We caught up with Bianca Poletti, Director of the brilliantly funny short film, ‘Radical Honesty’. Produced by Epoch Films and Disco Pants Inc., it won Gold at the CICLOPE awards. Bianca told us why she believes her take on dark comedy chimed with audiences and how she brought the film alive through cinematography, music and magnetic casting.

What most attracted you to the script?

The modern topics it touched on. It felt like a very current conversation, and an evolving one. So, when I read the script, and it took place on a park bench just as a conversation between two people, I instantly could see where the story could go visually and tonally. I really wanted to explore this very simple scene and make the world a bit bigger, playing with the juxtaposition of the old and the new, and exploring it all a bit further than what was originally written.

 How did you bring the humorous script to life through the direction?

I’m not sure it was originally written as a comedy. I think it was more about this very modern conversation between two millennials. I always read it as a dark comedy though, within similar worlds to the first season of White Lotus, and Fleabag. 

So, when prepping and shooting, I played with adding a lot of different beats to heighten the comedy in a hopefully subtle and realistic way.

A few examples would be the opening Steadicam sequence, which I added, as well as the waitress drinking the cup of orange soda before handing it to a customer. It was originally written that John’s character gets up to take the call from his girlfriend and then comes back into the scene, but I LOVE awkward humorhuman-based humorso I had him take the call confidently while sitting across from Allison’s character.

 John putting on chapstick was something I added after seeing him do it in between takes (just because he had chapped lips) and I  thought it would be really funny if all of a sudden this date that was going so well turned into a very transactional type of thing. In the ending where Allison leaves and then John’s character takes the money from the table, I added that in as well. 

Why do you think Radical Honesty cuts through so well to audiences?

 I think people are endlessly fascinated by relationships. It’s why Netflix and all of these streaming services are on season number 100 etc… (I’m being dramatic!) of all these reality dating shows, it’s why romcoms and dramas and music over the years have been all about love, loss, and heartbreak. Why Sex and the City, Girls, and Fleabag were such hits. It’s something we all universally go through, I think seeing the different sides of people and how they live and operate, seeing different types of ways to have relationships, and feeling how awkward some moments can be, maybe makes people feel like they’re not alone in their own world of dating and experiencing moments that aren’t always so beautiful, neat and clean. Humans are messy, funny, and awkward sometimes, and that can be so beautiful. I feel like people want to see those types of stories. 

Bringing the characters to life in such a short film and bringing the audience along on the character’s journey is challenging – how did you achieve this with Radical Honesty?

The script was always very short, which I really liked. I used to think films could only be long, they had to feel like a feature film, and there was no way to tell a cohesive story in a short amount of time. Then I started directing commercials, and it’s all about telling full stories in a VERY short amount of time. That mixed with my more traditional filmmaking background has opened my eyes to what’s possible storytelling-wise/ It’s really a fun challenge. So, for this film, it was about adding all of those small  beats that I mentioned earlier. They don’t take up much screen time, but they hopefully help show an emotional arc. 

Radical Honesty

The cinematography, set design, and the soundtrack work so well together, can you tell us about your concept for this? 

I love pieces that play with modern-day stories but have an old-school feel to them. This felt like the perfect story to take place in an old-school diner, where everything feels dated except for the two leads having this very modern conversation. I LOVE how in LA you can drive around the valley and find a million old diners and motels from the 50s and 60s that are almost untouched.

 So, I spent two weekends driving around looking for oldschool diners, I knew that I didn’t want to use a set and I really wanted to try to find a spot that we haven’t seen in a bunch of music videos or films. I randomly found the country cafe that we ended up shooting in, spoke to the manager and she gave us a really great deal on the spot. The set design was something I searched for in the space. We didn’t have the budget to fully dress the diner, so I found a place that already had everything we needed. We used everything the diner had in it already, nothing was a prop brought in. 

Music-wise, I work with Abbey Hendrix who is an insanely talented Music Supervisor and close friend. She really brought in the tone and found amazing tracks that matched this sort of old-school world and played with modern day. The opening song was one of the first songs she sent my way, and it was PERFECT. 

Cinematographywise, Corey C. Waters shot this, who is a close friend and collaborator on a lot of my projects. We talked about wanting the lighting to feel like Paris, Texas’, the neon greens from outside the window and inside of the space. I also knew that I wanted the opening to really lead us into their conversation, so a huge reference for the opening was Scorsese’s Goodfellas (also one of my favorite films). The long Steadicam shot, when we follow Ray Liotta’s character through the restaurant and also PTA’s one in Boogie Nights.

I wanted there to be time for us to show the world a bit before we dig into their conversation and also play with the traditional diner convos from iconic films like Pulp Fiction. Mikey Rossiter (an amazing colorist who has worked on a lot of my projects) did such an amazing job, bringing Corey’s work to life and making it feel like it was shot on film. I was very lucky to have such a strong team on this with me. 

How did winning CICLOPE and other awards for Radical Honesty change things for you as a director?

It’s always amazing to feel like your work resonated with people, especially when there’s so much incredible stuff out there. Winning at CICLOPE  has really helped get the word out and reach a larger audience. I’ve had a lot of EPs and directors reach out since seeing the film there. I’m very very grateful to CICLOPE for awarding RH and giving it so much love. It’s been a real game-changer.