Tribeca Film Festival hit “Roaring 20’s” captures the spirit of Paris in a state of re-emergence. Ahead of the film’s June 12th screening at Hudson Yards, The Knockturnal caught up with Producer Laurent Rochette to talk about his crew’s collaborative process and the inspiration behind the film’s one-shot take.
The Knockturnal: How are things in France right now? I’ve heard Paris is opening up a bit now, yes?
Laurent Rochette: Yes, I think it’s quite similar to New York now..there’s lots of tourists, people are out. It’s the same feeling as now in New York, so that’s good.
The Knockturnal: I was watching the French Open and saw for the semifinal they were letting the fans stay after curfew, which was awesome.
Laurent Rochette: Yes! Because the match was crazy, they were letting them stay.
The Knockturnal: Is this your first time at Hudson Yards?
Laurent Rochette: No, I came yesterday to watch a film called The Kids – so I could watch the display and the screen.
The Knockturnal: How was the film?
Laurent Rochette: Really interesting. Very tough but interesting. It was a documentary about the shooting of the film Kids..for all the unofficial actors in the film, how in a way it destroyed their life. So it was a very tough film but a very necessary one.
The Knockturnal: Are there other films you’re interested in seeing during the festival?
Laurent Rochette: Yes, I have a list – I’m hopping around. I’ll see where I end up. Sometimes you meet a director and then want to see their film, so you end up going.
The Knockturnal: Yes that makes sense, kind of free to play by ear in terms of what piques your interest as the festival goes on. To speak to your film – I loved it, I watched it last night for the first time. I interpreted it as an ode to all the public spaces that the pandemic shut off our access to. So I’m curious if you can speak to the decision making in terms of the certain spaces that were portrayed in the film – was it improvisational? Did you let the characters guide the camera or were there specific symbolic spaces you all were interested in portraying?
Laurent Rochette: Since it was a real time film, we thought it was interesting to just start in the center of Paris and then go to the suburbs, and then move to the heights to be able to see the whole city at the end. Paris is a very good city to work from the center – beginning at the Louvre, where you have such a historical place. And for the sequence we built a lot in lockdown, we were thinking a lot about the actors. There was some improvisation but also we wrote some pieces – mostly we wanted them to use their words, so with some direction to improvise, but also balanced with preparation.
The Knockturnal: It was a very collaborative approach to the writing, as well as letting the actors improvise for certain aspects?
Laurent Rochette: Yes, there were four screenwriters. We were staying in lockdown in different places, so it was very collaborative. We would write a sequence and discuss it two or three times a week. And we did casting at the same time. We were writing and thinking of our friends, and since the theatre and everything was closed the actors weren’t getting many jobs, so it was easy to find the cast – quite exceptional to find that everyone was okay to do the film.
The Knockturnal: So it was a lot of your friends you tapped for the film?
Laurent Rochette: Yes friends, friends of friends, or some people we had seen playing already. There were some new people also but it was easier to be trusted by people we know. Since it was a low budget film there wasn’t big money to convince them, so it’s easy in that aspect to work with people we already knew.
The Knockturnal: And there was a lot of choreography preparation or were the takes more improvised?
Laurent Rochette: There was much choreography, but since it was in real conditions you can’t control how people will pass by the street because you don’t block people, or cars, or the subway. So there was lots of preparation but also much improvisation just because of the fact that it was real life. We were prepared for some situations – but it was very exciting for the actors to have that circumstance. The vast majority of the actors are stage actors, so they’re prepared. They know there won’t be another take. They are right inside the film for the takes we shot. Because cinema actors – they know how to control the camera. But here you couldn’t control the small stage stuff. There’s one take so you have to give it all. And even if there is, you know, a big truck that’s making a ton of noise, you have to play with it.. even if you are blocked and there are people in front of you and you have to pass, you just have to go and you have to find something about it and improvise. So it’s very challenging for the actors, it’s very new.
The Knockturnal: I found there was a music video quality to the film’s aesthetic. Were there certain videos or films that were inspirations for this project?
Laurent Rochette: Yes. There was one big inspiration which was Slacker by Richard Linklater. We saw Slacker in February when it was playing in a cinema in Paris that plays old films. We were really moved by this film – we got together and decided we should do something like it. We were together in a big house and decided, you know, we should try sequence shots like Slacker. That was the main influence.
The Knockturnal: Had you ever worked on a one-take sequence project before or was this a totally new approach?
Laurent Rochette: No this was totally new. I loved the idea but had never tried. I like when it’s improvised – so with this we managed to do part improvised and part positioned sequenced shots.
The Knockturnal: The other film I was thinking about while watching Roaring 20s was Sebastian Schipper’s Victoria.
Laurent Rochette: Yes. I saw that when it came out and thought it was really impressive.
The Knockturnal: It takes the viewer through a similar tour of a city, but with more thriller elements. So I know with both Paris is Us and this film, there’s a common approach to this almost reactionary documenting of the aftermath of turbulent moments in Paris’ history. And so I’m wondering if this group’s next project could be similar to this approach, or will there be a more proactive vision?
Laurent Rochette: I’m not sure. I like the idea of doing something around the present time, what I’m feeling about the era we live in. And right now I’m not really sure where we are. Maybe I will try to leave Paris, but still Paris is very interesting to me right now. So basically I’m working on different ideas but I’m not really sure…but I think I’ll get the same feeling in a way – of talking about the present. I want to see real life in film, and sometimes, for me, it’s hard to rebuild that.
“Roaring 20’s” took home the Tribeca Film Festival jury prize for Best Cinematography in an International Narrative Feature Film.