This summer, senior media studies major Lexie McNinch and alumnus Christopher Francis ’20, former Foghorn sports editor, participated in the flurry of creativity that sprouted from six months of suppressed social interaction and stifled physical movement. Their short film, “Drained,” is under consideration for acceptance to multiple film festivals and has already won Best Student Film at the Couch International Film Festival. “That one was also IMDb eligible, so now all three of us have IMDb pages connected to ‘Drained,’” Francis said, meaning the film was “of public interest” according to IMDb. Inspired by the redundancy of shelter-in-place, McNinch wrote and Francis produced a short film that is a sign of the times.
The film begins with the painfully consistent cloink-ing of droplets on metal and ends with a scene that could be from a high-quality thriller. There’s no dialogue for the entire two minutes and 50 seconds, and the only face we see is that of alumnus Sarah Medley ‘20 — entirely anguished.
The sentiment for the film came from McNinch’s personal experience, which she drew on when Francis asked her to write the piece. “Over quarantine, I became very comfortable with not leaving the house, however I picked up this habit of listening to all the subtle songs around me. The more I listened however, the harder it was for me to physically sleep at night,” McNinch said in an email. “I wrote ‘Drained’ because I wanted to exaggerate how infuriating it is to listen to a single constant noise, when you need silence.”
The film was shot and edited from Francis’ apartment, which highlighted the ironic challenges of producing a film about quarantine, during quarantine. “The biggest challenge came from light,” Francis said in an email, “I don’t have my own set of film lights, so to make sure each shot was lit consistently required filming them all around the same time.” Francis also labored over finding the perfect cloink sound to set the audience, and main character’s, teeth on edge.
When it came to casting, however, Francis got lucky. He and Medley, who both have a passion for acting, are roommates and best friends. “I really just walked into her room carrying the script and some back-of-the-napkin storyboards and was like, ‘You wanna do this?’” Francis said.
Medley also drew on her own experience to play the role, recalling how she felt at the start of quarantine with no clear end in sight. “I remember being irritable, perpetually exhausted, lonely, and on edge,” she said. The character, named Alex only on paper, is at her lowest point. “She’s teetering on the brink of desperation. She just needs the dripping to stop, just needs the whole thing to be over,” Medley said. “‘Drained’ is a product of what COVID-19 was like for many, many people.”
To express that sentiment without dialogue, Medley relied on a director’s note: use her eyebrows. “I knew I had to translate her emotions into something that could be seen,” she said. “I think about drawing a smiley face on a piece of paper: if you change the eyebrows, the emotion of the face changes drastically and that change is understood universally.”
The message of “Drained” is indeed universal, demonstrated by the poignant themes of the festivals it’s been submitted to. While Francis and McNinch wait to hear back from the Hellbender and Nightmares film festivals in September, they’ve been accepted to the COVIDaVinci Film Festival and the Online Isolation Shorts Film Festival. They are proud and excited, despite being declined from the Roxie Shelter-In-Place Mixtapes, “which is kind of funny, but has kept us humble,” Francis said.
“Drained” will remain private and unlisted while the filmmakers wait to hear back from certain film festivals, but the link will be posted here when it becomes publicly available.