10.000 KM opens on a couple, Alex (Natalia Tena) and Sergi (David Verdaguer), making love in their bedroom, early morning in Barcelona.
Post-coitus, they talk about having a baby together. They go about their usual morning routine—making breakfast, showering. Alex checks her email and finds that she has received an offer for an artist residency in Los Angeles. Sergi seems happy for her and Alex is relieved. They have breakfast together, but, facing each other across the table, the truth emerges: Sergi is hurt about her desire to take off for L.A. at this point in their relationship. He almost leaves the apartment in anger, but Alex stops him. She won’t take the residency if he doesn’t want her to go. Their breakfast continues in silence, until Sergi realizes how selfish he’s being. He convinces Alex to go to L.A. He believes in them as a couple—that they can overcome any adversity, even distance. They return to the bed, slow-dancing romantically to the Magnetic Fields’ “Nothing Matters When We’re Dancing.”
1. The Idea
At the heart of 10.000 KM was an idea I wanted to explore: the difference between being in front of somebody and being in front of the image of somebody. In early drafts of the script, that first scene was in fact a series of scenes, to be captured in one shot each. I wanted the feeling of being “with” the couple in the same space, without the mediation of an edit, so the audience felt the occupation of the same real space by both characters. In the moment they are apart, they are condemned to a communication based on a shot/reverse shot logic, using Skype between Barcelona and L.A.—together, but only thanks to the abstract action of the cut.
Then our script editor suggested the idea of combining all these different scenes into a single, long one. That way, we’d get to be “with them” for a longer time. Suddenly the movie made much more sense—we had had the solution in front of us but we hadn’t been able to see it. She also said, almost jokingly, “If you want, you can still do it as a single take.” At first I thought it was a pretty stupid idea: the typical shot that a first-time filmmaker does to show off his skills. But when I started rewriting the scene I realized that I actually was writing it as a single shot, avoiding things like point-of-view shots.
I imagined the movie with this beginning, and I realized how much impact the first cut would have after such a long take. In order to enhance this effect, we’d have to create a moving master that wouldn’t draw attention to itself. That way, we hoped, we would be able to communicate the violence of separation in a purely cinematic way.
2. The Preparation
The apartment we shot the scene in was my producer’s home in Barcelona. I had shot there before, so I knew it had what I needed to do this scene: a room from which we could see the rest of the apartment, including the bathroom and kitchen. I drew a floor plan of the apartment and we spent many afternoons with my cinematographer, Dagmar Weaver-Madsen, looking into different possibilities.
We considered the idea of doing it with the Steadicam. But the funny thing about Steadicams is that they actually aren’t very steady when they stay still—they always “float”—and I knew I was going to need the camera to be sitting still for long periods of time. We considered the possibility of using handheld stabilizers, but the result wasn’t satisfactory, and the handheld felt like too much of a break from the language that we were designing for the rest of the movie.
In the end, the good old dolly-on-tracks appeared to be our only solution, even though we wouldn’t have an experienced crew of grips. After considering different kinds of cranes, we realized that with a simple diagonal track we could cover the whole space. For moments in which we wanted to be closer to the actors, but couldn’t reach them, we planned a few digital zooms. We decided to shoot with the Red Epic at 5K and finalize the DCP at 2K so we could do these zooms without losing quality.
Production design placed each element to make blocking and movement possible. Opening the back studio area suddenly gave us enough space in the dining room to place the dolly track. We also chose a special table for the living room that could give us the necessary space to do a two shot while the actors sit at breakfast.
When I flew to Barcelona to start pre-production, I Skyped almost every day with Dagmar, who was still in New York. We settled a ladder flat on the floor to simulate the dolly track (so I wasn’t able to cheat a position), and using my producer and AD as stand-ins, we tested the characters’ movements as I had imagined them. We designed our shots in the same way, figuring out how to get from point A to point B. We also created a picture storyboard using Artemis, a phone app that simulates different lens sizes—and realized that the one that worked the best was the 35mm lens.
I was able to rehearse with the actors for eight days during the two weeks before shooting. For the first five days we rehearsed in a different apartment. We used this time mostly to develop the relationship between them, but also to rehearse the opening. I divided the scene into blocks and we worked on them almost as if they were separate scenes.
I encourage improvisation during rehearsals in order to discover, with the actors, what scenes are really about. I recorded all these sessions with my phone, and at night I would watch them with my co-writer, Clara Roquet. We ended up incorporating many improvised lines into the final script. I also typically let my actors do movements that are natural for them, so I can understand, organically, why they move where they move. Once we get to the set, I already know the logic of the actors’ movements, so I can maintain the natural flow of the scene.
We then got three days of rehearsals on set, at which point we worked on choreography. I didn’t want the actors to rehearse with marks on the floor—I wanted them to feel totally free, and to get immersed in the scene. After all, it’s not often that screen actors have the possibility to get lost in their performance for 23 minutes. To create replicable movements, though, we set up props that essentially worked as marks.
On the last day of rehearsal we brought the sound recorder and the DP in to finish the choreography. At this point, the only thing I had in mind was rhythm. I knew I wouldn’t be able to modify rhythm in post, so I needed to have it right on the day. Yet I didn’t want to kill the organic mood by telling the actors to go faster or slower, so I had to speed up or slow down the rhythm by adjusting the many small actions involved in the scene.
Sound recording was an issue, as well. We couldn’t use lavalier mics because the actors started the scene naked, so we had to use three hidden boom operators instead: one in the bedroom, one in the kitchen, and one in the living room. To send the signal to the recorder we used wireless transmitters. In the middle of the scene, the boom operator in the bedroom had to crawl under the camera to the apartment’s entrance and get ready for the moment when Sergi wants to leave the apartment. It was incredible to see, like having three ninjas moving around.
We had a full day to pre-light and rehearse camera movements with stand-ins. We had only a very small package of lights and were forced to light almost everything from outside, because we had very few spots to hide lights. Dagmar and our gaffer had to be very inventive with all kinds of small rigs to use the power available.