Writer and Director Alexander Engel, tells a tale of two roommates, a pair of young twenty somethings, moving into an apartment together for the first time. We watch as they deal with the challenges of living with someone in close quarters and the struggle of having to deal with someone else’s baggage while you already have your own.
They deal with the obvious such as boundary issues, who pays the bills, and who cleans what. They also deal with deeper issues such as relationships and heartbreak.
This Is It, is a hilarious short film that can only be described as experimental, but not in the standard sense that many audiences might be used to. Running at around three minutes, This Is It is able to achieve an engaging and complex story by using a method of story structure that is unique and highly refreshing. Unlike most films, This Is It is told through a series of beats or more precisely short slivers of scenes that give an insight into the characters’ lives. These scenes consists of the characters asking the other a question such as “Did you take out the trash?” or “Did you pay the rent?”, other times it consists of a reaction or a statement in relation to another scene.
All in all this storytelling structure works well and adds to the film by creating a humor element. Additionally, as the story progresses it helps to guide a dramatic turn of events that is both satisfying and relatable. Through this experimental structure, situations such as who was supposed to pay the rent or who ate the food are presented in an incredibly engaging and humorous format.
Essentially, This Is It is a film that needs to be seen. Words, no matter how descriptive cannot accurately detail the uniqueness and brilliance of the structure and editing showcased in the film’s mere 3 minutes.
Common film elements such as character development, story progression, and story arc are not sacrificed for style in this short film, nor does its style playoff as a gimmick. Instead all these elements are presented at hyper-speed and as the film reaches its climax there is still a sense of connection and investment in the film’s story and its characters.
The acting showcased by the films cast is brilliant and littered with signs of comedic timing. For a film of this nature, the comedic delivery and dramatic presence of an actor is essential. Amazingly, the cast of This Is It delivers and help provide a smooth digestible narrative. However, the acting is not without the help of the beautiful cinematography of the short film. Aspects such as framing and camera movements work hand in hand with the film’s style to help achieve its hyper-speed experimental style.
Alexander Engel’s short film says a lot about life and the way we experience it. For the viewer, it relates to how we re-remember moments and how these moments shape our lives. For filmmakers, This Is It reminds us that length isn’t everything in filmmaking and that a story’s power or effect on an audience can come in all sizes.
Check out the making of This Is It below. (Click watch on Vimeo as it is accessible to watch there.)
INTERVIEW with Alexander Engel (Director/Writer)
First, what's your story? How did you become a filmmaker?
It wasn’t until I shelved my first feature screenplay that I really considered myself a filmmaker. I think I was 26.
I mean, I’d been working in film for five years at that point. I’d been making movies for ten. Really, I’d done everything. Joined film society in high school. Did a summer at NYFA. Then undergrad film at NYU. And though none of these experiences were actually as educational as they sound, by the time I graduated, I figured I was a filmmaker.
But looking back, it was more like I was playing filmmaker. You know when you see a short where the opening credits are as long as the film itself. Or when you see someone’s made a 2 min trailer for a 4 min movie. Or when a director spends all of development obsessing over what camera to shoot with instead of what story to tell. That’s all playing filmmaker. It’s when you care more about it looking like a film, instead of being a film.
I was in that zone for a while. I had even written this feature screenplay— or 110 pages that looked like a feature screenplay, and I was intent on making it. It took a whole year of rejection before it finally clicked— I didn’t know what I was doing. I had Final Draft and a camera, but really, just cause a guy’s got a saw and a 2x4 doesn’t make him a carpenter.
So I decided to educate myself. Really educate myself. Lots of reading. Books on craft. Screenplays. Even watching movies became work. Lots of pausing— note taking— notes on structure— perspective— everything.
After a year, I went back and did a page one rewrite of that screenplay. Then I did it again. It was hard, but the script got better. Way better. I showed it around again— this time receiving praise, but still no producers bit. I realized it was no longer the writing, but instead the concept at fault— that same concept I had before I knew what I was doing. I knew I could do better. So I shelved it, wrote This Is It, and became a filmmaker.
What inspired this short?
Roommates. All of them. Including myself. It’s amazing how ill-suited for domestic living college grads can be.
I’m notoriously bad about dishes. I had a roommate who’d take my dirty dishes from the sink at night and leave them on the floor just outside my bedroom. Come morning, I’d open the door and trip over them on my way to the bathroom. I always thought that was pretty funny. Didn’t really curb my habits though.
He was no saint either— that same roommate came home drunk one night with a cat he found on the street, somehow convinced its owners abandoned it. But trust me, that cat was straight up feral— and this, I did not think was funny. After a week of failing to domesticate it (ie, teaching it to use a litter box), he took it to an animal shelter. He wasn’t halfway out the door before the cat scratched his face and ran away.
Any interesting production stories?
I’ve been on a lot of sets and this one was pretty smooth. Great crew. Great actors. Everyone was on point. For a peak behind the scenes check out the 3 min Making Of (http://www.alexanderengel.com/amakingof) — you can see all my neuroses at work.
What is it like film making now after having made this film? Has your approach changed?
I’ve made two shorts since This Is It and really nothing’s changed. I mean, I’ve learned so much with each project— but the approach is the same— uncompromising attention to detail, putting the story first, and settling for nothing short of great— because good is lame. Good is like a B / B+ at best. Great is a date with teacher.
Do you have any projects lined up for the future?
My latest short, Digits, is heading out to festivals now. It follows a desperate guy, who after losing the last two digits of this girl’s number, tries every combination to seek her out.
After that, I’m developing a big fat feature. I can’t wait.
Any advice to filmmakers?
Yeah. Don’t fake it. Learn the craft. If it’s narrative filmmaking you’re interested in— the craft is called Storytelling. It involves stuff like character arcs, theme, and structure.
That’s a big one— Structure. People often push back on this one, but remember, structure doesn't compromise art or originality. Look at the sentence— a sentence needs structure; there’s a subject, a predicate, and an order in which the words must exist to make the most sense. And none of that compromises the content or uniqueness of the sentence. So there. Structure.