The Heiress Lethal
by Faruq Oyekan
To appreciate the brilliance of Michael Brueggemeyer’s The Heiress Lethal one must first understand the conditions of the film competition that is the 48 Hour film festival. Just as the name suggests groups of filmmakers are given a genre, character, line of dialogue and then only TWO days to whip up a seven minute or less short film.
For even the greatest of filmmakers these constrictions can produce crap or pieces of work that does not at all showcase their actual talent. However, in very rare cases, such as in Michael Brueggemeyer’s case, these constrictions can result in a piece of work that are both visually stunning and nicely written.
Any cinematographer will tell you that lighting takes time and loads of pre-planning. For most, a 48 hour window is not enough time. However the The Heiress Lethal in its running time of 10 minutes is able to produce a visually stunning piece that beautifully uses shadows and light. The fact that Michael Brueggemeyer and crew were able to pull off a Film Noir piece, a genre that relies so heavily on light, in such a limited time is a testament on its own.
Now enough about the festival! Do not be fooled! Festival aside, this film does stand on its own two legs.
The story is charming and hilarious. The dialogue is full of gags that mock the elements of the Film Noir genre and cop dramas as a whole.
The acting is tremendous and the cast really delivers in their representation of stock Film Noir characters. When these characters devolve into mocking their archetypes it is believable and extremely humorous.
The Heiress Lethal is a must watch for Film Noir fans and comedy fans in general.
INTERVIEW with Michael Brueggemeyer (Director)
First of all, how long have you been film making? What got you interested?
I’ve been making local commercials since 1990. I’ve been trying to break into the industry for all of that time, working on improving my work and putting a great reel together, but being a one-man-band most of the time, it’s really hard to do eye-catching work.
Tell me more about the 48 hour competition. Any interesting behind the scene stories?
I was working at a production company in 2008, and got laid off, and started looking for more ways to make contacts in the industry, and at a mixer, three friends and I discussed the 48 Hour Film Project. We formed a team in 2008, and I co-wrote and directed our film, called Just a Man. It turned out better than any of us could have ever hoped, and we won 7 out of 13 awards, including best film. It is a timed filmmaking competition, which takes place on a weekend. On Friday evening, the team leaders gather and are assigned a character, a prop and a line of dialogue which they must include in their film. Then each team picks a genre out of a hat. Our genre for The Heiress Lethal was Film Noir. We brainstormed for three hours, wrote for four, shot all day Saturday, our editor edited all night Saturday night and all day Sunday, and we turned the film in before the deadline on Sunday evening, 48 Hours after choosing the genre. The 48 Hour Film Project is currently in over 130 cities worldwide, with over 3000 teams. The Heiress Lethal ended up being chosen one of the twelve best films of the 48 Hour Film Project worldwide, and was screened at the Cannes Film Festival.
How'd you come up with the plot for this film?
Regarding the plot, we chose Film Noir, and commenced our brainstorming session, which is great. We gather anybody on our team who wants to participate, and we write down any ideas which come to us, and we read them out loud, then do the same thing again. After two rounds, we discuss the favorite ideas, and our story usually comes from elements from two or three ideas. I knew I wanted to do something different with the genre, so we went with a classic visual treatment and a goofy comedy through the dialogue.
As for Behind-the-scenes stories, the best is that the heavyset detective who keeps messing things up, is Jim Teiper, our gaffer. And our lead actress read the script and told me in no uncertain terms that the film would not be funny at all.
How'd you achieve the look of the film?
We shot on a Canon 7D and a Canon T2i, and since we knew we were going black and white, we ignored the color balance of our lights. We turned the color off on the monitor, but still shot in color. Our gaffer and best boy electric, Jim Tieper and Brad Elsey, spent the day painting with light, and their artistry shows, and our DP, Bill Bork, led them to a beautiful, classic film look.
What is it like film making now after having made this film? Has your approach changed?
My approach hasn’t changed, but the films have. My approach is always to tell the story in the war\y the story wants to be told, in the way that works best for the story. My goal is to have folks enjoy my films, but not really see a ‘style’ among them, because if they see my style, then I feel I’m interjecting my influence onto the story, and the story’s influence should be pure. Yes, I’ll have my idea of how to tell the story, but my goal is to make a story well told, not have it be MY story well told.
Do you have any projects lined up for the future?
We just competed in the Los Angeles 48 Hour Film Project, and we are re-editing that film to be released soon.
Any advice to filmmakers?
Advice to filmmakers? Choose another career? Seriously, keep making mistakes. I continue to make mistakes all the time, I just strive to make a higher level of mistake on each project. The difference between me and a first year film student used to be the technology I could afford, but that’s no longer true, so now the difference is the level of mistakes I make are better than theirs. So keep making, and learning from, mistakes.