Youth in Bed is a new short film that chronicles moments from three stories intertwined across generations - brought together by the very same bed. It explores notions of coincidence, romanticism, love and loss, all from the perspective of the hungry, hopeful and longing characters that lie within it. We spoke with the creative team behind this short, writer and director Edward Zorab and creative producer Mollie Cayzer-Colvin on their influences and inspirations behind this film and what it means to them. Photography is by DoP Edward Glynne-Jones
How would you describe the film for those who don’t know?
M: Three entwined stories of the affectations and afflictions of youth. A little pretentious, a little shocking, emotional and deeply self-aware.
E: A neatly packaged medley of cigarettes, sex and bad decisions, with some iconic outfits (or lack thereof) and a smattering of emotionally crippling youth-based events that we can all relate to.
How did the storyline first evolve?
M: Ed has a small ‘library’ of characters and short stories that he has continually developed for years. In there was the Rose and Ezra story set in Paris. Their story, along with a few photographs and a poem called ‘My Bed is Covered Yellow’ became the springboard for the premise. We loved the idea of a single mattress playing witness to the tragedies and intimacies of multiple characters, observing the repetitions and patterns of each young life. The Berlin and Maine stories were immediately born out of this, each with it’s own set of youth-related themes. While each story is different to the next, we wanted to insert small subtle overlaps and repetitions throughout. Films such as Magnolia and Cloud Atlas served as structural inspiration to help us portray these links. As for the rest of the script, really that came from Ed’s own mind and ‘library’.
E: It was spring last year and I was really obsessed with these 35mm photographs of beds and I was also in love with a French girl, and the concept of these tales of youth and romance set in beds just seemed to make sense at the time. I spoke to Mollie about it and this spark just clicked and we had a first draft in a week. I think that original draft had five different stories in it, but we settled on three in the end. Mollie and I have a very creative producer/director partnership, numbers rarely come into it. It’s all about style and tone and taste. The Paris 2002 story had come from a much longer script I’d written, solely based on Rose and Ezra. It was called ‘Love and Pain In French’. I was obsessed with them as characters and their world and just ended up writing them into anything I did. This clean, noughties youth culture where things seemed to make a little more sense and people were allowed to be less fake. Berlin was all about obsession and addiction and exploring how far down the rabbit hole someone can go when they fall in love with the idea of someone. Maine is a slightly more traditional story - infatuation and rejection. But we also look at more confusing areas like teenage sexuality, yearnings for independence, and dealing with disability at a formative age when insecurities are soaring. All of the stories grew very naturally from their embryonic form, the film was very quick to write, as things go.
What was it like working with the actors on separate storylines, were there any natural evolvements that occurred from writing the screenplay to producing and directing the film?
M: It was such a pleasure. We felt incredibly spoilt walking from one set straight onto another with a whole new cast of talented and excited actors each day. It felt like we were shooting the first day of three separate films. Being able to have fresh eyes each day helped us to keep consistency in the films overall tone, which can easily get lost during long hour shoots. We also managed not to fall behind on our schedule once and I think that was partly due to our tiredness being curbed by each pair of cast members injecting new energy on set (that, and of course a damned good 1st AD and crew). We realised that having a cast who really connected with their characters and to the script was essential, it allowed us to learn things about the characters through the actors and their interpretation of how a character might react to something or what would make their relationship to the other more interesting. In one instance we actually created the character of Ethan to accommodate our actor Luke who we fell in love with during an audition for the role of Ezra. The character he replaced had initially been a Chinese boy, Jin and the entire Berlin story was supposed to be in Mandarin. The change created a more interesting relationship dynamic in which he and Mei are forced to find other ways to communicate beyond language. It really transformed and deepened their story.
E: We had such a talented and interesting cast, they all sprinted in their own directions with the characters. Translating parts of the film into different languages was probably the most transformative process on my end. Lily Catalifo, who plays Rose, sat down with me and we went through and translated exactly when we would dip in and out of French dependent on what she cared about Ezra (Theo Bhat) hearing her say. The same went for Shun and Luke in the Berlin storyline. The interesting thing with that was working out when emotional familiarity would trump linguistic communication. Neither one speaks much of the other’s language, so what are the areas where they do understand each another? In the end we settled on sex and drugs.
Elaborate more on the quote ‘The only way to create a masterpiece is by telling the truth’.
M: I suppose what Rose is commenting on is the idea that if a person is disingenuous or their work is based on falsities it will never fully settle, it’ll seem unnatural or out of place. People will sense it even if they can’t specifically identify what the problem is. I doubt a painter has ever made a masterpiece pretending to be someone they’re not or by saying something they don’t fully understand. I could try my whole life to be Dali or Miro but I’ll never be as good at being them as I am at being myself. Rose is saying we need to strip everything back and be completely natural if we want to have a shot at creating something special. I think many of us probably believe that philosophy but aren’t likely to voice it in the fear of sounding pretentious. Rose doesn’t strike me as the type to worry about what we think of her.
E: I think the character of Rose believes raw authenticity is the source of good art. No dressing things up in fancy words or pretty colours. Show the world as it is and find the beauty in that. I think the theory holds up. People love Bob Dylan even though he’s got an unconventional voice because there’s an authenticity behind it. No sanitisation. Same goes for Gonzo Journalism or Nan Goldin. Of course it is quite a pretentious thing to say, and it comes back to bite her when things get significantly more raw later in her storyline. But that’s part of growing up; articulating these great, noble philosophies about the world and then tripping up over the logic you set yourself the next day. It’s not hypocritical or temperamental, it’s just what being a person who develops and grows is. The idea that you’re held hostage by previous ideas is ludicrous to me.
In the opening narration, it quotes ‘It seems a common affectation of the young mind to romanticise…’ how would you define this in terms of the story and of your own experiences?
M: I think to a degree, it’s what makes us human. Is it not the trait that aids the following of religion or even spiritualism? That’s certainly not to say that meaning does not exist, but that we are programmed to want to find it. I think typically your youth is the time in your life when you crave meaning the most, a world without any is frightening. Maybe it’s that, that leads to the romanticising of coincidences or a need to find meaning where there logically is none at all. I have had to remind myself that six red cars parked in a row did not occur as a result of me switching my black pen in for a red one that morning. It does make you feel good though. There are various coincidences occurring throughout the story, some of which are obvious like the passing down of the mattress and others are more subtle, hidden in scenery, props and dialogue. Some of these were created and placed by us as a comment on this human affectation, some were placed in the hopes that the audience would subconsciously romanticise them themselves and a couple were genuine unintentional coincidences. But I can’t tell you which!
E: I’m always looking for meaning in places where it doesn’t necessarily belong… I think that’s part of the human condition isn’t it? We suffer without meaning. And so anything that could potentially take that form will do. We notice the number 17 on a house as we walk to a shop where we spend £17 and then the instagram we upload at 17:00 gets 17 likes by 17:17. Surely it must mean something? Because the alternative is it doesn’t mean anything. I suppose that’s the message of the film. Nothing means anything and that means something. We conveniently ignore the fact we passed the number 3 a total of 16 times on the same hypothetical journey, or saw the word ‘twat’ graffitied on 4 different walls.
The film explores drugs, sex ,and longing, amongst other themes. I liked how you showed the multiplicity to these experiences and exposed even the unattractive consequences of them. How do you mark the boundary between showing the romanticised but not romanticising the thing itself?
M: It’s hard to know where the boundary is until you cross it and with subjects like these there is no definitive right way to do it. For the most part we followed our guts. We identified our own moral boundaries and trusted that they weren’t too far off our audience’s. In the Berlin scene, we deliberately made the scene gritty and harrowing because it was more honest. I think to hide the ugliness and awfulness of the event would have been to glamourise or romanticise it.
E: I think a lot of it comes down to how you depict it visually, and how realistic you are, especially with drugs. If you aesthetically glamourise or ‘abridge’ an otherwise harrowing experience, you’re distancing the audience so that it becomes palatable entertainment. But for the characters in the Berlin storyline and anyone that’s gone through something like that in real life, it’s probably the single most horrific experience they’ve ever had. When dealing with such controversial subject matter, I feel a moral obligation to tell the truth. To gloss over it would be problematic for me.
The cinematography in this film strongly echoes each time period with so much representative imagery in each set. How did you achieve the overall look of the film?
M: There were a lot of moving parts required to achieve the overall look and each department took greatcare in making sure that all of these parts married well. I worked specifically with the art department to come up with looks that represented each stories setting and time period, as well as reflecting the personalities of the characters themselves. Each time period required a different type of research; vintage American design magazines and books for the 70’s story, films such as Larry Clark’s Kids and Tom Tykwer’s Run Lola Run for the 90’s story. For the 00’s story I kept online; Pinterest and Tumblr predominantly. We tried not to ham the time period up too much, that can often be a danger, especially with material set in the 70’s. We found prints, colours, textures and decorative items that would typically be found in the USA during the late 70’s. Then we paired everything back. If we had a pattern that totally defined the 70’s then we would scrap it and look for something similar but more toned down instead. Once we understood the design tropes of each time period and country, it really became more about fitting the characters into the sets. What personal items would they have in their bedroom? Would it be well looked after? Comfort or function? I think a bedroom says a lot about a person. We had enormous fun placing little easter eggs in each set to further sense of coincidence. In a scene in Paris, Ezra ashes his cigarette into an old shoe and in another scene in Maine, Nancy ashes her cigarette into a tiny shoe-shaped ashtray sitting on the deskbeside her.
E: That’s a credit to both our incredible camera team and our incredible art team. I worked with Edward Glynne-Jones (Director of Photography) on using lighting styles associated with celebrated films of the time and place the stories took place in. Ed based the look of Maine a lot on 3 Women by Robert Altman. Berlin was influenced heavily by Nan Goldin’s New York photographs with Brian in the mid 80’s. Paris was very clean and washed out, inspired by films like the Tree of Life by Terrence Malick or Blue is The Warmest Colour by Abdellatif Kechiche. 8 Mile by Curtis Hanson was my biggest reference as a director. I think the photography is so immersive and conversational, you’re in Detroit in that movie. The DoP, Rodrigo Prieto, isa master. He shot Amores Perros and Brokeback Mountain as well.
Why did you want to tell a story that crosses through different generations?
M: We wanted to be able to draw parallels between them and to show that youth is a condition that everyone either has, is or will be affected by. No one is missed out. We also wanted to bring to light the idea that certain patterns and repetitions occur in young lives. They may have different consequences, much of that is dependant on their situation, but often their initial behaviour or reaction is quite alike. I think that the mix of generations allows us to see those similarities in the face of very different circumstances.
E: We were playing with this idea of certain behavioural patterns repeating themselves in youth, and so it made sense to not just spread them across different countries, but also different eras. It added a greater sense of tragedy as well, with the characters becoming a victim of their generation’s sensibilities. Each story would have gone down very differently if they all took place in the same year. Equally It can be really invigorating as a writer/director to explore different geographical and cultural backdrops for your characters to run around in. It changes the way they’re processing things. Their insecurities, their motivations, their perceptions.
What do you feel is the heart of this film and the message that you wanted to tell?
M: There are a handful of messages throughout, some of which are subliminal. But I suppose, to me, the defining message is a comforting one; The turmoils of youth are relative to each individual, some are big and some are small, but we weren’t the first and we certainly won’t be the last to experience them. I think there’s a sort of unity in that, we are never truly alone in our experiences.
E: I think at the heart of the film is a sort of solidarity with young people. It resonates with young viewers on a very personal level. I’m still surprised as to how personal the film feels. That’s not to say it’s about me and my life, but it’s just very intimate and honest and I don’t think you can fake that, I think that’s what peoplelike about it.
Where can we follow the film?
You can watch the film via it's website www.youthinbedfilm.com. You can also download the soundtrack for free and watch the ‘making of’ on the website as well. Let us know what you think on our social media @youthinbedfilm.