A romantically confused woman wakes up with a hangover, a stranger in her bed and no recollection of how she got there. When her clingy ex-boyfriend shows up and desperately wants to get back together, she recruits him and his doofus friend to help her uncover the events of the night before while discovering what she wants, and doesn’t want, in her love life.
In 2016, Mark and Dana were driving back from Atlantic City after attending the Garden State Film Festival where their short film, The White Spruce, had just won Best Comedy. They were inspired by the other films that played at the festival and were excited about coming up with an idea for the next project they’d work on together. Suddenly, Dana had a spark of an idea. “What if a girl woke up with a stranger in her bed and no memory of the night before”. Imagine Weekend at Bernie’s meets The Hangover. Who wouldn’t watch that?
Over the course of the next five years, that spark became One Night Stand. It started as a spirited feature film, but something didn’t quite feel right. The characters had too much to do, too many places to go and too many external obstacles to overcome. Also during this time, Dana had enrolled in a creative writing program at Southern New Hampshire University and workshopped the idea in every class. It wasn’t until a playwriting course when the idea truly came to life.
“In the play, the characters couldn’t leave the apartment. Containing them in their own little bubble of a world really helped to expose the relationships between the characters. It made them more real. The extra stuff faded away and revealed the people and their scars.”
Towards the end of the playwriting course, Dana’s professor, Peggy O’Neal, encouraged her to do an in-person, on-stage reading. Then a little thing called the COVID-19 Pandemic happened and everything shut down. We all know that story though.
In the summer of 2021, Peggy reached back out to Dana about the play. It had stuck with her and she couldn’t let it sit on the shelf collecting dust. Unbeknownst to Dana, Peggy had already cast some of her students and they had been rehearsing the play privately. She wanted to host a virtual table read and invited Dana to join. She also invited some of her friends that work in the television industry – Tom Blomquist, W. Reed Moran and Micha Espinosa. During the table read they all encouraged her to make the characters bigger, badder, funnier. They opened the door to let these characters be ridiculous and real and wonderful. That table read truly revived the story. As Mark sat listening in he thought, “This is our next short film”.
“I had this idea that if we just set this story at Christmas time, we could create an incredible short film, and release it as our holiday video too.”
So Dana started writing again. The play transformed into a screenplay, stretching from 11 pages to 35 pages. New characters were introduced, plot lines were intertwined, and the narrative got stronger. The characters came to life.
Since the original plan was to create a holiday video, we needed to have it ready for the holidays. But since we also wanted to produce a film that we could submit to festivals, it needed to have incredible production value. So we immediately kicked the project into high gear.
We decided to bring on a good friend of ours, Stacey Van Gorder, into the fold. Stacey is an incredibly talented actor and producer. We’ve worked with her in the past on several other projects, including the short film Steps and a pilot pitch called Sismance. When we began thinking about bringing One Night Stand to life, we invited Stacey to join the production team because we knew she would bring incredible insight and value. She offers the unique perspective of working directly with actors, agents, and industry representatives. Her insights into the characters’ voices both on-script and behind the scenes helped to give them depth. Plus she’s fun to work with! Her bright and cheery spirit and ambition kept us motivated during the production process.
This story is truly character driven. There’s not a whole lot of other stuff going on during the film except for what the characters are saying and doing. There’s nowhere for bad acting to hide. We needed seriously good actors, and we needed to start rehearsing right away to make sure the blocking was perfect. So, in September and October we hosted two in-person casting auditions. After an exhausting search and seeing more than 3500 super talented actors, we found our core cast – Rebi Paganini, Zachary Desmond, Joshua Michael Payne and Logan Taylor Roberts.
Next up on our pre-production checklist was finding a location. Good friends and fellow-filmmakers David and Ash Patiño graciously allowed us to use their studio, the Tannery in Stanhope, NJ. We transformed their loft into Christina’s apartment with the help of prop coordinator and designer Heather Elaine. A lot of who Christina is as a character is reflected in her apartment. From faux brick walls to industrial metal doors, Heather’s vision was unique and spot-on.
Another big piece of the puzzle was what the characters looked like and the clothes they wore. Since we only see these characters for a single day, they needed to be expressive in their wardrobe. It needed to be an integral part of how we share who they are and what kind of people they are. All the characters are on the cusp of true adulthood, but they’re fighting it, and the wardrobe, hair and make-up needed to reflect that. Plus, Christina’s look needed to transform as the day progressed. As she grows and changes, so too does her clothing. Her make-up tells a story itself too. From waking up with smudged lipstick and eyeliner from the night before, to coming home from the police station with mascara stained tear streaks, everything was purposeful to give the audience insight into these characters.
Finally, we had to film the short. Over the course of 5 days we built the set, lit the set, rehearsed, filmed, and then broke down the set. It was an ambitious timeline, and we are so proud to say we were able to pull it off. The credit for that goes to our crew. This film would not have been possible without their hard work and dedication. We love the people we get to work with. They’re like family. Our “permanent crew” includes Mark Serao as director, Dana Serao as producer, Matt Horutz as director of photography, Eric Dubnoff on camera, plus a collection of production assistants, grips, gaffers, sound and production designers and other incredibly talented people that we’re thankful are part of our world. It’s important to work with people you get along with, who share your passion and vision, and who are just as motivated by the creative process as you are. These folks, our crew, are just like that.
We’re so proud of this short film and are excited to share it with you. Please enjoy One Night Stand.