Filming a real pregnancy during a pandemic

Single Mother By Choice Dan Levy Dagerman Selina Ringel

Selina Ringel and Dan Levy Dagerman, the husband and wife team behind HBO Max’s Single mother by choice found themselves in a difficult situation in March 2020: abandon the film, they were already a third of the shoot, or rewrite the script to adapt to the pandemic. Because the film’s premise revolved around Ringel’s actual pregnancy, there was no time to wait.

“We had a ticking time bomb,” Ringel told MovieMaker. “So we’re like, well, either we do this movie like we planned, which includes my pregnancy, or it’s a different movie.”

They ended up rewriting a lot of the script to hijack the storyline of a single pregnant woman getting ready for a baby with her best friend and roommate and turn it into the story of a single pregnant woman getting ready for a baby. baby while living alone. in the midst of a global pandemic.

They also had to get creative with their camera work, given that they no longer had a cameraman. Dagerman, the director, and Ringel, the star, let go of their whole team and decided to make the film themselves.

To do this, Dagerman learned from his cinematography team how to use a Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 6K on the fly. And just like that, they started rewriting the script and filming sections of the movie as they went, documenting Ringel’s pregnancy every step of the way.

“I have always trusted my main collaborators because they are the experts, and I will always continue to do so, because working in a field and specializing is the beauty of cinema. Networking with all these crews to do the best thing possible makes it better. But at the same time, the ease of using the camera really allowed me to break through those layers of intimidation and get my hands dirty,” Dagerman said. “That’s how we were able to make this film. I had wireless focus tracking and was using a handheld, and at first I was feeling very dyslexic, concentrating and stuff. It was such an interesting experience as a filmmaker.

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Single Mother by Choice star Selina Ringel and director Dan Levy Dagerman

Another way they adapted the film for pandemic times was to incorporate Zoom and FaceTime calling.

“We always liked to experiment like mixing media to make it more real,” Dagerman said.

“That moment felt like a lot of FaceTime calls and zoom calls,” Selina Ringel added. “There was a moment where we were like, ‘Oh, no, is this going to be the Zoom movie? “…But then, on the other hand, we were like, actually, this is what it’s like to be alive right now. I haven’t had human interaction in a very long time.

Single mother by choice is a rare example of a genre called docu-fiction – it combines reality or documentary-style filmmaking with elements of fiction. Yes, those were real ultrasound appointments that Ringel attended in the film — but they hired an actress to re-record the lines the technician said after the fact. It was real footage of the Black Lives Matter protests unfolding in Hollywood following the death of George Floyd in 2020. It was also real footage of Ringel in the hospital preparing to give birth. But, in real life, she’s not a single mother like her character — her husband was right behind the camera.

Since Dan Levy Dagerman shot the film in Blackmagic RAW at 6K resolution, editing and color grading the film became much easier in post-production. Colorist Loren White, who reviewed the project in DaVinci Resolve Studio, said it gave him more flexibility with lighting.

“As much of the film was shot using available light in front of laptops or against white walls, we did what we could to add shape to the footage,” White said. “We used compensating colors in the shadows and highlights, as well as vignettes, gradients and a bit of film grain. I feel like we were able to elevate the look above what we had naturally.

Single mother by choice is now streaming on HBO Max.

Main image: husband and wife team Dan Levy Dagerman, director, and Selina Ringel, star of Single Mother by Choice.