24 Frames Lalla blends the genres of horror, coming of age, auto fiction, and surrealism. The story is about Lalla Grotowski, a non-binary, down and out, beginner filmmaker, who is trapped inside their house during the pandemic with a bottle of pills, a relentless recurring nightmare, and a monster from their subconscious that haunts them day and night. There's only one way out of this crisis...to create. Does Lalla have the confidence, creativity, courage, tenacity, and most of all trust in themselves, to write, direct, and edit a film all on their own?
The opening scene of the movie is Lalla’s nightmare; which is set in a movie theater where their creative muse, ANANTA, lives. Ananta wants Lalla to rip the movie screen and step through to the other side but Lalla always wakes themselves up.
The audience is introduced to Lalla in the real world just moments before their film is about to screen at the 2020 Philadelphia LGBTQ film festival. Lalla listens to a voicemail and learns they have lost financing for their next film. They look up at a tree and imagine hanging themselves from it, as this happens, a snake slithers into their purse without them seeing it. They pick up the purse and go on stage for their film’s post Q and A session. During the Q and A, an audience member questions the validity of Lalla’s film. Lalla’s ego is pricked and they spiral further down into depression. As Lalla walks home, they learn about the Covid-19 lockdown that the city of Philadelphia is putting into place to fight the virus. This pushes Lalla over the edge.
At home, they consider taking a handful of pills to kill themselves but instead they read a note on their wall that lists the films they want to make. Their desire to create thrusts them out of the suicidal thought and they make a pact with themselves to make another film. They put away the pills and begin writing a new screenplay. As Covid-19 progresses, Lalla writes, shoots, and edits the film entirely on their own. While they work, the snake continues to hide in their purse, and they still can’t get up the courage to walk through the screen in their nightmare.
The film climaxes with Lalla renting a theater and watching their finished film. As Lalla and the projectionist watch the film, Lalla becomes horrified at what they’ve made. They hate it and only see the flaws. The projectionist attempts to persuade them that the film could be really good if they reshoot it with a crew but Lalla refuses to believe him and argues that there is a giant plot hole in the story that they don’t know how to fix. Back at home, Lalla trashes the movie file. At that moment, the snake finally slithers out of Lalla’s purse. Terrified of the snake, Lalla tries to smash it with a book but the snake gets away. What doesn’t get a way is Lalla’s deep rage and sadness which is finally released and sends Lalla back into their nightmare. Lalla stands in front of the screen and, finally, exhausted by their fears, rips through it and goes on an odyssey into their psyche.
Lalla finds themselves in a graveyard, standing under a tree with a noose around their neck. As they await their fate, the mysterious Ananta unties Lalla’s hands and removes the noose. Lalla awakens, with some wounds healed and an answer to the plot hole in their script. They throw away the pills and find the snake hiding under their bed, holding it until it disappears. The film ends as Lalla shoots a new film with collaborators. In a final voice-over, Lalla vows to make every film like it’s the last one and to tell stories from the hidden crevices of their imaginative soul.
I’m a fan of “process” films, like 8 1/2 or Adaptation. For me, the muse is an essential component to the artistic process. It’s so mysterious to me how artists conceive of ideas. There is an ongoing silent conversation that happens between the muse and the artist. This film is my attempt to dramatize this silent struggle. At the core of this drama are the two worlds of the artist, the conscious world where Lalla is making the film and the subconscious where their muse lives and is acting out.
There are two worlds in the story. In the real world, Lalla battles with their ego to write, direct, and edit the film on their own. While they are creating, the muse haunts them and pushes them forward. All of these scenes are handheld, 1.33, color, primarily shot with a 35mm spherical lens, and are influenced by Poetic Realism.
The subconscious world is where Lalla’s muse lives. The muse, named Ananta, is mysterious, at times scary, but is ultimately a guide and a protector. The character of Ananta is inspired by a God from Hindu mythology. The hooded crown of snakes symbolizes protection. These scenes are static dolly shots, 2.39, black and white, shot with anamorphic lenses, and have a German Expressionism tone.
The story blends 3 genres: transcendental, horror, and surrealism. Transcendentalism is revealed in the script writing sequences often through repetition of shots or editing style, horror is revealed in the scenes when Ananta haunts Lalla in their apartment, and surrealism in the black and white unconscious scenes.
Lalla is a dreamy character set in a harsh world. The production design, lighting, and costumes all reflect this idea. For example, Lalla’s apartment with its concrete floors and crumbling chipped paint walls, look like it could be in a 3rd world country but the set decoration is covered in photos of master directors and notes about art and filmmaking. The lighting in the apartment is primarily hard light but Lalla’s costumes are very colorful, bright and soft, pushing towards fantasy. The costumes were designed by Brittany Graham.
When the pandemic hit, I immediately knew I wanted to make a film about this wild moment in history. I want my stories to express the world I’m currently living in and experiencing. We went into production during the last major wave. One of my favorite scenes is when Lalla delivers weed at the apartment building and they hear the initial news broadcasts that are coming from around the world. Each country was so off the mark in how they initially responded. Already, only 3 years later, that scene is a historical account of what happened during the first 48 hours when the world shut down.
When I'd finished writing the screenplay it was 37 pages long which is a short film length. I scheduled 9 days of shooting but as we shot it became clear that there was a lot more story that I wanted to tell and it wasn't down on the script. I oversimplifed the story in the script. But that is how I like to write. My scripts are generally brief. So I added days and it ended up being 14 shooting days that were pierced together over 6 weeks.
This shoot was pretty much a dream and a love fest. The cast and crew got along and the vibe was perfect for creativity and throwing out ideas. I felt like everyone was there to serve the story and not their egos. It's by far the best producing I've done on a film. I hired well. I believe the only major hiccup was that towards the front half of the shoot we got behind on schedule but all it took was me and Adam Hribar (DoP) tweaking our communication about when we felt we could move on to the next shot and then we were able to move faster.
The hardest part of the shoot were the scenes in Lalla's bedroom (production design by Jamie Forslund). They just seemed endless. And I'm sure that had something to do with the fact that we were in the same location (their apt) the whole time and so psychologically it just felt like we were never going to see the end of those scenes. Being on a film set definitely feels like you're in a bubble but lalla's apt extended out into another bubble. The other challenge was the cold. I wanted to see the breath. I wanted to feel that Lalla was a dreamy character living in a harsh world and the bitter cold really emphasized the harshness.
It took me about 6 months to lock picture (order the shots) on the film. I really relied on Lex Benedict (co-editor) to give me the outside perspective of what was and wasn't working. She also did everything else outside of creating the story. Anything technical she managed. She's an amazing helpful editor/producer to have on a team. She's so good at being able to pinpoint what's not working and then coming up solutions.
It took Mitch and I four months to do the sound and music. We had help from Cody Chikowski, engineer maestro. Mitch and I have a very specific way of working on music. He will write all of the instruments he hears for certain moments, record the tracks, and then bring into the studio so we can mix together. He's definitely leading the charge in terms of writing what the music will be but we definitely like to mix the music to the movie. We often use music for sound effects or sound effects as music. And in order to have this type of flexibility you have to write to the film in the moment.
When I shoot I like to do everything as practically as I can, no cgi. I enjoy watching the real experience happen in front of the camera but this was not possible with the snake exterior scenes. We shot in winter and a snake can't be outside during the winter. That meant for all of the interior snake scenes we would have the real snake but then for all of the exterior scenes David Kessler had to create the snake through vfx. David was absolutely amazing to work with on this project. This was my first time working with vfx and I'm extremely happy with the results. This is a photo of David, Adam, and me shooting on the beach.