When Short Film Won’t Quit – interview with Jacob Migicovsky

Cameras

About a year and a half ago, my good friend and business partner Jacob Migicovsky uprooted himself from the sunny shores of LA and moved far, far away. To London. The main motives for this move are something I’ll let you ask about Jake in private, but it did result in a beautiful little miracle–Jake was pregnant. His man-baby was a short film that ended up being titled Waiting For a Stranger. The film is a 50’s period piece set in England, in which a lonely woman–Anne–becomes intrigued in a murder that happens right under her nose. This leads her into the world of an interesting and mysterious stranger, which threatens to jeopardize her life as she knew it, including her only joy–her young son.

So you’ve been working on this film for close to a year now, right? This was also your first film in the UK, and the biggest film in scope that you’ve directed. At what point did you absolutely think you were going to kill yourself?

I think because I had so much invested in the project, I was able to soldier on happily and enjoy most of the long hours and endless frustration. However, it was when I got a phone call a week before production that I just about lost it. Through no fault of his own, unfortunate circumstances forced our DP to drop out. It was more than just being terribly excited to work with him, it was this feeling that nearly 6 months of planning was about to blow up in our faces, and we’d be left without a film.

Luckily I kept sharp objects away from my desk.

(Though let it be known that our DP busted his ass to get us an amazing replacement asap. He ended up being the amazing Christopher Moon.)

And what was it that kept you sane?

The week before production was full of the kind of things you dread, I was in a constant state of, “What else?!”. We still had problems on the first day of shooting and we didn’t get much done. But it was uplifting to see a crew I had never worked with getting along and not losing faith. There was a feeling on set that everyone was there to work on this film because they genuinely wanted to, and not for any other reason. That kept me going the next day, when we shot almost double our planned schedule.

But still, there was one event that turned the tables completely. At the end of the second day, we had one last take to get the most complicated shot of the day, maybe of the entire shoot. It required lots of rigging, perfect focus pulling, and to boot, it was absolutely freezing. It was one long speech, about 5 minutes, and I’ve never felt so much tension on set. By the end of it, the camera move was done, and the entire production waited with baited breath as the actor finished his monologue. It was an incredible performance, and when I called ‘cut’, there was a moment of silence in the room, and then the entire cast and crew roared in applause. That’s when I knew we’d be okay.

This is a very ambitious short film–it’s a period piece that mixes English and French actors, has several musical elements, and includes a child actor. Tell me how you were able to pull together so many talented people for an expenses only project.

I’m just as surprised as you. It’s one thing to believe in your own work, but it’s quite another to have others believe just as much. I’ve made lots of films for expenses, but never have I worked with such amazing people. I’m not blowing smoke when I say that every head of department, every cast member, every crew and background artist showcased more talent than I’ve ever seen first hand.

The first positive response came from the script, when we saw how many people showed up for casting at an old town hall in the East end. The actors were really into it and that’s when we knew it wasn’t just us who liked the story. As the production progressed, it became clear that this story was connecting to everyone from the extras to the gaffer, and I think the visual style we were going for helped wet everyone’s appetites.

Once the film was shot, we were able to stop pitching a hypothetical film, and the footage enabled us to pile up even more favours. As you say, a lot of people called this an ‘ambitious’ short film, and there was a lot of excitement, but just as much hesitation. Once they saw that we had achieved what we said we would, they were happy to help.

You’ve actually done a lot of cinematography yourself, and you’re a great photographer. What was it like working with a different DP?

Once we found the right Cinematographer, it was an eye opening experience. The original DP, John Lee, was able to take my notes and run with them until I was surprised by my own ideas. I tried to have as many meetings in pre-production as possible, because I consider the visuals to be at par with any other element in a film. I think both DP’s saw that I cared deeply about the cinematography and it wasn’t a case of telling them to go off and shoot it, it was always a collaboration.

Admitting that I wasn’t a talented enough DP to make this film appear like it did in my mind, was the best decision of the entire production.

Now that your masterpiece is nearly finished, are you able to look back and say what you would have done differently?

The first regret anyone will ask themselves is, are they happy with the film? And for the first time in my shorts career, this film came out better than I ever expected. So in terms of creative decisions, I wouldn’t change a thing.

As far as production goes, there’s certainly some areas that I would run differently. Because this project started out rather modestly, we didn’t think we’d need nearly as many people as we did, and certainly not as much money. Once we decided to shoot on the RED MX, our entire production shifted and slowly but surely, the film snowballed into a giant project. Ironically, if the film had started out as large, I don’t think it would have ever gotten made, because it would have seemed impossible.

Looking back, we needed more producers sharing the load, and a UPM overseeing all the details. By the time we had seen just how big the production had gotten, too much of the responsibility lay with the producer, Graham Sylvester, and myself. Even if we had brought someone on, it would have been too difficult to fill their brains with all of the knowledge we had of the previous 6 months. At the same time, by taking on such a ridiculous amount of work, I’ve become a much more competent producer.

So regrets? Yes, with a but.

And will our London readers have the chance to check out your film anywhere in town?

Only time will tell. We hope to get accepted into BFI, LIFF, Encounters, Raindance, and other festivals around the UK, but that’s not up to us. Anyone who’s interested can “Like” our Facebook page, where we’ll update everyone on any screenings or awards we receive. And if we are not accepted into any festivals, we will update everyone on what brand of beer we’re drinking to wash away the sorrow.

So there it is. Another brave young filmmaker’s foray into the unknown, terrifying and exhilarating void that is shooting a film. If you have stories of films you have recently completed, including death-defying challenges and how you overcame them, send them our way at wideopencamera@gmail.com.

Thanks for reading, and talk to you soon.
Ilya

Jared Abrams
Jared Abrams is a cinematographer based in Hollywood, California. After many years as a professional camera assistant he switched over to still photography. About two years ago a new Canon camera changed the way the world sees both motion and still photography. He just happened to be in the right place at the right time.