P:O.V. No.9 - Two Recent Short Fiction Films, NEW YORK ENCOUNTER

An interview with Claude Saint Antoine on
New York Encounter

Richard Raskin

When we spoke on the phone, you mentioned that there was a story behind the making of New York Encounter.

Well actually I think there is a story behind the shooting of every filmÖ I decided to shoot a short film here [in New York] because I was invited by a festival to present my first short film, Rendez-vous. It was the first time I was coming here. And I had decided years ago that I wouldnít go to New York unless it was in connection with my work. I didnít want to come as a tourist. It had to be for my work and for something artistic, and at that moment I didnít even know that I would ever be making films. So it was really a dream come true Ė being invited to a film festival.

Which festival was it?

It was the French-American Film Festival, Avignon-New York. Itís a really wonderful workshop festival. It begins in Avignon and then they have a session here in New York. And I met some American filmmakers at the Avignon festival and decided to keep in touch with them. There was a director, Michael Bergman, who won an award at that festival for a feature film, Milk and Money. We kept in touch and I said "Iím coming to New York" and we decided to do a project together, to shoot a short film. So I arrived for a reading before the festival began, a few days in advance, to meet some actors, and I decided I would write it in New York, because I had no idea what the city was like. So thatís what I did.

I saw some actors at this reading Ė it was a reading for Michael Bergmanís screenplay Ė I just got off the plane and went directly to the reading. It was surrealisticÖ

But you didnít have your story yet at that moment?

No, I didnít have the story at that point. I was supposed to spend ten days in New York for the festival. So I arrived three days in advance to see these actors at this private reading. It was like doing a casting without saying that it was a casting. It was the opposite of what I had done with Rendez-vous. This time I wanted to have specific actors in mind before I wrote the film. So I saw all those actors and then had to find an idea. For a few days, I couldnít think of anything.

And the second point Ė it was like a bet Ė was to make a film that was only 100 seconds long. A very, very short film. To find an idea in New York, with no money (laughter), very short, two three maybe four actors, but something that would be good for the actors too.

And then I wrote the story. I wrote the dialogues in English. And then my bag was robbed, with the dialogues and everything inside. And itís very difficult when you write something like that, especially when itís not in your own language, to remember exactly what you wrote. Sometimes you re-read what you just wrote and say: "Oh, did I really write this?"

So when my bag was robbed with the script in it, I was a bit depressed. But eventually I was able to reconstruct the lines I had written. And we started making jokes, saying that maybe the person who stole the bag would make his own film with the same script, and it would be funny to see the difference (laughter). But it never happened Ė at least not yet. Now I guess itís too late for him.

So then the script was written. And I had thought about two actors: Sarah Winckler and Gordon Elliott Ė actors I saw at the reading and who were really great. Michael Bergman helped me to get in touch with the actors, and he organized the shooting. He called Gordon who was just leaving for a few days, to do some work in L.A. We had sent him the script and he said: "OK, I agree". But we had to wait until he got back to New York. So I decided to postpone my trip back to France. I stayed an extra week. And I met Sarah who also agreed.

The shooting was supposed to begin on a Thursday and the weather was very bad. It was raining. Storms were predicted for Friday and Gordon didnít arrive until Wednesday night. So Thursday was the only day we could shoot.

We went to Rockefeller Center, which I had chosen on the previous Monday as the location for the shooting. And they were so nice to us. I didnít know that you were supposed to get permission in advance. Everything had been so improvised. I thought you could just shoot in the street as long as you didnít put a tripod on the ground. But it was not really "the street" because it was Rockefeller Center which is private property. Normally you have to ask for permission one month in advance. We left the location on the Monday and one day later, they called back and said it was okay. Maybe they were so nice to us because they said: "itís a very short film, and itís French and itís funny".

Thursday came, we did the shooting and we all really enjoyed it. It took so little time, not even an entire day. For the title sequence, I wanted shots of very crowded places in New York. But it was quite difficult to find the right locations because it wasnít as sunny as usual for the end of April or beginning of May, and there werenít that many people outside. So we had to try to find places with a lot of people and went into the subway.

Then we arrived at the set at Rockefeller Center at about 11 a.m. We had a cup of coffee and talked with the actors about the film and about life. After that warm-up we did some rehearsing. And the shoot itself went very quickly. When people have confidence and the rhythm is right, things can go so smoothly. The only problem was the weather changing from rain to sun right in the middle of the shooting.

I had seen Sarah earlier to choose her dress and her scarf. But Gordon just arrived. And it was amazing. I really admire their work. By about 4 oíclock, we were done.

Did you film the entire dialogue continuously, several times, or did you did you do it one line at a time?

No, we didnít have that much film. And it was not very long. Actually, there were two main parts: before the kiss and after the kiss, because the emotions are different in each of those sections. The actors were so good that we didnít need to make a lot of takes. At the most two for any one shot, and only one for some of the shots.

Your first short, Rendez-vous, is also about time.

Ah, youíve noticed that.

Yes. Is this a kind of pattern? Is time something that preoccupies you in your own life?

Yes. Itís funny because when you make a second short film, you realize what it has in common with the first, and you begin to become aware of what you are interested in. Yes, time is important to meÖ And when I arrived here in New York, people were talking about time Ė all the time! So thatís how I imagined those two characters.

Now for me, New York Encounter is about two people who donít live in the present. Is that the way you see the story?

Yes, I think thatís a good way to see the story. Some people see New York Encounter as a love story. I think itís more a time story. Itís very painful not to live in the present. And I think when you are passionate, you live in the present.

What about the opening lines in which Steve and Helen tell each other how much money they make. Is this just a funny idea that came to you or do you see New Yorkers as people who think this way?

They were funny lines that came to me, just like that, but they were also connected to what I have actually heard here [in New York]. When New Yorkers saw the film, they really laughed and loved it. I had thought that Americans might be offended by the film, but not at all. They came to me and said: "How did you get us so quickly? Thatís really what New Yorkers are like. Did you live here?" But I had only been here for a week when I wrote the script.

Is there any advice you might give to students who are about to make their own short films for the first time?

I donít think I can really give advice to anybody. But at the same time, I understand that when you are a student, anything someone can tell you can be very helpful Ė even if itís wrong!

For me, itís not about making films. Itís about life. I think life is more important than filmsÖ What I really want is to move people by making them laugh, maybe cry just a little. For me, thatís what films do: move people. And if you want to do that, you have to really enjoy the work. You have to work with people you feel connected to and have a wonderful human time with them. Thatís whatís important to me.

14 December 1999
New York

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