First time filmmaker David Guy Levy caught up with indieWIRE to discuss turning the camera on himself (with a flip camera, no less) with his debut "A Love Affair of Sorts." The film opens in limited release this Friday, June 24.
The Deal: Blurring the edges between reality and fiction, and in an era where we all live in public to a certain extent, "A Love Affair of Sorts" is a modern twist on a love affair in the digital age. The first feature film to be shot entirely on a flip camera, its narrative follows two lonely strangers in modern day Los Angeles, during the holiday season. The film begins with David (director David Guy Levy), a painter, and Enci (Lili Bordán), a Hungarian nanny, who meet in a bookstore when he catches her shoplifting on his ever-present flip camera. As they start a tentative relationship, he captures it all on his digital camera, though nothing about the situation is as straightforward as it seems. Things are complicated further with the addition of Enci’s boyfriend, Boris (Iván Kamarás), and David’s brutally honest friend, Jonathan (Jonathan Beckerman as himself, and unaware until the end of the shoot that the film he was in was fictional). Chronicling the couple’s desire to be constantly filmed, and their need to really connect in the lonely landscape of Los Angeles at Christmastime, "A Love Affair of Sorts" takes a wry look at the way technology brings us together while also keeping us at a distance, and how it may have changed what it is to love and be loved. [Synopsis courtesy of Paladin]
Responses courtesy of "A Love Affair of Sorts" director David Guy Levy.
Back in the early days...
Raised by a cinephile, I spent much of my youth watching movies at New York’s Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Museum of Modern Art. Eventually I went to film school and decided that there was only one thing I knew, and that was movies. I had always planned to be a director but got sidetracked by my producing career. After watching the directors I worked with go through the process themselves many times, I finally felt confident enough to return to my original plan and, while preparing to direct a more commercial thriller, I chose to make an experimental, improvisational feature as a formal exercise.
A need to experiment...
I wanted to make a film about film—and my love affair with it. Following in the tradition of “reflexive cinema,” a genre that includes everything from “8 1/2” to “David Holzman’s Diary,” I wanted to make a contemporary version of the movie-about-movies. Whereas earlier examples of the genre have been about filmmakers confronting the challenges of filmmaking, I thought that in the digital age, everybody owns a consumer video camera, and that we are all filmmakers—of sorts. The omnipresence of the camera, and the effect it has on people and the stories they tell, provides the subject of the film.
How it all began...
As far as the genesis of the project, there were two givens as far as I was concerned. The first was that the film be set in my adoptive city, Los Angeles. This is a film that has many subjects, a big one being loneliness. Los Angeles is a city where residents, including myself, can feel very cut off from the rest of society, and unless they actively pursue a social life, they can find themselves cut off from the world. The second criterion was that I wanted to shoot this over the holidays, since Los Angeles is a very barren city at that time of year. The timing would only serve to heighten the theme of loneliness that I was hoping to convey in the film.
While I knew what I was hoping to achieve with my film, I had no script, just the story. When I started thinking about the production logistically, I realized that the only way to steer that story in the direction I wanted, was if I was in the room at all times. The only way to be in the room, however, was to be holding one of the cameras, and that meant that I would also have to perform in the film.. This was a change from when I began, when I thought another actor would be playing the leading role.
Given the intimate, minimalist nature of the film, my first thought was to cast a friend as my leading lady, but here, again, my plan changed. I decided that if I cast someone who knew me well, then I might not be able to manipulate circumstances as necessary in order to pull out the performance and to elicit the right responses to my behavior, from my actress. Preferring the element of surprise to the comfort of familiarity, I decided to find the perfect stranger to play the girl with whom my character connects with in the film.
It was at a Christmas party early in December of 2009 that I met Lili Bordán, whom I learned would be staying in Los Angeles for the holidays. I asked her if she wanted to shoot a movie the following week, and two days later we were attending parties together—in character—as a couple. Lili presented herself as ‘Enci,’ and I played ‘myself’ since I had decided that the film would overlap with my personal life, and that there was no avoiding putting my actual surroundings and possessions into the film. When we began shooting five days later, my alter ego, ‘David Guy,’ came into being. David Guy allowed me to keep my name, without alienating the people for whom I needed to maintain the illusion that what I was doing was real.
For the third “character” in his story, in which everything is recorded while it’s happening, only to be figured out—or not—later, I chose the ultimate consumer camera, The Flip Camera. The choice was not to save money, but to keep the intimacy that I wanted the characters of ‘David’ and ‘Lili’ to build throughout the process. I needed to keep the room free of any other crew or equipment that would remind us of what we were doing, namely, making a movie. Anything bigger would have made the film seem bigger, and some of the risks we took in the film wouldn’t have been possible if it weren’t for the palm-sized cameras that allowed us to forget what we were up to. There really was no crew. There were no executives giving us notes. I was the director, the producer, and the studio. No one could cross our sight lines and take us out of the moment. The cameras could be laid down on nearby surfaces, allowing us to continue the action without breaking. It was like putting a message in a bottle, a small connection to the outside world that we might someday share with someone who would see and hear what we had to say.
Every challenge is big. One of them is the experience of making a film while appearing not to be making one at all. What I did some people may consider ethical or unethical. For a while, I wasn't too sure myself which camp I fell into. However, when I started to get to know Lili Bordán as a person, I knew she would be completely fine with my methods and that she was fully committed to the project. While Lili knew we were making a piece of fiction, (as opposed to Jonathan), she wasn't fully clued in on my plans of taking the moments behind the scenes and making them a major component to the film. I wanted Lili’s hunger as an actress to be both the motivator and challenge to her participation in our project. I took advantage of every moment we had together to lead her to believe that my intentions might be more selfish then they appeared to be.
When it came to post production, and the process of interweaving material that represented different levels of “reality and “actuality,” our editor, Azazel Jacobs, had suggested that Lili keep a video journal of the shoot, because then she could have a way to vent her frustrations about me and about the process in a way she wouldn't be able to do with me around. And, though ‘David Guy’ wasn't too thrilled with the idea, as a director, I was loving what she was recording of herself at the end of each shoot day. This material, of course, is then interpolated into the film.
Will audiences go along for the ride?
Some won't. So far the reactions have been people either really love it, or totally hate it. Which is great. There is no in between, so no matter what people are saying about it afterwards, it ultimately adds to the continuing conversation of independent film.
“Blow Up,” “8 ½,” “David Holzman's Diary,” “Peeping Tom.”
I am shooting a thriller next month. It's called “Would You Rather” and I hope to have it finished by Thanksgiving. And “Terri” comes out this week in select cities!