6 minute read

A Test of Character

Gina Hackett talks us through her compelling short film, The Appraisal, and how FUJIFILM X-H2’s advanced filmmaking features helped her make it

It’s long been Gina Hackett’s desire to create characters with nuance and texture – not only in search of truth, but because they lead to better stories. After all, people with flaws can feel as real as the audience watching them, while protagonists written with detail, make decisions that aren’t simply motivated by moving a plot from A to B.

Those motivations are front and center in Gina’s short film, The Appraisal, created with the help of FUJIFILM X-H2. It’s a story that isn’t black and white. It doesn’t force the audience to take sides, but instead questions their own judgment, and motivations in situations that are closer to home than any of us would like. So how does she go about that? “By drawing things into the middle of the moral compass,” she says.

“I’ve long been interested in tales of morally ambiguous people, and women in particular,” Gina continues. “It’s an area which has been neglected, and I think a lot of minority and marginalized groups suffer from that too. They’re often portrayed as one-dimensional characters, like heroes or villains, but for me the most interesting stuff happens in the space between those poles. That’s because it mirrors our own experience. None of us are purely one thing or the other. It’s what makes people, people.

“The depth given to characters in mainstream content is beginning to change now, but not always for the better,” she believes. “I want to watch characters living between the good and the bad, and when women aren’t allowed that kind of ambiguity in a story, there’s a fundamental lack of dignity being afforded to them. I’m interested in what these people are thinking and who they are on the inside. The key is letting them live in their own skin.”

Gina was drawn in part to this kind of insightful writing by an interest in journalism. Growing up, she always knew she would write, so it just came down to finding a path. “I had a real reverence for journalists like Joan Didion, and even Hunter S. Thompson, who’s an incredibly problematic figure now – but I was gripped by the upheaval they were writing about,” she explains. “They were using a format that’s somewhat fictionalized, too, which I found fascinating. I took journalism at college, then a film class, which is where I really connected to cinema. I realized that someone had written those stories – and that someone could one day be me.

“In The Appraisal, we stumble upon a moment in time where a woman is making an uncomfortable decision and grappling with what it means to make the right choices.” Effectively, Gina explains, the film is asking a question: ‘If you could see how your relationship would be in five years, what would you do?’ “Would you stay in it, because it feels great now?” she asks. “Or would you run away screaming? For our character, her life looks bright and shiny. She has a big house, a classically good-looking guy, who’s kind to her, but then observes something that makes her question it all.”

Short fiction can be the perfect place to present these characters and questions, and it’s a format that Gina knows well. “The Appraisal is around eight minutes, and one of the shortest films I’ve made. But throughout film school, that’s all we were allowed to create. I’m writing mainly for television and features now, but shorts can break all the rules, so they’re ripe for experimentation. They work on their own terms, so you can often push the boundaries of storytelling within them. You can’t go deep into character, but you can still be truthful and intelligent.”

Joining Gina in the creation of The Appraisal, FUJIFILM X-H2 fitted perfectly with her filmmaking style. “Part of the reason for using a smaller, lighter camera was stylistic,” she explains. “Cinema cameras can be very large and cumbersome, but the way I often want to work is with the camera on the operator’s shoulder. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever made a movie that’s not mobile. I never use a tripod!”

Although not quite in one shot, it was filmed in single takes, keeping the audience engaged as though they’re right in there with the characters. “The handheld look lets us enhance that feeling of reality,” Gina explains. “It’s an escalation of the present tense and fits in perfectly with the way the script was written, letting the audience be a roving eye on what’s unfolding.”

The film was also made using X-H2’s 8K mode, which afforded Gina plenty of latitude in editing. “Having extra resolution is huge,” she explains. “That’s especially so when working handheld. There are moments where the 8K footage let us do gentle push-ins, or reframes. For instance, when you work in this ‘oner’ format, and the Steadicam operator is rolling for eight minutes at a time, there are always going to be moments that you can’t fully control. Being able to shift the frame in post is incredibly useful.”

Gina was also thrilled by the quality of the footage produced by X-H2. “I worked with a director of photography called Kadri Koop,” she says. “Kadri is amazing, and I was immediately drawn to the textures in her work. That’s something X-H2 really delivered on, too. The footage is beautiful, and specifically the textured look that it gave us. I’ve used digital cameras plenty of times, but my last film was on 16mm, and that’s the look I like. X-H2 made the location feel like a real place, befitting of the characters within it. The way that the camera rendered their reflections in glass was also perfect.”

Contemplating her experience in making The Appraisal, Gina sees those reflections as pivotal. “The sliding glass door, around which the characters spend so much time, is of course highly symbolic,” she explains. “It separates the two stories that are occurring, and also connects them. I was very excited by the idea of those two spaces unknowingly in dialogue with each other, and the questions it raises about the future.”

Film crew reviewing footage on set

Photo 2022 © Matthew Weintritt | FUJIFILM X-H2S camera and XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR, 1/250 sec at F2.8, ISO 1250

The Appraisal builds to an unsettling and uncertain conclusion, which was always Gina’s intention, but her own motives as a storyteller are clear. “I don’t want people to make too many immediate judgments about these characters,” she concludes. “I don’t want anything to be too clear. All the tension and choices that we’re depicting exists on a spectrum, but that means there’s more story to move into.”

FUJIFILM X-H2 is coming soon to your nearest FUJIFILM Authorized Dealer. Learn more and read the full specifications here.

THE APPRAISAL Film Festival Laurels

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