Project Spotlight: 'Morning Talks', An Intimate Look at Young Relationships

Maxine Espanol is a 19 year old filmmaker from Queens, New York. She recognized her passion for filmmaking (specifically, film editing) at the age of 11 and her passions have led her to enrollment at SVA. "Morning Talks" is Maxine’s first narrative short and her directorial debut. It’s an intimate piece about a relationship meeting its end inspired by her own heartbreak. Morning light is the guiding symbol in this film, lending a spotlight on the relationship in question. Maxine’s dialogue is powerful, vulnerable, and as a viewer, it feels like you’re truly watching something important unravel.

What was the inspiration behind this film?
While writing this film, I was listening to a song by Turnover, titled "Bella Donna". The song was about two people that broke up but still love each other, but for the best of them they just can't be together. The film was inspired by someone that I met around a year ago, who at first sight I thought was going to be somebody that I was going to be with forever. I loved them, a lot, and having that relationship end on me was heartbreak in a level that I thought at the time would never really recover from. "Bella Donna" by Turnover has resonated so much about how the end of that relationship happened and before I knew it I wrote a whole script about it. Although this wasn't exactly how my breakup happened, emotionally this is how both of us felt. I wrote this film in relations of the morning because the setting of the song took place during that time of the day. I looked at this metaphor as something similar to when a relationship is like "an endless summer afternoon". The poetic voiceover implies that Bella was the morning that he wakes up to, that encourages him to keep going strong throughout the rest of the day, but unfortunately this is something Don felt like he didn't deserve. 

How does it feel to have such a personal film out in the open?
I put so much of my personal heartfelt emotion into this film I felt flustered playing it back when I finished the final cut.  I was not used to releasing something I made that felt so emotionally vulnerable, but I pulled through and did it anyway. As much as the flustered feeling is still there when watching it, I don't regret releasing it, because this film helped so much in the healing process of myself and the backstory of why this film happened.

How long did this short film take to write? And to shoot?
The film took about three weeks to write. The emotional distress honestly helped me feel inspired enough to finish writing it. Three drafts later, I had the film ready for production. Since the film was pretty short and only took place in two locations, shooting took only 2 days. 


What were the challenges during production?
I'm not going to lie, there were a lot of technical obstacles the production of this film. We filmed the bedroom scene in a set inside my college building in New York City, and the amount of cars honking during the most of the conversation were unbearable. We also shot all of this handheld so warp stabilizer was definitely our best friend during post production. I don't even want to get started on the garbage truck that was parked 100 feet away from us when we shot the park scene and it just wouldn't stop making noise. Overall, the production of this film was definitely a learning experience.

What was a typical shooting day like?
Each day we shot was a different experience but the foundation of what we did was per usual: Production set up and lighting were being done while the actors worked on their lines and/or work with the hair/makeup artist. Before any shooting takes place we always rehearse the lines beforehand, and then we get our perfect shot until I got exactly what I needed and that's honestly about it!


What were some main creative choices you made that you’re most proud of?
The more I started thinking about this film and what made me felt so attached to it, I decided to throw in some easter eggs in the film that to me, was a creative choice that I felt like needed to be there. During the montage in the beginning when Don recited the voiceover, there were two mugs and pictures of the both of them sitting on the bedside table. The audience I would assume looked at it as cute room decor, but it actually traces back to a christmas gift I gave to my ex (who inspired this whole film). I gave them a mug with dachshunds on it and a collection of pictures of the both of us, where in the back I wrote about what we did the day that picture was taken. The pictures didn't make much of an appearance in the film in the final cut, but I did attach the pictures that my two actors, Rachel and Alex, took together to create these props.

Who do you feel is the main character in this piece?
To be completely honest with you, I saw so much of myself in Bella. In this situation of the film, I was her and I knew exactly how she felt. However, I chose to write this film in Don's point of view and having him being a main piece of this narrative. As much as I understood myself in the real life version of this movie I wanted to challenge myself and to better understand him and his emotions during this time. I did a good job (in my opinion) on portraying that because the end result had the exact emotional connection as when the real event happened.


What do you hope the audience gets out of it?
When I first screened this film in Brooklyn I got an overwhelming positive response. One of the most heartfelt feedback that I received about it were about how they have gone through something similar and they resonated with this film so much because of it. It's so comforting to know that something I made that helped me cope with heartbreak is also helping other people in the same way, it makes me feel like I will never be alone in this journey.

Have you created other shorts in the past? How did they differ from this one? If not, what do you hope to create in the future?
Morning Talks was my debut as a filmmaker, surprisingly enough. As an editor, I always helped create other people's films by putting the pieces together. This film was the first film where my name is under writer and director, along with editor. Since the making of this film, I have worked on other video projects with my name under Director/DP, something I thought I wouldn't be doing in the film world. Morning Talks broke me out of my outer shell.

What roles are you most comfortable in? (directing, editing, producing, writing, etc)?
Making Morning Talks had my hands dipped into every role of filmmaking. From writing a script to directing, to editing. I felt the most comfortable writing this because it was based on my own experience. And of course, I felt most comfortable editing because I was able to build this film and tie everything together.