Filmmaker 5 with Jessica Hinkson: Sara

C’mon Mort Productions and Hello, Darling Pictures present in association with 88th Street
Productions made with support from Stowe Story Labs a film by Jessica Hinkson, Sara premieres at the the 19th Annual Oscar-Qualifying HollyShorts Film Festival in Los Angeles on August 12, 2023.

Sara is a dramatic short film about a woman who finds the strength to confront her greatest fear by relying on the comfort of strangers. Writer and director Jessica Hinkson won the Women In Film Screenplay Award for her Sara script at the Oscar-qualifying HollyShorts Film Festival in 2021. Bringing the completed film to HollyShorts 2023, Hinkson is further developing the Sara material into a feature film under a new title, Concrete Marshmallow. Classic Couple Academy asked Jessica about Sara.

Filmmaker Jessica Hinkson

Filmmaker 5.1:  Sara explores the struggle of keeping up outward appearances when inside your world is falling apart. How did you come to this theme?

Sara is not so loosely inspired by a moment in my life and personal health journey; Sara is a glimpse into a moment where I struggled to cope in a public place — the airport. My flight was delayed repeatedly. My Mom had just had a second stroke; I had had three surgeries; I would have my fourth within a few months. My life was in limbo in every way. It’s that metaphorical crossroads of life paired with the ever-encompassing theme of you versus you. I was inconsolable-my grief monster unleashed. And in all honesty, I didn’t care. I was isolated in pain out loud. 

Filmmaker 5.2:  This is an intimate portrayal demanding an intense display of emotion from Samora Smallwood in the title role of Sara. What was your directorial approach to evoke her performance?

It was crucial that Samora had autonomy on set as a performer and human being. We had conversations where I was transparent with her about my story, therefore this story of Sara, and in return, she was with me. Although our life journeys differ, some similarities unite us as relatable and imperfectly perfect, just like Sara. As it did with Naomi and Prince and anyone that you sit down with, are present with, and actively listen to. We talked about subtext and everything we wish we could say but can’t due to fear, judgment, shame, etc. And most importantly, we spoke of “Sara’s” broken hearts, our broken hearts, and the societal expectations around grief. How does space exist when we can’t do it for ourselves?

I also asked her, as well as my other talent, how they liked to work. If she was ready to go again (as in doing another take right away) or when she was prepared to go, we established direct eye contact or a safe word, for example. I gave her the space to do so entirely. And we played. When you have a talent such as Samora, there is no limit to what she can do and where she can go. She gives it her all, and then she soars even more.

Filmmaker 5.3:  Sara is also being developed into a feature film. What can you share about this project?

Yes! Sara is being developed into my first feature with a different title, Concrete Marshmallow, in development with Ashleigh Rains of C’mon Mort Productions, Naiyelli Romero Aguero, and Thea Gagliardi. So we are using the short as a proof of concept. The feature will be taking a deep dive into looking at unresolved trauma and disassociation paralleled with the accepted self-forgiveness and truth that both grief and joy can coexist, as can trauma and the possibility of living a great life. It won’t be linear because life isn’t. It’s not a coming of age; it’s a being brave and finding the resolve in the magic that is life.

Filmmaker 5.4:  Although set in the very public space of an airport, the cinematography in Sara is very personal, with highly tight shots. How did you work with your collaborators to determine this filmmaking approach?

In terms of the filmmaking process, the soundscape for the film is a divine symphony of human beings and sounds within their current environment. And, like, with the lighting choices, the soundscape mirrors Sara’s journey (i.e. heightened when her emotions are elevated to a more calm reflective presence by the end.) It was important to me to use sound as a metaphor. Lens-wise, we used both Anamorphic and Spherical for filming. The spherical lenses allowed us to create a bokeh that looks circular (or spherical) in the out-of-focus moments and flairs, specifically when implementing Wong Kar Wai’s step printing method for when Sara is consumed in her internal spiral to further her POV juxtaposed with reality.

Filmmaker 5.5:  What are the biggest challenges and most rewarding opportunities short film provides to you as a writer and director?

Funding for independent films is always the biggest challenge. The reward is that we get to do it, to tell stories that matter, that we get to gather with like-minded creatives, which ultimately gives life to that “indie magic.”

Film stills credit: Kenya-Jade Pinto

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