How I Designed My Dream Short Film By Producing It Myself | First Person Series

The short film Uproot grew from the uncommon practice of Production Designer Madelyn Wilkime approaching Writer and Director Julia Bales to help her create a film that would allow her to design her dream concept.

First Person is our new series on Art Departmental where we have a Production Designer, Set Decorator, or member of the Art Department write about their work on a specific project in their own words. With this series we aim to delve deeper into the production design process of film, television, commercials, and music videos on large, medium, AND micro-budget projects– with, or without, international distribution. Our second ‘First Person‘ entry is by Production Designer Madelyn Wilkime about the production design and creation of her terrific new short film Uproot which is a Vimeo Staff Pick premiering this week.
Short Film Uproot

Video village on the set of Uproot | Center: Madelyn Wilkime, Right: Julia Bales

Our short film Uproot came out of my desire to design a stylized world. While I had been enjoying production design for several years, I felt like the jobs I was a part of weren’t allowing me to fully realize a more creative aesthetic.

Uproot came out of my desire to design a stylized world.

After attending FFFEST in October of 2018 and SXSW in March of 2019 I was inspired by the stories I was hearing from fellow filmmakers. Often, a director, writer, or actor felt like they were not getting the opportunities they wanted, so they set off to create their own projects showcasing their talents.

In the Spring of 2019, I started saving and pondering over what making my own project could look like. I was drawn to a story revolving around plants. Besides a personal fascination with nature’s greenery, I thought the materials needed would be within my budget.

How I Designed My Dream Short Film 'Uproot' By Producing It Myself Share on X

Before and After Set Comparisons

I floated the idea to my husband, Tim Wilkime, who was very supportive and offered to produce the project. We considered the possible locations, which admittedly was a pretty short list, and determined that our apartment at the time made the most sense as we were planning on moving in the fall. This would give me the opportunity to have a blank canvas after moving out our belongings.

Over the summer, I reached out to Writer and Director Julia Bales, who I’ve worked with extensively in the past, to see if she would be interested in collaborating on a project based on a ‘world where plants have taken over’. She was up for the challenge on this slightly backwards way of making a short film together.

Reference Imagery

We began to share photos of nature that had been cultivated in indoor spaces and discussed stories that could be motivated by this aesthetic. I’ve always been mesmerized by spaces where nature takes over a man-made interior, whether its an abandoned building where the plants have started to come up through the floorboards, or a greenhouse that has lovingly been crafted by humans to encase plants from floor to ceiling.

Reading Julia’s first draft, she crafted the idea of an agoraphobe in his deceased father’s home, trapped with anxiety and only his plants to care for. I really enjoyed the duplicity of the scene Julia described of a traditional family home, with stories it had collected over the years, and burying it under our characters’ new plant obsessed present.

Rough Sketch Ideas

In early fall, Tim and I set dates to move which gave way for when we could film. In this rare instance, I had roughly a month to prep the location, from moving out our belongings to filming. We looked over the budget and ultimately decided since we had time on our side I could solely handle all art department responsibilities and reallocate money into other needed crew and equipment. To be clear, I very much enjoy collaborating with a crew of creative individuals in the art department, and couldn’t do a typical job without a normal sized crew.

After scouting the apartment with Julia and discussing the script, I sent her over some concept renderings I created in Photoshop. Our apartment had beautiful dark walnut stained floors and deep brown accents throughout which paired nicely with the woodsy aesthetic I had pitched Julia.

Concept Renderings

Growing up, my childhood friend’s Dad was an avid duck hunter whose basement was filled with artwork of mallards, wooden ducks, and many more duck-related paraphernalia. This memory helped build the visuals for the family’s earth-tone apartment as well as the look of my own parents’ home which had been built in the 70’s and included wood paneled walls and a copper oven hood.

In the weeks leading up to filming, I started decorating the chimney with ivy, propagating houseplants, and scouring thrift stores for furniture. I ended up with about a 50/50 split using faux and real greenery. Julia wanted to make sure the apartment felt full, so I made it a point to have plants coming out of every possible open space. I lucked out finding a few set decorating gems at some rural thrift stores in Washington when we were visiting for a wedding shortly before filming. This took some very careful repacking of suitcases for the flight back home.

Greenery Prep Work

We were able to dress a good portion of the set about a week in advance, giving Julia and our Cinematographer Luc Delamare time to block some of the scenes before the shoot day. This also allowed for Julia and I to discuss notes on the set and to make changes, a luxury we often had to skip on more time constrained projects.

The filming dates arrived and while very excited, I also felt a surreal calm as months of planning came to an end. As Luc and his gaffer Vincent Valentin got to work lighting the set I was in awe of how the set began to take new form and come to life.

After the project was edited, colored and sound mixed, Julia, Tim and I agreed we wanted to enter it into the film festival circuit. However in Spring 2020, when we were supposed to find out about the majority of the film festivals we had submitted to, we learned about SXSW being cancelled and the many other festivals that followed during this unprecedented time.

Uproot Production Stills

Julia, Tim and I regrouped to discuss the future of our film. We realized releasing Uproot sooner than planned might give the short a wider audience, especially with its eerily topical subject matter of someone trapped indoors. We submitted the film to Vimeo and were thrilled to be selected for Vimeo’s Staff Pick Premiere honor.

I’m so grateful for everyone’s contributions and hard work on Uproot. The film premiered this week and you can now watch our short film Uproot below. I hope you enjoy watching it as much as we enjoyed making it.

Watch the Short Film Uproot

You can connect with Madelyn Wilkime on her website, or on Instagram.

To read more of our First Person Series posts on Art Departmental, click here.

Posted by Madelyn Wilkime

Madelyn has Production Designed for music videos, branded content, Facebook Originals, and commercials. Her love of narrative work can be seen in numerous shorts, including SXSW 2019 Vimeo Staff Pick Award “Milton”.

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