Case Study: What You and I Share With the Salmon

During the difficult birth of his son, an anxious soon-to-be father reflects on all the moments in his sexual development that led to this and how it relates to the salmon run.

Raynor Arkenbout (28th of May, 1989) has been working in the Dutch film industry for over a decade. Fulfilling roles like electrician, grip and production assistant, Arkenbout always had his focus on becoming a director that would have done and understood all disciplines involved in the filmmaking process. This attitude also caused him to focus on acting, which landed him a starring role in 2010 as Edwin Bouwhuis in the dutch television show Goede Tijden, Slechte Tijden and some more roles afterwards. In 2016 he graduated as an honorary student at the RITCS in Brussels as a Bachelor of Arts in Film for Directing Fiction and Screenwriting.

Since then, Raynor has made several short films that have been selected worldwide for over 20 festivals. He currently lives in Amsterdam, where he is the creator of branded content, commercials, music video’s and television series. Currently, Arkenbout has been asked to direct several episodes of the award winning children’s dramaseries SpangaS and has recently finished his latest short film What You and I Share With the Salmon, which is currently in its festival- and distribution run.

“Making a short film that is about the real and awkward side of sex, I feel like I shouldn’t back down from actually showing it.”

Artistic decisions

“Well, there we were… looking at a close-up of a penis covered in fake poop. It was one of those moments that just pulls you out of yourself and makes a mental checkpoint on a meta-level; ‘This is what you’ve decided to shoot. This is what you’ve decided to need for your film.'”

“’What is wrong with you?’, I asked myself.”

“Everybody was laughing about the absurdity of the moment. But I was superficially adamant about this shot. Making a short film that is about the real and awkward side of sex, I feel like I shouldn’t back down from actually showing it. The disgust the audience feels when seeing it, is the same disgust our lead character has when he sees it. So, yes, let’s put the close-up in there.”

A sexual bag of anecdotes

“The entire idea of What You and I Share With The Salmon came from a list I started with instances I or people around me had experienced, that was about sex. And not about those cool porn moments, but the disillusioning and awkward moments we have all experienced on some level of craziness. This list was supposed to be the antithesis of the story that porn told all of us.”

“Slowly this sexual bag of anecdotes filled up and I was looking for a way to tell it and I guess for me it just meshed with the idea that it is actually super weird for us as humans to be engaged with this thing called sex. Now, that realization is of course far from new but for me that was the essence of the story. How the hell the metaphor of the salmon got in there, I have no fucking clue.”

An educational message

“I really wanted to tell this story to empower the weird and ugly side of ‘making love’ and sort of comfort anyone who has ever felt ashamed of being clumsy or inadequate in this area. I actually think this is something teenage boys should learn soon, before porn creates all these crazy expectations about their first time that come crashing down when they actually go do it. But when I pitched this film as a sexual education film for schools my producer rightly told me to drop this idea – fast.”

Finding actors

“The budget was tight, so we still had to ask an entire cast and crew to work for free, which is always difficult. So I had to trust on my script and myself; it would be the only reasons for people to get on board with the project. Thankfully I was met with a lot of enthusiasm and even the cast roles filled up quickly thanks to an amazing casting agent called Dennis Overeem. Can you imagine having to pitch this to actors and actresses? It is a short film with a still unknown director, you have to do a nude/simulated sex scene AND you don’t get paid. Needless to say we did, in fact, lose a few actors’ interest after that.”

“But I couldn’t be happier and proud of the cast, all of them decided to jump into this head first. The atmosphere on set was relaxed and respectful and I felt that was really important to maintain. It already was a pretty tight schedule because of the budget and amount of scenes we had to shoot, so we had to be focused and well prepared for every scene. The least I could do was make the actors not feel any of that pressure next to the scenes they had to perform.”

A location representing various eras

“The last couple of scripts I wrote, this one included, had a tendency of having a lot of short scenes that weave together in a sort of stream of consciousness. And to make it even more fun, a lot of these scenes were from various eras of the main character’s life. So we had to shoot a lot of scenes per day that included a living room in the 90’s, a bathroom in 2010 and a bedroom in 2018. Needless to say, we had to be smart about it. So we just made sure we could be versatile with the location we had secured. We went looking for homes that had many different rooms that all had its own look so we could shoot it all in the same house if we just made sure that the shots never intersected. And I am glad to say that I think we achieved this perfectly. We used art direction and shots to our best knowledge to keep all the scenes apart from each other to give them all their own time and identity.”

Creating a feeling of cohesiveness

“This time I really wanted to up my game when it came to editing, so I made sure that this time I planned the edit even before we shot a single frame. I wanted to use smart transitions to give the film an even greater feeling of cohesiveness. That really meant having to know where my scene ended and with what shot, sometimes even shooting a scene without knowing if we would get the other part of the transition right. It was a scary process that gave a lot of headaches trying to figure out if the whole thing would work out the way I wanted it to. Because shooting scenes always throws you curveballs and nothing ever goes as planned, so I always had to adapt or make a concession with my original idea. But then again, it was also very rewarding if it did work out the way I envisioned it. That always felt amazing. And I am so glad that it showed in the edit. This prep work made for a very fast assembly of a first edit we could watch and finetune.”

“The only thing that was really ever a topic of debate in the edit was… ‘Are we really putting that penis shot in there?'”

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