Thursday, July 16, 2015

INTERVIEW: Director Carlos Marques-Marcet on 10.000 km

In his fascinating and unique character study 10.000 km (a.k.a. Long Distance), director Carlos Marques-Marcet examines the dichotomous role of physical distance and social media nearness as we watch a relationship begin to unravel. The film, starring Natalia Tena and David Verdaguer is a unique and dynamic entree onto the global filmmaking stage for its 33-year-old helmer (who co-wrote the film with Clara Roquet).

I had the opportunity to chat with Marques-Marcet during his recent visit to the Bay Area, and he had plenty to say not only about how the film (comprised primarily of our characters interacting via computer chat windows) came together, the role of social media in our daily discourse, and some of his own filmic influences. What follows are some highlights of our conversation:

It feels like you're making a lot of interesting comments about technology and the role that technology has in strengthening and weakening relationships. What made you want to tell this story?

It's always a combination of several things that suddenly click. There was an idea that I wanted to explore, how we're using the tools of cinema: screens and cameras, and that's so different from what Lumière invented. How we use it now, cinema has become part of our everyday life, and that's a way of spreading the world. We have jumped forward.

In the same way, I feel like writing at the beginning was like Homer making The Iliad, and then somebody invented pens, ink, and then then people started writing letters, and then someone said, okay, I'm going to write an epistolary novel, where just by the letters people write to each other, you this off-screen space. That's what happens when you do an epistolary novel.

It's like, you know what one says to the other when they answer, but you have to understand a little bit in the in-betweens because you don't have a narration, a complete narration of something. You just have some pieces, and somehow I want to do the same, where it's like this epistolary video chat movie where the language of cinema is among us. It's not external to the language.


Do you think that social media and all of these things like Skype, etc., that we see, have changed human interaction?

For me, I don't pretend to think of technology as something good or bad. That doesn't mean anything because...

It's all about how it's used.

It's all about how to use it. Atomic energy depends on how you use it, of course. You know, telecommunications is starting from the telegraph and telephone. The telephone was the first big step. It's a dissociation between space and time because suddenly you can spend time with somebody else somewhere else. You can be talking on the telephone somewhere, and time understood is a human thing, not as an absolute, but time is always personal to wherever you are, you know, spending time. And then, somebody else, somewhere else, not exactly the same time because there's like, the light takes a little time to get there, but it's always the feeling that it's at the same time.

Sure, almost.

Almost. And so, there's something, and to me, that's where everything starts and everything starts to change. Basically, technology allows you to be somewhere else while being at the same...in one place, and that's very attractive, and that's very exciting. In some ways, you're almost becoming sort of like God. That's why people are always on their cellphones because you can be so many places in one place. But also, it makes us less physically present, and we lose something by losing physical presence.

Like, there's these studies that I was reading about the other day they did with these little kids. They had these babies, and they had this room, and basically, in one room they have a bunch of people talking Chinese to these babies -- not to these babies but talking between them, several sessions and everything, blah, blah, blah, blah. And the kids could be just playing. And the other room was a bunch of kids, too, and you have all these screens surrounding them with people talking in Chinese with the screens. And basically, they realized that the kids who are on the screens didn't pick up any Chinese, and the ones with the people really there, they pick it up.

So, I feel that something...it says a lot that presence, even if you can reproduce it through 3-D or smell and touch. That's, for me right now, the first -- you know, on the screen, you don't have a smell; you don't have touch. That's the language of love. But even if you can represent all this, there's something, I feel like, almost instinctual about the physical you can sense that you cannot substitute. So to me, that's the problem: ubiquity and physical presence fighting each other.

If I can make a corollary to what you're saying, I think it's very interesting when we talk about films, special effects in films, for example, one thing you hear a lot of is people prefer practical effects over digital effects, and just something about seeing the physicality of a model. Even though a computer can make anything you think of, there's something in your mind that says: that's fake, I know it's fake.

Yeah, and I think at the same time, there's people reacting to that. You know, you can act with a green screen but it will never be the same. Even if you're the most amazing actor ever, never react with the same shock. If it's a monster, you're seeing it there, so your animal reaction will be different.

It's funny because this past weekend was the 40th anniversary of Jaws, and I was re-watching that, and that's one of the things I was thinking about. That movie benefits from its imitations.

It's a pity to see some filmmakers that work so much better with limitations, and then they have all this, and then it's like, it's a pity. There's no space for...I think filmmakers should put on themselves some limits. So, in a way, even if we don't have them, we should put them. I kind of did with this movie a little bit.

How we planned the movie was not a budget thing because it was actually not that cheap. It's not like some friends of mine, American filmmakers, independent filmmakers that make movies for nothing. I don't know how they do it. But, you know, we paid everybody well, and the actors had some money, so it was not -- it was not expensive at all, but not like budget zero like some others. So, it was a matter of finding your own limitations to help your imagination.

When you talk about limitations, I'd love to discuss the opening, where it's essentially one long shot. What was the impetus behind that? What made you want to attempt that? Because that can't be easy, There's a whole logistical challenge, so why open that way?

It was a lot of preparation. Actually, it was not even my idea. The original idea for the opening of the movie was several scenes where you see them together, and I wanted to shoot it like one shot because then you're not going to see them together in the same shot the rest of the movie. So, I wanted it to be this feeling of being with them, not as an intellectual thing or anything, but just like you're seeing this couple together in a two-shot.

You're not going to see a two-shot at all. That is a shot reverse shot. The movie's becoming a shot reverse shot because usually, a two-shot, you just see this thing here. And then, actually, our script editor was like, "You should put all these things together in one scene, and the movie will be more powerful because I feel you'll be with them longer, and if you want, you can do it in one shot." And at the beginning, I felt like, no, that's a typical thing you do as a film student. Like, go look at Bergman, you know, I can do a very long one shot.

Like, “Look at me!”

“Look at me,” and everything. But then there was something that made me decide. It was the cut. I work as an editor so I'm very obsessed with the cut. Which moment do you cut? And the power that you have after 20 minutes of shot, the power of this first cut I think was worth it to make the rest.

Sure. “What's going to happen?"

What going to happen? How is it going to feel? This cut, I actually...it was so difficult to edit. I changed it so many times. Three frames, four frames, one frame, and just trying to find the exact cut where it wasn't too cheesy but you had a little bit of emotion at this moment, and the effect it was going to create. I'd say it wasn't that much for the shot itself because of the fact of the cut.

Let's talk about your process as far as working with David and Natalia. How did you work to really buttress their chemistry and get that? Because I bought it right from the beginning.

Chemistry is something that you need to be on your side, like the gods of cinema need to be on your side. So, you can create it a little bit. Actually, we were going to shoot with another actress, and we lost her the month before shooting. We even had rehearsals in Madrid and everything, and the funny thing is that they didn't have the same chemistry. We were creating...you can work the relationship; you can work the deepness, but something about the chemistry, you need to be lucky, and we were very lucky.

But of course, we did a very strong process of trying to find out who these people are to each other because I wrote the script and characters and situations, but I always left a lot of space for the characters to discover myself. I don't give them a Bible. You know, "That's your character when she was six, blah, blah, blah." And I hate it. "What's my backstory?" I don't know. That's your job; you're an actor. Of course, when you write, you have something in your mind, but that's their job.

But at the same time, in a movie where it's so specific about the couple, you really need to feel, as you say, they've been together for seven years. You need to create some kind of history together. So, instead of giving them their history, we basically create it. So, I started thinking backwards from the beginning of the movie, okay, what's the next...what's the thing before they did it? What's important? Okay, deciding they're going to have a kid: why did they decide to have a kid? How?

Then it's like, why did they decide? Maybe because she's not having a job. Okay, she has to take English classes, and then the discussion, and I just started to make all these points back, forward, and to the moment they met, almost, that I thought they were interesting to explore. So, we started rehearsals by going back to the first moment that they met, and trying to create all these little steps. Of course, then we changed because some improvisations will bring us to somewhere else. So, we basically created this relationship from scratch.

So, you had them essentially act out those moments?

Act out, you know, not every moment but moments that somehow explained how they arrived.

So, an experience like this, it's obviously much more self-contained. You have a lot more control over it. Is Hollywood something that you want to be thinking about as far as working with bigger budgets, and working in the blockbuster arena?

I like Hollywood movies. I grew up on classical '40s, '50s, mid-'30s silent movies. Howard Hawks and John Ford and Preston Sturges, that's probably the cinema I love the most.

The greats.

The greats, yeah! It's funny, living in Los Angeles...I lived a lot of years in Los Angeles, and to me, you hear all those stories of these people, and I go to see the streets where it happened -- that shoot, the other one -- and it's funny, sometimes Hollywood has...and American filmmakers, very short memory sometime.

I have a lot of good friends who think the '60s and the '70s -- the '70s, especially -- cinema changed so much, the paradigm of things. I feel like classical American cinema influences more, actually, European filmmakers, and here it's more the '70s that made the big change. So, at the same time, I signed with an agency, with UTA and everything, and it's great. They are doing a good job. But I know I would love to work with it, but I'm not obsessed.

If it happens, it'll be nice.

Work for hire, you know. And it will be fun. I did something for TV in Spain, a movie for TV. It was a lot of fun, just working for hire, and I enjoy it. What they did in all the classics, they were not their own scripts. They just got somebody else's work, and try to make it your own, and die with it, almost.

You know, do something that is worth it to see, and is talking about cinema language, and developing language of cinema, and not just a bunch of explosions. It's good to have explosions, but developing a language and saying something about cinema. But I'm not really upset at all. If it happens, it's fine, and to me, it's almost like a side thing. So, I know I want to make more movies...

As long as you can keep making stuff like this.

Between my movies, if I can make something in Hollywood, that's fine but not at any price, also. I'm just seeing what happens.

********

Many thanks to Carlos Marques-Marcet for his time. 10.000 km is currently playing in select theaters.

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