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“The Feeling of Dealing with Death in a Place That is So Full of Life” | Laura Chinn, Suncoast

In the foreground, a group of adolescent girls smile. In the background, a group of adults are talking to one another.

Films are made of and from places: the locations they are filmed in, the settings they are meant to evoke, the geographies where they are imagined and worked on. What place tells its own story about your film, whether a particularly challenging location that required production ingenuity or a map reference that inspired you personally, politically or creatively?

Suncoast is set in the gulf coast of Florida, a state known for beaches, spring break and sunburns; the place you go when you want to let loose and have a good time. It might not be the first location you think of as a backdrop for cancer, death and loss, but it is the place where my brother passed away in 2005, when I was a teenager. In retelling the experience, I wanted to capture the feeling of dealing with death in a place that is so full of life. Florida means flowery in Spanish, aptly named since the whole place is quite literally bursting with color. Bruce Francis Cole, our cinematographer, and I spent a lot of time figuring out how to capture that flowery essence. We wanted the film to evoke an image of a vintage Florida postcard, “wish you were here.” Our hero is in a vacation paradise that everyone else dreams about visiting and yet she wishes she was somewhere else.

Valeria De Felice, our production designer, infused every set with aquas, yellows and pinks to evoke Florida skies and sunsets. Megan Evans, our costume designer, took bright colorful costumes and wore them down, aging them so that the juxtaposition between life and death was present in every costume, saturated colors faded by time and the Florida sun.

We never wanted to overwhelm the audience with heaviness or darkness. The palette of our setting is emotionally uplifting at all times, even when the story takes some sadder turns. This brighter palette also contributes to the comedy of the film, lightening the mood, allowing the tone to flow from comedic to more melancholy and back to comedic, buoying the movie throughout to avoid causing emotional whiplash. Because of this delicate balance, Florida ended up being the perfect setting to tell a story about the full spectrum of the human experience, all the color, the beauty, the pain and the hope.

See all responses to our annual Sundance question here.

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