With Hollywood obsessed with the under-30 perspective, Mark Edwards—an accomplished D.C. playwright and stage director—was happy to work with younger actors and writers for his short film Downstairs From Us. “I’ve written some television scripts [in the past],” Edwards says. “But Hollywood just isn’t interested in old guys these days.”
Edwards, 48, took the experience of directing more than 25 plays since the late ’60s into the development of Downstairs, matching it with the vigor of three actors and writers half his age. The enthusiasm Edwards developed from working with the youngsters is noticeable; he is talkative and pushes hard to remind everyone that he wasn’t alone in developing the film.
“The script was written by the four of us,” he says of working with Kyle Holthus, Rodrick Goins, and Brian Voyles. “I’m close friends with Kyle’s father. One weekend, we were at my house, and he said that he had an idea. I heard it and decided we could make it happen.”
The result looks best at the outset, when Edwards’ camerawork explores the sentimental connection of two brothers, played by Holthus and Goins, and their childhood relationship through sweeping shots of children at play. The script plays on these initial images as we learn—often through flashbacks in the same style—that the two have grown up to share an urban apartment. Goins’ character struggles with depression after a near-fatal brain aneurysm and addresses his obsessive love for a downstairs neighbor, who happens to be his brother’s girlfriend. Edwards and the cast have little time in the short to develop the impact of this three-way love on the two brothers; instead, the tension bursts in an outpouring of dangerous honesty, anger, contrition, and, finally, sorrow. And it gets it done in about 10 minutes.
Banking on the good reception from the audience at Studio 650 last week, Edwards plans to enter Downstairs in festivals and push for a TV showing—more for exposure than for commercial gain. “The market for short films is weird; it can be pretty nice in Europe,” he said. “I included cuts for commercials so it could get shown on television, maybe in Europe or Asia. We would like to get PBS to sponsor it, but they don’t really pay—they usually want you to pay to get something shown.”
The exposure, he hopes, will help him finish a feature film called Death of the Heisman and spark his collaborators’ careers. “Usually, you do a short project to prove that you’re ready to do a long one,” he says, quoting the conventional wisdom of filmmaking. “Plus, it’s a chance to show some people that these guys can act.” —P. Mitchell Prothero