Zoe Cassavetes + Sebastien Chenut
Talking Walls is an intimate glimpse into the lives of creative couples as they casually document a day in their life and interview each other.
Our inaugural piece explores the creative partnership between Zoe Cassavetes, the award-winning filmmaker, and her French husband Sebastien Chenut, the soundtrack producer, as they discuss their recent collaboration on Cassavetes’ new film, Day Out of Days. The film focuses on the plight of the aging actress in the sunny but unforgiving terrain of Los Angeles, the city which they both call home.
IN CONVERSATION: LISTEN
IN CONVERSATION: TEXT
Sebastien: How did we come up with the idea of working together?
Zoe: We came up with the idea because we actually met for a job, for your band. You needed a music video director and we got set up on a meeting, which funny enough turned into a love connection. I think it’s natural. I think our jobs really go together a lot. I’m sort of the visual to your audio.
Sebastien: It’s true.
Zoe: Besides me and how we work together, what’s your daily process when you do your music?
Sebastien: There’s two different aspects of working with projects because if it’s a commercial where there’s a client issue, they want something special that you have to do as well. Then we have to follow with the same concept that they want for the music.
Zoe: It’s not the same as when you work for a director?
Sebastien: No, because when you work for a director you can bring some ideas and you have your personal opinion because that’s why they call you. They call you because you have some ideas about the music you can do for them, for their footage, for their story. The music could be a new character that they need to have for a scene that varies a lack of tension, a lack of emotions. You’re going to fill that space with that experience that you have with the music.
Zoe: We work at home a lot together. A lot of times part of our work may not look like working a lot, but actually it is. I mean it’s fun work. I edit it and then you watch, and then I listen to your music, then we put the two together. A lot of time when we’re home, we’re watching films, or we’re listening to music, or we’re looking at certain images. I guess now after being together so long and working on so many projects together that we have such a trust that we talk about the direction, and then we can go our separate ways, and come back. I would say a strong portion of the time I totally don’t want to change anything, or fix anything, or maybe just a slight adjustment here or there. I guess people sometimes ask, do we fight when we work together?
Sebastien: Yeah we fight sometimes because we are sure about something that we did and sometimes you need to impose a some stuff, and then at the end of the day, sometime you come back and you were right, or we were wrong, but it’s not very easy all the time of course.
Zoe: And you’re French, so…
Sebastien: And I’m French.
Zoe: So sometimes your idea of having conversation and Americans’ idea of having a conversation is two different tones completely.
Zoe: We just moved to L.A. about a year ago. I grew up here and haven’t lived here for, I don’t know almost 20 years, but now we’re back for the time being. How do you like it? Do you find it’s a better place to work creatively than Paris?
Sebastien: There’s nothing you can do in L.A. Is there?
Zoe: You can go on a hike, play tennis.
Sebastien: Yeah, you can go on a hike or you can just…
Zoe: Get a juice.
Sebastien: Talk about jeans, and drugs, and juice, and SUVs, and vacations you won’t ever take. It’s very interesting for us to work here because it makes us concentrate on what we do. One thing I like are wide spaces, it’s very large. It makes you have a lot of decision before getting into the studio and work. I have a window and I can see a lot of spaces from that window, so it’s very helpful to work in here I have to say.
Zoe: I’m more of a fan of seasons and a New Yorker in my heart, but it’s great to be here, and for other reasons like all the work is here. There’s tons of creative people, and tons of jobs, and everything is moving really fast so it’s great to be in the epicenter of the business that you want to succeed in the most.
Sebastien: Do you feel less original than when you were in Paris?
Zoe: No, I feel more original actually. I don’t know.
Sebastien: It feels like in Paris it’s like you feel that people are doing some movies and stuff. Like in this business where I’m going to the direction of making them and it’s like you feel it’s a job, like they don’t care about the … situation. We’re just doing a job as making some money. We could be working in a garage, or we could be actor/director. We don’t feel the vibe of contributing to try to make something very original, or very …
Zoe: I think there’s a bunch of people in LA that would love to do something original and deep or whatever. Look how hard it is to find money to make things that are creative. I think one of the interesting things about coming back here and making this movie, for me is that I know now what I need to make the movie. I have all the great crew, I’ve got my great composer, I’ve got all these things. You need the funds and if you just … not be afraid to ask. You know, as artists we never want to ask for help because we think that we can do it all ourselves, or it has to be created from the inside, and nobody can understand that. In fact, in collaboration the more you realize and the more you open up to collaboration, the better your piece of art that you’re trying to put out in the world is going to be because you have your eyes, and your ears, and you have mine.
We don’t just work on my movies together, we work on commercials together, I make music videos for you. Sometimes we don’t work at all but sit down, we’re in the car or whatever, and I get to hear your new record. Then we get to talk about it and things that we like. Being a couple that’s creative together, but not necessarily in the same business, but business that complements each other is a really lucky thing.
Sebastien: I guess as a writer you wanted to be … and you working outside in the … do you like to work at home?
Zoe: No, I like to work at home. I’m really a home body anyway so I like to sit at the dining room table, or anywhere there’s a big surface, and spread out, and have my tea, and my water, or my candy, and my lip balm, and all of those things. Then sometimes when I’m writing, I’m acting out the dialogue, and I’m a really terrible actress, as we both know, and you’re a really good actor.
Sebastien: That’s not true.
Zoe: No, you have something that’s really comfortable. I’m just totally Marsha Brady. Sometimes I’m acting out the scenes, and I’d rather be in my own privacy. I wouldn’t mind having an office, but I feel like as the writer it’s probably easier to find a little nook and make it mine. What would be the dream project to work on together?
Sebastien: Something tragical.
Sebastien: Something tragic. We would put our style into 100 percent of what we can do, for sure.
Zoe: Maybe you should write the movie and I should write the music.
Sebastien: Anyway, any kind of movies challenge you for the style you are choosing to do. I love doing commercials, as well you know, because they force you to be creative with some recipe that you never use and you never felt comfortable with. At the end of the day, when you come back to your own menu of creation, finally it brings you difficult tricks to transfer into what you like to do. It’s never a bad thing to do something that you’re not used to because, just like … is about your creation, I think it’s kind of cool. Do you feel comfortable when you know you’re going to do a commercial that we’re going to do music for?
Zoe: The difference between making a commercial and making your movie is, well, obviously you have a lot more creative control about what you’re doing if it’s your own thing. I think in general I don’t, probably because I’m married to you now. People think of the music last, all the time. We always talk about there’s no budget for music in a lot of things, or whatever, but actually music is so much like another character in the film. It’s like another element, and it’s an essential element of the film, as much as the sound, as much as the way it looks, and the actors, and the words. Everything is the music unless you specifically don’t want to make a movie with music which, I might one day, who knows?
Sebastien: Are you more confident when you know that we’re going to do the music? Like this, you know that you’re going to have your expression 100 percent secure?
Zoe: Luckily, the stuff that we worked together has worked really well. We don’t want to kill each other too much when we do it, but I think I’m a little nervous, in a good way, every time I start a project, any kind of project. When you’re not, that’s means it’s the kiss of death. I think that having you there, and knowing that we can talk about it, and that you have my best interest, and I have your best interest at heart on top of wanting to do the best work, makes for interesting collaboration.