Most filmmakers would feel daunted at the idea of making a feature-length movie in one single, unbroken 80-minute shot.
Gavin Michael Booth made two of them. At the same time.
His groundbreaking film “Last Call” features a split screen from start to finish, with cameras running simultaneously, each focused on a different character involved in a tense phone conversation with each other.
One is a depressed father named Scott (Daved Wilkins), who comes home from the bar and dials a suicide hotline, thinking of ending his life. But in his inebriated state, he erroneously dials a number at the local community college. The phone is picked up by a single mother named Beth (Sarah Booth, Gavin’s wife), working the night shift as an office cleaner. The entirety of “Last Call” is their split-screen conversation, as Beth tries to keep Scott on the line and get him to open up about his problems.
Even though Booth lives in Los Angeles and filmed ‘Last Call” in his hometown of Windsor, Ontario, Wisconsin has figured prominently in the film’s unlikely success story. Booth brought “Last Call” to the Beloit International Film Festival for its world premiere in February, and says the warm welcome from festival programmers and audience members was a big boost. He’s even considering coming back to Beloit to shoot a movie there.
Now, the film is being picked up for limited distribution by theaters in the FLIX Brewhouse theater chain, including FLIX Brewhouse Madison at East Towne Mall. “Last Call” screens at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday. The screenings run in conjunction with National Suicide Prevention Week.
Single-take films are nothing new to Booth — he’s already made several music videos and short films that are one unbroken shot. For “Last Call,” he wanted to push himself artistically while making a film that could be achieved on a shoestring budget.
“When we doubled down with the idea of split-screen, as a director, the challenge was too good to pass up,” Booth said in an interview with The Young Folks. “I had to make this film.”
It was Wilkins, best known as a comedic actor (his 2015 Doritos “Time Travel” commercial still airs on television), who came up with the idea of the suicide hotline call. As the two worked together on the screenplay, Booth did some research into suicide prevention centers and found a big narrative obstacle — the protocol at such centers is for hotline workers to only keep callers on the phone for a few minutes before passing the call on to authorities. That meant a feature-length conversation wouldn’t work.
Then, Wilkins and Booth came up with the idea of the wrong number, which adds to the suspense of watching “Last Call.” Beth, initially polite but disinterested when she answers Scott’s call, is slow to realize the serious situation she’s in. The last half-hour of the film ratchets up the tension as Beth tries to keep Scott on the line while using verbal clues he’s given her to figure out who and where he is.
The split-screen technique keeps the viewer’s attention moving back and forth between sides of the screen — sometimes we’re watching the person talking, other times focusing on the reactions of the other person.
After all that emotional build-up, the ending of “Last Call” feels a little anticlimactic. But overall, it’s a worthy experiment, one that shows what an independent filmmaker can do with a little money and a lot of daring.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 800-273-TALK (8255).