Nicola Rose: Hold tight to your own colors

Veronique Doumbe and Nicola Rose in Paris

#DirectedbyWomen Catalyst Barbara Ann O’Leary connected recently with filmmaker Nicola Rose, whose short film Creative Block (Bloc et Blocage) is ready to make its way onto the film festival circuit. The discussion explored the challenges of shooting on two continents in two languages, the nature of creative block, and more.

DBW: Thanks for taking time to talk with #DirectedbyWomen about your work.

NR: Thanks for having me!

DBW: Let’s talk about Creative Block (Bloc et Blocage). Can you share a little about the project and where you are in the process?

NR: Absolutely! Creative Block is a short, surreal bilingual film about creativity and the loss of it. The two main characters, Claire and Thibaut, are artists in two very different fields who deal with their creativity being blocked in different ways. The story is Claire’s quest to reclaim hers. It deals with how that connects her to Thibaut, as well as the difficulties and surprises she encounters on her search.

Where we are in the process: we are wrapped and in film festival consideration.

DBW: You were wearing many different hats on this production, I believe.

NR: Yes! I was the director-producer, I acted in it and I wrote it. But there were many key figures on the team. I certainly didn’t do everything.

DBW: What sparked your desire to make a film about Creative Block? Is that something you’ve been challenged by in your own creative life?

NR: Yes, definitely. I was thinking about how creativity is really where artistic people live and the loss of it (especially if chronic) can change a life. You have to have a lot of resilience to pick yourself up again after a bout of creative block. Oddly, writing about it seemed like a good way to combat it.

DBW: There are some very vivid balloons in the film. Just seeing them puts a smile on my face. There’s something so optimistic about them that I feel confident that the creative blocks can’t last long.

NR: Aw, thank you so much. Yes. I want that to be what people take away from the film. It won’t last forever, even though it feels as if it will.

DBW: I’m intrigued by your choice to make the film bilingual. What’s inspired you to work bilingually?

NR: It actually started out as a much longer script that was set in both Paris and the U.S., and written in both English and French. I had always heard the script in my head as being in both English and French. I always say I think in Franglais anyway. But the fact was there was dialogue I couldn’t imagine in English and other dialogue I couldn’t imagine in French.

DBW: So you have two languages. The film also plays with color and black/white, and there are two very different characters facing their creative blocks. Lots of contrasts.

NR: Yes, definitely a lot of focus on contrasts. I hadn’t thought of it that way particularly, but it’s true. I like juxtapositions—things that don’t go together, especially within an individual. I really appreciate that in real life as well as in stories.

DBW: Your fascination with the surreal is evident in your webseries Callie & Izzy as well.

NR: Ha! Thank you! Yes, it’s a different kind of surreal. That grew out of a series of people telling me I should write a webseries about my life as a puppeteer, and I found I just couldn’t be that literal about it. On the other hand, I had no problem concocting a story about a young woman who comes down with the dread disease Puppetitis B (no one is immune).

DBW: Ha! Yeah. I just watched Season 2 this afternoon.

NR: That’s my favorite season.

Still image from Creative Block (Bloc et Blocage)
Still image from Creative Block (Bloc et Blocage)

DBW: I’m curious about how you choose the forms you want to work in. You were saying that Creative Block, a short film, emerged from a script for a longer piece. Can you share about how you make your choices about length, form, etc?

NR: Sure. Well, a lot of it comes from practical considerations: limitations of budget, time, location and so on. But from a more creative point of view, I find that some stories just sort of “want” to be a certain length. Creative Block worked well as a longer script only when it was a much more down-to-earth, realistic sort of story. Whereas when it turned into a voyage through magical realism, it just seemed to settle naturally into being a short. Callie & Izzy on the other hand was an exercise in story economy. It was written the way you’d write a comic strip, with a setup and a gag, making as much out of a few minutes as possible.

DBW: That makes sense. So you’re in the process of sending the film to festivals. Is this your first experience with that process?

NR: Sort of. With Callie & Izzy we did a few festivals, but it’s different for a webseries, and it wasn’t made expressly for that purpose. Neither was this one, actually, but it fits a lot better into that world.

DBW: There’s always tension as creative work emerges into being and then seeks its audience.

NR: I couldn’t have said it better. There was a lot of tension in creating Creative Block. Good tension mostly!

Veronique Doumbe and Nicola Rose in Paris
Nicola Rose and Veronique Doumbe shooting in Paris

DBW: Can you share more about that and how you engaged the process to move through?

NR: It was an interesting one, that’s for sure. I had to plan way, way in advance because we were shooting in two countries and I had to plan for two separate crews. Every little detail had to be spreadsheeted and logged and reviewed and triple-checked ahead of time. (This is always true, but went double in this case.) I was helped enormously by the fact that my Paris unit DP, Veronique Doumbe, scheduled with me to shoot in Paris during a time that we could both travel there. She lives in NY, so we planned in the U.S. and then traveled abroad. I planned it so I would be the only actor needed in France, and so that we wouldn’t need sound there, etc. In other words it was done specifically so we would have the tiniest crew possible in France. There were just 5 of us total! In NYC we had a bigger group. I think we pulled it off well.

DBW: How long were you in post production?

NR: About 4 months, total.

DBW: Wishing you well as the film moves out into the world.

NR: Thank you! I can’t wait to see where it goes. I hope all over the world.

Creative Block

DBW: Any thoughts you’d like to share before we wrap up?

NR: Just the film’s enigmatic tagline: “Hold tight to your own colors.” Or maybe not so enigmatic if you think about the balloons. 🙂

DBW: A mantra to ward off creative blocks, perhaps?

NR: I like that idea, yes.

DBW: Oh… one more thing. #DirectedbyWomen is all about helping people fall madly in love with films by women directors. Any women film directors you’d like to mention? Perhaps directors film lovers may not yet have heard about?

NR: Yes yes yes! One of my favorite directors is Fiona Gordon. Together with her husband Dominique Abel she directed one of my very favorite films of all time, L’Iceberg, as well as the more recent Lost in Paris which just came out this year. The former, in particular, is a hilarious, semi-silent comedy about a woman who becomes obsessed with ice. As far as I’m concerned, watching it will enrich your life.

DBW: I’m not surprised you’d mention Fiona Gordon. Your film reminded me of Lost in Paris.

NR: Thank you! I guess people have heard of her, but still. 😉 And wow, thank you. I’ll take it!!

DBW: Well, I think many more people would benefit from hearing about and experience her work. There’s a definite mime feel to your Creative Block film that drew me in.

NR: How funny you should mention that. One of our cast is a mime! Géraldine Dulex, who plays the journalist.

DBW: Wonderful.

NR: I also really like Sarah Polley. I was reading a really good interview this morning about her experience transitioning from being an actor to being a director — then from being a director who cares what people think to being a director who doesn’t care what people think at all. I’m paraphrasing horribly what she actually said, but that was the general gist and it’s super important.

DBW: Yes. Creativity emerges in many ways. Labels slow us down and hinder authentic creative expression from flourishing in many ways. They’re useful for organizing projects but not so much for identifying who we are as creative beings. Thanks for this chat, Nicola. I loved having the chance to talk with you about your process. Please keep us posted on your film’s journey out into the world and on your future projects as well.

NR: I love that. Thank you SO much! About labels hindering us, I mean. Good to bear in mind always. And THANK YOU!

Nicola Rose with puppet
Nicola Rose with puppet

Visit Nicola Rose’s website to find out more about her work.