Inventing the “Flay” (Film/Play) with Campo Santo

Star: The idea of the “flay” (a portmanteau of “film” and “play”) didn’t come until we had the footage. We went in to film the play, and the soundstage was going to mimic a theatre set. I almost forgot that, on top of everything else, the actors were twelve feet apart on these double sets. For the last two years that we’ve been editing with Thayer Walker and Christopher Sauceda, we have been just looking at the film where the shots of the two sets are merged and both actors are in a single frame. I felt overwhelmed.

What was the initial plan, and how did that shift over those three weekends?

Sean: November 2020

Joan: Weekends only.

Sean: Seven days total. That’s crazy, man.

Joan: The election going on.

Star: COVID, the 2020 election.

Joan: Bananas.

Sean: In the beginning we were like, “This is a filmed play.” Stylistically, we were looking at who on PBS [Public Broadcasting Service] has done interesting renderings of performance. And we were not trying to trick people into saying we’re filmic. Then, once we got in the space, it shifted to a sitcom kind of vibe. It’s one set, two or three cameras that stay the same. So how do we make the most of that? And that’s not a bad thing when you have Star Finch’s writing.

I’m still amazed by the actors, by the crew that we got to work with. Blown away by anyone that could handle your language. But it was amazing to do a piece that you essentially couldn’t rehearse. “Oh, we did this Zoom rehearsal thing.” Kiss my ass, that’s not rehearsing. Especially the way we do it as a crew. We read our plays, I think, more than most plays get to be read. For Side Effects, we didn’t even have that natural rhythm.

I was stunned by the crew showing up in this fucking warehouse, full of anxiety, and then going, “Okay, do some shit that we’ve never done before.” It was very much a new frontier, which did not feel as thrilling as new frontier sounds. In my brain the whole time I was going, “Record it all, and then see what happens. As long as we get it all, then we can work magic with people who work in this thing called post-production—which we had never done before.

Star: Joan, for certain scenes you started sprinkling your Joanie magic where the lighting was different, you were inserting your unique vibe and flavor. Did you plan that ahead of time?

It was an actualization of that philosophy that performance can be collective in certain regards that we don’t normally have room for in a process.

Joan: Sean and I pulled apart the script when we were talking through design. We have this shorthand in terms of projection/visual design: we know things are going to go in some pretty far out, kind of crazy directions. Then, all of a sudden, we’re in a world where we are actively integrating not only visual ideas but aesthetics into, essentially, a play structure.

We did have an idea of the transitions we wanted. A lot of it was really just the regular interpretation of the script. Where our vision departed from our soap opera set were the two-dimensional side-by-side views.

Basically all of us on production had to learn all the technology on the fly, including the use of dual cameras, syncing, color correction, and lighting—which was not theatrical lighting. It was for broadcast. You give tools to a bunch of creative people, and they do some weird stuff with it.