Writer-director Jeremy Leven shares a scene from his new film "Girl on a Bicycle," as well as insight into the complexities of editing a multi-lingual film. The film opens in select theaters this Valentine's Day.
"Girl on a Bicycle" is a film conceived in the Billy Wilder genre – a comedic love story with mix-ups, misunderstandings, and complications, set in Paris, but the Paris of a “borderless” European Union where multiple nationalities now live and love. Though head-over-heels in love with Greta, Paolo can’t help but become distracted by the titular Girl on a Bicycle, Cécile, a beautiful French woman whose route home intersects with his bus tour route. His pursuit turns calamitous, and Paulo constructs a web of lies to hide this from Greta – who, of course, believes none of it.
About the Sequence:
This scene marks the transition between acts II and III. It is a pivotal point in the story –to which the audience has been looking forward to with morbid anticipation since Paolo first became involved with Cécile: the scene in which Greta catches Paolo at Cécile’s apartment – and when it finally happens, it’s about as bad as it gets.
Behind the Scenes:
Four languages are spoken in this sequence – English, French, Italian, and German – and they all overlap, meaning that, not only did the timing of the comedy and the intensity of the drama have to be maintained in the three shot, but duplicated over and over again as each actor was shot separately, or in two-shots. Without the singles and two-shots, in which the languages were separate, the exchange would have been unintelligible mush. The alternative of looping each line later is not a good one, as it is rare, indeed, that an actor, standing alone in front of a screen six months to a year later, ever gives the same level of performance as when he or she was “in the moment” with the other actors in the scene.
READ MORE: 'Girl on a Bicycle' Exclusive Trailer
But to make this work during the production filming requires extraordinary concentration on the part of each actor, not only to keep the same performance, but to keep the same body movements on the same words – and so, once an actor turns on a particular word, or the actor raises a hand or smiles, that same action has to occur on the same word for the rest of the filming of that scene, or the scene can’t be cut – and, what is more, the actor can’t make it seem as though he or she is concentrating on doing this, but that it’s always natural, as natural as the first time. If the actor is shaking his fist in a shot of the actor alone, and then the scene cuts to the three shot, and there’s no fist raised, one shot or the other is unusable. This is where script supervisors are worth their weight in gold.
But, for the director, the problem is exceedingly more complex. The director is trying to make it real, to find the truth of the scene, and of each performance, and this may require (often requires) having the actor modify his or her performance – not so aggressive as to be unsympathetic, not so comedic as to be silly or unbelievable -- and once the performances seem to have hit the right tone and rhythm, then the director has to remember everything that’s been shot up to then to know whether he’s got what he needs to put together the scene he wants, and, if not, what more has to be shot, and in what way to have everything match and have a coherent and cohesive scene that is a whole and works dramatically and comically.
The best acting is what I call inside-out acting, in which the actor is performing two emotions simultaneously (one on the outside, and one on the inside through the eyes), since, in real life, we never “act” just one feeling – we are mulit-dimensional beings. So, in this scene, Nora Tschirner is pissed but also heartbroken, and Vincenzo Amato is guilt-ridden at his constant lying having been discovered but also deeply concerned that he may have lost the woman he truly loves, and Louise Monot is both eager to help Vincenzo keep Nora, but also very concerned and protective about her children when things get out of hand. It’s an intricate dance, and the choreography is in the hands of the director, on whom the actors are relying.
Thankfully, the actors handled this scene with great skill and talent. Though they were able to alter their performances from take to take, they were very conscious of the way in which we needed to edit the scene, and kept their performances just similar enough to provide us with matches. One of many examples is Nora’s performance. If you watch the slight turns of her head or the little pouts she shows, when her chin is up or down, or her head turned slightly to the left or right, you will notice they are essentially the same from an individual shot to a two-shot to the three-shot.
We shot what ended up being a 2-minute sequence over eight hours, yet the actors managed to maintain the same levels of drama and of comedy throughout the takes. The three-shots were done in the morning, the singles and two shots were done after lunch. The concentration required on all our parts, actors and director, over a full day with a meal in the middle, is extraordinary, but, hopefully, completely invisible.