Ever since his debut feature “10,000 KM” premiered at SXSW last year, Carlos Marques-Marcet hasn’t been able to stay in one place for long. Based in Los Angeles for the past seven years after growing up in Barcelona, Marques-Marcet has accompanied the film to festivals in Greece, France and the Netherlands, even finding the time to pick up a Goya award in his native Spain.
“I’m trying to travel a lot now – it’s almost offensive,” says Marques-Marcet, now back in Los Angeles on the eve of “10,000 KM”’s American release. “[The film] has changed my life in a good way.”
Not that the characters he created with co-writer Clara Roquet in “10,000 KM” are quite as lucky. Introduced in the midst of a passionate session of lovemaking in a small Spanish flat, it would seem that Alex (Natalia Tena) and Sergi (David Verdaguer) will make good on the small talk about how many kids they’ll have just after, but when Alex discovers that she’s been given a grant to pursue her photography in L.A. for a year, the two grapple with the impracticality of a long-distance relationship, their love threatening to fritter away like so many pixels on their Skype connection. It was a situation that Marques-Marcet had seen so many of his friends endure, a world that seems so open with the ability to spend time with one another so easily across continents yet ultimately limiting since those screens become an illusion for the physical intimacy they can no longer share.
As I noted upon seeing “10,000 KM” at SXSW, Marques-Marcet is hardly the first to mine such territory in recent years, but more than any other, he’s created a soul-searching drama that has only deepened with repeated viewings. Owing some of that success to the luminous and unvarnished performances of Tena and Verdaguer, the film also sets itself apart with a unique way of bringing the digital world into the physical realm and the confident patience with which it unfolds, surely a byproduct of Marques-Marcet coming up through the ranks as an editor. (Somehow in this crazy year, he found time to edit Hannah Fidell’s “6 Years,” following the pair’s memorable collaboration on “A Teacher.”) During an all-too brief chat, we spoke about the influences on “10,000 KM,” from the 2011 art project that shaped Alex’s work in the film, and by extension the film’s clever consideration of technology, to the film’s riveting and unbroken 20-minute opening scene.
It was like a long process writing and trying to figure out a way to get to this story. The movie isn’t autobiographical, but I wanted to talk about something that was happening around me – this epidemic that’s happening with long distance relationships, because of globalization and we travel so much. I wanted to talk about how we communicate in terms of screens, webcams and cameras and explore cinematic language of this kind of relationship.
When you received a fellowship from UCLA a few years ago, you accepted it by saying it would help you “investigate the world through sights and sounds.” Has exploration and cinema always been intertwined for you?
Yeah, it’s always been. For some people, cinema is about creating a world or imagining something. I didn’t come to cinema until I was older and I don’t feel I have significant imagination, but it pushes me, why I don’t fit in here? There’s something that allows you to look to reality in a very specific way [as] a very contained universe that you can analyze and then put it together, in constant [communication] with other people. With actors, it’s also a kind of emotional research. To perform, you think about a lot of stuff in an emotional way, trying to combine thought and emotions so you can really get to some kind of truth. This complicated world is true, but what does truth mean? It’s completely relatively, and it’s hard to define it, but whatever it is, [filmmaking] can be trying to reach that.
There was a 10-day rehearsal period in which you’ve said the actors really got to make an impression on what you and Clara had written. How did you figure out what you wanted this process to be like?
It’s intuition. You really think, “What do I need for this movie to work?” Basically, I need for you to believe that they are a couple and they’ve been together for seven years. If you don’t, and there’s no chemistry, you should just close up and go do something else. More than how to deliver the lines, it was important to have you see the specificity in their way of relating to each other, so we had to create a way of interaction – of touching – so we did a lot of physical exercises.
Then you have to create a story that has some specifics, so I went back to [many] of the key moments and tried to build up this relationship through exercises and improvisation. I wasn’t thinking about it, but typically, [other filmmakers] start with the characters and then develop things into situations. I do a little bit the opposite – I write situations, then I try to figure out with the actors, who are these characters? So I go back and I build this relationship, I build these characters, then I would change the situation based on whatever we’ve developed together.
David, I found very randomly in a YouTube video, but it was during a very long period of casting [for] the short. I basically rewrote the script with him in mind and we had one year after we shot the short [before] we shot the movie, so I had a lot of time to think, and he brought the sense of humor to the character because he’s a very funny guy. Then Natalia was last minute, because we were going to shoot with another actor, but we lost her and it was very important for us [the couple] have chemistry, so we flew out to London to meet her.
We were really lucky because her part entails Spanish, but she grew up in London, she didn’t have an accent and she had never acted in Spanish before. I didn’t want her to worry about it, so I decided let’s go with this accent, change it to a British character and then suddenly the relationship was more profound, it was more complex – she was in Barcelona because of him. That’s why I like to be open to whatever things random accidents or things you didn’t plan happen, because I think there’s a possibility there to be much more richer to whatever you imagine before.
Did your background as an editor help you figure out how you would shoot this, especially how long you might go with certain shots?
It helped a lot. I cover myself less because you know what you need and I knew [where] I could get out of scenes. For example, that very first long take [that opens the film], I wouldn’t have done it if it wasn’t at the beginning because you were setting up the tone of the movie. If you have a very long take in the middle of a movie, most probably it’s going to end up in the bin, because it creates a rhythm and then you go somewhere else and it becomes much more complicated. But you can do whatever you want at the beginning. You also can be doing a master shot, but you know you’re actually doing several shots in one and you know the timing, so you’re very aware of that way of thinking. Writing was almost like editing as well [in terms of] the rhythm – very long scenes with the very short ones that creates the pacing – so I had editing in my mind a lot.
You’ve said the snapshots of the various data centers came from or at least were inspired by an art project you did in 2011. Did your experience there shape the film?
Completely. Originally, I had this idea of a photographer that goes from more objective photography to something more personal, because the character was partially inspired by my friend Aleix Plademunt who took the pictures [on that project], but of course, I sent him every version of the script and he’d read it, and go, “That’s shit, man. We don’t work like that [where] I feel inspired and take pictures of [something random] and oh, wow!” And when I see movies about artists and photographers, I feel it’s very hard to show the real work and what it means because it’s not very fancy. It’s a lot of research and reading and one thing leads you to another — it’s not inspiration, it’s work.
Basically my friend Aleix told me, “Let’s make a project that’s not a movie or pictures for the movie, so we can think about it and we got my writer friend Borja Bagunyà, who writes novels and short stories, to approach the idea of technology and distance through text, videos, and photographs. Suddenly, we created this big project out of a small project, but for me it was important first to go through the process of creating this photography project [to see] how one thing leads to another. We went there without much [of a plan] and it’s like, we found antennas. From antennas, we then took the picture of the Google building, though it wasn’t [Google at the time], but suddenly Google bought it. There was something about photographing all these buildings of this company, because what is the Internet? Where is the physical space of the internet? That’s how the idea of photographing the abstract, somehow trying to get to the concrete came along.
When you write with a co-writer and it’s a movie about a relationship like this, do you take on writing one particular character versus the other?
We would read each one of the characters. Both of the characters have both of us in them, but I did want to work with a woman, so she would add a feminine aspect to it and it wasn’t a [purely] male view – we could share it. It was writing and rewriting over each other, stepping on each other’s feet. Basically, we had the rule that we’d get together every morning to discuss a lot about what was needed for the next scenes and I would work in the morning, she would work in the afternoons and evenings. We’d get together for lunch [the next day] and read [the script] out loud. It was very important to hear it.
Then we had this rule that you could always rewrite whatever the other person did, but you could never copy and paste. Basically, it was like rewriting [in that] you could take things out and [write something new for a character], but when you got tired of rewriting it or deleting it, [the scene] would disappear. There was tension in it. We were friends in a good sense, but [through the process] you will learn to say, “There cannot be a middle [ground],” when you’re writing the couple. [You can’t simply suggest] “I like this, I prefer that.” No, we’d have to have a battle until we found a valid solution. We didn’t stop fighting.