A break from work can sometimes leave you disorientated on return as the flow of office politics and friendships continue on without you. In uncomfortable drama short Two Dollars (Deux Dollars) an exemplary employee returns to work only to discover that whilst things have changed for the better in her absence, she’s most definitely not invited to the party. The second film in Emmanuel Tenebaum’s trilogy of office shorts, DN spoke to the Montreal director about the advantages of making Two Dollars under strict time pressures and why you should never let excuses hold you back.
Hi Emmanuel and welcome to Directors Notes, as we haven’t spoken to you before could you tell us what inspired you to become a director and how you made the move from corporate to set life?
My background is indeed biomedical engineering and my first job was for Philips Healthcare in the Netherlands. I had attended an evening film school in Spain when I was a student and while at Philips I started to make little comedies about our workplace. Every time I did, the film would go viral within the company. That’s when I realized there was maybe a possibility to become a director. I found a lot of support from my colleagues and quitting my job was actually a pleasant experience.
Two Dollars was initially created within the 10 day time limit of Quebec’s Kinomada event, how did that restriction shape the approach you took to production? Did the limited time present any significant hurdles for you?
As you said the restrictions were major: we had to find ANY suitable place in 2 days, and we didn’t know any actors. To be frank, we weren’t even sure the film could have a life after the Kinomada screening. So we had to let go and accept that maybe it was a one time gig. But to be frank, that’s also the magic of deadlines: if we had had more time, I would have become picky and said no to so many things, the film might maybe not have existed. I’m very happy it went that way eventually.
Regarding time, I’m still shocked to see how much you can achieve when you’re on a deadline. For the editing, I sat straight for 36 hours! My friends had to keep me awake at any cost. Just like the production, when you have no choice, you end up getting things done.
Given the static nature of the table meeting scenario how did you approach the cinematography and later construction of the film’s visual rhythm?
It’s interesting you mention this because I think it’s the weak side of the film. Not because of the cinematographer of course, but simply because we had less than a day to shoot the whole film when it should have required 2 or 3 days. So the result is quite simple, fixed camera facing one or two actors, film their dialogue, move on. One thing we did carefully was to respect the axis because if you have ever tried to film a 5 people conversation you’ll know how messy it can get.
The rhythm, however, is in the script. Guillaume Fournier the scriptwriter wrote excellent dialogue, perfectly adjusted, and we didn’t remove one word of the script in the edit. Of course, as a director you need to direct the ’emotional waves’, but again, it was very easy with such a good script. For the same reason, the editing was not too problematic either.
We too hide often behind the excuse of lack of budget or lack of time.
That initial version of the film had a shorter running time than this final version. What prompted the expanded duration and how do you feel this version improves on what came before?
Well, first of all, we have end credits now, haha! Joke aside, as you can imagine, after 36 hours of editing with no sleep, the final result looked more like a 1st cut than a film. So once we had more time, we could give more space for the silences, which are actually my preferred moments of acting in this film. The improvement is incomparable, I wouldn’t dare to show you the 1st version. The other factor is that we reshot the first scene after the French producer stepped in: In the first version, it wasn’t good enough so it was almost entirely cut out.
Are there any lessons from making this film at such a brisk pace which you’ll take forward to future projects?
Yes, generally, I think that attending those Kinomada events has made me a lot more flexible as a director. We too hide often behind the excuse of lack of budget or lack of time but if you commit to a deadline and have some friends to help out, you can make wonders.
Two Dollars marks the midpoint in your short film trilogy of “real life stories at the office”, any chance of a clue about the focus of the final film and when we’ll get to see it? Are there any other projects on the horizon?
All I can say is that it involves the board of a large multinational 🙂 But before we do the last chapter, we are indeed in pre-production for a 20min drama about bankers, inspired by Swimming with Sharks, the fantastic book by Joris Luyendijk. We aim to premiere it early next year.