Demonstrating Creativity Under Quarantine With Director Jeremiah Kipp’s PANDEMIC SHORT FILMS Series
A scene from Kipp’s short film THE DROP, co-starring Jessica Green (pictured here) and Ben McHugh.
When the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic hit the United States this past March, millions of people across the country were forced to balance the needs of protecting themselves and their loved ones with the needs of their professional careers. Yet for Americans who call entertainment their line of work, staying safe while under quarantine wasn’t the only challenge that came with the COVID-19 shutdown.
Keeping their creative drive intact was an even greater task for the actors and filmmakers who participated in director Jeremiah Kipp (Pickup, Slapface, How Do You Type A Broken Heart)’s recently released series of short films, all shot during the early months of the pandemic and self-taped by Kipp’s casts.
These films, all streaming on Vimeo and linked to separately at the end of this article, are examples of how even the most limiting circumstances - specifically, the limits of social distancing and self-quarantining - can elicit the most impactful works of art.
In this series is “The Drop”, featuring Jessica Green and Ben McHugh portraying a beleaguered mother and father dealing with the aftermath of a failed attempt to reunite with their hospitalized child, plus “Jumper” co-starring Jennifer Plotzke as an overwhelmed mother struggling with life after the birth of her newborn baby, and memorable ensemble performances of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Bells” and two of Nobel Prize-winning Chilean poet Pablo Neruda’s most popular works (“Poem XV” a.k.a. “I Like For You To Be Still” and “Sonnet No. 17”).
Joy Shatz co-stars as a desperate turkey baker in HOTLINE, a humorous part of director Jeremiah Kipp’s Pandemic Short Films series.
Providing comedic refreshment among the more dramatic entries in Kipp’s coronavirus-era set of vignettes is the romantic comedy “Hotline”. The film co-stars Joy Shatz as Molly, a woman who races against time to cook the perfect Thanksgiving turkey. Guided throughout the cooking process by a friendly “turkey hotline” phone advisor (Daniel, played by Chip Rybak), Molly soon finds that there’s more to like about her long-distance life saver than just his expertise with stuffed birds.
As the devastation of the COVID-19 outbreak enveloped Kipp’s home base of New York and other heavily affected areas of the United States in March of this year, Kipp and his soon-to-be-formed company of actors found that storytelling was a pivotal coping mechanism as they dealt with the uncertainty and unfamiliarity of being forcibly cut off from the outside world during the virus’ early days.
“We were all at home in a strange state at the beginning of the pandemic, and wanted to create new work to share those feelings,” remembers Kipp. “It is a completely different process having everyone self-tape in isolation, as opposed to collaboration in the same space. We were unified together in the creation of these films, yet alone in the process. Maybe that will change as New York re-opens.”
Despite having to restructure his typical directorial approach to the parameters of filmmaking while quarantined, Kipp had a multi-talented cast at his disposal.
“Most of the actors were friends, frequent collaborators and confidantes. For some roles, like Daniel in ‘Hotline’, we had people audition and Chip Rybak was our selection. On ‘The Drop’ since the filmmaking was more elaborate, with actors needing to match blocking and eye-lines, we enlisted Jessica Green and Ben McHugh, who are both professional filmmakers and editors as well as actors. They rose to the occasion beautifully.”
Actor Lukas Hassel helps lead a passionate filmed recitation of poet Pablo Neruda’s classic “Sonnet No. 17".
Though the entire ensemble self-taped their performances, Kipp took two different approaches to working with his actors. “On ‘Jumper’ we asked for a direct address to camera against an interesting backdrop; naturalistic performances told simply and honestly,” Kipp recalls. “On ‘The Drop’ and “Hotline” we had rehearsals and location scouts on Zoom, talking about the arc of the character(s) and the tone of the piece. We talked about exciting stuff like whether it was 24 or 30 frames per second, in addition to finding the inner lives of the characters.”
As of this writing, Kipp says that further shorts may be in the offing for his pandemic series, but that will change only when he and his cast are confident that the conditions for returning to normal in-person film production are right. “As long as we feel like making these.projects in isolation, or until we’re ready to resume more formal film productions, we shall continue,” notes Kipp.
In making all six of these films, Kipp and his team have already proven that the physical boundaries of life during the COVID-19 pandemic are no match for the creative ingenuity of talented artists joined together by the mission of storytelling. “…Art can be created in any conditions using the tools at your fingertips, and you can always find a community of like minded creatives to play make believe with.
Here are the links to each of Kipp’s films:
“Neruda XV (a.k.a. “I Like For You To Be Still”)”
“Neruda XVII (a.k.a. “Sonnet No. 17”)”