Flixclusive SXSW Interview: Swim Little Fish Swim


[From March 9th – 17th, Flixist will be providing coverage from South by Southwest 2013 in Austin, TX.  Prepare yourselves for reviews, interviews, features, photos, videos, and all types of shenanigans!]

Directly following the SXSW premiere of Swim Little Fish Swim, I had an awesome interview with actress Brooke Bloom and writers/directors Ruben Amar and Lola Bessis (who also stars in the film as Lilas). Read on as we discuss the ideas behind the film, some of the film’s technical production, and my unofficial pitch at a sequel for the film: Swim Little Fish Swim 2: Swim Big Fish Swim.

The music, obviously, was very important to the film. [It had] a very distinct sound. How did the music inform the film? Did you guys write the film to go along with how the music plays, or did the music inform the film itself?

Ruben Amar: We were inspired by [the] musician at the very beginning of the writing process.

Lola Bessis: Yeah, we saw a show in Brooklyn and they were that zany musician playing with a lot of crazy instruments, and we started to imagine [what] his life could be. His girlfriend was attending the show.

RA: We began to figure out what could be his life.

LB: Yeah, and that made the story, but all the scenes where [it’s] pretty written and organized, we knew there would be a party at the beginning, and music playing at this point, and then he’s going to record his album, and playing with musician friends.

RA: We wanted to put as much as possible the music from the character because it’s really a apart of what it is inside. It was easier to show it with music.

LB: We had no idea what music it would be. We knew we wanted it to be naïve in a way, kind of childish, but we found the musicians [The Toys and Tiny Instruments] last minute. We were so lucky because they were so close [to] the character. They made so [much] great music… I mean themselves, their work. They understood what we were looking for and [who] the character was, and they wrote really good songs.

Another thing you mentioned a bit during the [post-screening] Q&A was that there are three separate stories, three separate journeys that they all went on. Whose journey do you feel was, not necessarily the most compelling, but… Would you say Lilas’ journey was the main one, so to speak?

LB: No, we wouldn’t say that.

Brooke Bloom: Oh, because I’m standing here?

RA: She’s more like an observer. She [Bloom’s character, Mary] is the one who maybe suffered the most in the situation during the movie.

LB: Since the beginning, we saw Lilas as an observer, because she’s a video artist and makes film, so she’s observing all the time.

RA: That was the main purpose of her work in the movie, watching everybody.

LB: She’s the stranger in this family, in New York in general, so she’s less into the story, but more observing from the outside.

BB: It seems to me, if I can say, this is just my observational thing from watching the movie, is that the world that gets created is New York and Brooklyn through her eyes, and the thing that kind of crashes into it is the realism of the relationship that she’s walking into and things like that. There is this… the world exists in a sort of elevated place, visually, and her experience of it just sensually, and that is from [Bessis’] character’s perspective.

LB: The most important storyline for us was the one of Mary and Leeward. We wanted to show how the variable of Lilas ended in that family would, at the same time, be kind of a problem, but at the same time, help them move forward. It’s a bit thanks to her that Leeward is recording his music.

She’s like the impetus, the driving force.

LB: Yeah, exactly.

BB: She’s the inciting incident.

How much of a backstory did you give Leeward and Mary’s characters?

LB: A tiny bit.

RA: We spent the beginning observing why they are together.

LB: We imagine how they met.

BB: I guess it’s hard… I remember a challenge being for those two characters is to somehow make it, and I don’t know if I achieved it, but that you see why they were together ever at some point. You can see that they’ve grown in this way. That was important to me, but I’m not sure if I got it across.

LB: Yeah, you did very well. Yeah, that was very important for us, too, because when you jump into that story and you see that they’re so different, you see a very hardworking nurse waiting to have a perfect life, a nice life with her family. In the other side, you see this zany musician not willing to work, like a New Age visionary trying to change the world, but doesn’t do anything for that. You don’t really understand how they could have loved each other, but that was important for us to have that in the background.

BB: I think she [Rainbow/Maggie] achieved that.

She was the glue that held them.

LB: They both really love their daughter, and they do everything they can for their daughter. She’s the proof of love between them.

LB: They both really love their daughter, and they do everything they can for their daughter. She’s the proof of love between them.

There were moments where it seemed, at times, he would choose his artistic creativity over his love and responsibility to the film… well, [towards] Mary. But in the end, you realize with the song he recorded, there was a true love there. Do you guys feel that, in general, there’s a conflict between love and creativity?

BB: Good question for you two!

Sorry to put you on the spot!

LB: Well, we work together, and sometimes it’s difficult, but I know, it’s more important to us, but I think we can mix love and creativity and do something good with that put together. It’s like the right recipe.

Let’s say if you guys were to have flipped the setting, and this took place in France with Americans over there, how different do you think the film would have been? Or maybe as a separate film?

BB: That’s interesting.

RA: That is. I’m excited to do that.

LB: If we had directed that film, I think it wouldn’t have been good because we really wanted to shoot New York.

RA: It’s very exciting shooting American actors in Paris, because I don’t like shooting in Paris…

LB: Yes, but let’s have an American director to do it.

RA: That would bring the point of view on Paris. I think it would be very interesting.

LB: For us, we don’t see the magic of Paris anymore because we’ve been living there for so long.

BB: But you guys made us feel the magic. It was…

Refreshing, right?

BB: Yeah, because I feel like there’s a very, not recycled, but clear way that Americans experience New York, and it was different than what you guys brought, which was very special.

LB: Thanks.

RA: She’s a very good interviewer.

Is there anything you wanted to add, too?

BB: I think I’ve said enough. I think I’ll start interviewing you in a minute.

The cinematography was really good, too. Who shot it? Did you guys share the camera?

LB: No, we had a great DP. His name was Brett Jutkiewicz and he shot the Safdie Brothers’ movies [The Pleasure of Being Robbed and Daddy Longlegs] and also Lena Dunham’s first movie [Creative Nonfiction] and lots of music videos and some commercials, some short films.

RA: We worked very close to him during the work shoots. We tried to stay very close to the film look.

LB: We wanted to take several takes, but we didn’t have the budget to shoot film. We shot [with] Brett because we just saw a movie before writing this one, which was The Dish & the Spoon and [he] was [operating the camera] for the film.

RA: He was also working very hard [as] the DP.

LB: The image is so great in that, and so close to film. He used a lot of filters.

RA: We tried different combinations and we found the right balance.

LB: Yeah, we needed the right balance between the Canon 7D and Canon 5D.

RA: There was a minimum of light. There was only one light bulb for the whole movie.

LB: We told him there was no budget, and he had to find a way to light the scene.

That’s hard, but it still looked very good. There was a very distinct tone.

LB: I would also like to say that the color corrector, the guy who did color operation, his name is Nat Jancks. He’s been recommended by Brett, and he’s really amazing.

RA: He’s the guy who color operated all the movies from [Steven] Soderbergh and Michel Gondry.

LB: Because the Canon 7D and 5D are known to be hard to color correct. There’s nothing you can do, and he did a great job on the film.

There are some scenes towards the end of the film when Lilas returns to the boyfriend [at an art gallery/studio] and [other artists] are hanging naked. Is that from something you guys have experienced?

LB: No. I don’t know where it comes from. Yeah, we were like crazy artists in Paris, but that’s another life.

RA: We were trying to look for something very strong, and we were looking for it for a long time.

Like something very avant-garde.

LB: The place where that scene happened, it’s an actual place where artists live. They’re not naked, but we went there for a party, there was a concert there, and we really like the place. We wanted to use it in the film.

RA: But I think there’s also a lot of this foreign point of view we have, because we saw so many weird things for us in New York.

LB: We worked with a guy in France for the sound mixing, and he told us, “Oh that’s crazy, because my neighbor is doing the same thing as a photographer, and I always see from my window crazy naked people, and that looks exactly the same.”

I know this might be a little early, but have you guys been able to find distribution for the film?

LB: No, not yet.

RA: A lot of distributors were in the [screening].

BB: It’s been a half-hour [since the film premiered].

Hahaha, that’s true.

LB: We have a great sales rep from Paradigm. We met some distributors from France, so they’re considering it.