Restaurants get orders mixed up all the time. But what if, instead of your food, the restaurant brought your engagement ring to another table?
In his short film Check Please, writer and director Daniel Sorochkin follows that exact (awkward) premise. It involves a dinner proposal-gone-wrong wherein the protagonist Ben plans to ask his girlfriend’s hand in marriage, but can’t after seeing his ring accidentally delivered to a different couple.
Filled with relatable characters and tension-building dialogue, the short shows us that films don’t need explosions or complicated plots to have the audience at the edge of their seat. Sometimes all it takes is a douchebag, an unassertive hero, and terrible customer service.
We recently interview Sorochkin to know more about Check Please.
What was the inspiration for the film?
“The idea of Check Please came to me as I was trying to think of a short that is contained to one location. When brainstorming for a location, a restaurant came to mind. I then asked myself what is the most dramatic or exciting thing that can happen in a restaurant.
“The best idea I thought of was a marriage proposal. And since storytelling involves conflict, I thought it would be funny and fun if an engagement ring ends up at the wrong table. I decided to build the story and characters around that concept.”
The film had us seeing red from the get-go. What was your creative process when you were writing the script? How were you able to manipulate your audience’s emotions so easily?
“I tried to workshop and re-write the script until the story structure was strong. I made sure the inciting incident happened early on to hook the audience in. I made sure the protagonist’s goal and flaw were clear. Each beat in the script makes the protagonist deal with bigger and tougher obstacles that challenges his flaw – the fact that it’s hard for him to stand up for himself. When re-writing I deleted any dialog or event in the script that didn’t push the story forward and constantly raised the stakes for the protagonist.
“As for directing, I knew that each beat of the film should feel different, new and nuanced, raising new challenges or uncertainties and keeping the tension high, otherwise the audience would easily turn away. In rehearsal with my wonderful and dedicated actors, we worked on exploring various blocking (actors’ movements and positioning) and rhythms to the acting beats. This was crucial. I made sure that dramatic moments are interwoven fluently with the comedy, and that the characters constantly change tactics while attempting to achieve their goals.
“After we had the acting down, I was able to explore the cinematography and production design to enhance the performances in each beat of the film. These were the ways I chose to keep my audience engaged, surprised, and feeling a range of emotions, although it all happens in only one location.”
The characters were simple but relatable. We quickly became invested in each one of them. Tell us, what’s your secret to character development?
“I think keeping good storytelling structure is key to creating relatable characters. If the characters’ flaws are ones that all people share to some extent, and you as a filmmaker play on those flaws to push your story forward, then the audience would relate to the characters.
“For example, my protagonist needs to push himself out of his comfort zones and stand up for himself in order to get what he wants and deserves. We all have been in situations that challenged us similarly. So, the fact that the audience knows how it feels to be in that character’s shoes, makes that character relatable.
“Another big thing is to explore and rehearse the characters with the actors. Every single word and action the actors say or do has to feel real, with a motive to it. And lastly, good casting is crucial. I think that speaks for itself.”
The ending could have gone in many ways. What made you decide to go with this outcome?
“My main goal with this film was to entertain. That’s why I thought a positive ending, in which the protagonist wins would be most appropriate. This good ending helps release all the tension built throughout the movie and gives the audience catharsis. The strongest catharsis could only happen if the protagonist is push to the edge and finally decide to overcome his flaw strong and straight on – he stands up for himself whatever the consequences are.
“The protagonist overcomes his flaw in all three scenarios he was trying to avoid at all cost: 1) He forcefully got his ring back. 2) He created huge drama in the restaurant. 3) He proposed in the least intimate and romantic way possible. All scenarios he tried to prevent, but eventually had to go through to achieve his goal. This gave a much stronger cathartic release than if, for example, the protagonist would get his ring back by mere luck and wouldn’t have to overcome his flaw.”
Lastly, what are you working on next?
“I’m very excited about a few new projects: 1) I have a short script called A Grain of Sand that I’m super excited about. The short will serve as a proof of concept for a feature script I’m developing.
“2) I’ve directed a half hour comedic TV pilot called Shady Pines. It’s about a crazy nursing home. I’m planning to screen the pilot in festivals and try to find distribution for it.
“3) I directed a short mystery-drama called Lola and Dallas. I’ve started sending it to festivals too. It’s about an unusual pair on the run that are forced to find solace through each other when home is not an option.”