Director / Writer
A Man, working for his oppressive government, seizes the houses of citizens and transports them along interstate highways.
For my senior thesis film at Occidental College, I wanted to ask the question: How can memory affect the form of a story? I have always been fascinated with how humans reckon with memory, loss, and dreams; and how this reckoning can be depicted in the narrative form. Moreover, my deep-seated interest in the mechanics of time-based stories, such as short films, has led me to ask the question: can the content of the story, or even a character’s mental state, affect the form through which their story is being depicted? Memory is not an uncharted subject for stories, though I hope to extend its representation and use as a narrative device in Pillbox by incorporating films’ highly malleable form.
During pre-production, Anna Kim (DP) and I created a set of aesthetic rules that we would play by during production. By highly controlling camera movement, angle choice, and shot size, we could demarcate the state of mind of the Man, and delineate when he is in reality, when he is in a dream, and when it could be in either.
In Pillbox, the solidity and reliability of memories is not guaranteed. As the Man slowly loses his mind, due to the use of memory-erasing medication prescribed by the State, his memories become less and less reliable. His reality blends with his surreality. No truth can be assured. At its core, Pillbox is a political narrative on the unacceptable eminent domain laws and practices of the United States. In this not-too-different world of Pillbox, the only escape from the harsh reality is mental transcendence.
One of my main goals with Pillbox is the implementation of Paul Schrader’s self-coined "Transcendental Style" (named after the theological notion of the “transcendent.”) Schrader’s interpretation of this style relies heavily on the work of Yasujiro Ozu and other filmmakers of the time. Schrader explains that some through-lines of transcendental cinema are clean camerawork (minimal mise-en-scène, locked-off, rudimentary framing), depicting the everyday (the mundanity of daily life), and objective editing (in which edit-points are not motivated by on-screen action). In 2018, more than 40 years after its original publication, Schrader decided to rethink his definition of the transcendental style in cinema. He recorded his thoughts in a new, separate section of his book. The Transcendental Style is a topic I have been fascinated by and consistently engage with. My project follows a slightly modified structure as Schrader lays out: starting with the everyday, then adding disparity, and finally, ending with stasis. This structure is the backbone of the screenplay of my project. The story’s protagonist is shown in his daily life, and the mundanity of his daily chores is emphasized; then his house is being taken from under his feet, adding an “incompatibly between (him) and his environment,” and lastly, the protagonist escapes his body and mind in a final moment of stasis: resulting in transcendence.
Pillbox is a continuation of my exploration of memory and dreams, though it marks the first piece of mine that dives deep into Schrader’s Transcendental Style. I hope to continue using this style for my future work, as I found it immensely pleasurable and challenging.
Writer/Director/Editor — Manny Rothman
Producer — Jonah Roth-Verity
DP — Anna Kim
Sound recordist — Waylon Sall
Music — Laia Comas
Manny Rothman, 2023