Working in film does not only direct you to the most unusual places, it also makes you buy the most unusual things, because you need ‘props’ in your film that help the audience in believing the fictional environment that you fabricate and also gives your actors an opportunity for ‘business’ in a scene that helps them to stay in the moment.
I have had a love-hate relationship with props ever since my first real job on a film set in the art department. I was working on a high school movie parody, so my boss, the prop master, sent me on an errand to a smoke shop, where I had to buy several mirrors and cocaine consuming utensils. I was eighteen at the time and definitely looked much younger, so I felt very awkward when the shop manager did not even blink selling me all that stuff. My laborious task for the rest of the day was grinding large amounts of sugar with a spoon to make believable fake cocaine. But hey, who can say they spent a few days of their teenage life with such a frivolous task?
Recently I was reminded of this odd situation between real life and film life in preparation for a UCLA Extension Directing Workshop exercise, called BIRTH CONTROL. Like the name of the project indicates, I had to get a pregnancy test that played a major role in the film. And I didn’t want just A pregnancy test. It had to adhere to certain rules: the positive outcome has to be two strips, preferably red and it had to explain the outcome on the stick next to the test window. Being an old hand at this props business, I decided to have fun with it.
There was the first pregnancy-test-scouting at a casual visit at the pharmacy store with my boyfriend, when all of a sudden I started to be really interested in pregnancy tests. I made it clear that it was for a film, but still, he could not help commenting that he should maybe leave me alone with this task because other customers could be staring. Awkward! After having done my research on looks and prizes for a few days, I finally chose my local pharmacy store, for the thrill, and got a three-pack of pregnancy tests. Because in film, you need several takes and in my case, several stages of the pregnancy test results for inserts.
I got really excited when the only cashier at the pharmacy store was a teenage boy, maybe between 16 and 18, because I knew he would have his first awkward pregnancy test moment and as a director, I am always looking for real emotional moments to observe. This one seemed to be a promising one. So I tried not to smirk, put it on the counter so he could not see it right away and waited for his reaction. It also had a discount written on it that did not work because it had already expired, but he was required to let me know about that, barely able to meet my eyes. Watching him holding the test like a hot potato, I realized how surprisingly red my face had turned, not because I was embarrassed, but because I felt so sorry for the guy.
All these sacrifices paid off in the end – the 1-minute short film was a success in class and got me an A+! Now you can watch it here.