Last year, after decades of television experience between them, husband-wife duo Brad Hall and Julia Louis-Dreyfus set out to make their way through a different medium: short film. With a crew of peers working on two continents, the fruit of their labor is the new 30-minute short, “Picture Paris.”
Written and directed by Hall and starring Louis-Dreyfus, the story follows a woman who, after her husband leaves her, resolves to take the trip to Paris she always dreamed of. Along the way, she meets some friendly Parisians and reconnects with a fellow traveler, all the while immersing herself in the city which she has long idealized.
Louis-Dreyfus and Hall spoke with Indiewire shortly beore the film’s premiere at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival about the challenges of making a short film, some that were familiar and others welcome surprises:
So when did this process start?
Brad Hall: Our son went off to college, so in dealing with that, which is a huge event, I was middling around with things and started showing it to people last fall. Then, we thought, why don’t we just go and do it?
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Julia Louis-Dreyfus: It wasn’t quite as easy as he just described it, but yeah, we did it. We shot this in May and June of 2011.
It must be exciting to have that quick of a turnaround on this kind of project.
JLD: It’s kind of dreamy. It’s particularly dreamy because Brad was born and raised in Santa Barbara. The film is very personal to us, and for it to be premiering here, it’s a double dip of personal feelings.
Were there any factors that made this a short film as opposed to a feature?
BH: The story could probably exist in multiple forms because it’s about transitions in life and those could definitely fuel a bigger story. The particular events just appealed to me to do it very short and to make it have little exposition. Because we’d never gone out and made our own movie, we thought, “Let’s do a short, so that the favors we call in will be shorter favors.” Now, looking forward, we’re thinking that we could do a feature.
JLD: Having said that, it’s a longer short, as shorts go. It certainly does have a first, second and third act. Since we were doing this really guerilla-style, the idea of making a short versus a feature felt more manageable, testing the waters. We really did love it. It felt like our old theater days in Chicago. In fact, we called on a lot of theater actors from Chicago who appear in the film.
BH: It feels like a tiny, tiny feature more than it does a clip. It’s got a full story. Julia and I are used to working in television and half-hour arcs, so that was familiar to us, which probably helped.
Were there tangible differences between a TV set and one for an independent short?
BH: It was much more like our old days in Chicago when we had our own theater company than it was like doing television in a studio atmosphere. It was very much “get what you can, when you can.” We’re used to movie sets, but having a leaner set that could run really turned out to be fun. We got to go to France, which was challenging because we’d never shot anything there before. We were on new ground in every way.
Did those playful aspects outweigh the difficulties of having to juggle two crews at once, one in LA and one in Paris?
BH: The French guys and girls were so fantastic. Here, we worked with a lot of people we knew, but also people we’ve never worked with before. Brandon Cox, the guy who shot it in both places, was a guy that I had never met before.mThe vocabulary of filmmaking is different in France. It was hysterical because we had all kinds of horrible problems, but for some reason we didn’t care. When there were communication problems, we just overcame them. Considering how difficult it was, it was amazingly stress-free in both places.
On the set, the crew is not used to being as collegial as American crews are. So, when we were palling around with them, they were sort of surprised that’s how we worked. But boy, they were knowledgable about movies. It was a young crew and everyone was very happy to pitch in and work longer hours. Once you get down to making the movie, it was very collaborative. I’m not sure how that’s how it works most of the time there.
JLD: It was nice to take those long, leisurely lunch and dinner breaks with three courses. Everyone was used to it. But now I’m used to it, which is a problem now that I’m home. From a production value, just forget about it. Setting up a camera, do we shoot in front of Notre Dame or over there next to the Arc de Triomphe? It was just a delicious display of set design.
Did you do extensive location scouting or did everything go out the window once you got there?
BH: We went there and scouted a little bit before. When we scheduled the movie, we had a couple days where we just thought that we’d go out and get what we could on the street because there’s a lot of permitting things that are complicated. We wound up saying that if they kicked us out, they kicked us out. We got a van and just ran around as much as we could. In June, it’s crowded with tourists, so there were a lot of logistical things to overcome, but none of that matters once you start rolling.
JLD: We were working with a very capable French producer while we were there. That was incredibly beneficial. She had done due diligence before we arrived. We caught stuff on the fly in the subway or wherever we happened to be.
Were there places where you felt you had to cut back, working with a limited budget?
BH: It wasn’t a big-budget movie, so we didn’t have a Steadicam all day every day, so there were a few little equipment things. Also, we were limited in terms of the schedule because France is such an expensive place. But really, we got what we needed. We were ambitious, but realistic. Julie Snyder, our producer was great. She was very careful to say, “You won’t get that, so let’s make a different plan.” Sometimes we’d even get the things we never thought we’d get.
We had a hilarious day of not knowing what we could shoot. We were shooting in the Luxembourg Garden, an unbelievably beautiful place, but very strictly controlled. In the end, we ended up with my two favorite shots in the movie. We were told we couldn’t film in front of the Federal Senate. We stumbled into it and the police said, “Put your camera right here. You can shoot here.”
JLD: They said, “You have 10 minutes.” It was all very strange because we didn’t quite know what the rules were.
Were there any surprises that you discovered about shooting in LA, even though you both have plenty of experience working there in the past?
JLD: We had friends who let us take over their house in Woodland Hills. What was endearing and gratifying to me was how many different people we knew who were ready to take this leap with us. Redesigning that house or making sets in the house on a dime or for nothing. There were people that I’ve worked with on big-budget movies and television who were all of a sudden intrigued by the script and the adventure of this nutty short film that was going to France. Everyone leapt on board this train from a creative point of view. I wouldn’t say it was surprising, but it was very lovely. At the risk of sounding pollyannaish, it was a great reminder of why we do what we do.
If you were to do something longer with a bigger commitment, do you think you’d get the same reaction?
JLD: I’ll let you know. [chuckles]
BH: I suspect we would because we all had a better time than we thought we would. I hope that all the people who worked on this would be happy to do it again. The truth of the matter is that it’s not much less work to do a short than it is to do a feature. Particularly when you’re running around different countries. I think the next time out, we’ll do a feature, but if we came across an idea that was better served as a short, we would make a short.
JLD: Maybe we’d have a little bit more money to pay everyone.
BH: Yeah. Got any money on you?