Homesick is an absurdist thriller about an unhappy man who attends a retreat offering adults a second chance at a happy childhood.
The great inner search and reconnection to our adolescence (with the intention of finding that happy place) is poignantly explored here in this larger-than-life world condensed into a short film that is Homesick. This is thanks to the astute attention to detail in storytelling by writer-director Will Seefried and the lens through which we see this world wonderfully orchestrated by cinematographer Cory Fraiman-Lott. I had the great pleasure of speaking with Cory about the visual collaborative process with both Will and the key creative team, how the visuals to lens choices service story and Cory's work ethos.
This interview has been edited for content and clarity.
Sadie Dean: How did you and director Will Seefried connect and what was your initial reaction to his script?
Cory Fraiman-Lott: Will and I, we hadn't worked together before, but we had this mutual friend who is a producer, who put us in touch. I get a fair amount of short film scripts, and they're pretty all over the spectrum. And this one immediately just was, not only very impressive and well written, it was visually very clear and appealing; and having these sort of two separate worlds, there were just already so many different sparks of ideas that were jumping to me as I was reading through it. So, I was just really excited for those opportunities. And also it's rare to have a piece that is a little more high concept, a little more sort of genre in the short format. So that was exciting, too. It's such a tough medium to have an epic story in such a short amount of time. And I just felt like Will did a really nice job of hitting those beats and getting out with a still a pretty tight page count, which is really hard to do. That really impressed me, and so I was immediately very, very drawn to it.
Sadie: It’s such a big world to explore. There's a very specific tone and color palette in each frame, that gives it a dreamlike feeling. I'm curious how much were you utilizing source lights, and then bringing in other lights to fill in this space?
Cory: Yeah, we did a lot of supplemental lighting, certainly for the nighttime work. But a lot of the color palette came from the production design. We had this great designer Cheyenne Ford, and the three of us really spent a lot of time planning how to work in those orange and green hues, as much as possible. She did a ton of work doing that just in the location dressing and the wardrobe. And then on my end, we did a little bit in the actual lighting, but a lot of it also, just with color filtration, which is not something I use super often but felt like a really nice way to just kind of shift our whole palette into this sort of seedier yuckier sort of space, which I also think is important for a story told on such a short scale.
It worked so well in establishing the sadness and the yuckiness of the initial know motel scene, but then is subverted a little bit in the childhood sequence and is a little more reminiscent of that sweeter time but it still feels like a little sickly still - there's something about it that still feels a little bit off which I really liked the duality of that. That was a palette that we all had in mind from the get-go; he had these paintings that did a really nice rendering of those browns and greens and so it's something we were excited to implement throughout. A lot of the childhood stuff is exterior and with natural light and so having the filtration was a nice way to kind of keep that consistency and keeping it feeling in our world.
Sadie: What camera and lenses was this shot on?
Cory: We used was an ARRI Alexa plus, which is just a body that I've used for a long time and is really obviously super robust but also just very reliable and straightforward. And then lensing wise we used Cooke S4’s, which I just felt like I knew that we would be doing some of this color filtration and other sort of elements, optical elements in front of the lens. We used this funky low-angle prism for the birthing sequence and other places; so I just wanted lenses that were a little bit cleaner, a little bit sharper, just so we didn't get too mucky down the line when we added all these other pieces.
Sadie: Did Will initially come prepared with a storyboard and shot list for you two to work off of or was this more of an organic process day of?
Cory: I thought it was a really nice back and forth, which was impressive for someone who hadn't been behind the camera so much. Will brought some really great storyboards just to help us kind of visualize the compositions and the character's relationship, but we talked pretty early on about how to make those two worlds feel distinct. And so, one huge factor was the camera support and movement and having it be very traditional and formal and locked off. And then really loosened up. And then part of that change, too, was the aspect ratio, which was something that I started thinking about in my initial reading of it, which, it's not something I do that often, partly just because I feel like I'm hesitant to have to draw too much attention to the camera and the cinematography. But in this instance, since it's such a sort of flimsy artifice, it felt like it was a good opportunity to kind of make that a little more apparent. The ratio and loosening our visual language were both big components that Will and I talked about a lot early on.
I utilize a lot of visual references in prepping with the director, especially someone I haven't worked with before. And so, Will had some really great frames from Yorgos Lanthimos films, these really wide-angle films that were often very high angle or low angle or certainly sort of strange point of views, and then I brought in some stills from this film, We the Animals, which I just think is really strong at showing this sort of childlike point of view. It's this story about these three brothers and they do a lot of frames that are low to the ground or any sort of places that just immediately evoke your childhood, which I think it's so seamless and impressive. I was trying to pull some of that too for the sequence when he's immersed in this experience.
Sadie: The birth scene when he's in the womb, can you share an insider's look of like how that came together from production design to how you approached lighting it and the camera moving through this space?
Cory: That was such a fun component to shoot and I just felt like a really great harmony of all departments of camera and lighting and set design. And in the script, it's so vivid but there's obviously so many different directions that it could be done and our designer Cheyenne was so excited about it and built this really impressive but sort of contained structure that was a lot of these satin sheets and this sort of like starchy, gluey something to kind of add a wetter texture to the whole piece. And then also, hilariously, it was pouring rain for a lot of our shoot, so there was just this sort of like wetness and muddiness built in also that worked.
From a camera point of view, we added a little bit to the lens as well like some vaseline on the front to just have that kind of smeariness feel even more presence. But the actual shooting of it was very bare-bones - it was me really just sort of crawling through getting like carwash flaps in the face [laughs] in the tent with Hiram, our lead actor, but it came together really nicely. Having the whole sequence feel a certain level of abstract is important, but it really came together that evening that we shot it.
Sadie: What inspired you to become a visual storyteller?
Cory: I had a somewhat traditional path, I went to film school at NYU, I was a visual kid, but I was not at all really a technical kid. Initially, cinematography seemed pretty daunting in that sense. But early in college, I spent time on set and became completely enamored with that lifestyle. It's such an intense team exercise, and it's based so heavily on problem-solving, and adapting to this completely new location, every time and new team and new equipment and all of that sort of felt really appealing. I worked as an assistant camera and as a grip and electric, through college for upperclassmen, and sort of transitioned to doing that, as a freelancer professionally, and shooting as much as I could on the side thesis films at school, or very low level small professional jobs. And that just grew and been doing that for the last 10 years.
I got extremely lucky, I got this feature-length project pretty soon after graduating with this director Tahir Jetter that was an NYU alum that was working at the production center. And so, I would see him when I would check out equipment and got close with him. And then he gave me this opportunity. And that was a huge initial experience in getting a sense of a feature-length project and working with him. It's been a steady flow since then; focusing on narrative work, but doing a mix of some docs, some commercials, a little bit of everything.
Sadie: Are there specific cinematographers that draw inspiration from?
Cory: I admire plenty of cinematographers, but mostly for their kind of work ethos and personality more so than their actual visual work somehow. Partly I think because for me anyway, cinematography is so appealing because it can take so many different forms and different genres, and even depending on the director, it's such a different responsibility and collaboration and so I certainly admire a cinematographer's specific visuals. I also feel like I'm really drawn to their philosophy about the way they work. For instance, one cinematographer I’m a big fan of is Robbie Ryan, who obviously has really beautiful handheld work and supplements natural lighting, but I also really like how humble and egoless he is, and seems to really enjoy being on set and operating. And to me, that is such an appealing part of it and rings true with me of just loving sort of the experience of being on set as much as the final product. I think of specific references when reading a script but it's less often I suppose that I’m conjuring specific cinematographer's work.