‘Verbatim’ Director on How His Film Concept Became a New York Times Series: TheWrap’s ShortList Quickie

Brett Weiner explains how his short started with a “hilarious, ridiculous and perfect” legal deposition

Films based on true events are pretty commonplace, but one would be hard-pressed to find exchanges as bizarre and hilarious as the exchange Brett Weiner captured on film happening between real people in real life.

In “Verbatim,” a government employee uses the most brilliant diversion tactic ever, and goes to extremes to belabor the point over a question about photocopying machines. “When you say photocopying machine, what do you mean?” he asks, and it’s all downhill from there.

Watch and Vote in TheWrap’s 2014 Shortlist Film Festival HERE

Weiner lifted his dialogue straight from a legal deposition in 2010, when a real estate company sued the Ohio records department. Needless to say, with such a title, Weiner had to be very careful that absolutely no ad-libbing took place on set.

“I was adamant every line had to be verbatim from the court document — no cutting, rearranging or changing words,” the director told TheWrap. “I had an awesome script supervisor stand next to me the entire day, just tugging on my sleeve whenever an actor got any word wrong.”

The director is already planning to continue putting more bizarre legal documents on film. Weiner has teamed up with The New York Times to turn “Verbatim” into a series of more digital shorts after a story on the film became the most viewed article on the paper’s website.

TheWrap: Congratulations. How does it feel to be among the 12 finalists in TheWrap’s ShortList Film Fest?
Weiner: Thanks! It’s amazing and I’m honored to be part of a group of really special films. There’s so much creativity and talent on display, it’s overwhelming!

How did you come up with the concept for your short?
The script of my short is word-for-word an actual legal deposition that took place in Ohio. I found it when someone shared a link to a Wall Street Journal blog article that had a bit of that deposition. I read it and thought it was absolutely hilarious, ridiculous and perfect. I instantly thought, “I need to make this into a short film.”

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I traced that article back to a series of articles in The Plain Dealer and from there, I searched the case number and downloaded all the relevant documents from the Supreme Court of Ohio website. Anyone who really wants to dig in can find all the documents here.

How was your film made and where was it created?
I shot in downtown L.A. over the course of the day. Everything went pretty smoothly, except for my main talent having to leave in the middle of the shoot to do ADR for a commercial! Fortunately, I was able to work out the schedule so it didn’t cripple the production.

During the shoot, I was adamant every line had to be verbatim from the court document — no cutting, rearranging or changing words. I had an awesome script supervisor stand next to me the entire day, just tugging on my sleeve whenever an actor got any word wrong.

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Who else worked with you on making the film?
There were a ton of people who were invaluable in helping me bring this into existence. My awesome producers Dana Wickens and Lauren Smitelli, the fantastic DP Bérénice Eveno, Mike James Gallagher for amazing sound design — I could go on and on about the entire crew.

My friends and family were also very generous with their time and support.

Do you plan to expand the short?
Yes! The New York Times saw my film at Sundance and South by Southwest, and I’ve partnered with them to turn the short into a series. So if anyone reading this knows of any interesting court cases, government hearings or other public record documents, please send an email to opinion.video@nytimes.com.

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How much did it cost to make the film and how was it funded?
I self-funded the film with a lot of help from my friends and family.

What will you do with your $5,000, should you win either our industry or audience prize?
All of that money would go straight back into moviemaking. I live for making videos, so $5,000 would go a long way to realizing some of my other projects.

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If you win the industry prize, what will you offer at your studio pitch meeting?
My short is a comedy and I’m a comedy guy, so naturally, I’d pitch the comedy script I am working on!