By Garret Williams
The Rise is a story in the not-so-distant future about a generation letting go of the American Dream and a new generation adapting to life on the edge.
John and Mary, an older couple, are selling their family home for a fraction of what they put into it. He’s devastated and she mourns its loss. They wait in their empty living room, Mary boxing up a few pictures as John stares out at the wide ocean.
The agent shows up and tells them potential buyers are soon to arrive. It’s the only serious interest they’ve had and he’s more than eager to close the deal. The agent tells them, “At this point you’ve got a five-year estimate on the property. Five could be four.”
The buyers, Oskar and Rika, a scrappy young couple with a baby daughter, arrive. Racially ambiguous, they are a mix of black, white, Latino, and Asian. The women instantly bond over the baby; the men are slower to warm up. After some contentious exchanges, Oskar makes an offer, and John accepts. The agent briefly warns Oskar that the market isn’t getting better, and that he and his family can expect to lose electricity, gas, water, and even police protection over time.
Oscar and John agree to the terms and finalize the deal by electronic Hand Scan. After the agent makes a quick exit, John and Mary say good-bye to the home, closing the door, literally, on their old life. It’s a bittersweet parting for all.
We join Oscar, Rika and the baby on the deck, as they look out at their new view and new world.
The Rise started when ITVS contacted me looking for ideas for a new series of shorts about the future. I had been writing features, one after the other, for years, and it had been a long time since I had thought about a short — but the future angle was intriguing. Knowing that there would be limited funding for the film, I wanted to do something very simple and not be weighed down by creating some sort of designed future. I wanted to do something character-based, emotional, and focused on performance.
When I think about the future and what’s ahead for our world, the environment is the first thing that comes to my mind. But instead of gloom and doom, I wanted to tell a story about the fallout that lies ahead, and focus on one small story. I conceived the sale of a home from an older generation to a younger one, giving clues along the way, saving the final chilling revelation for the end.
The story is set in an empty house to give it a timeless feel. I decided to make the homeowners an older couple who were giving up their dream home, a home they built and raised their children in, making it hard for them to let go of it or let go of the past. The buyers needed to be a younger couple living on the edge, more comfortable with the changes the world has gone through, and more able to deal with the world’s new challenges head-on. I gave them a baby to create more conflict between them, as well as to give the story more weight. Finally, I needed an agent to broker the sale, working as a go-between, pressuring each couple to make a deal.
Once I had all the characters in place the next step was to find ways within the dialogue to give clues (sometimes misleading) as to what was happening in the outside world, without giving it away. For me this is was the most challenging part of writing The Rise. Film and storytelling is most effective when you can give an audience just enough information to fill in the blanks with their own ideas and perspectives, opening up the story to be interpreted in many different ways. For me, it was all about building tension, not only about whether the sale would go through, but about what has happened in the world to bring these people together in this way.
— Garret Williams, Director
Making The Rise was difficult on many levels, but finding an empty house in which to shoot the film was particularly challenging.
As scripted, the house needed a classic feel yet be updated by today’s standards. When shooting in Los Angeles, many people open up their homes to productions and command large fees, but we had a location budget of only $2,000; many homes were asking twice that for a single day. We needed to shoot for three days, plus have two days for prep and wrap. There was no serious interest.
We started cold calling realtors who might know of an empty property with owners looking to make some extra money. Again we had little response other than a mansion in Malibu with original ’80s style, a cliff-side home in the city that felt unsafe, and an upgraded house in Sun Valley. Of these three, the Sun Valley place had the most potential. It was on a quiet street, had modern appliances and fixtures, and most importantly, the owner was ready to go.
Another interesting aspect to the Sun Valley house was the dusty vintage Cadillac in the garage. It was a cool feature that I could work into the script as a link to the past for John, the older homeowner in the film; perhaps he’d always wanted to fix it up, but now he would ultimately have to leave it behind. Also, the car fit into the environmental theme, being an archetype of the gas-guzzling machines that got us to the future state depicted in the film.
On a more practical level, the biggest problem was that Sun Valley is deep in the San Fernando Valley and extremely hot. Since we were shooting in the last weekend of August, there was a strong possibility of oppressively high temperatures that could weigh heavy on a limited crew and cast.
As the shoot dates grew nearer and nearer we enlisted the help of location manager, Melissa “Zippy” Downing, and upped our budget to $3,000. She worked hard and fast and came up with several more options. Unfortunately, nothing felt right. Finally, we lucked into a house across the street from the home of our director of photography, Samuel Ameen. His neighbors were selling their house and would hopefully be moving around the time we were scheduled to shoot. The owners read the script and were in. It was big enough, in the city, and very workable.
The weekend we shot was extremely hot — over 100 degrees. Fires were raging outside L.A. resulting in heavy smoke in the air (Sun Valley would have been a nightmare), but the image of the car in the garage did get written into the script, and a brief scene was shot with John saying goodbye to his old car (now a vintage Mustang). Ultimately, that scene was cut from the film.
— Garret Williams, Director