Award of Excellence – “Final Moments” (USA)

Title: Final Moments
Runtime: 1 min
Country: USA
Director: Dax Phelan
Placement: Award of Excellence
Competition: June, 2020

Synopsis: “Final Moments” is a 30-second Public Service Announcement about the importance of wearing masks in the ongoing fight against COVID-19.

FILMMAKER Q&A – Dax Phelan – Director, Producer, Writer

OR: What was the inspiration for your film?

DP: Personal experience, unfortunately.  One of my relatives, Rose Liberto, was a critical care nurse in Charlotte, North Carolina.  She was diagnosed with COVID-19 on April 16, 2020 and passed away three weeks later.  She had four children, but only one of them was able to say goodbye in person while clad in full protective gear.  That was heartbreaking and ultimately the spark that led to the PSA.

OR: When did you conceive the idea for your film and how long did it take before it was realized?

DP: On May 5, 2020, my producing partner, Eric M. Klein, heard that Governor Cuomo had launched a PSA contest about the importance of wearing masks in the ongoing fight against COVID-19.  He suggested that we take a crack at it and asked me if I had any ideas.  By that point, Rose had been on a ventilator for a couple of weeks and was on my mind a lot.  I told Eric that I’d see if I could come up with something.  An hour later, I sent him a script.  He felt it was powerful and wanted to run with it.  We finished the PSA on May 15, 2020, which was the deadline for the contest.  So, it all came together very fast.

OR: What was the most challenging aspect of working in a short film format?

DP: When you only have 30 seconds to tell a story, you need to be ruthless in terms of making each shot count.  The finished PSA is, I believe, only 9 shots total, which blows me away because I normally work on feature films and television where you have a lot more room to play with.  So, that was a challenge, but an interesting one.

OR: What was the most challenging aspect of your production?

DP: The tight schedule.  When the contest was originally announced, the rules stated that the deadline wasn’t until the end of May, so I thought we had more than enough time to make the PSA and make it well.  Then, one day, quite by accident, we discovered that the deadline had been moved up by two weeks.  Suddenly, we were racing against the clock – during a pandemic, I might add, which made everything harder.  From the casting to the sound mix, there wasn’t much time for me to consider my options as thoroughly as I would normally like.  I just had to go with my gut constantly and trust in my cast, my crew, and the movie gods.  Fortunately, I was surrounded by a lot of A players.

OR: Do you have any advice for first-time filmmakers?

DP: Always copyright your work and do it right away.  Because we were racing to make our May 15, 2020 deadline, we did not formally register for a copyright as quickly as we normally would.  On June 2, 2020, Governor Newsom announced his “Wear A Mask” campaign and started airing two PSAs that were made by the California Department of Public Health.  One of those PSAs ripped off our work and there’s not a lot we can do about it because of the amount of time that has elapsed.  Lesson learned.