There’s a gentle irony in the fact that most directors that we consider to be a new talent have battled for years to achieve their breakthrough. Alex Holdridge is a typical example.
His new film In Search of a Midnight Kiss appears to herald him as a talent that has emerged from out of nowhere; it’s witty, complex script and beautiful black and white photography at odds with his status as a newcomer. And yet, as in most such cases, Holdridge isn’t really a newcomer at all. Emerging from the vibrant underground film scene of Austin, Texas, his debut film Wrong Numbers collected the Audience Award at his hometown’s film festival. His next release, Sexless, won both the Audience and Jury Award at the SXSW Film Festival. In Search of a Midnight Kiss might be his international breakthrough, but it’s still the culmination of approximately a decade’s worth of cinematic activity.
“I had literally $150, enough to get to Los Angeles and survive for about a week before getting a job”
It’s a slog that would go some length to explaining his infectious, almost ludicrous enthusiasm about Midnight Kiss. “There was no margin for error,” he explains at breakneck speed about his move from the comfort of Austin to the hub of wannabe creativity that is Los Angeles. “I had literally $150, enough to get to Los Angeles and survive for about a week before getting a job.”
The plan and its accompanying budget were almost obliterated when Holdridge was involved in a car crash en route to his new home city. “From a low budget point of view, it’s so hard to create a car crash so you have to be inventive and find a way of using it,” he says, seemingly still impressed by his capacity to find something positively immediately after a shocking and potentially disastrous occurrence. “I kicked out the window, crawled out, leaned down and snapped a photo. I had no idea what I was doing, but as a filmmaker you just think, shit, this is amazing.”
That photo features prominently in the final version of the film and proved to be a particular inspiration when producer Robert Murphy called him to suggest a near impromptu filming session. “I’d been considering doing something around New Year’s Eve, the phenomenon of the dating online and I knew I had that photo. Sara [Simmonds, the actress who plays key character Vivian] and I had walked around the city the previous year and discovered all these amazing locations. I needed to put all this together and Robert’s call was the impetus.”
By the time Murphy had arrived, the Midnight Kiss script had been completed. Holdridge enlisted the bulk of the cast and crew from previous collaborators and other creatively minded friends and the film was underway. The film was shot over the course of two lengthy eight day periods for just $12,000 (mostly funded by family, friends and maxed out credit cards) with the cast multi-tasking to assist the minimal crew. “Everyone was so anxious and wanted to make a movie so badly. We knew from the second that we started shooting that something was blessed about this project.”
To say that the filming was done guerrilla style would be to overstate the subtlety of the film’s approach. “We just walked onto the streets and started shooting,” states Holdridge. “I had all the audio equipment lined in my coat so we could be completely discreet. The VC cameras are incredibly small, we’d shoot across the street and the actors were using wireless microphones. I’d use hand motions and whistles to signal to them and we’d have codes for ‘do it again’ and things like that.”
“I was thinking that I’d type out a story that said if L.A. fell into the ocean, I wouldn’t have missed it”
Despite the low-budget, DIY nature of the film, Holdridge felt that it was, “important to have some sort of respect for the history of Los Angeles and Hollywood filmmaking in general.” It was this partially this respect that necessitates the quiet beauty of filming in black and white. “I wanted it to feel like an old-fashioned film,” he continues at a manic, yet still considered, pace. “Everything was incredibly traditional in a stylistic motivation. MySpace, texting and that kind of stuff has is so contemporary and has a real expiration date on it. I didn’t want it to be timely, I wanted it to be about love, struggle and connection.”
Midnight Kiss is essentially a traditional tale of two people trying to find love in challenging circumstances. “Sometimes people come into your life and that’s exactly what you need at that moment. Even though it was an incredibly contemporary story, I wanted it to have an old-fashioned style and look that just transcends.”
Despite such respect for the city’s inimitable atmosphere, Midnight Kiss wasn’t envisaged as a glowing tribute to the city. “I was thinking that I’d type out a story that said if L.A. fell into the ocean, I wouldn’t have missed it,” exclaims Holdridge without irony. “I thought I’d show how fucked up it is, how hard it is to connect with people and how lonely and isolated it is. There’s distance between people physically; the need for cars really separates people and makes people far more reliant on the Internet for dating.” Despite these feelings, he also admits there’s a real romance in talented people giving up their secure lives in a desperate attempt to succeed in L.A. “You’re drawn here and feel that you have to do it to get your next movie made.”