Aaron J. Balk: “The formula for a successful shoot is a crew you trust and a crew you care for”

Awarded by ISA, in July season, Silver Best Acting Duo and Silver Best Actress, “Liberal Jews” is a challenging 45-page script short film based essentially in an acting performance of high caliber. Learn more with the director Aaron J. Balk.

Aaron J. Balk
Aaron J. Balk

ISA: This is your debut as a film director. What made you decide to make this film in particular?

Aaron J. Balk: Well, I’m always writing new projects, jumping from idea to idea. Both a gift and a curse that I’m sure many other writers do relate with. But the “Liberal Jews” I had was always laying around complete. And when two of my best friends from film school were packing up and moving to LA, I knew I wanted to shoot with them one last project before they go. So I grabbed the script because it was fully complete and here we are now.

ISA: A budget of 7,750 USD. A scary number or it was enough for this project?

AJB: You know, ideally films (in general) are very costly and that price is not as large as some may think for a film. But it was stressful figuring out the budget without spending too much. Thank God I have such genius friends – very savvy when it comes to equipment – and they helped me put this project together on a tight sum.

ISA: How long was the shooting and which were the main challenges on the set?

AJB: The shoot itself was three days but I swear by the end of it, it felt like three months to everyone. And I mean that in the most wonderful way. We all love what we do so we enjoyed and took in every single moment which prolonged the feeling of this shoot. On the other side of that same coin, being just 3 days and a 45-page script we were very tight for time and had to drop a pivotal scene I would have loved to keep in.

ISA: What did you want to tell to the audience with “Liberal Jews”?

AJB: Initially, when I wrote “Liberal Jews” it was just a character piece. It was supposed to be about a young couple who argue like an old couple but it was supposed to lean in a darker comedic tone. Obviously, if you have seen the film – the comedy is very subtle. This is a sad film. And as I kept going with the script – I realized that this was the direction the film was taking-  it was almost as if it wrote itself and the characters kept going through mediocre highs and very sad lows. There’s no real message. And the title has no meaning. They are liberal Jews. It’s a flavor to a very small aspect of the film not discussed at all but if you look deeply – it’s there.

Eric Haber and Tara Rose Schreiber in "Liberal Jews"
Eric Haber and Tara Rose Schreiber in “Liberal Jews”

ISA: How difficult is to make the audience believe in the characters and feel emotionally linked with a short film?

AJB: I was very shocked with the reactions I’ve been getting from friends and family. So many people relate with Abigail and Jacob. It’s insane. People see themselves in these characters and there is a split of some who say they side with either her or him. I’m very pleased because as a writer you’re trying to get a reaction from your audience through the dialogue and character development. But the film seemed to hit a lot of people in deep sore places. I’m both flattered and surprised by that.

ISA: What cinematic influences do you think “Liberal Jews” has?

AJB: Very different type of films but I always had “Boyhood” on the back of my mind. I think how personal and raw the conversations were, they reminded me a lot of Richard Linklater’s work. Cinematically when my DP (who is incredibly talented and so easy to work with) asked me to give a reference for color scheme and vibe of what the look should be I showed him the show “Girls”. The show drops you right in the middle of their lives and you feel like you are in the room with them. I wanted my film to have that.

Tara Rose Schreiber and Eric Haber in "Liberal Jews"
Tara Rose Schreiber and Eric Haber in “Liberal Jews”

ISA: This short is mainly a work of acting and direction of actors with a considerable number pages of dialogues. First, what did you have to do to guarantee the chemistry we can feel between Tara and Eric? Second, how difficult is shooting in a small apartment with two characters moving between the bedroom and the living room? How can you keep concerns as the composition shots, camera position, pace, etc.?

AJB: First off, I feel like the luckiest guy in the world to get to work with these two. Truly. They are so professional, so goddam talented, and really took the characters from the words on paper and brought them to life in full embracement. I’ve known Tara for years and we’ve always been big fans of each other’s work. And because I’ve worked with her before I knew it would make my life so much easier to write a role for her – a person I both trust and know can knock it out of the park with any role she’s given. Eric, we discovered in an open casting and I knew from the second he left the room he was our Jacob. And I’m so glad I cast him because his and Tara’s performance drove this film. I didn’t have to do much to push them but explain what the hidden conflict that the characters aren’t saying is – and then they just took it away and made it their own. Shooting in one location was very fun. It was actually the apartment of the DP and assistant director, fun fact. I like shooting in closed and compact locations, I don’t know why, but I always sense it brings out the best in the performers and motivates the camera and lighting people to get the best frame possible. It’s almost a challenge that gets you more motivated. That’s how I feel.

Eric Haber in "Liberal Jews"
Eric Haber in “Liberal Jews”

ISA: Are you happy with the final result or would you change something?

AJB: Am I happy with the final results? That’s hard to answer. I’ve seen the film hundreds of times and I wish I can take a lot of dialogue back and switch some scenes. But that’s normal for a director to feel. I’m actually more curious about what people outside my friends and family will fee about the final product.

ISA: What are your overall career goals and what’s next?

AJB: My ultimate career goal is to make movies with the people I’m most close with. I love working with my friends. It’s so f**king awarding!

ISA: What’s next?

AJB: I have more scripts in development – hope I can bring those to life as well. I’m trying to leave the city and fly out to LA but unfortunately, this film has set me back quite a bit so that may not happen so soon sadly. Eventually though. And I know once I get out there everything is going to change. I’m on a good road. Fingers crossed!

On the set of "Liberal Jews"
On the set of “Liberal Jews”

ISA: Do you have any advice for other independent filmmakers, particularly for the newcomers?

AJB: Work with your friends. I’ve done a bunch of short student films and this one was the first non-film school film I shot. And I’m not bragging – this is completely true – at the end of every set people tell me “This was one of my favorite shoots I’ve ever worked on”. And I truly believe the potent formula for a successful shoot is a crew you trust and a crew you care for. Never gonna do it any other way.

ISA: What meant for you to be awarded in Independent Shorts Awards?

AJB: You know, a lot actually. It’s very exciting. This is the first of many award shows I’ve submitted “Liberal Jews” to and the fact we won two awards its such a privilege and I hope this streak doesn’t end. I’m also very proud and not surprised that it was my actors who got the acclaimed prizes. They were the film. And the awards are evident to that. Enough said.

Cast and crew of "Liberal Jews"
Cast and crew of “Liberal Jews”

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