The making of the short film ‘Intuition’
After leaving the day job I had held for the past two years (making YouTube videos for a cool teen girl website), it was time for me to experience life outside the cubicle. My boyfriend and I sublet our Brooklyn apartment, threw our 7D’s into our carry-on bags and boarded a plane for Paris. We spent over a month buzzing around Europe on a budget, crashing with friends in France, Germany, Sweden, and Spain.
My boyfriend is British, so part of this journey was reconnaissance for where we might want to live one day. In each country, I allowed myself to just be, and to experience what it felt like to live in that place. Each locale proved alluring for me in different ways, but it was in Spain that I came most alive creatively.
In Barcelona, we rented a little room in an apartment from one of my boyfriend’s friend’s friends, named Mireia. Her apartment was one of the most stunning I had ever seen, drenched in old Spanish style, located in the heart of the city, surrounded by every tapas bar you could want.
One morning Mireia put me on the back of her scooter and we went for a sunrise swim in the Mediterranean. It was too much. I was too inspired. I had my laptop in my backpack and stayed behind after our swim to write overlooking the sea. The first short that poured out of me was about a woman who lives in an invisible house on the beach. It was a one-woman short with no dialogue and the perfect high-production-value-looking location: the Mediterranean. I knew I could pull this off easily with just an actress, my 7D, and myself.
A week before arriving in Spain I had posted on Facebook that I wanted to make a film in Barcelona and asked if anyone knew any actors who might be up for playing with me. Over email, a Spanish producer/director, Amanda De Luis, introduced me to an actress named Montse Muñoz.
I sent my beach script to Montse, and she seemed delighted by its weirdness. She didn’t mind that it involved waking up at 5 A.M. and doing laps in the freezing cold Mediterranean before the sun rose. This was the first sign that she would be an ideal collaborator.
I had a script, an actress, and a dream location, but my instinct was telling me I didn’t want to make that film. I speak Spanish and love its sound, and really wanted to make something with Spanish dialogue in it—and a one-woman short without lines wasn’t going to get me there. It occurred to me that the only way to have dialogue in a film with just one actress would be if the actress talked to herself.
Something I was grappling with in my own personal life this summer (and, frankly, always) is that I don’t really listen to my intuition. Even if I know what’s best for myself, I often choose the opposite. I applied this personal struggle to the parameters of the short I wanted to make and created two characters: Amanda and Amanda’s Intuition, who look identical. Amanda exists in the normal world, and Amanda’s Intuition only appears when Amanda sees herself in the mirror.
I listened to my own intuition, scrapped the first film, and wrote a new one, and called it, obviously, Intuition.
I sent the script for Intuition to Montse. She wrote me back immediately and said she was in. We met the next night over drinks in the middle of town. Montse was as effervescent and full of life as her reel and correspondence had suggested, not to mention she was also jaw-droppingly gorgeous. She had printed two copies of the script, and we went through the scenes line by line in order to help her understand her character(s), and to work together to translate my English wording into Spanish.
We then discussed locations. We needed an apartment, a bus, a dress shop, a café, and streets for a running montage. Montse knew a dress shop that her friend worked in: “If my friend is there, we can film there for sure,” she said with utmost conviction. She also had a perfect café in mind. The bus and streets (and how we’d actually film the montage of her character running) were things we’d have to improvise on the day. As for the apartment, I was staying in one of Barcelona’s most exquisite — and most quintessentially Spanish — flats, and knew it would make for the perfect set.
We also needed to find an actor who would play the bit part of Amanda’s love interest. “My boyfriend, Sergi, will do it!” Montse exclaimed, delighted. It didn’t seem to faze her that Sergi had never acted before and her confident enthusiasm was infectious. He was going to be a few hours north for most of the shoot day, but he’d come back in the evening to film the last scene.
We had plans. And they were good plans.
Early the next morning, Montse showed up at my apartment with a bag full of wardrobe and a heart open for anything. The night before, my boyfriend had helped me charge all of my batteries and get my sound kit (an external remote Zoom lavaliere microphone) ready. I created a system where the lavaliere mic would be hidden under Montse’s clothing, and the base recorder would live in my backpack that would be on me at all times so that I could listen to the sound through my iPhone headphones. Also in my backpack were extra batteries, a battery charger, spare memory cards, and Montse’s different changes of costume (four!)
Having no time to rehearse or storyboard before we shot, we spent a good part of the morning trying out ways (with my Spanglish direction) that Amanda and her Intuition could greet each other, interact, and part ways in any given scene. After about two hours of filming, we’d nailed it. I had the first few scenes in the can and we were flying high.
It was at that point that I realized I had forgotten to hit ‘record’ on my Zoom sound recorder.
I could not believe it. I also did not have time to wallow in my disbelief. Montse and I immediately chalked those initial two hours up to great rehearsal time, and got to work on the ‘real movie’ (you know, the one that actually had sound). Our ‘rehearsal’ time proved to have been extremely helpful and once sound was speeding, Montse did her best performances yet. We got into a groove and shot the five different scenes in my apartment all before 2pm.
We grabbed a few snacks and hit the road to find a bus. Barcelona is not an over-shot city, so filming in public does not come with the same fear of being shut down as it does in places like New York City or Los Angeles. The bus driver was easily convinced to let us film when Montse told her that we would just be focused on Montse’s face and didn’t have a tripod. We rode this bus all around Barcelona and were graced with beautiful light and perfectly ‘cast’ extras that sat around her. I filmed her talking to her Intuition in a pocket mirror, which was hilarious to do on a real bus since she (and her character) really did look a bit crazy.
The main issue on the bus was sound; I could hear Montse’s lines well , but they would forever be married to the background noise that would later prove harder to cut between in the editing phase of post production. Still, I am amazed we got anything audible at all and have decided that the loud background noise only makes things ‘more authentic.’ Right?
A second scene on the bus required a new outfit, so we debarked and Montse changed in a hidden doorway of a closed storefront, while I used my jacket to help shield her. We boarded another bus and I filmed her looking wistfully out the window. I must have filmed twenty different angles of this scene. At one point two older women in front of Montse said to each other in Spanish (assuming I couldn’t speak the language), “I understand why she would be taking photos of her friend, by why does she have to take so many of the same photo?’”
Next was the dress shop. Montse lead us to a hip store called Room, located in a hot and bustling part of the city. Montse’s friend was not working there like she’d hoped. Unfazed, Montse walked in with confidence and told the salesperson on duty, a woman named Lola, what we were doing. The next thing I knew, Lola had turned off the music in the store so as not to interfere with our sound, and gave Montse free reign to use any pieces of clothing she wanted. Midway through the scene, Lola even asked if I wanted her to be in the movie which I completely did. I mic’d the salesperson and gave her the line, “Are you talking to me?” which someone needed to ask of Montse’s strange character. I could not believe it. This magical situation I credit entirely to Montse’s having an open heart and belief that anything is possible.
At some point, Montse got a call from her boyfriend (and co-star) Sergi saying he might not be home until much later that night. “It’s fine,” Montse assured me, “I’ll just get my brother to do it.” Your what? I was feeling a bit weird about Montse’s brother playing her love interest, but it’s acting, I guess. We had more immediate concerns to tackle anyway.
Montse’s brilliant ability to make magic happen continued when she got the manager of a cool local café to let us film at it. We waited till one of the outdoor tables freed up and she ordered coffee and did her scene. It was short and sweet, and she nailed it.
It was now time for the running montage, followed by the brief performance by her boyfriend, or—er—her brother. We were losing light fast and realized that by the time we got back to my place to change it would be dark. This was a blessing because if we filmed the next day, not only could Sergi be there to (more appropriately) play Montse’s love interest, but we would also be able to use his car to film the running sequences.
The next morning Sergi, Montse and I found a shady spot to film their meeting (shady, so that I could try to match the evening light of the previous café scene). Sergi knocked his first-ever acting performance out of the park, and I marveled at watching Montse switch from real-girlfriend to new-lover at the drop of the cue “action.” I spent another few hours perched at the passenger’s side window of Sergi’s little hatchback filming Montse running along the streets of Barcelona (while my boyfriend was in the back seat). After we were done, the four of us drove to a little café and had lunch together—because there is no better end to a film shoot than a double date over tapas.
I began editing the footage while I was in Europe, and a few weeks after I returned home to NYC, I had my first cut. I sent it to Nice Shoes, a fantastic post production house in NYC, to see if by some lottery-win of a chance they might be up for color-grading my short. They not only said yes, but gave the film to one of their top colorists, Gene Curley, and before I knew it, I was sitting in a plush post-production office decked out with hip Lichtenstein-like murals, sipping cucumber water, and watching Montse on the big (well, plasma) screen. A lovely sound designer named Tom Gambale also agreed to do the sound design and mix, and composers Shruti Kumar and Jessica Weiss are working on the score right now. O-M-G.
So, at the moment of writing this, Intuition is almost finished and about to get shipped off to its first festivals for consideration. My dream is for it to premiere at a U.S. film festival and find a way to fly Montse over to join me for it. That would be absolutely incredible, though it would be a close second to the experience of filming the movie itself which was truly one of the best days of my life.
Montse’s willingness to say “yes” and perform each action (both on and off camera) with the belief that impossible things are actually possible filled the shoot days with laughter and hope. We trusted our instincts each step of the way. I can’t tell you how freeing and empowering this ended up being. As a result, I now have a new film, and, in Montse, a new friend and adventure partner for life (we’ve already talked about new films we can do together).
Lesson learned: When making a film, say “yes” always and trust your intuition. You don’t have time not to.