A Case Study
Narrative | Dramatic Features
Film Name: A Simple F*cking Gesture
Genre: Comedy Short Film
Date: January 2020
Director: Jesse Shamata
Producer: Suzan Mazur, Jesse Shamata
Writer: Jesse Shamata
Cinematographer: Martin Hawkes
Production Company: Shamagical Productions
Financing: Directors Guild of Canada Short Film Fund
Shooting Format: Arri Amira Cameras and Arri Master Prime Lenses
Screening Format: N/A
World Premiere: The Florida Film Festival, Calgary International Film Festival
Awards: Best Comedy Short at Breckenridge Film Festival in Colorado and was nominated for a Directors Guild of Canada Best Short Film Award.
The Official Trailer for A Simple F*cking Gesture written and directed by Jesse Shamata
indieactivity: What is your film about?
Jesse Shamata (JS): A Simple Fucking Gesture is a rage-filled comedy about a husband and wife stuck in traffic, and the emotions that escalate when another driver doesn’t give them a “thank you wave” after they cut in. Comparing him to a symbol of all that is wrong in the world, they are terrified when he pulls over to confront them. What transpires is certainly not what is expected as their experience devolves into a darkly comic critique of society.
Development & Financing?
Jesse Shamata (JS): I literally wrote this film in my car. I went through a period where I was commuting in rush hour and it really started to affect me. It all started, predictably, when I let another driver in and they didn’t give me a thank you wave. I began to equate driving with all that is wrong with the world, and as a microsystem of power struggles. Instead of letting the rage get the better of me, I began recording myself with voice to text on my iPhone while I drove. It’s a short film but it took a few years of fits and starts of writing while in traffic to complete. Very therapeutic and I got a script out of it. I never thought it would see the light of day and then on a whim, I entered it into the DGC Short Film Fund and won. With that grant and securing the generous help of Sim International for all camera, lensing, grip, and post-production, allowed it to come together.
Jesse Shamata (JS): Production for this was much more complicated that most two-handers should be. Shutting down a street in a major city on a tiny budget is a challenge, so we had to do a night shoot to make it work. Then closing off the street, having 25 extras in cars recreate a traffic jam was super tough, especially when some of the extras would fall asleep in traffic during a shot. But the fact that Christy Bruce (Orphan Black) and Paul Bates (Baroness Von Sketch) are a real-life couple and had weeks with the material were our saving grace. They are also trained improvisers so when a take went astray, they were able to bring things back on course with funny adlibs – most of which made the final cut.
My dad, a seasoned actor Chuck Shamata (Miss Sloane, Cinderella Man), with who I often collaborate, plays The Man, whom they confront. I knew he could bring a perfect balance of menace and humor to the role. DP, Martin Hawkes (Hip Hop Evolution) is a huge collaborator and a master of prep. Not only did he made it look great but worked with me to stage the scene, beat by beat, using mini hot-wheels cars from overhead to prepare for the film. On the night of the shoot, we had it pretty much set and needed to motor through the film in chronological order. With darkness being limited during the summer, we’re on a dusk-til-dawn sched with no wiggle room. When it came to post-production I was lucky enough to work with a dear friend and virtuoso editor, Christopher Donaldson cce (The Handmaid’s Tale)
Festival Preparation & Strategy?
Jesse Shamata (JS): Any prep we had thinking about a festival run went out the window when covid hit. Fests were being cancelled and postponed but we had to make it work. We premiered at Florida Film Fest and from there things began to fall into place – Dances With Films – LA, Calgary, Hollyshorts followed – but the biggest challenge has been not seeing it with an audience and knowing what works and what doesn’t. We premiere in Europe in the spring and I hope this comedy – and the idea of giving a thank you wave in the car – translates overseas.
Advice from the Filmmaker?
JS: My advice to any filmmaker is to create what moves you and resonates. Don’t create something because you think that’s what people want to see or what is hot, because by the time a project comes to fruition, things will have changed. That’s why anything that you feel passionate about – whether dramatic or funny or both – will undoubtedly find an audience if it’s authentic.