PART 2: PRODUCTION
Pornichet is the town where I grew up in France; it is a small resort on the Atlantic coast, about 5 hours’ drive from Paris and a 40-minute drive from Nantes, just south of Brittany. I would come here with my parents every summer when we stilled lived in Darlington, in the north of England, and eventually, when I was about 10, we moved there for good. I lived there until I was 18 and finished high-school.
This is where I set the life of the “original” character, the one who, afraid of all choices, chose nothing. He is the framing device for the other 5 lives, as it is his psychologist who goes to meet the alternate versions, in the hope that this experiment will help him get out of his paralysis.
Again, I underestimated the difficulty of the shoot in Pornichet. One of the practical aspects of this shoot was that I would have to transform myself enough to be a convincing hermit. To look this way, I wanted to get long hair and a long beard. While I quickly abandoned the idea of putting on a fake beard, as the ones I tried on were just not believable, long hair was a necessity. But finding a wig was actually a rather frustrating challenge. I contacted several makeup artists, who all charged over 200 or 300 euros for their services, plus the cost of the wig. So I thought I’d bypass the makeup artist and fit a wig on myself, if I could find one. I first met with a professional wig designer in Paris, whose wigs were indeed very believable, but cost 200 euros rental per day. As the dates approached to go and shoot in Pornichet, I just couldn’t bring myself to spend more on a wig than for DPs or actors. So, I just dug deeper in my research and found my way to the Goutte d’Or neighborhood of Paris, populated by a predominantly African (sub-Saharan) community; here, I found dozens of hair salons and shops selling wigs, extensions and all sorts of hair products. The second shop I went into had the perfect wig for me; I tried it on in front of some amused kids (and suspicious parents), and got what I needed for 35 euros.
I estimated the apartment shoot would take no more than two days, and so went to Pornichet over a weekend. The shoot was at my grandmother’s apartment, by St Marguerite beach, facing the sea – the only apartment that had remained in my family over the years. I had been there as a baby and would still occasionally go there during vacations. I spent half a day transforming the apartment into a hermit’s den, moving the furniture accordingly and generally making a mess with junk food and sodas.
The one particular item I absolutely needed for this shoot was a projector – my character watched movies all day long - and a local friend of mine, Romain Garcia, agreed to lend me his. After rearranging the apartment and positioning the projector correctly so that its picture covered the white screen I had set up, I relaxed for the night, thinking everything was in place for the shoot. The next morning, my mother Sophie and half-sister Héloise showed up, ready to help operate the camera. I put on my wig, bathrobe, turned on the projector and explained the first shot. Everything was going smoothly until I turned the camera on. When pointing the camera at the projected video, the feed was picking up vertical rolling lines and an annoying flickering effect. I instantly knew what the problem was: the projector emits its picture at a certain frame rate which is not the same frame rate as my camera. This messed with my mind and in the confusion, I tried changing the frame-rate on my camera, with no success, and then the shutter speed, but this only modified the intensity of the effects without canceling them. I got a little crazy at that point. My mind was racing for a solution. I thought about going to the local electronics store to buy another projector, but I wouldn’t know what kind of projector to ask for. The pressure got to me for a couple hours and I was angry that something so stupid and contingent was threatening to ruin my week-end plan and force me to return. From the outside, my annoyance could have looked like a tantrum, but when you have limited budget and know you are relying on the kindness of family and friends to help out, changing a day's shoot like this is a real nightmare. While my mother was trying to downplay the situation, I relentlessly looked for a solution, fiddling with the settings of both the projector and the camera, until finally I stumbled across a winning configuration: I changed my camera’s frame-rate to 24fps and slowed down the shutter speed. Somehow, this matched the projector’s shutter speed, and, while there were still some lines visible, they weren’t moving anymore and there was no flicker. It wasn’t perfect, but it was manageable.
During the summer, I returned to Pornichet to shoot the “memory” scenes on the beach. I had asked around for a kid, aged between 6 to 10, who could pass for a young version of me, and found the ideal kid in Iggy, the son of a friend of mine, Jaime.
The way in which I came to meet Jaime some years earlier was the result one of those once-in-a-lifetime coincidences which make you wonder how often we unknowingly find ourselves crossing paths with people who we are actually more closely connected to us than we know. When I was 21, I worked as a flight-attendant during the summers for Air France. On a flight from Paris to New York, I was managing my isle at the back of the plane, greeting passengers, when a cute blond girl came aboard, crying her eyes out. Seeing as she looked more or less my age, my colleagues immediately nudged me to go and assist her. She spoke American and wanted to be left alone. Half way through the flight, while everyone else was asleep, she was wide awake and crying again – so I made a second attempt and offered her something to drink. This time she came to the galley for a chat.
She was sad because she spent holidays in France with her mother but lived the rest of the year in the US with her father and hated it. When I asked her where she was from in France, she replied: “You won’t know it, it’s a small place.” I insisted, and she replied: “Pornichet.” It turned out her mother lived on the same street as me. We had even been to the same party the week before. We exchanged numbers and a few months later I was introduced to her mother and her step father: Jaime. Thinking back on it, so many tiny contingent things led to this encounter: if she hadn’t been on that plane; if I hadn’t been in charge of that particular isle; if she hadn’t been crying; if she hadn’t been from the same town, let alone the same street. The list of tiny consequential circumstances adds up quickly and makes the whole thing insanely unlikely.
So back to the present: filming on the beach with Iggy, Jaime’s son, was a lot of fun – it was the only part of the film which I shot almost entirely on the Glidecam and with the wide 14mm lens. Furthermore, it was intriguing to notice how some elements of my childhood beach connected to other places I had filmed and which I hadn’t planned or intentionally looked for: the stairs that lead down from the buildings, the wall that lines the beach, the pyramid-like structure that defines the rocks at one end of the beach, the starfish, the branches of the parasol, etc. As I began to see these patterns across the other footage I had shot in the other locations, I honed in on these leitmotivs and found their common significance: the ingredients of our life are already there in our childhood, and they will later become expressed in different ways depending on where our life goes. But they are there, and always were.