I didn’t set out to make an independent feature film during a global pandemic. I didn’t wake up one morning during Quarantimes and say: “Hey kids, let’s make an Indie!” Yet, intentionally or not, that is exactly what I did.
Guest Post by Nicola Rose
Newly displaced from COVID-riddled NYC, I made a call to Tierney Boorboor, a film producer I had recently met. I told her either I needed to make a feature film or part ways with moviemaking. By this point, I had made a webseries and four shorts. In my early 20s, I had also written a screenplay for a full-length feature, but that was before I had a clue how films were actually made.
And so, when Tierney asked, not unreasonably, “Do you have a feature script ready?” I answered honestly: “Yeah, but it’s an over-bloated 120-page epic I wrote in my early 20s, before I had a clue how films were actually made.”
“Send it over,” she said. This was a little less reasonable, but it was lockdown, and she had time on her hands.
Tierney not only read what I sent, she suggested some incisive changes to a script that had, at that point, about 40 excess pages of youthful exuberance (or, if you prefer formal industry terminology, “sh*t”).
Tierney ended with this: “You know, Nicola, if you do decide to revise this, I’d love to work with you to produce it. Just make sure you don’t get rid of its spirit.”
She was referring to the fact that Goodbye, Petrushka deals with the misadventures of a 19-year-old American girl in France, and the fact that I had (ahem) “recent expertise” showed in the weird mixture of longing and eagerness. As a 30-something, I could never have recreated Goodbye, Petrushka’s tone from scratch, but with Tierney’s encouragement, I maintained the important things that were already there.
And that’s how, against all probability, we went on to develop, cast, produce, shoot and finish Goodbye, Petrushka, all while the pandemic was still raging. And now our film is set to world-premiere at the “Dances With Films” festival in LA on June 12th… but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Thanks to Zoom, email, text and God knows what else…
Have I mentioned yet that Tierney and I live on opposite coasts? Tierney lives in Portland (OR) and I live in New York. So, pre-production on Goodbye, Petrushka would have been impossible without the amazing powers of technology. Thanks to Zoom, email, text and God knows what else, I was able to annoy Tierney across three time zones.
And, when the time came, this was also how we worked with our actors. I had qualms about doing chemistry reads, rehearsals, etc. by Zoom, but we did. Why? Because – once again – that was our only option. It could have backfired big-time, yet somehow it all worked perfectly. Our six lead actors brought spark and depth to their characters well beyond what I had envisioned. And so did our astonishing cast of day players, each one pure gold.
During most of the yearlong pre-production process, Tierney and I were a two-woman show. We had our hands in every department, right down to planning wardrobes. Meanwhile, Tierney had just produced a horror feature called Hideout, so many of the testing and quarantine strategies employed during the Hideout shoot were scaled-up for Goodbye, Petrushka, and members of the Hideout team became part of our top-notch Goodbye, Petrushka crew.
COVID Compliance had become a critical new function…
COVID Compliance had become a critical new function, so we hired Molly O’Brien to ensure that everyone was meticulously tested when they arrived on set. Thanks to Molly, everyone knew that everyone else continued to test negative throughout shooting. This was an absolute imperative given our living conditions.
We shot in summer 2021, so, thankfully, vaccines were already available by that point. However, we were vigilant about planning for worst-case scenarios and revising as needed whenever public-health guidelines changed. We realized early on that it would be safest to keep everybody together, so our cast and crew lived in two large Harlem brownstones (which we also used for at least half of the locations in our movie). Absences from the set were minimal, and everyone stayed masked when they weren’t actually appearing on camera.
Meanwhile, those Harlem brownstones “played” everything from a college dorm to a New York corporate office to a Parisian apartment. Clearly, COVID was the mother of invention, and we ended up exploiting every little space available to us.
And, on that note, about Paris… 85% of the story of Goodbye, Petrushka takes place in Paris, and, watching the film, you will see Paris clearly several times. So naturally, that’s one of the first questions people ask us: “Did you shoot in Paris?”
We had budgeted for travel to Paris, but…
No. We didn’t shoot in Paris because we couldn’t shoot in Paris. We had planned to go to Paris. We had budgeted for travel to Paris. But at some point, we realized that, because of COVID, we would have to create the illusion of Paris by France-ifying spaces in Harlem to make them look like the 16th Arrondissement. Oddly, it wasn’t as difficult as it sounds because many NYC brownstones were actually built to look like “Old Europe,” so, honestly, even I’m pretty well fooled.
Housing the Goodbye, Petrushka team together gave all of us a shared focus. As Tierney would say, we became a little family. And if some people in the family started hating other people in the family – you know how families can be – I swear to you I never heard a word about it.
Goodbye, Petrushka was a warm, friendly and joyful production, filled with brilliant collaborators who gave their all. A two-woman team led the charge, but Tierney and I could never have succeeded without the host of generous, kind and hardworking folks who had our backs – perhaps none more so than our executive producers: Baum18 Media, CuffLink Productions, and Irrational Productions.
None of us ever set out to make a feature film during a pandemic, but I’m glad we did. Bringing Goodbye, Petrushka to fruition took loads of persistence, a bit of bravery, and I suspect more than a sprinkle of insanity. The result is a sweet and quirky movie about “growing up and screwing up in two countries,” which to me seems awfully fitting, since that also describes the process of making it.
Making any movie – even under “normal” conditions – you grow up and screw up along the way. But, with any luck, you come out stronger and more skilled for it, and ready to make the next the next one — hopefully in healthier, kinder times.
© Nicola Rose (6/9/22) Special for FF2 Media®
NOTE FROM FF2’s EDITOR-IN-CHIEF: Nicola Rose’s post is part of our new “Nevertheless, They Persisted” series of Quarantales about how women artists put their Quarantimes to productive use. On behalf of everyone on our FF2 team, let me just say this: WE SALUTE YOU, NICOLA! With all best wishes, Jan
LEARN MORE/DO MORE
“A starry-eyed, awkward young woman moves impulsively from NYC to Paris, where she nannies for the family from hell, battles wacky French bureaucrats, embarrasses herself in front of her Parisian crush and navigates a toxic relationship — among other faux pas.” Click HERE to watch the Goodbye, Petrushka trailer on YouTube!
Visit the “Dances With Films” festival wesbite: “Defiantly Independent Since 1998!”
Read about Nicola Rose’s filmography on IMDb.
CREDITS & PERMISSIONS
Featured Photo: Producers Tierney Boorboor and Nicola Rose masked up on the set of Goodbye, Petrushka (Photo: Kris Roselli)
Bottom Photo: Lizzie Kehoe and Thomas Vieljeux in a scene from Goodbye, Petrushka (Director of Photography: Omar Torres)
Photos provided by Nicola Rose for use by FF2 Media. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.