Guillermo Arribas in "The Last Pick-Up"

Outfest ’18 Interview: Matthew Bonifacio on Connecting with “Last Pick-Up”

“I am going to get you for this, sweetheart,” Andy (Reed Birney) tells the love of his life off-camera in “Last Pick-Up,” making him recall the lead-up to the big fall dance at their high school at least 30 years prior. Just as there was uncertainty back then for Andy (played in his younger days by Nick Ziobro), you can’t be sure who he’ll take or if he’ll even find the courage to ask someone in Matthew Bonifacio’s warm and playful short, as you see him looking longingly over at another table at lunch where it appears others such as Martin (Guillermo Arribas) are firming up their dates while he sits on his hands. Still, they don’t stay that way for long, as Andy ultimately puts his feelings into words that he can slip into an envelope rather than say out loud, and it is in the trepidation of not knowing whether they’ll resonate with the recipient of that letter that Bonifacio and writer David Turner that will connect so deeply with an audience, even in the blisteringly brief three-and-half-minute short that will be premiering this weekend as part of Outfest in Los Angeles.

For Bonifacio who once spread production of his debut feature “Lbs.” over the course of 27 months in order to accurately depict the struggle of his lead character to get his weight down, “Last Pick-Up” would seem to have an especially quick turnaround, but like “Lbs.” and other films in recent years such as “Fortune House” and “The Quitter,” its ability to linger long after it ends isn’t dependent on how long it took to make or watch, for that matter. Before “Last Pick-Up” debuts at Outfest, he spoke about making the most out of his latest short as well as his collaboration with Turner and nabbing such a stellar cast.

How did this come about?

I private coach actors and David Turner, the writer, was an acting client of mine, and he approached me one day to see if I wanted to read this short script that he wrote. When I read it, I was immediately moved by the story and themes of first love. I also loved the idea of seeing teens in present day communicate not by texts or e-mails, but by handwritten letters. David himself has a real love for writing and receiving letters and he told me he still has a stack of his letters tied in a ribbon, so after I shared my enthusiasm for the story, he asked me if I would be interested in directing and if Julianna [Gelinas Bonifacio], my wife and producing partner, would be interested in producing it. He wrote such a powerful script that had such emotion that when people would read it, especially for me and for Julianna, but [I can remember] a crew member would come up and say, “Yeah, I got choked up” — it was very moving — so we made it our next film.

This may be your shortest film – after making features, does that kind of brevity become a challenge?

Whether it’s three minutes or a 21-minute short, it’s always going to be a challenge to tell a story with a beginning, middle and end and in the short film world, there’s hopefully some kind of twist that keeps the audience engaged. At the end of the day, this short was like 3:30, and since it’s so short, you hope that audiences will pick up on the little details. [For instance] the younger version of Reed’s character, the scene where he receives the letter at home, there’s a baseball poster behind him, and then the future version, we see the big baseball bat behind him and you have to hope they pick up these little details and connect the dots that give information as to who these characters are, especially when having a present component as well as a future component, which could be tricky, but audiences are very smart and we had some darlings that worked well in the script and we shot them, but ultimately didn’t make the final cut because you want to put your best foot forward.

With the present-day and future, this was likely divided into two separate shoots – did one inform the other?

We shot the teens first and we received permission to shoot at David’s [old] high school, which was in Ridgewood, New Jersey. I like weaving in elements of nonfiction and I like to blur the lines in my feature work and my shorts, whether it’s new actors who might not have a lot of experience opposite veteran actors or the story itself, and [David said to us] I could show you my old high school or you could find another high school and I was like no, let’s see it, and his high school had such character and there was also a nice personal connection for him. And the staff there were incredibly supportive and it’s not every day you can get a high school for a short film. Even feature films are tough to cut through all the red tape and everything, so that was really helpful.

Then [for the present-day shoot] we engaged Reed Birney, a real veteran, especially in the theater community, who’s been on “The Blacklist” and “House of Cards.” David had known him through the theater and film/TV world and had sent him the script and a rough cut of the teen storyline, which we had already shot. Reed said yes, but he asked if we could work around his schedule because he had just been nominated for a Tony Award for “The Humans,” but he loved what we were setting out to do and he dug deep into his character externally and internally and was a joy to work with. We did his scenes in one day in Harlem [right after the Tonys] — it was a Sunday, and he won and then that Thursday, we were filming his scenes and sent him home with a bottle of champagne. [laughs]

How did you find the kids to be in the present-day half?

We had a casting director Meghan Lennox and we saw many, many actors for those three roles and then Nick [Ziobro] and Guillermo [Arribas] really stood out. They had this organic chemistry with one another and then Taylor [Colwell], had studied with me and I thought of her as soon as we started casting. It didn’t hurt that they were all nice people and that’s goes a long way when you’re on set for 12 hours. It was also Nick’s first film, which I was very impressed with how comfortable he was on camera because that is not easy to do, especially because he didn’t have many lines.

Was there always that little dialogue?

There wasn’t much dialogue except for the locker scene. There were some text conversations between Guillermo’s character and Taylor’s going on to kind of steer the audience in another direction, but we wanted to be careful about that, so we decided to lose that, [and the fact that it] was very dialogue free hopefully [makes it] pops when the dialogue happens at the locker.

Of course, you create a pretty expressive and zippy visual language. How did you tie this together with the camerawork?

We approached the present day one way and the future another, so [with] the teen storyline, I wanted something anamorphic, colorful, and slick, so we wound up shooting on the ARRI Amira in 2.39 [aspect ratio] and for the future, we decided to shoot with a different camera — the Sony FS 7 in a 1.33 aspect ratio, which created a nice home video look, even though it was the future – that was our interpretation of it. [laughs] That style would be more intimate, raw and of course, a contrast to the teens, which was more polished and easy on the eyes.

Have you gotten to show it to David yet?

Yeah, he’s very pleased with it and we’re super excited that Outfest LA will be our world premiere. It was our first submission and we couldn’t be happier. Outfest is such a prestigious, competitive festival and hearing it was accepted was really validating. They spotlight diverse stories and filmmakers who need to be seen and heard and we’re thrilled to be part of this year’s lineup and I’m looking forward to showing our film at as many festivals as will take us.

“The Last Pick-Up” will show at Outfest LA as part of the Emerging Shorts program on July 21st at 8 pm at the Harmony Gold.

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