and thus it began
In the spring of 2013 I had plans to be in Austria for two weeks. I got a call from a long-time friend (and gifted actress), Frederique Nahmani who had moved back to France. And she threw and idea at me.
"If you're going to be in the neighborhood, why not swing over to Paris...and shoot a little film."
Now what normal person, let alone filmmaker, is gonna turn that down?
I just had to write a script. So I started with the most obvious thing…the language. Or for me the language barrier since I'd be shooting a film as a stranger in a strange land. I knew who my lead actress would be (clearly Frederique) and since I like to write for specific actors, like dysfunctional muses, I approached Marcel Simoneau, another long-time friend and filmmaking buddy. And with these two, I made up Dan and Sophie...
Dan is a traveler who is running from something that he doesn't want to talk to anyone about, including himself. And Sophie, as cavalier as she may seem, is really a self-imposed recluse who talks to no one. Two lost people who will take whatever means necessary to avoid being found. Dan has a black-out drunken one-night stand with Sophie and wakes up to find he doesn't speak her language. Nor she his. And that should be the end, right?
what would you say if you could say anything?
That would be the single sentence that inspired the 35 minute film, Universal Language that we shot in Paris in late May of 2013. A microbudget short with only two actors, one camera, zero equipment during a record breaking cold and rainy spring in a land where most of us did not speak the language. And we had one location film permit...the rest we'd be stealing.
the motley crew
This was a total guerilla shoot. And I highly recommend every filmmaker do it at least once in their life. It was a skeleton crew of six including my amazing cinematographer, Charlie Goodger and my other wonderful producer Megan Rubens, both from London. We housed together in a small one bedroom flat in the 2nd arrondissement for 9 days with 5 reserved for shooting. Charlie had only natural lighting to work with, no crew, no camera assistants. Megan, a long time friend and fantastic producer who was just nominated for a BAFTA award as producer for her film "Keeping Up With The Joneses", was invaluable in pulling this all together. And even more so now in the daunting world of post-production where she truly shines. And our production sound recordist, Etienne Nee Dupuy, otherwise known as 'Sound Buddha', was a brilliant zen-master who accomplished miracles of capturing Dan and Sophie in the most imperfect of sound conditions. And our California-based costume designer, Greta Billinger (who did a spectacular job with our feature, Rabbit Stories) was back on board. She did a brilliant job of adjusting to our unexpected weather yet keeping the actors true to the original designs. In addition, my actors Frederique and Marcel, where both professional and fearless in tackling not just the ever-changing locations but by breathing life into two complex characters who became as mutable as the climate.
with a little help from our friends
We did have some awesome help along the way. Like Tanguy Gilson and Violette Petit who allowed us to invade their beautiful flat overlooking The Bastille. And the small bar, Pub Edward & Sons that we invaded during yet another downpour and whom allowed us to shoot an impromptu and yet powerful scene. As well as the Hotel Amour, where "The Darjeeling Limited" was filmed, that allowed us full and unlimited access to their restaurant during busy breakfast-turned-lunch hours. And all of this was without charge. And we owe a great thank you to Parisians in general who never bothered or interfered with the tiny crew shooting all over their city from the metro to the gardens of Notre Dame. And perhaps that is because Parisians are in general a pretty cool lot. And their congeniality became just another example of the mysterious (though sometimes evil) gods of filmmaking who can dry up the skies when you desperately need sun. Or, in turn, can flood you out at what seems to be the worst possible moment, only to find, 6 months later in the editing room, that that was absolutely the weather the story needed.
so I'm asking you...
..to get us to the finishing line.
Plain and simple.
As of December 28th, Jamie Wright, my talented editor who I have worked with many times, finalized the picture after 6 months of tireless and complex work. But we are only half-way there because what one SEES is never the whole story...
Apart from color correction by Jamie Wright and subtitle design by graphic designer, Mark Schoeman, what we need to finish this film is primarily sound. Sound editing, sound mixing, foley, ADR, score, and music rights. Studio time is expensive. A sound editor's time and expertise is expensive. And my composers, editors and song writers deserve to be paid for a job well done.
Joao Jabace, the terrific Brazilian sound editor and award winning composer Joel Douek both who both went above and beyond the call of duty for my first feature, Rabbit Stories, are coming aboard again to finish Universal Language. Which has me so excited to be working again, not only such great people. but with such great talent.
So breaking it down for you...
$20 = a half hour of studio time for my sound editor
$25 = a hour of my sound editor's work
$100 = a session with my film editor/color corrector
$200 = music rights for one song
$500 = for my score
And all of this, as film post-production goes, is very reasonable.
And of course, there are the rewards. Which are kind of awesome. Keeping it in the tune of Universal Language we are giving away a range of gifts from stills from the film printed to look like vintage French postcards, Limited Edition lip balm created by good friend of Basically Films, Raven Crest Botanicals, black underwear, Homemade chocolate truffles, soft hoodies all with the title Universal Language designed by our subtitle and graphic designer, Mark Schoeman,printed on them. Even Executive Producer credit that will be listed on IMDB. And EVERYONE gets their name in the credits. So take a look at the right side of the screen and choose what you would like to receive...
And just to remind you how Kickstarter works...
Kickstarter is an all or nothing endeavor
We have until midnight on Valentines Day to raise $3,500 and if that doesn't happen then your credit cards will not be charged and we receive nothing.
We raised a small amount of pre-production funds that were gobbled up while shooting. And I used the last of my personal bank account to get the project this far. But the cupboards are bare and we need YOU to get this film to the end.
$3,500 a tiny amount to get Universal Language over the finish line. And I can honestly say that I am so proud of this piece. It exceeded all of my expectations in every capacity and is so close to being truly a special film i can taste it.
But we need you.
If you can...be a backer for Universal Language. And if now is not a good time, then pass this on to someone else who might be interested. Because, I promise you, that is just as essential.
Thank you for your time,
...see you at the movies...
Kirsten Russell, Megan Rubens, and Frederique Namani
(Basically Films, Incendiary Pictures, Out Of Line Productions...respectively)
...peels slowly, starting like the characters, light and glib on the outside and as the day darkens, and they peel those early layers away, we come down to the truth of who they are…and what they unintentionally have become to each other.
Perhaps it comes down to one small monologue from Sophie where she says...
"Sometimes, late at night, I wonder if everyone in the world has a creepy mutant ghost heart and these hearts see each other and speak to each other and we do no more than follow the plan they already have in motion..."
and if you would like to follow more about Universal Language then please "like" us on Facebook.
Joys and Pitfalls of Guerrilla Filmmaking in Gay Paree
And if you would like to read the interview about the making of Universal Language published in FilmCourage:
Risks and challenges
The challenge we have always known from the beginning would be sound.
The odds were stacked against us as not one location was secure. We shot in bars in the middle of the day with patrons coming and going, loud expresso machines, the bells of Notre Dame, police sirens, and chanting parades of protesters.
But the good news is Etienne Nee Dupuy, AKA Sound Buddha who captured the best sound to date that I have had on any of my films.
Joao Jabace, my terrific Brazilian sound editor and award-winning composer Joel Douek both who went above and beyond the call of duty for my first feature, Rabbit Stories, have both signed on to this last leg of post-production so I KNOW I am in safe hands with them. So the only delay I am possibly expecting might be with sound dubbing. If there is a bit of dialogue that Joao absolutely needs my actors for it could be tricky with one of them residing in Paris. But with Etienne there and ready, I fear little about quality and more about time consumption.
One of the big things that held us up when I was finishing Rabbit Stories was technology. As my partner Camila Gibran said, "In the digital age you simply can't make a film in 7 years." And she was right. Cutting edge cameras, programs and plug-ins were obsolete in no time. And our little film with all the years that went into it hit it's biggest struggle when it came to simply moving it from the computer to the DVD disc. And since everyone was guarenteed a copy of the film as one of their rewards, we could do no more then try and try again...for longer than we expected.
The difference here is that Universal Language is a short. And ready to be moved at soon as we sync all of Joao and Joel's finished work. Which for 35 minutes as opposed to 131 minutes is far from daunting.
- (32 days)