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A Short Film About the Struggles of a Life Lived in Slow Motion

Martin Starr plays a guy who's a little slow. Literally.

Leonard, star of Pete Livolsi's hilarious new short, is a little slow. Literally, Leonard lives his life in slow-motion while everyone around him lives active, normal lives. Martin Starr from Silicon Valley plays the titular motion-challenged character who, despite every attempt to be a normal office drone, can't seem to stay up to speed.

While Leonard's slow-motion should be classified by today's workplace standards as a disability, it's treated more like a novelty or a clown show. His boss even blackmails Leonard into performing tricks at his kid's birthday party.

It's tough being Leonard. A bathroom break now lasts 20 minutes, and that doesn't include wiping or washing. He redefines the term "slow eater." And what's sex like if you can never go faster than "super slow"?

Livolsi plays beautifully with the tribulations of Leonard's life, whether it's getting to work on time or literally being too slow to get the girl. It's a fantastic tale of personal redemption that also happens to include one of the best vomit scenes in all of film. Watch the film, and then read this interview with director Peter Livolsi below.

VICE: Where in the world did this idea come from? Drugs?
Peter Livolsi: Drugs would be a way cooler answer, but the idea actually came from detergent. My commercial directing partner Martin Dix and I were doing camera tests for a laundry detergent ad where "super moms" could slow time and walk through their home to catch vases their kids had knocked off the table. The effect wasn't that interesting because we've all seen it before, but the layering technique to achieve it made me start thinking.

What if one of the Reservoir Dogs was still walking in slow motion after Tarantino called cut? Everyone would break for lunch and Mr. White would be left all alone. Suddenly, slow-mo wouldn't be such a badass thing. Life would actually be really difficult. I asked myself how this guy would earn a living, who he'd be friends with, imagined the minutia of his day-to-day, and, most importantly, how he'd meet a woman. From that, a story emerged about a slow guy named Leonard who just wants to fit in and find love.

In developing Leonard's universe, how did you come to decide the limits and effect of his slow motion? For example, why is the coffee he pours also in slow motion?
Well, some of this movie is just enjoying slow motion because it has this mesmerizing effect. I knew I wanted liquid elements to be a part of that. But it was important to all of us that we weren't just hanging our hats on an effect.

The coffee scene you mention introduces the kind of relationship he has with the world around him, which is to say that he's seen a little bit like a circus freak. People gather in the break room to watch him pour his Folgers and his boss threatens his job unless he performs slow-motion tricks at his daughter's birthday. And although we don't have time to fully explore it in the film, I think the Steve Agee character is really only interested in being friends if Leonard is in slow motion. He quickly loses interest when Leonard decides to make a change.

How did you manage to shoot and edit the effect of Leonard in slow motion?
Saying this film was a massive collaboration is a cliché, but couldn't be more true. This had to be an all-hands-on-deck thing because of the technical challenges that were achieved in three days of production and almost no budget when it came to post.

We basically shot three versions of the film. One for Leonard, filming him around 96 to 300 frames per second depending on how much movement was in his action. One for all his counterparts, at 24 frames per second. And one "clean plate" version of the film with completely empty sets. For the coffee, water balloon, and Shox vomit, we shot an additional layer at speeds ranging from 800 to 1200 frames per second using a high speed Phantom camera.

The regular speed cast and Martin acted to tennis balls on stands since they couldn't exist on the same image layer, and Martin actually had to act much faster than normal so his final performance appears slow but doesn't take forever to unfold. Our Cinematographer Bryce Fortner did a great job of making sure lighting matched perfectly between each layer.

Our editor Brian Williams and I took one week to cut the film, using some very rough comps. We then handed it off to our VFX supervisor Hugo Guerra, who enlisted an army of student compositors in London who did a beautiful job combining all the layers to make it seem like everything was captured in camera. The final touches on the slow motion were done in the mix as our sound designer Munzie Thind snuck in plenty of subconscious slow-mo sound trickery and helped finesse a soundtrack that strolls along with a couple covers by Tom Brosseau.

I love Martin Starr! He's spectacular in your short. How did you get him for the role?
I love Martin too! My wife Barbara, who produced the film with our friend Lawrence Lewis, was actually the one who suggested him. Once that was in my head, I really had trouble imagining anyone else in the part. A friend of ours had worked with Martin and passed him the script. Two days later, he agreed to do it.

He turned in this very authentic, human performance, which is extra impressive considering all the technical obstacles the job required. The rest of the cast—Beth Dover, Steve Agee, and John Ross Bowie—are all incredibly funny actor friends who I try to work with as much as possible.

What are you working on now?
Leonard is winding down its festival run with Cinequest in March and I'm also raising funds for a feature called "The House of Tomorrow." It's a coming-of-age comedy based on a novel by Peter Bognanni about sex, god, geodesic domes, and punk. Ellen Burstyn is going to play one of the leads and produce alongside my friend Tarik Karam.