by Faruq Oyekan
Brady is a 2013 short film from filmmaking duo John Heeg and Chris Westlund.
John Heeg and Chris Westlund are known together as nautico, a filmmaking team with less than conventional filmmaking practices. As John Heeg beautifully phrases “…Chris talks to the actors and I pick up the camera whenever. We are capable of switching places at any times and do so as needed. Both of us are completely aware of what we want in every aspect of what is happening on set with the cameras, lighting, talent, production design, etc”. Chris functions primarily as the director of photography and John as director, but when push comes to shove neither have any problems with filling each other’s shoes. This filmmaking technique showcases itself amazingly in there 2013 short film, which exemplifies their ability to work off each other.
Brady tells the story of a young boy who is confined to a wheelchair. He lives alone with his single mother, who is over fifty and lonely. For Brady’s mother, a paraplegic son and an aging body has made for a less that prolific love life. This spirals into a moment of weakness and what can only be described as mid-life crisis –esque embarrassment when Brady’s mother choses to pursue her son’s swim coach. A handsome twenty something year old physically fit younger gentleman who has no romantic interest in her. What happens next is a series of heartbreaking and overall depressing turn of events that highlights the struggle of parents who are both single and the primary caregiver to a less than able child.
The film itself tells the story of Brady’s mother, her name is Diane by the way, through very little dialogue. It instead utilizes brilliant scenes of cinematographic greatness and visually subtlety to get its story out. For the majority of the film we experience the story from Brady’s perspective, meaning that we sit on the sidelines as we witness Diane casually flirt with the swim instructor and inevitably gets her heart broken. For the viewer this perspective heightens the emotional impact. We get a sense of the vulnerability of Diane, and how helpless she must truly feel. For us, the viewer this turns this mostly simple short film, compromised of mainly three scenes, into an emotional roller coaster.
What is extra amazing about the sea of emotions presented by this short, is how subtlety and simple it is presented by the filmmaking duo. The feelings are not forced in your face, instead through brilliant acting on Brady and Diane’s part, the audience gets a feeling of her struggle. Little details, that are as simple as cutting to Brady confined in his wheelchair, do an amazing job of bring the films point across and presenting an emotionally engaging story.
Concerning Brady and the fabulous young actor Chance Caeden that portrays him, the character actor does a convincing job at portraying innocence and unawareness. What that brings about is an even bigger emotional payoff during the ending, that somewhat presents the future of Diane and her son in a semi-sweet context.
Overall this film is simple in its approach, but complex in the ideas it presents. Brady is a testament to what can be achieved in so little time and with much simplicity. For those unaware of the difficulties of raising a disabled child, Brady offers an insightful and engaging perspective.
INTERVIEW with John Heeg (Director/Writer)
First, who is John Heeg? Who is Chris Westlund? How did you two start making films together?
Chris and I met in film school in Ohio and teamed up because we had similar tastes and also got along very well as friends. It was such a great feeling meeting one another because before that I didn't feel like anybody there understood what I was trying to do with my work or wanted to take risks.
A little more than year ago Chris and I, who form nautico, a commercial and music video directing duo based in Los Angeles, CA and currently represented by adolescent content, needed a new project. We took the script for Brady out of the vault and decided upon it even though we had a few other much more exciting concepts for a short on hand. It's hard to say exactly why but Chris and I felt like it was a piece that deserved to be made. We edited the script together and set out to produce it ourselves.
What inspired this short?
"Brady" was inspired by my experiences volunteering with children with cerebral palsy at a local hospital in Columbus, Ohio. I was amazed at how they revealed themselves to me over time, their inner complexity, and also how expressive they were physically. A few of them were very limited in terms of verbal speech but would find surprising ways to communicate and share intricate emotions with me. I also am naturally drawn to stories about people who unexpectedly find themselves hopeless love situations.
We were interested in making a quiet and expressive film that was driven more by atmosphere and mood as opposed to plot. We had made a similarly styled short before in school called "Death of the Cool" but its running time is so awkward at 23 minutes and we couldn't get anyone to watch it! So we also wanted to make "Brady" as short as possible and cut out anything that we didn't find absolutely necessary to the story, which is perhaps why the ending feels abrupt.
How did the casting process go? Any interesting casting stories?
Casting was one of the most difficult aspects of the production. Our friend Chris Gerht works in casting and helped us find Chance Armstrong from Kansas, a young boy with Cerebral Palsy who was interested in acting. Even though he was much more developed with speech than the children who I had previously worked with. He had these wonderfully expressive eyes and some of the same physical characteristics and movements. We flew him and his mother Lainie out to Los Angeles to work with us. His performance really carries the film.
What was the highlight of making this film?
The subtle storytelling is a hallmark of Chris and I's work and the main complaint that we usually get about our content is that we are too subtle and put too much faith in the audience. It's been amazing to us that this piece is so well received. We love atmospheric and moody films that most people find boring. For example an influence on us has been the film Wendy & Lucy (2008), about a woman on the road en route to Alaska whose dog runs away. There is almost no dialogue in the film, but it felt so honest and real to me. I remember seeing it and realizing as I left the theater that I was the only one who liked it, everyone else was bored to tears.
Any interesting onset stories?
Chance was really amazing and everyone on set was in awe of him and his patience. His mother was also on set the whole time, but I remember in the Van when we shot the last scene of the film it was just Chance, Chris and I, our producer Jeff driving, and our gaffer Lucas who rigged the hostess tray mount. We didn't give Chance too much direction because we wanted something really natural and so instead we were talking with him casually and then eventually we would tell him where his eye line should be and then we just let the quiet naturally unfold. It was a really magic moment being there and that shot is by far my favorite in the film. It suggests an inner complexity to the character of "Brady" in a subtle way that is beautiful to me. I love how the character seems content but also reflective and slightly sad, which suggests an emotional maturity and rich soul.