Sometimes it’s nothing more significant than a shift in the music we listen to or a reimagining of our personal style but in the universal no man’s land between childhood and adulthood, many of us go through a process of ‘finding ourselves’ in the hope of divining the future path we’ll tread to become who we are. Unacceptable Behavior from L.A. based French Director/Producer Clément Oberto (last seen on DN here), tackles this universal turmoil in its portrait of a young woman attempting to find harmony in the delicate balance between the remains of childhood and promises of adulthood. We spoke to Clément to discover how he hit the road with minimal gear to bring us this ruminative journey into self.
What drew you to tell this story of a young woman teetering on the boundary between childhood and adulthood?
The initial impulse came from Destiny Nolen. We had met a couple of months prior to the shoot after I moved from Paris to Los Angeles. One night, she showed me a text she wrote and I felt it was good material for a film. It was raw, personal, full of questions and sensibility. First, I didn’t know who she was referring to when using ‘you’ in the text. I didn’t know if it was a boyfriend or a family member…and then it hit me: she was, in fact, speaking to herself. From the adult to the child, and vice versa. I guarantee, when you catch that, it gives a whole new light to the film. Every line becomes different: ‘if only you could see me’ becomes the adult saying to the child that she’s going to be alright, etc., etc. This is also why I used a glitch to make her appear twice in the same frame at the beginning, right before she changes pronoun from ‘I’ to ‘we’. It was my way to tip the audience towards this direction.
It hit me: she was, in fact, speaking to herself. From the adult to the child, and vice versa.
As is the nature of road movies there would have been a plethora of potential shoot locations for the film, what guided your selections of way stations and associated actions for this journey of self-discovery?
When you travel, there is always a sensation of running away from your life, even if just for an instant. It’s a way to explore within to face new landscapes. In that regard, I knew I wanted to catch a big variety of scenery, to be able to give both the sensation of summer and winter. We shot everything in two trips, over seven days total.
The second trip didn’t work out as planned…Yosemite was closed because of the snow and we couldn’t reach Mariposa. We got stuck in the snow at night trying to cross the mountain, with no functioning heater and no more gas. We ended up turning back to find a random place to stay down the mountain. They had a casino and so we gambled some money that night and made enough to pay for another day or two of the trip 🙂 Also it led us to Lake Tahoe, which wasn’t planned either…which resulted in some of my favorite shots in the film.
What was it about Destiny Nolen that suited her to the role and how did the two of you establish the feeling of ennui which suffuses her character?
Destiny was perfect for the role. First, because she wrote the text that inspired the film, and second because she had this pure, beautiful energy which made the whole video what it is. I believe the ennui in her character comes from the fact that I barely directed her. It was much more like observing her wandering in those places, than me giving specific actions or emotions to follow. Sometimes, when the project is right for it, I think it’s better to just let your character be: this way if she’s lost, bored, angry, or in awe, then you get to film something real.
Given that Unacceptable Behaviour is a film captured on the move without a central base, what considerations did you have to take into account with regards to equipment and/or your approach to the shoot?
I asked my friend DP Ernesto Lomeli if I could borrow a few extra batteries and a suction cup to attach the camera to the hood of the car. For the car, I swapped with my friend Michael Reynolds, who had a more appropriate one 🙂 I also borrowed some clothes from two other awesome friends (Kimi Recor & Amanda Lim). I used my RED Scarlet and the two Canon lenses I have at home. It was very minimum equipment: a bunch of clothes, snacks, adapters to charge the batteries on the cigarette lighter plug, and a whole lot of coolant to help the car survive this rough trip.
Singer Georgia Feroce provides the voice over here, how did she get involved with the project and what do you feel her vocal performance brings to the film?
For the longest time, I had versions with subtitles written in the middle of the screen (see attached). It was graphic and cool, but at times you couldn’t really focus, so you missed part of the narration…and most of all, it was lacking emotion. So, following the advice of a few trusted friends, I decided to record a voice. What I wanted was a ‘raspy voice’, so when I met Georgia, I immediately asked if she would do the voice for my film. It turned out she was a singer, so it was meant to be.
What do you feel this very individual story has to say about the lives of the typically ultra-connected young adults of today?
I think it speaks about their need for genuine and sincere connection. In the midst of all the Instagram likes, the models/influencers with millions of comments on their pages, a need is created for virtual validation. In the end, it feels like everyone just needs the same thing: Someone to say ‘I see you’ and ‘I’m here’ – and in that specific case, this someone can be yourself. Sometimes reconnecting to yourself is all you need.
In the end, it feels like everyone just needs the same thing: Someone to say ‘I see you’ and ‘I’m here’.
Is there anything new in works that we’ll see from you soon?
There are a few music videos coming out soon, including one shot in super 16mm for Lisa Portelli and one shot in Hawaii for Devin Sarno. I’m also going to be in Mexico this weekend to shoot a music video for a band that I love! Oh, and there are a few commercials and shorts films on their way too. Fingers crossed I finish them all in 2019.
Unacceptable Behavior is one of the many great projects shared with the Directors Notes Programmers through our submissions process. If you’d like to join them submit your film.