This year’s award season has garnered quite the variety of spotlight-stealing films, from the universally acclaimed La La Land to the phenomenal performance of Natalie Portman in Jackie to the relief of a certain lack of #OscarsSoWhite and the inclusion of a whole heap of rightful diversity. But spare a moment for the award-nominees who don’t have much space under the spotlight around their more publicised, celebrated Hollywood friends, in particular those nominated for the ‘Short Film Academy Award’.
The Edge got the chance to chat with Juanjo Gimenez, director, writer and producer of Academy Award nominated Timecode, which also won the prestigious short film Palme D’Or at Cannes Film Festival, about all things dreams, dance, and daring to think about winning that coveted golden statue.
Where did the initial idea for Timecode come from?
The original idea came from a personal experience. Some years ago, while working for a big company, a colleague discovered a secret that I kept, like Luna discovers Diego’s secret in the movie. On the other hand, I always had an interest in contemporary dance as a spectator. In the mixture of these two ideas lies the source of the short.
Placing the two central characters as parking lot security guards is quite a specific job, especially portrayed as such a defining characteristic of them both – how did you come to make that choice?
I don’t remember exactly when we decided that our main characters should be security guards. I remember that in the first versions of the script the main character was a cleaning woman, who worked in a big building. There was a guy who worked as security guard too in that version. Once the first version was finished, we changed the occupation of the main character. That’s a thing that I usually try in my scripts and fiction writings. Later, the cleaning man became another security guard, and that’s it.
Dance plays a predominant role in Timecode, and an intriguing one at that. Was it easy to link choreographing with cinematography and to what effect?
Some of the choreography used in Timecode comes from Incognito, the show that Lali Ayguade and Nico Ricchini were performing at that moment. The fact is that we didn’t have much time for rehearsals, so we preferred to find a couple that were accustomed to dancing together. I was focused more on giving normal acting guidance for dramatic scenes, rather than dance sequences where they were the real masters. I stepped in only when dancing implied a narrative intention, and especially when it came to the integration with the space. We chose the concrete shooting places inside the parking garage even before Lali and Nico were recruited. When they were on board, some choreography was prepared exclusively for that location. However, every decision in this field was discussed always between the two dancers and myself.
Did you know the film would have so much accolade attention, or was it more of a surprise to be nominated for an Academy Award and win the short film Palme d’or?
Of course, it was a big surprise! I guess that most people don’t think of awards or recognition when making a film, and I’m no exception. The Cannes festival receive more than 5,000 shorts and doing the maths, you realise that it’s really complicated being selected there! But once these things happen, you just try to enjoy the situation. It’s part of the filmmaking process too.
Timecode has done amazingly well all over the world. What is it about it, do you think, which relates to all kinds of audiences?
Maybe I’m not the right person to answer that question! Until now I’ve attended a lot of screenings, and I really try to understand audience’s reaction. But every screening is different. For example, we didn’t anticipate that the first appearances of Diego in the first half of the short would be taken as gags. That reaction surprised all the team. Maybe the lack of dialogue can help in reaching a broader audience too. I really don’t know.
Were there any big challenges in the production of the film?
The main challenge was to convince Lali and Nico to be part of the short. Once they agreed, the shooting was really easy! I think that all the team enjoyed it, and it was one of the smoothest shoots of my career. Post-production was very different though. It took eight months to complete the short, either because of lack of money or the complexity of the process. The whole CCTV system was built in post-production, thanks to Toni Mena and his team, Marc Gorchs, Daniel Benavides and Toni Sola. The final length of the short was over 18 minutes. I cut 3 and a half minutes in order to be considered by Cannes, whose limit is 15 minutes including credits. After the selection, these 3 minutes never returned to the film.
What’s next for you?
We are writing a feature film and there are other projects on-going.
There are a lot of aspiring filmmakers out there, but not many with the big budgets or equipment to contend with those they look up to. What advice would you give to those young filmmakers to get started and get out there?
Timecode is a low budget short film, even for Spain’s standards. I feel comfortable dealing with the constraint of a low budget, but that doesn’t mean that I cannot make a feature with a budget of millions as well! There are no rules in this business – I would give this as advice: you can (and must) make a film without money, or even without a camera. What you really need is the urge to make it.
Timecode was nominated for Best Short Film (Live Action) in the 2017 Academy Awards.