A relationship is tested when one friend, Ezra, asks the other, Gavin, to help him commit his suicide.
Credits / Collaborators / Cast
Taylor Hancock – Ezra
Raphael Frost Gonzalez – Gavin
Director: Raphael Frost Gonzalez
Producer: Frederick Balian
Director of Photography: Emily Tapanes
Editor: Liam Molina
Sound Mixing: Donavyn Suffel
1st AD: Alex Adams
Music: Alex Twomey
Colorist: Hayley Stablow
Sound Designer: Liam Molina
The story behind the film
The Living is a product of COVID-19. Back in early 2020, my producer and I were planning to make a short film that would work as a proof-of-concept for a feature I wrote. But as the pandemic grew, we quickly realized that the ambition and scope of that film would be impossible to achieve safely. So, we canceled it.
Afterward, I felt stuck both artistically and professionally. We were all locked in our homes, and it was hard for me to come up with a story that I felt mattered as the world was falling apart. Separately, I was going through some troubles with a close friend of mine. We were beginning to argue a lot, and the disagreements we had eventually turned into resentment. I felt a burden to remain this person’s confidant, even though that pressure didn’t feel healthy for either of us.
I eventually decided that I wanted to make a break-up movie. But between two friends who haven’t realized that they’ve outgrown each other. I was interested in exploring what happens when someone you love asks you to do something that you don’t. What do you owe that person in either saying yes or fighting back? By making that friend’s request be a suicide, I was exploring my own experiences with mental health and my inability to communicate some of these emotions. Setting this narrative in a single house touched on life in quarantine, without ever making COVID a plot point.
I was heavily inspired by the British film, Withnail & I. There was something strangely empowering in that movie’s ability to find humor in some of its saddest moments. Although the two leads in that are miserable, the film never dives into self-pity but instead treats both characters with empathy and respect. I wanted to find that same tonal balance but move the narrative to the California desert and have it be with two friends who don’t know how to communicate and therefore help each other.
I wrote and developed the script with my actor, Taylor Hancock. He would read each draft I gave him and provide notes on the general story, Ezra’s character arc, etc. I knew pretty early on that we were not going to have the space to bring another actor, so I decided to play the character of Gavin. Taylor was supportive of this, and we workshopped our performances as I was writing.
I then brought in the fantastic cinematographer, Emily Tapanes. I knew it was important to have a woman’s perspective in a film that was going to be dominated by male characters and ego. She provided a tremendous amount of insight on how we were going to visualize this story. My biggest references for her were Michael Mann films and The Incredibles movies. Both works incorporate architecture and landscapes to externalize their character’s emotions. I felt it was very important we mimic technique but in our own way.
Filming took place over 5 days and was truly a collaborative effort. Taylor would provide notes on my performance and vice versa. Emily and I worked off a shotlist but would improvise if we felt a scene was visually flat. My sound recorder, Donavyn Suffel, was also our key grip.
Once we wrapped filming, my editor, Liam Molina, and I got started on post. Besides cutting the film, Liam did all of the sound mixing and VFX work. One thing we experimented with a lot was perspective. The film starts off very objectively, not delving into either character’s psyche but just setting up the stakes. It then slips into Ezra’s POV as he grows paranoid of his friend, before finally switching to Gavin as he decides to poison Ezra. The purpose of this was to sway the audience’s perception.
To be perfectly honest, this was never an easy project. It was made at one of the worst times of the COVID-19 pandemic, which provided both emotional and logistical challenges for everyone involved. But because of the work my crew did in bringing this film to life (no pun intended), we made something that we are all proud of and excited to share. After watching, I hope that audiences agree.