LIMINAL was shot in one week at Ben Kitay Studios in Hollywood, CA. There was also a day on location in the warehouse district, downtown Los Angeles, and some aerial photography (never used--see Extras) one Sunday morning from Van Nuys airport through the fogs of Glendale and over the freeway. The actors rehearsed approximately 50 hours at the Whitefire Theatre in Studio City prior to shooting. All casting was the result of postings on NowCasting, LACasting, and SAGIndie websites. The contract is SAG Ultra Low Budget. Two 35mm Panavision cameras were used to shoot on Fuji color film which was then desaturated into Black and White. The film was completed in June, 2008, and has a running time of 14 minutes.
Completed: June, 2008, TRT: 14 min., Shooting Format: 35mm B&W, Available Formats: DVD (region 0), DigiBeta (NTSC/PAL), BetaSP (NTSC/PAL), 1348 feet/411 meters, 1 roll, Aspect Ratio: 1:85, Origin: USA, CA
Director/Writer/Executive Producer: Stephen Keep Mills, Editor: Tamera Martin, Director of Photography: Michael Alba, Production Design: Rachel Myers, Sound: David McJunkin, Producer: Patrick Cunningham. Cast: Tonya Cornelisse, Alejandra Gollas
Think it’s a dream?
What’s in a word: Choosing a title
I love the description of the word "liminal" in the dictionary: “of, pertaining to, or situated at the limen.” Look up “limen” and you find it means: “threshold”, and that the term “liminal” refers to “a psychological or physiological response.” I like the word. It’s one of those words that conveys mystery and mystery is much of what our lives are about. Mystery defines us—if we could ever decipher it. So, I picked this word because I want—not to confuse you—but to mystify you.
Is this story a tale of domestic distress? Or is JOY the shadow/nemesis of INA and therefore the whole thing is not an external drama at all but an internal and psychological one? It’s both. It’s domestic and it’s abstract and we live in both worlds all the time where we mistake actions for “real” that are really leaks from our unconscious. We live in these two dimensions at once and that, to me, is the meaning of liminal—a world where reality and dream play musical chairs— neither one winning—all the time.
I don’t like the concrete. I don’t like definitions or formulas. I think they can be false gods that we invoke to spare us from the uncertainty of living. I prefer the uncertainty because I think it’s closer to the truths about us. We are not subject to proof. We live in the expanding magma of our own active volcano. Our pains and joys are real but they come to us through some existential mist we can’t explain.
There is no explanation for this story. It so happens one person kills another or “kills” ie. separates from a part of one’s being that needed to be cut loose. It’s not a dream. We act and we don’t know why. We watch ourselves responding to the under-gut of our own instinct. We don’t choose how we live. We live and then try to figure it out. This story is about how one person fights for her soul so that she could then go about the business of becoming. She had to wrest herself from her own negative grasp. She didn’t plan it out. Her instincts came through for her just at the needed moment. That would be the “liminal” moment. Can you explain that? Me either, but at least there is a word for it.
Production History: When the concept changes.
As casting began, I was looking for ROY and INA. When all was said and done, I was looking at INA and JOY. How is that? How did a tale exploring a deadly domestic dispute between two heterosexual lovers become an equally deadly but psychological war between a woman and her same-sex shadow? Well, one issue (nudity) oddly led to the other (concept change) and I’m going to lay the genesis of this transformation at the feet of my two fearless and gifted leading ladies: Tonya Cornelisse and Alejandra Gollas. LIMINAL is a tale of control, reversal of power, and the emergence of self—all because of a sweater which INA thinks made her look good and, as first written, ROY thinks made her look too good. Two actors were offered the role of ROY and turned it down through their managers. The deal-breaker for each was the issue of nudity. For the role of INA, I had just the opposite issue—two equally fabulous candidates ready to play and only one could be cast. I wasn’t looking forward to selecting just one. I knew the other would be just as fantastic. Two more ROY’s declined (different managers, same issue). I looked again at the photos—the two actresses who were so good—then I went to the Muse with the magic question: “What if?” At the extended final callbacks (I still had some excellent guys—this is LA after all and I had gotten over 1500 submissions from the sites of Now Casting, LA Casting and SAG Indie), I asked Tonya and Alejandra to stay just a little longer. I let loose my idea: what if INA was in a battle with a negative part of herself that prevents her growth? What if this force represented "the voice within" that always diminished her? What if this wasn’t a domestic contest at all, but a psychological war of the interior? They read the script together and it became clear the course we would follow. This conflict would turn inward. The set design would have to change, the cinematography would have to change, the dialogue, too—not much, but slightly, and presto! JOY sprang fresh from the rib of ROY. From a violent, lost, and insecure male, JOY blossomed into an uncompromising, relentless, Fury of a woman—a shadow not a lover—the anti-self which wants to keep INA forever on the ropes of defeat, never allowing her true being to develop, a vicious inner Villain. So, this is how the story was waiting to be told—not as first conceived, but as now discovered, still as raw, but even more intimate. When the enemy is within and you are fighting your own self-destruction, survival couldn’t be more personal. And for this I have my actresses to thank. Their talent simply transcended elimination.
THEY’RE NAKED: Removing the Taboo
The most obvious element of this film is that both players are naked. Completely and throughout. I had in my mind that it should be played this way. Not for erotic reasons since there is nothing erotic about the story. Not for a gimmick since gimmicks quickly lose dramatic relevance. I thought they should be naked because the story operated on three levels: the logical, the primitive, and the unexpected. The “logical” is the argument or the dialogue; the “unexpected” is the intuitive or the liminal factor; and the “primitive” is the naked. This short tale has a very raw mood and I felt that’s how the audience should experience it. Raw is vulnerable, unhidden, exposed. Raw is also powerful since it’s honest and pure. Raw is also uncivilized and I set this story just below the surface of civilization. The nakedness is a reflection not of how we are in our day-to-day encounters, but how we are when only we can see ourselves. Naked to our own naked “inner” eye.
Nakedness bears a negative burden in American culture. Usually nakedness is connected with sex and, of course, the verdict on sex is: guilty! Nakedness connotes the forbidden and carries with it the weight of a curse. After all, our two most famous forbears were cast out of the Garden for knowing they were naked. We are prejudiced against nakedness. There is no nobility in nakedness, only condemnation. In the museums, all the naked paintings and statues seem acceptable, but only from an emotional distance. Stone is not flesh. Neither is paint. Naked flesh is taboo. So I put this nakedness before you. Without apology. With full intention and pride. I want to see if you can watch naked players and still follow the story. I want to present nakedness in a way no-one has seen it before. I want to relieve us all of the judgment we have against nakedness. I want to separate nakedness from its usual context of prurience, of eroticism, of voyeuristic-ness. I want to take nakedness out of the elementary school cloakroom. I want nakedness to become natural, mature, noble, normal, and beside the point. I want us all to crawl just a little higher up the evolutionary scale. Nakedness also carries with it the whisper of a wish. On some level we want to be naked again. If only it were safe. If only we could escape judgment. If only we had the courage. Tonya Cornelisse (JOY) had appeared naked in several plays onstage, though never on film. Alejandra Gollas (INA) saw the nakedness as an experiment. Lucky for me they both liked the script. They are the carriers of this experiment and they make our wish come true.
A woman. Her body. A destructive, controlling voice. INA and JOY are naked and locked in a battle of elimination. INA must reverse the power to survive. Are they lovers or is JOY the “killer-within”? Shot in 35mm in b/w, this 14-minute film will take you below the surface of civilization into the volatile world of the feminine psyche and the white‐hot fight for survival. A simple sweater is the object of fury.