We recently featured Top Floor, a short film that runs for approximately thirteen minutes. The film tells the story of a divorced father struggling to keep it together while also being an excellent dad during the time he has custody of his son. The film was very well written, shot, acted, and directed so I reached out to the filmmakers for an interview.
You can watch the film below:
And this is what I learned from asking a few questions of screenwriter and producer Daniella Kahane, and director Aaron David DeFazio:
Tell us a little about yourselves.
Aaron David: As the son of an Architect and an English major, I was lucky to be raised in a house very much interested in everything from design and art history to American literature. I’ve wanted to direct movies as early as middle school, when my obsession in Star Wars movies turned into an interest in Kurosawa, and my comfort with Woody Allen lead to me being exposed to Fellini and others. I’ll always consider myself a student of the artform and am always learning- either on the sets of my peers or browsing Netflix.
Daniella: I decided I wanted to go into filmTV as an undergrad when I took a film production class and fell in love with the process. I have been independently producing ever since. I also spent a year in LA working for the Academy Award winning producer of films such as Forrest Gump, and The Devil Wears Prada, Wendy Finerman. The bulk of my time since college, however, has been in documentary film and my decision to go back to get an MFA from Columbia was in part informed by my desire to re-immerse myself in writing, and narrative storytelling.
Top Floor seems so acutely felt I have to ask if this is based on a true story.
Daniella: Top Floor is not based on a true story per se but it could be. Many people’s lives were drastically effected by the market crash in 2008 and I wanted to explore the aftermath of that and how it might have affected someone on the inside of the finance world, needing to preserve a certain image for himself, for the world around him, and for his family as that reality is being challenged.
How were you able to score those fantastic locations?
Daniella: I found all the locations through friends but it was the main location, of the empty gutted penthouse, that was being used for storage, that really inspired the script because it forced me to think about what story could conceivably take place and live in such a space, and that was the seedling of Top Floor.
How did you go about casting the parts? Did you already know the actors?
Aaron David: We were extremely lucky to have a cast like this come together from casting websites. Forming a realistic family bond was integral to making the story feel believable. Our lead Todd Lawson, though not himself a father, formed an incredible bond with Gabriel Paley who plays his son. I really feel that bond on the screen.
Daniella: And I had cast Leah Curney before in another film, and knew how talented she was from our previous work together.
How long did it take for the script to come together?
Daniella: From conception to shooting draft about 4 months. Aaron David and I were very much on the same page about the story we wanted to tell, which made the re-write process very smooth and to a minimum.
The great thing about watching Top Floor is the feeling that there is still a lot of story left over. Was that intentional? Will there be a sequel (or a feature)?
Daniella: I have been toying with the idea of expanding Top Floor into a feature since we shot the short. I knew from the beginning that we were trying to say a lot in a very limited period of screen time but was hesitant to commit to the idea of a feature. Only recently, given the enthusiasm and support we have had for the short, and the unanimous desire it seems people have to see more of these characters, have I decided to start writing the feature.
What was it like to shooting on the RED cameras? Any tips, any things aspiring filmmakers should be watching out for while working with the cameras?
Aaron David: I would encourage young filmmakers to not get too caught up in the varying camera systems. No camera will enhance a performance, or improve a location. On this project, me and my director of photography, Mike Rossetti, agreed on limiting ourselves to a single 32mm prime lens to shoot on throughout the project. In this way, the camera could do only a limited number of things, and it became rather simple to select shots by the end of the shoot.
How long did it take to put this film together–from idea to first cut?
Aaron David: Daniella first showed me the primary location in November of 2011, and managed to pull our shoot together by the end of April of 2012. In order to complete the project to meet the demands of the class assignment at Columbia, we had our first cut done by the end of that summer.
What’s next for both of you?
Aaron David: I’m considering one of a few short scripts for a fall production, once again working with director of photography Mike Rossetti. The two of of us were gifted a substantial amount of 35mm film stock (currently crowding my fridge) that we plan to expose on a new story.
Daniella: I am currently in pre-production on my thesis film, which I received an HBO development award for, and is a 1930s period film based on a short story by Patricia Highsmith, shooting in Idaho next month. I am also producing a independent feature film based on a script by Mark Poirier (Smart People, Goats), and Bill U’ren. And, I am beginning to write Top Floor, the feature.