A Savory Story
Shelf Life, the dark comedy Brett Van Egmond 13 FAV made as his final degree project, presents a meaty plotline. In the opening scene, the protagonist is busting at the seams to reveal a well-preserved secret: he’s a hotdog – and his sell-by date is about to expire.
“Hotdogs are both delicious and gross. So as you can imagine, life as one has its ups and downs,” the writer and director says. “But overall, the lead character lives a repressed life because he’s afraid to show people his true identity.”
In scenes depicting the hotdog’s impending expiration, the audience sees him struggle to keep down his daily diet of mustard, ketchup and relish. The narrative takes an uplifting turn when he finally summons the courage to ask out his unrequited love: a waitress at the diner where he works as mascot. The two enjoy a wild night, but it comes to an abrupt halt as he begins to perish and she sings the Oscar Mayer Weiner Song. “The film is constantly tiptoeing that thin line between comedy and tragedy,” notes Van Egmond.
To prepare for the nine-day shoot in February, filmmaker first assembled a crew that included eight RISD students – including Kate Harkness 13 FAV who served as director of photography. He then mapped out key locations close to RISD that could function as working sets. All of the diner scenes were shot at Plouffe’s Cup and Saucer, a restaurant known for its amazing breakfast fare. And the outdoor date scenes were shot in urban hangout spots near downtown Providence.
“We had difficulty in shooting night scenes using natural light from the stars – or fire contained in the metal trash barrels,” Van Egmond says. “But after some intense problem solving, the scenes came out beautifully.”
One of the most challenging parts of the film was designing the latex hotdog costume, which is equipped with a jacket that takes the form of a hotdog bun. After raising more than $3,000 via a Kickstarter campaign, Van Egmond got some help from Big Nazo Lab, a creature creation studio founded by FAV alum and faculty member Erminio Pinque 83 IL. The resulting costume “is truly amazing,” the filmmaker says. “It really made the film.”
The final 10-minute cut of Shelf Life premiered in May at the Film/Animation/Video Senior Show, a weeklong festival open to the public. According to the director, the film was well received with a mixture of disgust and awe. He now plans to submit his short to international film festivals such as Sundance and Boston Underground.
Though the story ends in death, Van Egmond says the film is ultimately a hopeful tale that applauds the boundless resilience of the human spirit. “Good pieces of art tap into raw emotion,” he says. “And this film really champions the decision to embrace life. You can’t just fall down because things aren’t ideal. It’s a common theme in films, but I wanted to retell this story in a really unique way.”
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