A phone now on everyone, who can deny the feeling that a hole will burn right through our pockets if we don’t check the latest Facebook notifications. The conditioning tech giants have imposed is bad enough. But big brother aside, we too often fail to see the life all around, and a Cannes Film Festival entry called Crush really puts the omission in a sightline that cannot be missed.
Shai Frumkin and Kyvon Edwin are the screenwriters behind the eight-minute short from 2019, and both had disconnecting experiences that put their pens in motion. For Frumkin, the inciting incident was sparked when she made eye contact with a handsome guy on the street. “We were looking at each other,” she said. “Then a second later, his eyes went straight back to his phone - like a robot. He looked at me, but he didn’t really see me.”
No such distraction with her co-writer (and co-star), the rail revealed itself as the best place to make the point. “We realized the amount of people riding the subway who literally have their faces stuck inside their phones. You could really feel the disconnect.”
So with the underground rumble opening the action, the screen is filled by a pair of thumbs that have little trouble navigating the subterranean shake, and the accompanying Candy Crush touchscreen.
Frumkin’s character is at the controls, but an alternate timeline emerges when another passenger drops their phone. No longer standing between her and Marcus (Edwin), the characters notice each other, and the glance blossoms well beyond a crush.
Getting off the subway for the two Lee Strasberg classmates wasn’t as easy as it sounds, though. “We went back and forth from Brooklyn to Manhattan for hours and hours and hours,” joked Frumkin.
In addition, the crew already knew that exchanging dialogue wouldn’t work and quickly realized that maintaining background continuity was the main challenge.
But her arrival as a NYC filmmaker/actress involved much more than swiping a metro-card. Frumkin is a native of Israel and majored in Math and Physics in high school. She grew up playing Flute and piccolo, performing in ensembles and orchestras, and once it was time to fulfill her military requirement, the musical acumen placed her in the Israeli Defense Force Orchestra.
However, the soldier’s tune began to change when she got to play the flute on a movie soundtrack. “I suddenly felt as though I was supposed to be someplace else,” she said.
An acting part in a music video brought her restlessness to the next level too. “I already knew I wanted to move to New York City. So I applied to Strasberg,” said Frumkin.
Building her acting chops, Frumkin also began writing, and in her first year, she began taking screenwriting courses at Strasberg with Larry Alton. "I finally felt the freedom to believe in myself as a writer," she said, and a series of scripts came off her keyboard.
All settled in, the student received the Vincent D’Onofrio Scholarship for year two, but Frumkin didn’t completely leave behind the past. Math and the military, according to the writer, are a matter of discipline and study, where hard work usually gets you home. So no such guarantee for any artist, Frumkin can more easily laugh off the uncertainty by applying those strict guidelines to her craft. “It made me able to concentrate better, listen better and be more attentive,” she reasoned. “My background helped shape who I am today.”
So attuned to this story, the co-writers realized the telling would work best by limiting the keystrokes. “We believed the story should be communicated through our eyes,” revealed Frumkin, and with a larger focus on the visuals, the relationship connects on a more visceral level.
Of course, the choice doesn’t line up so inherently to a scribe’s instinct. “As a writer, we just want to add lines, lines, lines,” Frumkin said, and paring down the dialogue was a process.
A streamlining that continued under the direction of Giacomo Gex. Understanding his writers’ vision, he also committed to keeping the dialogue contained, and the alignment allowed Gex to firmly take the reins.
Even so, no matter the names on the title page, a degree of surrender is required, and Gex gave his writers the confidence to let go. “That’s why you surround yourself with filmmakers you trust so you can always be in the moment,” asserted Frumkin.
The message obviously came across at Cannes, and a true NYC moment marked the triumph. Working out some final details at Starbucks the night before their flight, Frumkin and Edwin departed for their separate corners, and it suddenly hit them. “We literally screamed to each other from across the street,” she extolled, “see you tomorrow at Cannes.”
The whole package, they saw incredible films, met amazing filmmakers and the buzz from Cannes and other festivals has created opportunities. For instance, when Crush won Best Film, Best Director, Best Actress and Actor at the Strasberg Film Festival, she met Marine Brun-Franzetti who won the Best Screenplay award, and the director of Frumkin’s next film was had.
Co-written with Brun-Franzetti, Trash Mountain implores our environmental stewardship, and Frumkin is set to co-star with Frederick Du Rietz of Netflix's Secret City. She also has a film in the works called Dream State. Telling the story of two siblings trying to cope with their father’s death, the short directed by Sean Velasco-Dodge has her happily playing the flute again.
The multi-talent isn’t done drawing on the past either. In Mia, Frumkin connects to the military experiences she shared with her friends and follows a traumatized soldier who struggles with her new reality after losing her partner in a mission gone wrong. ““I think it’s very important to serve and tell the stories that aren’t being told,” she said of the short in preproduction.
But for the moment, Frumkin hopes Crush clears a path to a more connected world. “I hope the film strikes a chord and inspires viewers to take a harder look at the downside of our technology use,” she concluded.