InReview is often sent short films of all kinds, and occasionally we get the chance to catch up with the filmmakers behind them. Such is the case of 2020’s “Lost Kings”, which is being shown in film festivals this year in part because of COVID-19 and its limitations, cancellations and delays of film festivals that year, and its writer/director/producer Brian Lawes.
Lawes previously directed the short films “Rock Paper Scissors”, “Tempo”, and “Home Again”, and made “Lost Kings” as a proof of concept for a feature film of the same name. The film stars Dash Melrose as Zuri, a teenager who struggles with food insecurity and must steal in order to feed both himself and his brother, Jaden (Jacob M. Wade). Most of the film takes place in a stranger’s house Zuri breaks into, but finds himself trapped in once the owners unexpectedly come home. They quickly notice something is amiss, and the rest of the film sees him struggling to find a way out before he gets caught.
“In the original feature script, he is one in a group of friends who are in similar situations, struggling financially that go on a a series of break-ins,” Lawes said. The feature script — which he is pursuing finances to produce — would see the break-ins and stakes get progressively worse, leading to character arcs centering around a loss of innocence.
“Lost Kings” the short film gets at that a little, particularly when Zuri realizes that he is literally trapped by his own circumstances inside the stranger’s house, which most of the film takes place in.
“I had to pull shorter moments from a larger script,” he said, noting that he also had to make the film small enough to fit in mostly one location. In a previous interview, Lawes revealed that, like many short films, “Lost Kings” was financed mostly through years of personal savings. For the feature version of the film, he says that he would love to see it on a streaming platform like Netflix, noting that he is aiming to make a film that is similar “to what A24 is putting out” — he references 2016’s “Moonlight” as a major inspiration — but he also doesn’t want to limit himself, and is open to the best offer he gets.
But for now, “Lost Kings” the short film is making its way through film festivals across the country, where it is receiving critical praise and awards — it’s already won Jury Awards at the Santa Fe Independent Film Festival and Flickers’ Rhode Island International Film Festival, and an honorable mention at the Omaha Film Festival.
According to Lawes, COVID-19 didn’t affect the production of the film, as he was “fortunate enough to complete it before COVID shut everything down.” But it did affect its post-production and release.
“A lot of festivals went virtual or didn’t happen,” he said, with others limiting the amount of films that could be seen in a physical setting. All of these complications led to a delay in feedback in which he was wondering if the film would connect with audiences, which was a common trend in the film industry all-around, with even big-budget releases originally slated for 2020 pushed back until this year or later.
So far, it seems like his patience has paid off, with critics particularly praising Melrose’s leading performance. (Light spoilers) We discussed two particular scenes in the film from Lawes’ perspective — one in which Melrose is riding a bike at the end, frightened by his experience, as well as the film’s pivotal scene in which he is caught by the home owner’s daughter (Jo Ashley Moore).
“The final scene where he’s on his bike was the most difficult [to direct] because of the physicality of the scene,” he said, noting that he needed Melrose to be emotional, but not over-the-top. He also needed to capture it all in a timely manner. “It was one of those scenes where you have a moving vehicle and the sun is going down that all film directors talk about.”
However, the film’s penultimate scene was absolutely central to the film, according to Lawes.
“I knew that scene would be pivotal,” he said. “If that scene didn’t work, the film wouldn’t work.”
The scene features a split-second decision by Moore’s character in which, instead of screaming for help, she helps Zuri escape, and is arguably the film’s most memorable moment, as rather than pursue a fight-or-flight response to a situation like this, many people in the heat of the moment prefer to avoid confrontation, which is seldom represented in film. Lawes says that the key to making the scene work was a series of micro-movements that both Melrose and Moore made in their body language and facial expressions that made the scene feel believable.
“It was pretty captivating,” he said. “It sucked all the air out of the moment.”
“Lost Kings” can currently be seen at the Chicago International Children’s Film Festival.