Presenting short film "Life Boat" from director Lorraine Nicholson

by Tori Adams

“Every single day is a fight for our lives.” So Stephen Dorff declares at the dramatic end of Lorraine Nicholson’s directorial debut, Life Boat, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival. Like the 1944 Alfred Hitchcock film of the same name, the story is about more than first impressions and popularity—it’s about survival.

Dorff, seen here in a recent Flaunt cover feature, plays Mr. Drexler, a gruff and highly unorthodox guidance counselor who is tasked with six troubled teenagers ranging from angsty to addicted to suicidal. What occurs in his therapy session is a gripping and uncomfortable “exercise” of sorts, beautifully shot to create a sort of psychological fish bowl, which challenges participants to confront themselves and one another. 

Would you save yourself? The teacher? Other students? And if someone throws you a life vest, will you hang on? These are questions the viewer, as well as the cast, finds themselves asking in the course of this tense, layered short, which Nicholson also wrote and produced. Not to leave the budding filmmaker off the proverbial Flaunt boat, we asked a few questions about her process.

Can you describe the "true events" that lead to Life Boat?

My producing partner and lead actress Elizabeth actually went to a therapeutic boarding school, one of many facilities across America where they send "bad kids.” After a long series of interviews with her and others, I felt that the "Life Boat" exercise was the best vehicle to showcase how these schools effected those who attended them. 

Do you feel that aggression is a valuable tool to healing? Would you call Dorff's approach aggressive? or not?

On the page, Dorff's character is an obvious villain. After all, he strangles a student. Yet the complicated truth is this: violence is never the answer but sometimes it works. Everyone has a different reaction to Dorff's character. I wanted to make a film that was morally ambiguous and feel I accomplished that goal. 

Is there a category of person you think should NOT see this film?

The film deals, in a very head-on way, with themes of suicide, mental health issues, and drug and alcohol abuse. So if you don't want to be confronted with that, yeah, I probably would skip this one. 

How did you go about casting?

At that point in my career, I had very few narrative samples. Hopper Penn, Elizabeth Gilpin and Chloe Bridges are all friends. So they came on board pretty quickly. From there I basically wrote fan letters to BK, Kwame and Moises. I have a folder on my computer of actors who I notice in movies. I do a lot of my casting this way. Stephen was most complicated, of course. But the bottom line is that he was willing to take a risk on me very early on in my career. And for this I will be eternally grateful. 

What’s up with that Rolling Stones song?

"TOPS." Mick Jagger was my baby sitter for one night and I poured plastic snakes on his head.  With this memory in mind, he allowed us to use the song. 

What’s your next project?

I just finished a new short film ON KILLER ROBOTS and hope to finish a feature script by the end of the summer.


Written By Matthew Bedard