Sunday, March 3, 2013

Changing Cat Litter in Low Budget Films

by Drew Martin
I watched two low budget films this weekend, Tiny Furniture and Uncle Kent, in which each of the leading characters is shown changing cat litter. This works for many reasons. For one, no animal is actually in the scene, so it is less involved than a dog pooping in the street and you can shoot it as many times as you want, but it functions as a dog walking scene in an interior space. The main thing is that it shows a character in a compromising position. I wonder if there is an industry-trick for the prop; perhaps a wad of modeling clay.

Tiny Furniture is a neo-slacker film, which functions off-screen as a modern day debutante ball for its writer, director and lead Lena Dunham, daughter of two well-off New York City artists, Carroll Dunham and Laurie Simmons. The less nepotistic Uncle Kent stars Kent Osborne, who has been a writer and storyboard artist for Sponge Bob Square Pants. The difference is just that; having a litterbox scene is meant to show the humility of the main character but even so, one is shot in a fancy TriBeCa apartment while the other is in a messy LA bachelor pad.

In Tiny Furniture the litter box scene is catty and territorial. Dunham is lectured by her younger sister who tells her to clean the litter box. On the way out the door the sister says "Deep scoops," as Dunham fills a plastic bag from Murray's Cheese shop with cat feces.

In Uncle Kent, Osborne likes his cat as much as he likes smoking pot. Even though changing litter is a labor of love, the scene gets under your skin. While smell is a really hard sense to stir up in film, the director Joe Swanberg is able to rub it in your nose. What works really well in this shot is that it is sandwiched between a scene where Osborne's best friend tells him that his life is a wreck and just before a scene where he greets a young woman, played by Jennifer Prediger, who he is interested and has come to stay with him for the weekend. She calls him from outside his house while he is crouching in a small space shared by his washer, dryer, and mountain bike, with his t-shirt over his face.

While Tiny Furniture is a much slicker film and a little easier to watch, it's main fault is its privilege. Uncle Kent takes more risks on an even lower budget and is more in touch with reality.

Click here to watch the trailer for Tiny Furniture.

Click here to watch the trailer for Uncle Kent.