Short of the Week

The Exit Room

In 2021, an imprisoned journalist facing execution contemplates a desperate escape attempt in order to return to his wife and newborn child.

In a not-so-distant future, Joseph Michaels (Christopher Abbott – HBO’s GirlsMartha Marcy May Marlene) finds himself  prisoner in a tightly-run government facility where the only opportunity for escape is death. He and dozens of other journalists have been rounded up – taken captive by their own country – for reporting on the uprisings happening all around them, a new American Revolution, if you will. Before he can stand trial, he’s stripped, chained-up (in an incredibly agonizing fashion, his arms lifted behind his head to the point where they look like they might break), and forced to watch other journalists’ executions. Then, the gun is turned on him, his apparent death all the more imminent. But as he closes his eyes, dreaming about home – about the wife and newborn child he left there – the unthinkable happens: the executioner’s gun jams. Time to make a run for it…

Premiering at the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival, The Exit Room has made its way online, armed and ready to thrill with the best of them.

Updating a classic short story (whose name won’t be mentioned here, lest the ending be spoiled), Writer/Director Todd Wiseman, Jr. crafts a roller coaster ride of a short, a kinetic thriller than unspools with precision and emotion. Featuring arresting production design (futuristic steampunk), beautiful cinematography, and deft editing, The Exit Room provides the audience with an intense and visceral experience about hope in the midst of a disaster, one that feels eerily more realistic – and plausible – after the real-life violence towards journalists during the Arab Spring (which Wiseman said he used as inspiration).

As “Joseph”, Abbott electrifies, commanding every second onscreen with a tortured deference – even more impressive considering he only has a handful of lines throughout the film. By filming many of Abbott’s scenes in extreme close-up, Wiseman dares us not to connect with the journalist “everyman”, capturing Joseph’s desperation and sweat with an authentic brutality.

After raising funds from both Kickstarter  and private investors, Wiseman, Jr. and his team shot in several abandoned locations around New York City and State, at times apparently so worried about the locations that the crew had talked about wearing full haz-mat suits for the shoot’s duration. Wiseman, Jr.’s production company, Hayden 5 Media, is certainly keeping busy; they recently wrapped a Nickelodeon web pilot and have several feature-length projects in development. You can find out more about the entire Hayden 5 team at their website.

~
Ben is a San Francisco Bay Area filmmaker originally from the Southeast. Editor/Colorist [benwatts.net] | Writer/Director [Odd Soul Pictures]
  • Jack

    What a beautiful piece…so much to think about…

  • Carlos Rincon

    Love the ending !

  • Philip Kidd

    That felt about 30 seconds long!

  • Philip Kidd

    That felt about 30 seconds long!

  • Chris

    I found it very easy not to connect with the main character.

    Firstly, we know nothing about why he’s really in jail. Obviously we’re suppose to believe the government is super corrupt and that his journalism has gotten him in trouble but exactly why the hell is he in jail ? What does he stand for ? ( You could make the argument for truth via his journalism job, but is that short hand reference enough ? Why is it important he stand for truth in his world) What did he say to get in trouble ? What was the government doing and what do they stand for ? We never really see the nature of the conflict between him and the government and you know that conflict = drama. Thus we have very little reason to empathize with him besides the fact he’s assumed to be unjustly in jail and misses his wife and child. For me, that just wasn’t enough and really hurt the story of the film.

    Another way of looking at this would be, what are the main characters needs and wants ? He wants to escape, he wants to see his family, but do we really know why he NEEDS to escape ? Besides simply life and death. What are the stakes ? Will his wife be in trouble if he dies ? Why is this journalist important to his world ?

    His performance, no doubt, is great. And technically the film is amazing. It’s shot beautifully. The editing is great, especially the reveal at the end. But I think that this short film’s impact is greatly diminished and forgettable because it doesn’t really explore the main character.

  • Todd

    SPOILER ALERT!

    Hi Chris,

    Thanks for the thoughts! No doubt, there is much left to the imagination with regard to who ‘Joseph’ is and what the larger universe and forces around him are like. Ten minutes is tough to pack in everything!

    The original black and white film was over 30 minutes long, and it also doesn’t really explore these outside forces, backstory, or nature of the conflict larger. The short story, however, that all of this is derived from, has a second act that goes back in time and sets up the main character’s relationship with the antagonistic forces trying to execute him. Adding that part was something I debated over.

    What I took away from the original, and what I wanted to focus on here, didn’t dwell on much other than the fact that the protagonist’s life flashes before his eyes. I wanted to explore the moment of death, and the possibilities of a tormented imagination in that moment. When the brain dies, the possibility that it could create an alternate ending has always fascinated me.

    Thanks for watching and for your thoughts!

    Todd / Director

  • Red

    I’m just going to go ahead and assume the short story must be “Occurance at Owl Creek Ridge” just based on how even mentioning the name would spoil it. Thanks for saving me the time it would take to watch it

  • Tom Ritchford

    Gosh, thanks for spoiling the ending.

    “Updating a classic short story (whose name won’t be mentioned here, lest the ending be spoiled)” – except that given what you’ve said before that, it’s super-obvious what short story that might be if you have any familiarity at all with American fiction…

  • Tom Ritchford

    Gosh, thanks for spoiling the ending.

    “Updating a classic short story (whose name won’t be mentioned here, lest the ending be spoiled)” – except that given what you’ve said before that, it’s super-obvious what short story that might be if you have any familiarity at all with American fiction…

  • http://www.lucky9studios.com/ Ivan Kander

    An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge. Is “ridge” the sequel? ;-)

  • http://www.lucky9studios.com/ Ivan Kander

    An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge. Is “ridge” the sequel? ;-)

  • SFH

    Confusion transforms into fear, which dives into anger, adrenalin, despair and hope- dragging us (willingly or not) along in this eight and half minute roller coaster of tragic drama. It was really intense, and really good.

  • Giorgio Papitto

    Wow, the finale is great: beautifully shot and thoroughly moving! I don’t think the main character needed to be more explored, I am of the opinion that he’s just one of the many who have been imprisoned, so it’s like a snapshot on a common man, in a common situation (common in this “not-so-distant-future”, obviously): that’s what the last scene stands for, on my opinion. Well done, Todd!

  • Bogdan

    Very nice job! WOW!! The films looks so professional.
    What microphones did you use to record the sound?