PART 2: PRODUCTION
Shortly after coming back from Jerusalem, I went to London and stayed with my high-school friend Thomas Lefèvre. Meanwhile, Caroline Fauvet, the only professional actor in the film, also joined us from Paris for a week. While writing the film, I wanted to have a character who would be present in several lives, to see how the same relationship could evolve differently. This is how Caroline’s character was written – and, for convenience, the two lives in which I included her physically were the ones in Paris and London.
Unlike in the film, where Caroline is my best friend from high-school and lifelong soul-mate, in reality, I only met her shortly before starting the film, at a party thrown by a mutual friend, filmmaker Zoe Wittock, who I knew from film school. A few months later, I contacted Caroline and told her I would like her to act in a film project I was preparing. Foreshadowing what was to come, we met up completely by chance at the Finnish Institute café in the Latin Quarter. When I told her I wanted to shoot a feature film set in five different countries and with no budget, I’m sure her initial thought was “Well at least the coffee here was good.” But as I continued my pitch, the concept of the story and the questions it raised hooked her. I can imagine her main hesitation at that point was with me: was I in over my head? All talk and no action? She accepted in principle, and I believe that her commitment grew as I went to Helsinki and Jerusalem. She could see that this thing was happening and my attitude filled her with confidence too. So when the time came for her to join me in London, I knew she was genuinely excited to be a part of this project.
The reason I mention this is because I have found it extremely enriching to try and cultivate a positive attitude: not only does it rub off on other people, but it also reinforces itself in a feedback loop. I wasn’t always like this, it’s something that doesn’t happen overnight and also it’s something that can switch off really quickly. In short: by doing, you get the will to do more; if you stop doing, you also lose the will to do more. It’s like in physics: objects that are motionless stay that way unless another force gets them moving, and once they are in motion, they can build up momentum. The tough part is to go from stagnation to movement. If I could go back in time, meet myself on the day I decided to make a film and explain all that was to come, past me would probably feel so overwhelmed and discouraged that he may not even start. But back then, from where I was, looking at things to come, it all felt pretty doable. That’s why: a little bit of confidence brings a little bit of success, which in turn brings a little bit more confidence and a bit more success, and the cycle continues. What you need to begin with is a little bit of determination, to force yourself into motion.
Filming in London was a lot of fun and yielded some unexpected results. Over the course of the week, several different people took charge of the camera – Thom’s girlfriend of the time, Nelly, our buddies Mike and Emile, and sometimes Thom himself - they were all fairly inexperienced with cameras, but we got good results. I would set up the shot, explain what to do, we’d shoot and then check the shot. Almost every time, we’d be surprised how the inexperience of the camera holder transpired into the shot as something fresh and natural.
Most of our shoot happened around North London, at Thom's place, but also in Camden and Hamstead Heath, and at the Hawley Arms pub in Camden, where Tom had worked for over 5 years. He had asked his managers, Doug and Craig, who were fine with the shoot, and the staff helped out, playing themselves behind the bar: Pat, Lorela, Amber, Jimmy. Needless to say we had a fun time. I owe them a huge debt for letting me shoot there, and to this day whenever I'm in London, I always look forward to getting a pint there.
By mid-July, my academic obligations became more pressing. I was still enrolled in two Master’s degrees at University and the deadline for my two dissertations was the second week of September. Although I had been working on them in Jerusalem, I was nowhere near finished. However, we had planned with Thom to meet up with Paul and Julie in Helsinki, then rent an RV and go on a road trip through Norway to the Lofoten Islands. And so, facing my two dissertations, I had to decide: go home and work on my dissertations or go to Norway?
I went. I had to. It was too good to pass up on. When would I ever get the chance to go with my best friends in an RV trip through Scandanavia to see the midnight sun? Probably never. And so, every day I’d be on my laptop, sitting at the RV’s table, writing my dissertations.
I think this is one of the biggest sources of frustration and regret in people’s lives: balancing what they think they have to do (studies or work) with the things that they want to do (leisure). And I don’t mean this just in relation to which activities to prioritize on a day-to-day basis, but also which life to lead in the long run. This conflict between what is expected, what is forced on you in some ways by necessity (just to make ends meet) or expectation (social, family-related, etc.), and what is actually desired, intended, willed, always bugged me. During my early twenties, when my friends were getting their first jobs, I always felt a certain discomfort at the fact that many times, they “stumbled” into a job that may or may not be satisfying to them. They hadn’t decided to go and do something that they initially wanted, they had accepted what had showed up on their way. I remember a guy who had studied international business. When he had to look for an internship, he found one working for bread manufacturers in Germany and after the internship, he got hired. Two years later, he was a specialist in the German bread market and a fairly successful one at that. At a party, I asked him: “Three years ago, did you wake up and think to yourself: I want to be an expert in the German bread market?” And of course, he said no. But then he preempted my next question: “But that’s not the point. I wanted to be a salesman, and be an expert salesman, whatever the product, whatever the market. So I am doing what I want.” Still, committed to being the party asshole, I took it one step further and asked: “But before you started studying business, did you actually want to be a businessman?” He looked down and shook his head as though I didn’t understand how life worked. I insisted: “Why did you study business?” He answered: “My grades, and because I thought I’d be good at it.” Again, I felt I was onto something: he had never originally wanted to be a salesman, much less one who specializes in the bread market. He studied business because his academic background up to that point had narrowed his options, out of which he chose business, not because he was aiming at it, but because it was the most viable avenue. Further, he got this job as a bread salesmen not because he wanted to be a bread salesman, but because this was an option that the Universe randomly happened to make available to him. And at the end of the day, there’s nothing inherently wrong with all this – in fact, compared to most people in the world, he's got a good situation, and he’ll probably have a very satisfying life. But I just kept imagining him as a retiree, sitting in his living room, surrounded by bread-related memorabilia, staring proudly at a plaque awarded to him by the national bread-maker’s society, reminiscing with great pride on a life of achievement, and thinking: why not tires? or sextoys? or miniature plastic umbrellas?
Is this wrong of me? I can’t tell. I’ve re-read this paragraph several times and can sense that something in my thought process makes me sound like a privileged asshole. But still, I want to stand by it: shouldn’t we be assholes about this? What’s the alternative? Not being able to lead a life where we do something we have chosen and designed?
Anyways, after the London shoot and trip to Scandinavia, I returned to Paris, put the film on hold for three months, locked myself in my room and finished writing my dissertations. While my research in International Relations is of little interest here (my paper was about understanding the current negativity in academia and public discourse towards the idea of a global government), my research in Philosophy raised some interesting questions related to the themes of Psi. My subject matter was radical human life extension, and whether there are good reasons to believe that in a future world where humans could live indefinitely, our motivation would be negatively impacted to the point where we would no longer do anything. Part of this study led me to research the effect of time constraints on behavior and decision-making, and extrapolate that to the effect of biological deadlines (old age and death) on how we conduct our lives and chose to do what we do.
One intuitive objection to an infinite time which is of particular relevance here is that if we were to overcome natural death and thus had all the time in the world to do all the possible things that may be available to us, we would end up doing nothing at all. Paralysis would be the consequence of freedom. People usually come to this conclusion by one of two avenues: the first, and more common fear, is that with no deadline, there would be a lack of time pressure, and so we would continuously procrastinate, get bored, lose interest and end up doing nothing out of laziness; the second is that by suddenly facing an infinite amount of possibilities, our problem would no longer be which ones to choose and which ones to give up on, but where to start, and given that the loss of opportunity scarcity would rob each choice of its relative value (thus making it hard to construct preferences), we would become locked in a paralysis, never knowing where to start. Consequently, the underlying assumption here is that we are either naturally will-less or weak-willed.
This common view of human will seemed to me completely misguided, which is why I wanted to study it. First of all, if we had much more time to live, we would no longer face the obligation of “choosing one life,” meaning we could conceivably be a doctor for 50 years and go back to school and become and engineer for 50 and then, why not, be a painter for another 50 years. Paralysis in the face of a choice only makes sense if the choice entails giving up on the forsaken options. Indeed, the paralysis that people fear stems from the fact that many choices are mutually exclusive. If you can only afford one trip but you’re hesitating between Australia and Patagonia, or you can only pursue one career but you’re hesitating between doctor and footballer, the fact you can’t do both can realistically lead to a form of paralysis – out of fear of regretting the chosen path and never being able to experience the forsaken one. But these are mutually exclusive only because of time scarcity: if you had more time, you could conceivably do both and so they are not mutually exclusive anymore. If you knew you could do both, one after the other (and while there may be tricky decisions to make in order to decide which to do first) I fail to see how one would end up choosing nothing rather than both, or, indeed, everything.
In fact, most of the existential dilemmas we face, I believe, stem directly from the limited amount of life-time we are allotted, which is why overall I am a strongly in favor of life extension (other challenges associated with this perspective are admittedly far more consequential and worth thinking about – such as economic inequalities and long-term overpopulation). Were we to have more time, inevitably new sources of stress and complexity would arise (the biggest issue I can see would have to do with mental fatigue), but I believe it would be a beneficial revolution for people whose will is strong and inexhaustible. And this I contend is potentially the case for everyone, despite what many may themselves think, because most of the reasons why they suspect that they would be lazy or paralyzed with infinite time come from the very effects that our current limited time has on our will, namely that it rushes it with the chase and urgency it imposes (thus tiring it and making us want to rest) and forces it to make compromises it doesn’t want to make or simply can’t resolve (thus breaking it and making us bad decision makers).