Austin Film Festival Preview: Director Minhal Baig Talks About ONE NIGHT

by Elizabeth Stoddard

One Night, a relationship drama with a dash of science-fiction, premieres at Austin Film Festival this weekend. Minhal Baig wrote and directed the film about a night in the lives of two couples: high-school seniors (Isabelle Fuhrman and Kyle Allen) on their prom night, in the fledgling stage of romance, and a thirty-something married couple (Anna Camp and Justin Chatwin) hoping for reconciliation.

The film has a timeless nature. With no cell phones or contemporary technology on view, there’s nothing to center the action in a definite year. This is how you know that this relationship story is unlike others. There’s an element of magic throughout; even the hotel where most of the action is set contributes to this feeling.

Before One Night screens at AFF, the director answered some questions I had, via email.

Cinapse: The concept for One Night is more layered than it first appears. What drew you to tell this parallel-structured story? How long were you working on this script?

Minhal Baig: The first draft of the script was completed sometime in January of 2013. At that time, we had three couples instead of two, and the parallel-structure wasn’t there yet. After a year of revisions, the producers and I decided to take a big risk. The film, up until that point, was “too soft” — it needed something else, something that would really make it stand out. I did a page-one rewrite in mid-2014 and introduced the time concept into the script. That added another layer to the story, the kind that really encourages a re-watch to catch all the little references and one-liners that you might have missed your first time around.

Chatwin and Camp share some amazing chemistry. What was their audition process like?

We didn’t audition either of them. One of my producers, Hans, had met Justin for a separate project, and recommended him for my movie. I met with Justin after he had read the script, and he wanted to be a part of the film. We made an offer to Anna after Justin had come on board, and he was excited about her, so we had a good feeling that the two would work well together in the movie. Anna came on board a week before we started filming. We had a day of rehearsal where we discussed the script, and I know Anna and Justin were rehearsing together on their days off. They really respected each others’ work, so the chemistry grew out of that.

I stay open to and get excited by the little things I don’t expect, like a performance that is surprising and unplanned.

The particular hotel where you filmed adds to the timeless aspect of One Night. How did you find the location?

My producers and I had narrowed it down to the Millennium Biltmore hotel and the Hotel Figueroa. Both are located in downtown Los Angeles. My cinematographer and I did a location scout of both and afterward, we decided to shoot at the Hotel Figueroa, which is Moroccan-themed and had so much more character. Choosing the ‘Fig’ as it’s affectionately called, was key in cutting down on our production costs. We had also found out that the hotel would be completely remodeled not too long after we shot. It’s a totally different place now!

What sorts of challenges did you run into as you made your first feature-length film?

We shot the film in sixteen days and a lot of it was shot overnight. We had to shoot about 5–6 pages a day; there weren’t a ton of setups, as the film is mostly dialogue-driven, but there was still a lot to get through. I wanted the actors to have time to inhabit those characters and really play with them, despite our shooting schedule. It ended up working out really well. Other than that, we had a really smooth shooting experience. We had a very tight-knit passionate cast and crew that all really loved the project, which made the process easier than most.

How would you describe your directing style?

I spend a lot of time with the script. I imagine the scenes in my head and start editing, too. I don’t like over-rehearsing; there’s a magic to just letting the actors play on the day. I stay open to and get excited by the little things I don’t expect, like a performance that is surprising and unplanned. I keep my set loose. Actors have to believe the fiction that is their world, so I make sure they know that hitting marks is secondary to naturalistic blocking. I’m not a micro-manager or perfectionist; what’s most important is the spirit of the scene in the context of the full film. I direct with my gut; if it feels good, it probably works.

What did you learn about yourself during this process?

I learned so much about directing and the kinds of stories I want to tell. I’m at the stage where I want to tell stories that I’m uniquely positioned to tell. Making a film is a marathon. I’ve learned to be more patient, trust the process and my own instincts, too.

Anything else you’d like to share?

For aspiring filmmakers out there, I have one piece of advice: make things. Go out and make. Don’t ask or wait for permission.

AFF screening times: One Night plays Friday, Oct. 14, 9:30pm at Texas Spirit Theater at the Bob Bullock History Museum (director Baig and actress Anna Camp will attend this world premiere screening) and Tues, Oct. 18, 4:45pm at Galaxy Highland, Theatre 9.

Production photos via Tauras Films.

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