know what’s happening, but the tension’s very high. That’s when I knew. So people are responding really well because they know the struggle for sure.
Frank Mosley: They get it. And I don’t mean this entirely seriously, but some of our friends that have even taken a while to watch our link when we send them “The Event” and then they wait a couple weeks and they see it and they almost feel attacked because it’s like about putting off watching the link, so it almost becomes performance art because they’re like, “Wait a minute… did you do this because of me?” And it’s like, “No, we made this movie way before.” But they felt that intensity coming from the piece, the confrontation of that idea.
Hugo De Sousa: And we’re guilty of it. We’re not pointing the finger. The amount of scripts that my friends send me that I don’t read straightaway and it takes me months to get to — we’ve been both characters so many times.
Frank Mosley: And a lot of people have watched and thankfully said, “I’ve been both of these dudes. I totally know the feeling and then it makes them more conflicted watching it because it’s like is there a way to resolve this? I’m both of these people.