The Two of Us tells the coming-of-age story of 11-year-old Jerry (played by Crosby Mercer) and his openly gay 18-year-old sister Madison (Madeleine Simard) as they navigate the relationships around them.
While Jerry struggles to make sense of the emotions that come with developing a crush on his classmate Lizzie (Ava Eitel Williams), Madison becomes confused by the intentions of her girlfriend Norah (Trinity Lloyd) as the couple prepares to head off for university.
At the same, the siblings begin to suspect that their parents (Daniel Christian Jones and Marlo Aquilina) have been hiding from them the real nature of their marriage. When the truth finally comes to light, everyone must learn to accept their new family reality.
Writer-director Conor Forrest calls the project “the most personal short film I have ever made,” and says he was motivated to tell the story by a passion for crafting character-driven dramas and a desire to explore the complexities of family dynamics.
“It was loosely based on my childhood and my parents’ relationship. As a kid, you often feel your parents are perfect, but as with a lot of middle-aged married couples, there are certain flaws,” Forrest says. “I also wanted to look at how polyamory and non-monogamy have become prevalent and more accepted today. It used to be considered cheating, but if it’s consensual, it isn’t really cheating. With this film, I wanted to shine a positive light on it and, at the same time, to showcase some of the emotions I felt growing up.”
Forrest says he wanted the project, which was largely crowdfunded and shot in Toronto on a budget of about $15,000 (CAD), to be his best film to date, as well as a way to help him find his niche as a director.
“I wanted to make it stand out by telling the story from the kids’ perspectives, seeing their parents romantically involved with other people, where the parents were just symbols of what was holding their family together,” he says. “Eventually, I figured out how to tell the story from two different perspectives – that of a 10-year-old boy starting to have feelings towards girls and that of his older sister, who is in a relationship where she thinks she’s found the love of her life.”
“They were all wonderful to work with and all took direction well. They also brought their own spins to the parts and were all very hardworking.”
As Forrest explains, the film’s ensemble cast was assembled in early-2022 from a mix of friends, auditions and personal recommendations.
“They were all wonderful to work with and all took direction well. They also brought their own spins to the parts and were all very hardworking,” he says. “They all cared about the project and believed in my vision, which was wonderful. It was a very good experience working with them all. They were all fantastic.”
He adds that the cast came together to produce some of the most magical and memorable moments (both on-screen and off) during shooting, and that the experience was highly rewarding.
“The most thrilling scene to shoot was the scene at the kitchen table where they’re all having a huge argument with each other. It was beautiful, but I didn’t want to burn my actors out, and I just wanted to shoot only what was necessary,” Forrest says. “I also wanted them not to throw all their energy into a shot that wasn’t their coverage. I told them, ‘Save your energy for your own individual shots.’”
“When you configure a shot, ask yourself, what is it here for? How is it benefiting the story? And, do we need it? If you’re able to answer those questions, then it’s essential. If not, it’s just coverage.”
Moreover, he says working on the project taught him an important lesson about balancing the need “to grab a little more coverage than what is needed” with the need to keep talent fresh for when it really counts.
“A lot of beginner directors don’t shoot enough coverage, but then after they learn from that mistake, they end up shooting too much coverage. As a result, they get coverage that isn’t needed and they end up burning out their actors,” Forrest says. “When you configure a shot, ask yourself, what is it here for? How is it benefiting the story? And, do we need it? If you’re able to answer those questions, then it’s essential. If not, it’s just coverage.”
Since premiering earlier this year at the Yorkton Film Festival in Saskatchewan, The Two of Us has screened at the LA Shorts International Film Festival and the recent Forest City Film Festival in London, Ontario, and is slated to appear at the Toronto Shorts International Film Festival in December. Ultimately, Forrest says he hopes audiences will see their own relationships through a new lens and realize that no one is perfect.
“Relationships are extremely complex, especially marriages. There are always pluses and minuses, but it’s best to look at the big picture and see what matters,” he says. “There are always going to be little flaws, but those little flaws are what makes a relationship a relationship. It’s what makes people human and what makes people who they are.”
Connect with Conor Forrest on Instagram here (@conor.forrestlcp).