Measure for Measure

Next month I will be making my very first film, an adaptation of Shakespeare’s ‘Measure for Measure,’ shot entirely on an iPhone.

The initial inspiration for the project came last summer when I stumbled on an article about a number of feature-length films that had been shot entirely on iPhones. It’s no surprise to anyone that knows me that of course my mind went immediately to Shakespeare, wondering which Shakespeare play would work best adapted into a film shot entirely on iPhones and I decided that Measure for Measure has all the elements that make it perfect for that setting.

The first reason I chose Measure — after the obvious fact that it is one of my favourites — is that of all of Shakespeare’s plays, it feels the most modern to me and I felt that a distinctly modern medium suited the modern themes in the play. While it technically falls within the realm of comedy, the darkly nuanced and disgusted tone it takes toward its subject matter: government power, love, and sexuality, feel distinctly 21st century. Gone is any trace of the idealized sexuality of Juliet’s ‘gallop apace you fiery footed steeds.’ What we get in return is the view of sexuality that Shakespeare cultivates in the tragedies, bitter, animalistic, mechanical. Measure for Measure is full of the dark humour of whorehouses and syphilis outbreaks, the hypocrisy of religious chastity, and the callous endorsement of execution as a punishment for fornication.

Secondly, I felt that the medium of shooting on a cell phone would be especially appropriate because of the way that cell phone video has become the primary medium for conversations about abuse of government authority. At its core, Measure for Measure is a play about the abuse of government authority, and in the last decade narratives about that abuse have been framed for the general public by cell phone videos. As activists have said in recent years about viral videos of police brutality, ‘the violence isn’t new, the cameras are.’ For this reason we aim to embrace, as far as is feasible, the aesthetic of the cell phone video rather than taking technical measures to hide the device on which we are filming.

Lastly, I thought about issues of space in the plays. An iPhone has a smaller lens, better suited for smaller, tighter shots. It would be hard to adapt a play like Henry V with its huge battles and royal orations to the army into an iPhone film. A play like Measure for Measure (or Othello for that matter) is focused on small, intimate spaces. The action of Measure feels claustrophobic, characters spend the play speaking in hushed tones in a prison, or in a private office, hoping the light of day never shines on their surreptitious dealings.

The very first person I wanted to bring on board with the project was my friend Mary Sader. She’s one of the people whose insights on Shakespeare I value the most. She’s brilliant and talented and so I asked her not only to play my Isabella, but also to direct with me. There are distinctly feminine themes to Measure for Measure that I felt inadequate to addressing alone. I felt that only with a woman directing could I see my vision of Isabella come alive. Having the same woman play Isabella and direct the film is my dream combination.

We’ve cut the script down to a barebones 45 minutes, cutting many characters and eliminated the subplots but keeping the most important elements. I’ve grown more comfortable with heavy cuts than I used to be. Removing lines from Shakespeare used to be as painful to me as cutting off appendages. But lately I’ve come to the opinion that not only does making cuts allow a director to be more creative and highlight parts of the story he or she wants to bring to the forefront, and that making an engaging, fast-paced production will drive people to read the full play, whereas making a languorous but full-text production might bore the uninitiated.

We’ll be shooting for a week in early August, right before I leave for a trip to Canada and London to see a bunch of Shakespeare productions. Some of my favourite actors in Richmond have signed on to work on the film and everyone has agreed to work for free for which I couldn’t be more grateful. We’ve set up a GoFundMe page to solicit donations for minor technical costs and to feed our actors. If you are able to help us out with a donation of any size we would be eternally grateful.