Turner Baietto, photo by Jim Barcus
KC filmmaker Turner Baietto set himself a challenge with “Someday” – and he met it.
Late night in an urban parking lot.
A man sits in a car talking on a cell phone to his daughter at a faraway college. It’s clear that their relationship is a distant one. Although the man makes a show of paternal concern, the conversation is superficial. Banal, even. The young woman seems to regard Dad as an unwanted interruption.
The man climbs out of the car, entering a nearby building through a rear service door. He goes to a basement locker area where he dons the blazer and white gloves of a hotel employee on room service duty.
Visiting the kitchen, he picks up a cart of food from the night cook, pushes it into the lobby, into an elevator, and up to a guest floor where he delivers it to the man in Room 512.
They make polite — maybe too polite — conversation.
And then something happens.
“Someday” is a grab-you-by-the-throat short film about a man living several different lives all at once. According to the closing credits his name is Butler, and he is played by Wes Studi, the great Native American actor.
Butler is a father, a garrulous talker, a friendly sort . . . until he isn’t.
“Someday” is intriguing for another reason. Of its 14-minute running time, 12 minutes are taken up by a single, constantly moving shot that follows Butler through the hotel as he goes about his business.
It’s a technical tour de force, but a low-keyed one. The film doesn’t feel like hey-Mom-look-what-I-can-do-with-a-camera cinematic grandstanding. It’s more about mood, and about the quiet moments when you think nothing’s happening.
A military brat — his father was an Air Force pilot — the 32-year-old Baietto relocated so often as a child that when the family finally settled down for his high school years in Liberty, Mo., he found the idea of a permanent home alien.
Permanence still doesn’t hold much appeal for him.
“That’s why I like making films. You can create this world, it lasts a few weeks, then you move on and start a new one.”
Baietto studied acting at Missouri State University in Springfield, and after graduating moved to Los Angeles expecting great things.
“And then it dawned on me that I didn’t have a clue.”
A job offer from a Kansas City ad agency brought him back. Like many a filmmaker, he developed his visual storytelling skills by writing and directing commercials. And he continues to work as a freelance director and producer for commercial clients.
Baietto first made a filmic splash in 2013 by writing and directing “The Field,” an episode of the locally generated, Kickstarter-funded web series “Withered World” — shorts about how various individuals spend their last hours knowing that the world is about to end.
Energized by the experience, he went to work developing what would become “Someday.”
He came up with a great concept. Even so, he admits that a lot of luck came into play before the project saw completion.
For example, the casting of Wes Studi.
“My producer, Chris O’Connor, asked me if I’d thought about a ‘name,’ an actor to play this character who would be on screen the entire time. And immediately I thought of Wes.
“He was fierce in ‘Last of the Mohicans,’ but he was funny in the Ben Stiller comedy ‘Mystery Men.’ I especially like that he has a face that tells a thousand stories.”
Baietto didn’t have a clue about tracking down the much-in-demand Studi, but he learned that local hair/wardrobe person Nancy Robinson was acquainted with the actor, who has appeared in a couple of features for Lawrence-based filmmaker Kevin Willmott.
“I sent Nancy a copy of my treatment in the hope that she could get it to Wes, all the time figuring the answer would be ‘No.’ Three days later she calls back and tells me that Wes wants to talk about the part.”
Shooting “Someday” was a serendipitous affair as well. Baietto’s decision to capture the movie in one long take was problematic.
“Doing it in one take — that was my idea from the very beginning,” Baietto said. “I’ve been asked if I did it to prove I could. No. There was another reason.
“The audience needs to feel that you are there. Every cut is an emotional break from the story. I wanted the viewer to connect to Wes’s character as much as possible, to feel that you’re right beside him during the entire experience.”
Filming took place in March of 2015. Baietto had contracted with the Ambassador, the boutique hotel at 11th and Grand, to use their facility between 1 and 6 a.m. for one night only.
The film company rented the entire fifth floor so that no real hotel guests would be inconvenienced — or stumble into the shot.
Even so it was a touch-and-go experience.
“In all we shot 12 takes and ended up using the 11th,” Baietto recalled. “For a while it wasn’t looking good. We’d get most of the way through a shot, and then something would happen and we’d have to start over.
“At one point my cinematographer, Hanuman Brown-Eagle, asked if we should start thinking about breaking it down into several different shots. I told him we’d stick with the plan.
“I was painfully aware that the clock was ticking. I was nervous. I was stressed out. But it was the most stressed-out fun I’ve ever had.”
Because of the fluid nature of Brown-Eagle’s camera work, Studi was accompanied on his perambulations by a skeleton crew of essential technicians capturing the video and sound.
In what Baietto calls “an unseen dance,” they hovered just out of camera range — a real challenge when the actor and three techies with their equipment were required to slip effortlessly into a small elevator.
Baietto watched the proceedings on a video monitor in a guest room on the fifth floor.
“I never had to direct Wes during the filming. He’s just that good. We had worked out a complete backstory for his character and he took off with it.”
Short films — even award-winning short films — are lucky to break even. Baietto says that at the very least a few festival bookings for “Someday” can serve as his calling card to the industry.