A man and a woman, married, but not to each other, cross paths at check-in at a roadside hotel one, long, life-changing night. It’s a simple story, but one expressed to its fullest in writer/director Chris Hansen’s micro budget feature drama, WHERE WE STARTED. The film, set entirely in and around a hotel over the course of one night, follows Will and Nora, both at a crossroads in their own particular lives. Will, a relatively unsuccessful actor who is being supported by his wife, tries his best to charm Nora, a put-together stay-at-home mom whose husband is too incompetent to care for their sick child. The attraction is instantaneous, but they both leave a number of roadblocks for the other to negotiate through to arrive safely at their inevitable coupling. It’s not a film that will make you feel any safer about your own marriage, but with the unity of time upheld virtually through the whole picture, it is very easy to escape into these characters and their problems for the night.

Since they are basically the only characters on screen the whole time, the two lead actors had to carry the film pretty much themselves. Hansen had discovered Matt Brumlow (who plays Will) in his prior film, ENDINGS. He says “when I came up with the idea for WHERE WE STARTED, it was with him in mind for the lead role. He happens to be married to a great actor as well – Cora Vander Broek – so the lead female part went to her.” So what we see on screen, a natural interaction like two people who really belong together, was already built in to the shoot. This is a great time-saving tactic of which few directors have the opportunity to take advantage. “I liked the idea of using a married couple in this role because of the comfort and chemistry they already had with one another,” Hansen acknowledges. Brumlow and Vander Broek were more than just actors on the film, though, as they became a large part of the creative progression. “Once I came up with the idea, I cast them almost immediately and involved them heavily in the scripting process,” says Hansen. “So, many of the ideas and details came from them, often from their own lives.” The actor’s ease in these roles and with each other is one of the best things about the film.

Where We Started feels like a window into someone else’s lives. Will and Nora feel destined to be together, even as they fight this natural attraction. Of course, in real life, this happens all the time, when you meet someone and feel like you know them. On screen, the relationship is slowly built through a series of conversations and avoidances. It would be hard to ignore the similarity between Hansen’s film and the Richard Linklater trilogy of films starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. “That was indeed intentional,” says Hansen, “I am a big fan of Linklater’s ‘Before’ films, and I did want to capture the feeling of the first one, but for people of a different age.” This is very true, Will and Nora are not trying to find themselves; they’ve found themselves and maybe aren’t so happy with what they’ve found. “I guess you could take Before Sunrise and imagine ‘what if those people had met when they were a bit older and already deeply entrenched in established relationships and wishing they could make a change,’” explains Hansen. Part of the style comes directly from the production choices inherent in a project of this minimal size. “I had decided to make a film on a small scale to take advantage of the limitations of a micro-budget,” says Hansen, “and since I was doing that, and making a film about two people exploring romance over one night, thinking about the pacing and energy of Linklater’s films made perfect sense.”

Of course Linklater’s films are filled with lush scenery and magical locations that exude romance. Will and Nora are basically trapped in a hotel, just like they are in their own lives. Here, the indie film standard of one location and minimal moves serves the story very well. There is nothing glorious for them back at home, nor is there anything here at the hotel, there is only each other – solitary lights at the end of long, dull tunnels. Surprisingly though, there was very little actual filming at the hotel. “We were supposed to shoot there for five or six days, and they decided on night two that they didn’t want us there anymore, in spite of our contract/agreement,” Hansen says. To get everything in, “we had to shoot five nights worth of scenes in a single night, before the sun came up. We had to simplify our shooting style of course, but we got most of it done.” The interiors were all done at a studio. “We built a set so that we would have ultimate control,” says Hansen, “that was part of the original plan.”

The most powerful scene of the film comes as Will borrows the desk clerk’s motorcycle and takes Nora on a nighttime joyride on nearby abandoned streets. Hansen doesn’t seem surprised by my response to moment. “So much of the film is talking talking talking, and that was by design, but we also wanted to have a respite from that,” he says, “and in trying to figure out what that should be, Matt told me that he loves motorcycles.” In addition to just being a beautiful sequence, the motorcycle ride serves as shorthand for their relationship, an escape, a ride of freedom. Hansen says “we wanted to take things outside the motel and do something that cemented their attraction in a visual way.” For a low budget film, a sequence like this can seem more trouble than it’s worth, but it’s not. This single, two minute moment elevates the whole rest of the movie and was be done with a little planning and a lot of guts. “We shot it at 4am out of the back of a pickup truck,” says Hansen, “I was in the passenger seat with a monitor, and the DP/camera operator was in the bed, with someone else driving. It was a bit nuts, but we loved how it came out.”

Another interesting sequence comes late in the film when Nora and Will imagine the next step in their relationship. The night has to end, and they have to go back to their lives… what do they say? As they talk about breaking up with their spouses and meeting again in the future, the scene shifts to being on the date, a pseudo-reality that leaves the audience wondering just exactly what is happening. Hansen enjoys the off-putting nature of the moment: “Some people don’t like that choice, and all of my films have choices like that, stuff that divides people. Should we do something like this if we haven’t established it as a motif earlier? But I like doing stuff that challenges you at some point. I like that people can’t decide if it’s a real date or a fantasy. I like that they are trying to play out their future together.” The interaction between the two characters changes somewhat, as they have come to this understanding together, even though they are still trying to figure out their prospects. Of course, the biggest difference is that we are once again out of the hotel. “Honestly, I felt like it was good to get out of there if we could,” says Hansen, “sometimes practical concerns lead you to creative ideas.”

WHERE WE STARTED ends somewhat like it begins, two people on separate journeys, with the next phase of their relationship left open-ended. “Without revealing too much, I think it’s up to the viewer to decide where things shake out for these two people,” Hansen confides. “Will the decisions they make at the end “stick” or not? It’s hard to say. I have my opinion, but what I like about the ending is that people can decide for themselves.”

Chris Hansen’s WHERE WE STARTED begins a one week run at the Breakthrough Festival NYC on June 12th, screening daily through the 18th at Anthology Film Archives, 32 Second Ave (@ 2nd St).


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