new filmmaker Poppy de Villeneuve: “Love is Like Life but Longer” + an interview (full version)

Poppy de VilleneuveLove is Like Life but Longer

Interview in parts

Full interview

maja@tnf: How did your adventure with filmmaking start? What’s your artist’s statement and motivation for making films?
Poppy de Villeneuve: In a way my personal film making adventure began when I was a child and would sit with my mother watching television shows like Twin Peaks & Northern Exposure and films like Paris, Texas. She had (still has) a great archive of inspiring things and my parents encouraged me to freely express myself through stories and visuals. After working eight years as a photographer, I felt I had the backbone to start bringing my narratives alive, so that’s what I’ve been doing for the last three years.
maja@tnf: What’s the story behind the film of yours we featured? What was the inspiration for your film? Who or what do you credit influencing you?

Poppy de Villeneuve: I approached the Morgans’s hotel group as I had wanted to do a story in a hotel and had worked with them previously and knew they were open to creative projects.

The story was then adapted from one of Simon Van Booy’s short stories. I was then lucky enough to get the great actors Jeremy Strong, Maya Kazan and Joan Copeland.

We made the whole film in two weeks from writing the story to having the finished film on the desk, which was a real achievement. I was inspired by the idea of strangers and hotels and the sense of being in a transient moment and also the idea that you never know what is around the corner. Both main characters have to let go of the past and take a leap into the unknown, I have to remind myself of that everyday. I was then inspired afresh by the actors as they saw the characters in a new way and brought things to life for me..

maja@tnf: Can we consider your film’s title a kind of artistic statement?

Poppy de Villeneuve: This varies project to project. Sometimes it is just a starting point and sometimes it explains everything. I’ve been thinking about this a lot as I’m trying to give a current script a title and it’s always a struggle to sum up the work.

In the case of “Love is Like Life but Longer”, the title can mean whatever the viewer wants it to. It can be like a simple poem or a philosophy of life. For me, love is a wonderful, complex thing that keeps unfolding and growing, as my work does. This title is also a line within the short story from which it was adapted.

maja@tnf: Your film was commissioned by the Morgan’s Hotel Group for the opening of the Mondrian Soho. What did your commissioner expect from your work? Can your film be called an artistic commercial?
Poppy de Villeneuve: Morgan’s do many collaborations with artists and gave me free artistic range. They wanted the hotel to be a main character, which I acknowledged, and I think we fulfilled that agenda. I do feel it is an artistic commercial. Even though there are boundaries, I find that an exciting, challenging place to start work. As an artist, you often have to navigate the arenas of art and commerce to try and make a connection.
maja@tnf: Among your clients are a lot of famous companies, magazines, etc., among them New York Times T Magazine, Vogue, AnOther Magazine, just to mention a few. You shot commercials, music videos, and documentaries for them. How do the types of commissions you execute shape your approach to filmmaking? What are the pros & cons of this situation?

Poppy de Villeneuve: I try and approach each project as its own entity. I haven’t had formal film school training, so learn new tools with each project. I’m lucky to be supported by Partizan, a wonderful production company. I’ve also been fortunate that many of these clients have allowed me to run with an idea.

With AnOther magazine I filmed a series of interviews based on the Proust questionnaire – I talked to people I admire about their take on fear, love and expectation.

I’m currently working on a project with RayBan which will be an iPad app. The new areas of media have been a real plus for exploration in film. For the web, it’s a challenge to shape something that will keep people focused while including a short narrative and a chance for them to feel moved. Ultimately, if a commercial can create a personal change, as a book or a film might, it can be seen as art.

maja@tnf: Where is the border between feature films and commercials, in your opinion?
Poppy de Villeneuve: In general, to have complete artistic freedom to tell the story you want feels pretty far from the commercial realm. It seems like certain corporations are taking more risks, understanding that intelligent consumers want to see meaningful real or fictional stories, not stories that take advantage of them. Audience participation is an interesting, new area where boundaries are moving. I am working on a music video where half the images are photographs that fans have taken, so it’s collaboration.
maja@tnf: From idea development to finished film. A step-by-step short guide to your filmmaking process:

Poppy de Villeneuve: The idea comes first. My ten years as a photographer seems the perfect way to have collected images and thoughts. It shaped the way things came about to be undertaken as projects. I keep reference books, notes, sketchbooks and have catalogues of articles pulled from magazines, including things of interest seen online.

The beginning is the hardest for me, as I struggle with writing. Each time I sit to write a treatment, it’s like doing homework and I was awful at homework the first time around! However, having to push through that is exactly what I need to do to really see and feel an idea. Once I’ve worked on the treatment for a couple of days, I go over it and over it and over it until I really understand it before I go to the next stage.

maja@tnf: Your film technique – its pros & cons, and why you chose it:

Poppy de Villeneuve: The more I learn, the more prepared I like to be. For me, it’s best to have a very clear plan, see all possible obstacles and then throw ideas out the window in the moment if new inspiration comes. I enjoy environments and situations that are real, from music festivals to prisons, with the extras being real people. It can make things a little trickier, but creates an authentic environment.

I use a small crew and like production and equipment to also be as minimal as possible. Sometimes working this way can be hard, without a lot of back-up and often feeling less forceful at dealing with what you come up against. I’m pretty nibble on my feet and not knowing completely what you are letting yourself in for is part of the thrill. Shooting a music video recently, fans were literally falling onto me and screaming, but the footage was so alive. Nothing beats reality.

maja@tnf: Cooperation between the crew members (any problems and funny situations on the film set):

Poppy de Villeneuve: The most important thing is that my crew appreciate subtlety and can distinguish nuances in certain situations. I work with a producer at Patizan who really understands my work, my strength and weakness. He asks the right questions beforehand and brings a healthy dose of humor to the set. Ultimately I want to be enjoying myself and I want everyone involved to feel it’s a rewarding experience. If someone has the wrong attitude, it can be challenging.

A couple of years ago I made a short film for the New York Times with Macaulay Culkin. Every two minutes people would recognise him and walk right onto the set, but he was very gracious. While these people were interested and fascinated by fame, his attitude was very inclusive but also respectful of his work. If we were doing a scene, he would say, “I’m sorry, we are working, but thank you.” Usually people have the right intentions.

maja@tnf: Your shooting equipment (camcorders, lightning, hardware, software etc.):

Poppy de Villeneuve: If I have a DP I use a more elaborate set-up; when shooting myself I use a very modest kit. Whenever possible I take advantage of natural light. I hate the set-up time which can ruin the atmosphere for me, but it can take just as long, curving the natural light with flags and sheets.

I recently shot a commercial on an iPhone 4 and wanted to write to Apple and tell them how cool they are! I think concentrating on work is the important thing, not the tools. We are so fortunate that digital technology is getting so elaborate; it has really helped me as a young filmmaker find the equipment accessible.

I always work with an editor, rather than editing myself, as I prefer to have someone step in at that point to fine tune ideas and stories. I can take a step back and have some perspective.

maja@tnf: Your film funding (budget) & your postproduction:
Poppy de Villeneuve: I’m sure I am not alone in finding this is often a struggle. It depends on the project, but usually I’m working with very minimal budgets. This can keep things creative but can also present certain obstacles. I’ve been very fortunate to work with people who believe in me and are willing to be part of interesting projects and less concerned with financial gain. By the same token, I’ve done many projects for the sake of working with great people or on an exciting topic. I see it all as an investment in my long-term goal to make independent films and commercials and other mixed media projects. If you can pay your rent and make work you are enjoying and which moves you forward, what could be better?
maja@tnf: A few details about your film studies/education and/or workshops each of you attended:
Poppy de Villeneuve: I studied photography at university and the rest of my education has come from attending lots of movies, reading books and talking to people I admire, friends like Andrew Birkin, who directed The Cement Garden, and Mike Figgis, director of Leaving Las Vegas. For me, it is most helpful being able to talk about work, my ideas and how to achieve things. I am also a big fan of Joseph Campbell whose work has been hugely influential. I think finding like-minded people to inspire you and hopefully work with is most educational.
maja@tnf: Other important advice for those starting out with filmmaking:
Poppy de Villeneuve: It is necessary to find your own voice, but this may take time. I have a tendency to rush certain things, yet the moment I slow down is often when I start to have ideas. Also, by getting things wrong, I have sometimes been able to see what is important to me in my work. Others have advised me in the past not to worry about being so precious with things, but to let the work be messy and find the clarity in that. My advice would be, “just get on and do it.” A large percentage of the projects I’ve done have happened because I’ve approached someone with an idea. Twice as many doors may be closed in your face, but a few will open and that’s where you start.
maja@tnf: Recognition your film received and/or its most important screenings: Your forthcoming efforts:
Poppy de Villeneuve: This year I was part of the new directors program and my short “Love is Like Life but Longer” was shown at the Directors Guild of America. I am working on a project with RayBan called Raw Sound that will be an iPad app coming out in the fall. Along with writer Katie Bender, I have the script ready for my first feature, so am making tweaks on that and hoping to start production towards the end of this year. Hopefully some new exciting things will happen soon, too!

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