Fantasia Fest 2023 Interview: Frank Mosley and Hugo de Sousa on Fragile Objects in “Good Condition”

You’d have thought that after Hugo De Sousa and Frank Mosley found plenty of viewers for “The Event,” their 2022 short about a filmmaker (De Sousa) desperate to get his roommate (Mosley) to carve out 10 minutes to watch his film, there may have been a little less anxiety in their second collaboration together. However, there’s no such relief to be found in “Good Condition,” which again sees De Sousa as a worrywart, puzzling over the planned pickup of a coffee table in which the seller strangely doesn’t want to meet, leaving the unnamed buyer unsure of what to do when confronted with the item left for the taking in a garage without a clue of how to pay for it. More profound questions emerge as texts suggests he’s being watched, leading to a full-blown panic attack as the man who simply wanted some furniture for his new apartment has to consider the reasons why he had to make the move in the first place and instead of making a purchase, it feels like he could be selling his soul.

As much as the character would prefer it not to be a one-man show, “Good Condition” rides entirely on De Sousa’s gloriously sweaty performance, crumbling when a simple transaction doesn’t go according to plan and able to hint at an entire history offscreen that suddenly gives a weight to each tortured word he tries to convey to the unseen seller, desperate for anyone to listen to his troubles. The most compassion offered is by the camera, with Mosley crisply capturing both the absurdity and tragedy of the situation and cinematographer Ludovica Isidori tenderly observing a man who like the table he’s acquiring is a little more fragile than it first appears. Since premiering at Aspen Shortsfest earlier this year, the film has charmed a variety of audiences at Oak Cliff, Fantasia Fest and Nevada City, where De Sousa earned a best performance prize, and on the eve of helping to launch the New/Next Festival in Baltimore and grace Birmingham’s Sidewalk Film Festival later this week, the dynamic duo behind “Good Condition” spoke about reteaming for the short, surprises on the set and the good breaks the production caught in telling of someone who experienced a few bad ones.

How did this come about?

Hugo de Sousa: When I write, I normally outline the script and the story so I know what I’m writing before I actually sit down to type and I wanted to like challenge myself to not do that. So with this, I had an image of my garage with a coffee table in the center and I sat down and wrote it. It ended up being a very stream-of-consciousness type of process where I was just like walking through the story with the character, not really knowing what was going to happen. And you can see it in the film. There’s like an off-kilteredness to the film. It’s not traditionally structured at all. There’s one part that’s basically a silent movie and then the second is just like a monologue full of comedic turns and it’s also very vulnerable and earnest. I fell in love with it and the character and I decided that I wanted to focus on just acting for this, so I asked Frank if he wanted to join me and direct this.

Frank Mosley: And I luckily said yes. It was one of those things where Hugo’s writing is so vivid from the get-go, so then the idea was like, “Hey, if we’re going to make a movie right after ‘The Event,’ how can we do something different? It’s already different narratively, but something that’s even aesthetically different? If Hugo wasn’t doing Hugo, then the movie wouldn’t work. You have to have a performance that’s compelling enough to watch a one-man show the entire time, but even in that regard, there’s not a whole lot of action — there’s one burst, so how do we make it feel like everything’s moving forward even when there’s a still moment? That’s where like the zoom idea came about — and it almost mirrors the character’s tunnel vision [where] he’s constantly zoning in on that one goal. “I’ve got to get the table, I got to get the table.” So it was fun to explore that with the camera and [create] these edges of abstraction, compared to the literal groundedness of “The Event.” It was really fun to do this 180 flip, still exploring these lonely men in both of these films, but in different worlds and Ludovica Isidori was our DP and she just, you know, she was amazing. She knocked it out and did everything beautifully.

I actually spoke with her recently for “Sanctuary,” and talk about someone who knows how to work a room – what was it was like bringing her aboard?

Frank Mosley: It was really cool because I didn’t know Ludovica really at all, but my partner, Joslyn had acted in a movie that she had shot, and when Hugo and I were talking about DPs, Joslyn was like, “What about Ludovica?” We’d already toyed with her maybe working on “The Event” because that had gone through a period of us trying to lock in the perfect DP for the timeframe, and Hugo and I talked about that again. She’s really got something special. She’s one of the first DPs I’ve ever had that — and this is not a knock on any other great DPs I’ve worked with — but she would challenge an idea with an idea of her own in the most positive way and be like, “Okay, that’s great, but why?” And immediately give you a question so that then you really feel cemented with your opinion of your shot. She raised the bar in that way.

Hugo de Sousa: It’s also it’s such a testament to her passion that she would be willing to jump from a movie like “Sanctuary” to the smallest of short films.

Frank Mosley: In a garage.

Hugo de Sousa: Just a guy in a coffee table with no money. I was really blown away by her commitment and just passion for her craft.

I wanted to single out one shot in particular, which is when Hugo’s character runs towards the house and you see it from the perspective of being just inside the door, looking out the window where there’s a prism-like quality. Was that an early idea you had or something you found with the location?

Frank Mosley: That was an early idea. In fact, that opening was an idea I had in a movie that I shot many years ago, and it was a shot that I always really liked and I had to cut it. And I [thought], what if this starts in a very similar way, with this refracted glass, but then the difference is that it doesn’t stop? Once it keeps going toward Hugo, it just keeps going and even when the Zoom stops, I hope that people don’t even notice that it stops because they’re so invested in the performance by that point. We’re this close on his face, and you can see every bead of sweat, so hopefully they’re right there.

What’s the conversation between the two of you like on set when there’s no other scene partner?

Hugo de Sousa: I like performing my own writing just because I already have the feelings when I write it, so it’s efficient that way. And Frank really helps. I didn’t write it thinking this is going to be a one-take monologue, but he has a lot of belief in me and was the one who had that idea and trusted me with that. A tricky thing about writing and performing your own writing is that when you’re struggling with a word or like a line, you can just cut it because you’re the writer, so you can get lazy as an actor and just be like, “I don’t like saying this, let me just get it out.” But I had to practice a lot of discipline not to do that and [say to myself], “This is the line. I’m not going to keep tweaking the monologue with every little obstacle. I’m going to commit and be an actor.” And Frank [would say], “Don’t rewrite, this is the script. Now we interpret it.” If you have a director that keeps you in line, you can get through it.

Frank Mosley: It was fun to work on that monologue in particular together because we really had a nice fun day of playing with the levels of how that arc within the monologue could be played. Once we’d shot it and he performed it, that was the first take that you see in the film. We had like another take or two, but I remember we were in the edit room and it was like, we can’t beat the first one. It was so raw, so fresh and Hugo gave everything to that first take, so we’re like, “All right, we can’t say no to this.”

Hugo de Sousa: I’m proud of that, and also like when I break the table, that’s the first take too. I’m proud of that too.

Frank Mosley: He’s a first take guy. The way [that table] does this ballet flip across the alley and lands perfectly… and Hugo surprised me [when he] threw in a little actor improv nugget, which was when he comes around the corner in that reflection, he throws down the table, keeps running the house, and he’s like, “Oh yeah, I gotta put the table leg back with the rest of the carcass of the table.” And I loved it. I had to stop from laughing behind the camera because he didn’t tell me he was gonna do that. And it was really great.

Hugo de Sousa: Yeah, that’s one of those things you just have to do. You can’t try to explain it and sometimes as an actor, you have to be like this is something I’m going to do and I hope it works.

I was all ready to ask how many takes that took, getting that leg to blister off the table exactly like it does. I figured 20.

Frank Mosley: 120 takes. [laughs]

Hugo de Sousa: And we only had three tables. We bought three just in case, but the first one worked.

Dare I ask, was this actually the table you had in mind in the first place or was there a search for the specific table?

Hugo de Sousa: I didn’t describe what the table was in the script. It was just a coffee table. and we could go in two directions. Maybe the coffee table is really interesting or maybe the coffee table is really simple and to the naked eye, it’s a very normal coffee table but to this guy, he’s completely enthralled. So [we thought] let’s just make this the most bland coffee table possible and we’re gonna project all these feelings onto it.

Frank Mosley: And in his script, what really was like sealed the deal for me when we’re talking about making this together was that he was like there’s the moment where he walks into the garage and he sees the table and he writes, “It’s like the 2001 monolith.” When I read that, I was like, “All right, this is exciting because then we can treat this like a holy space, but with the most minimal of tables.” It shows more about who he is as a character and his perception of it is that it’s this grand. It’s the Taj Mahal that he’s about to to nuzzle up against.

You actually filmed it lovingly, similar to your earlier short “Parthenon” where the texture becomes a big part of it.

Frank Mosley: I don’t know. People’s faces, people’s hands, it’s bait for me. And Hugo’s hand on the table and his face is so expressive, it’s giving so much. And we talked a lot about the shininess of that table. We kept cleaning it and wiping it down with a cloth so it had that reflective nature. And the ring on his finger was a big part of why that shot works, and what that means potentially.

What’s it been like to start getting it out there?

Frank Mosley: It feels like the little film that could because in some ways it’s smaller than “The Event” and yet it’s hitting a lot of bucket list fests that Hugo and I were like, “Please let’s get into” and what’s cool is that they’re different fests from “The Event,” so it’s cool to get a different audience with with this film.

Hugo de Sousa: Yeah, it’s a very different experience than “The Event” because this film asks the audience to participate a little bit and some people like that, some people don’t, so it’s fun to see the reaction afterwards. Some people want answers and they’re frustrated by that, and other people like to think about the puzzle after they see it, but we’re inviting people to be a partner in this story whereas in the event, you can be completely passive watching that. You just sit back and you enjoy. So it’s been great just to experience being with an audience with two completely different films and that helps us grow as filmmakers, I think.

“Good Condition” will next screen at the New/Next Festival in Balitmore from August 18th-2oth, the Crazy About Film Festival in Mineral Wells, Texas, the Sidewalk Film Festival in Birmingham, Alabama from August 21st through 27th, the NOT Film Festival in Rimini, Italy from August 22-27th.

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