Come On, Marie...

In conversation with herself over the course of a night, a woman must reconcile the disappearance of her best friend with the possibility that her boyfriend may have been involved.

  • Cristián Ortiz
  • Cristián Ortiz
  • Samantha Marie Daniels
  • McKenna Sennett
    Key Cast
  • Zack Miller
    Key Cast
  • Bethany Wheat
    Key Cast
  • Cristián Ortiz
    Director of Photography
    Credited as "Lee Smith"
  • Cristián Ortiz
    Credited as "Eliza Adkins"
  • Thomas Arganda
  • Tyler Mathson
  • Project Type:
  • Genres:
    Drama, Thriller, Magical Realism, Political Thriller, Action
  • Runtime:
    30 minutes 55 seconds
  • Completion Date:
    October 12, 2023
  • Production Budget:
    2,000 USD
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Country of Filming:
    United States
  • Language:
  • Shooting Format:
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
Director Biography - Cristián Ortiz

Based in Vacaville, CA, Cristián is an award-winning writer, director, cinematographer and editor trying to translate their love of film into their work, playing in genre sandboxes while telling audience-friendly, crowd-pleasing stories grounded in emotion and character.

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Director Statement

As I wait for what I hope is the last export I’ll ever have to make for this short to finish, it’s dawning on me that “Come On, Marie” is without a doubt the most challenging, difficult project I’ve ever attempted to make and it is all entirely my fault.

After I finished post-production on my undergrad “thesis” short and sent it off to a handful of festivals to a surprisingly warm reception, the question of what to do next quickly appeared on the horizon and since graduating, it had become even more abundantly clear that any opportunities for my friends and I to make films of our own would only come to fruition if we forced them to. So as a group, we all set off trying to find what we could possibly make next, and more importantly, what we could make quickly and as cheaply as we could; in doing so, I found myself coming back to an old idea I’d had of a paranoid young woman discussing her suspicions of her boyfriend's misdeeds at the dinner table with "projections" of her subconscious personality.

It’s an idea that had gone through several iterations: first in 2018 as a script that ultimately went nowhere, and then rewritten in 2019 where we actually filmed for two days before it fell apart simply due to my level of experience not matching the ambition of the script (and the script just not being that good), before then laying dormant until now. And in the process of revamping the script from something that was a crass, loud product of the mind of someone in their early 20's into the more thoughtful and emotional version you see in the finished film, it became clear that with this premise, you could really make a film that puts the audience in the perspective of the protagonist by layering in meaning with every aspect and tool at our disposal. Every detail was taken in consideration and challenged with the question of, "How can we use this to show character and tell a story of where Marie is at in this moment?" From the costumes, lens choices, even the aspect ratios of the film and the decision to use film grain overlays (and when), to ensure everything onscreen was imbued with purpose sounded like an exciting challenge for myself, our lead actor (my good friend McKenna Sennett, who I was dying to work with again after our work on that "thesis" short), our producer Samantha Marie Daniels (who was there every step of the way and without whom, the film would never have gotten off the ground, let alone finished), and everyone else who would get wrangled into the process over time.

"Challenge", of course, being the word of the day, as nothing about the making of this film was ever easy: we had 6 days to shoot a dialogue-heavy, 27 page script, with “days” here defined as “4 hours a night”, with a majority of shot with a single camera (save for the last couple days where we rented an additional camera to film some slow motion footage). Because of these time-constraints, our refusal to compromise unless we absolutely had to, and a not-insignificant portion of the film featuring multiple sequences where McKenna would have to be playing scenes as 3 different characters, this called for rehearsals once a week, nearly every week for over a month in order to nail down every bit of dialogue and blocking for both McKenna and the camera. There are fully filmed and edited “practice” versions of these scenes that we had to film to make sure that the shots we planned would work, that the VFX we wanted to do would be feasible and that any of this could actually cut together and resemble a watchable movie, because once we stepped foot inside the actual location (a guest house in Folsom, CA we were able to rent out), there was no time to waste; we had to get in, get the scene and move on as quickly as possible if we had any hope to make our days (and we barely ever made our days). And it was during these rehearsals that we devised a system whereby McKenna would have a tennis ball affixed to a light stand for her eyeline, and I (while operating/managing the camera) would play back audio recordings of every single one of her lines for her to react to onscreen, allowing her to quite literally play these scenes against herself as her own scene partner. Personally I don’t think any of this came as any real challenge for her, as she’s an incredibly talented, highly skilled actor who never complained once during this entire process and always showed up ready to work, oftentimes with more enthusiasm for what we were doing than I had at any given moment. And it’s easy for me to say this both because we’re friends and because I’m always looking for opportunities to do projects with her, but I am genuinely not sure I could’ve done this project without her in the lead.

Ironically, this way of shooting only prepared us for the other big obstacle we encountered during principal photography: after every 2 days of shooting, there would be a week or two of hiatus, and during the hiatus after the first 2 days, we learned that McKenna’s co-star (Zack Miller, a non-actor who powered through a deceptively difficult role and delivered results I’m not sure any of us were expecting) had to drop out from 2 of the 4 days we had allotted to shoot his scenes, forcing us to drastically reconfigure the shooting schedule in order to shoot his part out completely, cramming what we had intended to calmly shoot over the course of 4 days into 2 nights: we pared down the shot list, cut a few pages of dialogue (which worked to our benefit as the scene plays much better without) and every shot that Zack was remotely involved in—whether it was a close-up of him or if he only needed to be in the background of a shot that barely involves him—had to be prioritized, leading to a pivotal scene between the two of them being filmed in such a way that Zack got to play his side of the scene with McKenna, but McKenna had to play hers with a tennis ball and either myself or Samantha reading Zack’s lines back to her.

Post-Production was no picnic either. I don’t have an exact count but the movie contains over 90 individual VFX shots, ranging from exhaustively rotoscoping (all done by hand) to fit multiple McKennas into a frame, compositing stock CG assets (clouds, bullet shells, muzzle flashes) into shots, set extensions, paintouts and dirt removal, all handled by a team of one: me. The names you see in the credits comprising the VFX team (and few other positions) are all pseudonyms, for the purposes of not giving myself an end title card that was a paragraph long, to emphasize the absurd amount of work that movie called for in post, and more importantly, to allow you to hear the beautiful end credits music that was composed exclusively for the film.

The creation of the film’s score is easily the aspect of post-production that took the longest time, starting as early as Fall 2022 and finally wrapping only a few days before the writing of this statement: the process started with a hands-on collaboration with Tyler Mathson, a co-composer of the score for my “thesis” film that I wanted to work with again after how well that first collaboration went. Over the course of several months, Tyler was able to compose to picture 7 different music cues that perfectly captured a lot of the melancholic, troubled emotions we see Marie going through in the film, with some cues requiring a significant amount of work in order to find the right tone and emotion, and others coming together quite easily (the music plays during the sequence when Marie is recounting the events that led to her finding the files in her boyfriend’s bag is all based around a piano riff that Tyler came up with a few minutes after I had told him that this scene needed something playing under it), but at a certain point, Tyler understandably had to tap out, both for personal reasons and also because he had exhausted himself to a creative endpoint, which required bringing on a second composer to bring the movie home. Enter Thomas Arganda, a founding member of The Unknown Space Art Ensemble, who was more than happy to come onto the project quite late in the day and pick up the slack and compose another 6 cues for sequences that are some of the most emotionally complex of the film (and, according to Tom, some of the most “sonically illusive and complicated” songs he’s ever created), scoring scenes that contain some of the more “thriller”-adjacent elements to create and maintaining a real sense of intensity while staying true to Marie’s emotional anxiety (such as the scene where Marie hides from Skyler before confronting him; pay attention to the way Tom is panning different sounds between the left and right stereo channels, creating an anxious, literally restless sonic texture) as well as one of the last scenes between Marie and Skyler at the very end after a pivotal standoff, where Tom has to ride the line between melancholy, romance, nostalgia and heartbreak all at once by reprising an earlier cue he wrote (one that he immediately called one of the most beautiful pieces he thinks he’s ever done), and now the scene that I was arguably the most terrified over whether or not it would work at all doesn’t just work, but sings off the screen.

None of the challenges that we faced are at all unexpected (all of us went into this knowing that not a single minute of our trying to make it would be easy) nor unique, but as painful as it was, I’m glad we all found a way to pull through and bring it across the finish line. If nobody likes the finished product, then sure, we’ll be disappointed, and if everybody loves the movie, than that’s fantastic, and we thank you for watching, but either way, what matters is that against the odds, we made something where we rarely had to compromise—technically or artistically—and it’s only made us wiser and more prepared for whatever the next thing we all make will be. I don’t know what that next thing will be, or if the opportunity to make another thing will ever come, but all I know for certain is that whatever it is…

It definitely will not involve a single actor playing multiple characters again.