Not too long ago, Mateo Willis gave his first ever eulogy. He described the experience as unlike anything he’d felt before - both “gut-wrenching and cathartic.”
With the goal of capturing the “emotional riptide” of the experience, Mateo attempts to pinpoint a single and powerful scene built on the unspoken history of two brother’s attending their father’s funeral. Within, he worked alongside composer Edmund Butts as well as actors Tom Ashley and Craig Conway to create the award-winning short-film.
LBB’s Josh Neufeldt caught up with Mateo to find out more about his short film ‘Eulogy’, what went into the production process and how Mateo went about visually depicting an emotional experience.
LBB> Sound is a really important aspect of the video. We hear a cough before there’s any light on the screen and the sounds of hands on clothing, paper rustling and doors opening are very prominent. What was the reason behind this emphasis?
Mateo> By creating a series of unexpected visuals and sounds the opening to Eulogy creates questions. These questions draw the audience into the shadowed world of the film, building expectations and a sense of tension.
LBB> There’s a good number of jump cuts and oftentimes the camera can get shaky while following the action. What was the creative reason behind this decision making process?
Mateo> The camera is the third person in the room, our eyes and ears if you like. The camera needed to feel human and alive. Not formal or locked down. The handheld feel helps build that sense of an active observer.
LBB> In achieving the goal of creating a rise to emotional tension, the music in the background evokes feelings of urgency and while still feeling appropriate for a funeral-base scene. How did you go about finding music that fit both dynamics?
Mateo> I’ve worked with Edmund Butts, the composer, before. He is a master of evoking emotions between the notes, shaping melodies to the visuals. The challenge was writing music that echoed the emotional intensity of some moments, but without swamping the more delicate character responses at other points in the film.
LBB> A lot of the action shots appear to have a lower frame rate. Was this an intentional decision and if so, why?
Mateo> Everything was shot at 24 frames per second. The actors, the director of photography and I spent considerable time working out the blocking to create a sense of flow across the emotional peaks. Even though everything takes place in one small room it was crucial we had a sense of movement that reflected the inner state of each character.
LBB> Something else I enjoyed was the decision to keep the camera focussed on the room and its lighting, even after the characters had left. Beyond the fact that this film is supposed to be about two brothers, did you have a specific reason for choosing the room that you filmed in?
Mateo> The room had to have an atmosphere and a strong sense of place. From the old stained bricks to the shafts of sunlight, it needed to feel like an old church, full of echoes and ghosts. When we were scouting this room immediately felt like the ideal location.
LBB> We see a sort of tension between the two brothers within the script, arguing over the eulogy content. Although you specified that your father was nothing like the one in the film, were the characters in the script designed to reflect certain people or ideas?
Mateo> The characters in the script were based on a single person, pulled into two different extremes. You’ll notice that both Reg and Andy are alike in some ways, different in others. In my experience I’ve found siblings are often two sides of the same coin.
LBB> This film represents a very bleak premise. However, is there a part of the movie that stands out to you as something you’re particularly proud of?
Mateo> I’m proud of the transitions between emotions of the characters. We spent quite a lot of work in a rehearsal studio, working on the characters, their backstories and the emotional arcs within the scene. I feel this work paid dividends in the finished film.
LBB> The film is driven by its dialogue but also the attention to technical detail such as the scenery, lighting and camera angles. What challenges did you face in putting this film together?
Mateo> I purposefully wrote this film to work as a single scene, set in a single location. I would much rather execute something well, than struggle for an effect beyond reach. This gave us the ability to be ambitious in creating and capturing characters that sprang to life. Casting took time but both Tom Ashley [Andy] and Craig Conway [Reg] were natural fits.
LBB> Has the release of this film had the impact you were hoping for?
Mateo> Yes and no. It was released during the pandemic so I still haven’t watched it on a big screen with an audience. It’s very difficult to judge how people receive it, at an individual level. However, it has done extremely well on the festival circuit, winning awards and playing at over thirty festivals worldwide. Given the times we’re going through, I’m very grateful it’s made its way into the world at all.