Chicago-based filmmaker Richard Cohen explores the depths of isolation in Postcards From Home, a series of one-act vignettes about the affects of the pandemic.
The ten-minute episodes feature intimate testimonials from characters explaining how COVID has affected their lives. Black Blue Man is an African American consumer’s awkward trip to a car dealership. Southern Popcorn is a drawling white conservative’s suspicious take on COVID restrictions.
With the characters supplying plenty of backstory along the way, the monologues turn into raw, tender and occasionally brutal glimpses of humanity.
“The format’s the same, but they’re all very different,” says Cohen. “I thought, ‘what if I created fictional characters and had them talk about how COVID had affected their life?’”
Cohen spent hours talking with each of the actors before writing the scripts. He used material from their conversations to develop characters and stories that would be “interesting and provocative and perhaps take them out of their comfort zone.”
“It could be something the actor said that I’ll use as a jumping off point,” he says. “Once I kind of hook on to a character, I really let it go and imagine deep, deep down what would they say.”
The actors come from Chicago’s film and theater scene, of which Cohen is an enthusiastic member. During production, they would film themselves on camera phones while Cohen provided direction via Zoom on a nearby laptop.
Harold Dennis, who boasts hundreds of film credits, stars in the latest installment, American UFO. As veteran Chicago cop Brandon Cooper, he tries to make sense of the social protests that took place during the pandemic.
“Just the fact that it happened during COVID made it worse,” says Cooper. “And we had to arrest anyone who was stealing. Can you imagine them not wearing masks and we had to arrest those mother—?”
ALSO READ: Chicago Med, Fire actors in Rain Beau’s End
During their pre-production conversation, Dennis supplied Cohen with personal experiences that come to life in the performance.
“I had two aunts pass, one after the other, because of COVID, and then my grandmother passed,” he recalls. “Richard ended up throwing those parts in there. He made it kind of personal.”
Dennis also wondered if he should portray the character as “that police officer who gets sympathy from the audience or that cop who is an asshole.” In the end, he “decided to be both and surprise myself at what comes out and let the audience decide.” He achieves the goal with striking emotional intensity,.
Dennis’ performance is one of many that enhance Cohen’s motivation for creating Postcard. “I wanted to help the actors collaborate and do something that’s worth a shit and express what I thought people were probably feeling,” he says.
Besides shooting Postcards From Home, Cohen also recently finished a script for a feature titled, The Certificate, which he describes as a “satiric, reverse me-too film.”
Daniel L. Patton is a veteran journalist who covers the Chicago landscape of advertising, music, people and more.