We talk to filmmaker Emmanuel Tenenbaum about his new short film Free Fall that was edited on Final Cut Pro.
We have covered the production of Emmanuel Tenenbaum's other two excellent short films here on FCP.co. So, when he contacted us with news of a third, making a trilogy of office-based films, we thought we would ask him about Free Fall and how it was made.
Congratulations on the film Free Fall, I understand it is number three in a trio of your short films?
Absolutely ! With Sans Plomb and Two Dollars, we did a trilogy of short films inspired by true stories that happen in an office. We often jokingly call it, "The trilogy of the elevator", because the three of them start with a shot of an elevator.
Without spoiling the story, can you tell us about Free Fall and where the idea came from?
Free Fall tells the story of Tom who is a young trader in a London bank. His recent results are bad and have put his job on the line. When the first plane hits the World Trade Center on the morning of September 11th 2001, Tom has to make a decision.
After Guillaume Fournier (the screenwriter) and I had finished Two Dollars, we were searching for a new idea about the corporate world. We stumbled upon a very interesting story in the extraordinary book Swimming with Sharks, by Dutch writer Joris Luyendijk.
After the 2008 crisis, Joris spent two years interviewing bankers in London, and published a blog for the Guardian. He collected extraordinary, often surreal, testimonies (on the condition his insiders would stay anonymous). One story was so shocking and powerful that we decided to turn it into a film.
Were you sensitive making a film that takes part around such a tragic event?
Given the sensitive context of the film, it was indeed extremely important to tell a story that was truthful and real. Clearly, we only allowed ourselves to tell it because it is based on a true story. In order to make the film real, we studied absolutely every detail that was available. We studied how the markets reacted that day, what TV channels said and how, how much time the traders had to make a decision, and what information they would likely be able to get via a few phone calls... We really spent an enormous amount of time doing research.
Was it difficult to set the scene correctly with fashion, mobile phones and TV news coverage having to be correct for the time?
Let's be honest: there were not a lot of flat screens at the time... In fact, they started to appear around this period, so you really had to have top notch traders to have them in your office. But a short film is a short film, e.g it is low-budget by default... and we found 30 screens for 100€ ! Apart from that, we ordered a working Nokia 3310 without any issue on the internet.
The TV news was a little bit more difficult, as this footage is very expensive and difficult to acquire. It was one of the challenges of the film. Eventually we found footage that we were able to license, and we rebuilt a news design around it.
Take us through the process of shooting Free Fall.
We shot the film in 4 and 1/2 days in total. The set was in Bordeaux, France, in a very beautiful building that used to be a bank. We were lucky that the buildings in front would plausibly look like London. One fun thing about the shoot is that we got the location for free, at the condition we'd enter the building at 8.00 and leave at 17.00. It was quite a change from the usual 14 hours long days that are so normal in short films.
The DoP was French veteran Antoine Roch and he brought with him an Alexa Mini. Thanks to his experience, he found the perfect balance between the speed of execution (we had 4 and ½ days for the whole shoot) and a premium look. For this, he designed a 360 degree lighting that would allow us to shoot in every direction, and he would often use a Gimble Stab one mark II in order to make long, organic takes that we would be able to use several times while editing.
Antoine and I decided that due to the time constraints, we would have to shoot the film in a rather classic way, however we decided to make one "really nice shot" per day. We would usually spend more time on this shot, and we used every one of them in the edit.
Last but not least, it was quite fun to watch Thierry Ducos listening to the 10 microphones of the traders screaming simultaneously. I can't believe he got every level right. I admire him a lot.
How did you post produce the film? Obviously Final Cut Pro did the cutting!
As it is still too often the case, the post-production house was initially reluctant to let us use FCP, and JB Guignot (the editor) and I I really had to insist and show that we knew what we were doing. After all, we had cut Two Dollars on FCP without any issue. The truth is, I was full of doubt, because I had never made a project of that scale: we had an ARRI Alexa Mini LF shooting ProRes 4444 XQ files, 9 audio tracks, green screens absolutely everywhere, and 4TB of footage. And, because we had put all the budget in the film, we really had low-end equipment for the edit: a Mac Mini i7 and a consumer 6TB hard drive from Western Digital.
The first thing we did was to clear our workflow doubts thanks to the generous help of Ronny Courtens. I have yet to make a film without his incredible contribution!
For the prep, we were originally hoping to send all the footage and audio to PluralEyes and let it do its thing, but if I remember well, it was incapable of handling several audio tracks. It was a bit of a disappointment to me, why we couldn't push such a good algorithm to its max capabilities? So, we ended up syncing each clip using the automatic timecode function, which was a little time consuming but proved very solid, and useful because we took the opportunity to rename the shots according to scene and takes. Up to this day I still don't know if there was a faster way, to be honest I feel there was... You guys tell me!
FCP proved to be incredibly smooth and stable, the editor was impressed. Our limited equipment was never a problem, thanks to the use of auto-generated proxies. We could edit the film alternatively on the Mac Mini, and on my old Macbook Pro 2013.
So everything was going well, until the lockdowns happened. I was in France for a part of the post-production, but I had to go back to Canada. How could I watch remotely what the editor was doing? Screen sharing worked well but Apple is still not providing a good way to send the audio through. After a bit of help from the guys at fcp.co, I found this incredible little piece of software called Loopback. It was a huge relief. We could finally stream the image and the audio remotely!
Most of the VFX was done on After Effects by a talented guy called Pierre Stragier. We sent back and forth some shots. I remember that at the time I was confused: should we color grade and THEN do the VFX, or shall we color grade the VFX ? Eventually we opted for the second solution, and it worked like a charm.
At some point, we had to lock some versions to send WIP to festivals. The issue was that we had to lock the sound then (for which of course we used X2Pro), but we knew we would still make some minor edits in the following weeks. I reached out to Greg & Philip of Intelligent Assistance, and they sponsored the film by offering us a license of Change List-X, a very very useful tool in this situation. For those WIP versions we also did a quick grade in Color Finale, but the final grading was done by Reginald Gallienne in a post-production facility using Baselight.
It seems the film has been well received and won awards?
Absolutely, we're very thrilled by this. We've had 33 official selections so far, and received 12 awards, including the Grand Prize at the Oscar-qualifying festival REGARD, in Quebec. So we're now eligible and hope to make it on the short list, up to the nominations.
Finally, will there be a part four in your office film series?
If all goes well, the fourth part will be... a feature film! Needless to say it will be edited on Final Cut Pro. Speak again in 2 years ? 🤓
A huge thank you to Emmanuel for taking the time to share his story about Free Fall with us. We wish him and his team the best of luck with the upcoming Oscar selections.
The full film below is available for viewers in the US, Canada, UK and Ireland until December 15th.