An American Shooting in Paris
Filming in France may be a dream for American auteur moviemakers, and if you ask New York-based director Nathan Silver, it’s an experience that lives up to its myth. “It was a paradise,” he reminisced during a May 1st discussion with French In Motion about Thirst Street, his first feature shot in France. Fresh from the Tribeca grind, where Thirst Street premiered, Silver shared what made the experience so enjoyable, in spite of—and sometimes due to—the obvious cultural barriers.
Thirst Street is the story of an American stewardess named Gina who, on a stopover in Paris, falls obsessively in love with an unsavory French bartender. Played by renowned indie actress Lindsay Burdge, Gina succumbs to various excesses, hoping to turn a casual fling into the man of her life. Despite influences of 1980s Polanski, the film has a French-style happy ending (“The best kind,” according to Silver).
Since graduating from Tisch School of the Arts in 2005, Silver has emerged as something of an enfant terrible in the New York indie film scene. With frenetic energy and a sardonic edge, he has directed eight features in twelve years, making rounds in some of the world’s top festivals. A self-professed Francophile with a teenage penchant for Rimbaud, Silver always knew that he wanted to shoot in France one day, and he seized the opportunity to do so when his co-writer, C. Mason Wells, described an idea he had for an erotic thriller set in Paris. It was a bold decision given Silver’s rusty French and no experience working within the European system.
Yet Silver was undaunted, which perhaps most accounts for his success working in a foreign country. He opted not to wait on French government grants, working instead with U.S. and French equity. Due to the sizeable travel costs, Thirst Street is Silver’s most expensive film in a long time (yet under $1m budget); apart from his first feature, realized thanks to a chance $500,000 investment, most of his films were made for less than $60,000. For the rest, he relies on audacity, resourcefulness, and the occasional cunning—even if it meant stretching the truth to his French producers about exceeding the 10-hr workday.
If Silver’s tenacity kept him within budget, then it was personal connections in France that helped him navigate the French system. He was already acquainted with French producers Claire Charles-Gervais and Ruben Amar from past festivals; along with the three other French producers who joined Thirst Street, they were able to walk Silver through the labor regulations.
Still, the language barrier posed a challenge when directing his actors in French-language scenes. Without being able to grasp the nuances of the spoken word, Silver relied on his French assistant director to tell him when a line reading was off. Most shooting days required constant back-and-forth translation between Silver and the majority-French crew, but he found that he relished the chaotic energy. The French crews proved to be particularly adept, working comfortably with thin resources, and after 13 days of shooting, Silver returned to the States satisfied with the material he had.
For Silver, it is perhaps the U.S. that poses the bigger obstacles for the next stage of his film. Recent independent releases haven’t had much staying power in the collective film memory. Meanwhile, the old guardians of indie taste—reviews from the Village Voice, for instance—face an uncertain future. But with a U.S. and an international sales agent, the prospects for Silver’s film are poised to be better than ever before.
Ever prolific, Silver will be shooting a series in June, but this time he’s bringing French actresses Maëlle Poésy and Esther Garrel to New York. He is also set to participate in a writer’s residency in France. Yet everything is unpredictable in the current climate.
“The state of the world is not good in any way right now,” he said. “But I think movies show that, in a perversely fun way.”