Interview with Director, Producer, Actress Jenna Suru
Today on What On What’s Good with Host Jovin Tardif, I am here with Producer, Director, and Actress Jenna Suru. Jenna made a film about Saint Tropez. In our interview, we discussed her journey as a filmmaker, her debut feature film “The Golden Age (“L’Âge d’Or”), and much more. I had a fantastic memory before I spoke to my guest today. I was picturing multiple boats near a beautiful port in Saint Tropez right by the French Riviera. Thanks to her new film “The Golden Age (“L’Âge d’Or”) I can perhaps recollect these images.
1. How did you know you wanted to get into film?
First, thanks so much for having me on! It really all started when I studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in LA. My biggest inspirations were both from American and European backgrounds. Actors include Meryl Streep to Marion Cotillard. Directors include Ken Loach, François Truffaut, and Damien Chazelle.
I had only just turned 16 and had been taking film and theatre classes at the Cours Florent in Paris. Aside from school, I decided to pack my luggage and pursue my education in LA. I was greatly inspired by the education there from great teachers including Kevin E. West.
2. Can we discuss your journey into the business?
LA was a huge inspiration to me. When I turned 20, I was the PA on the TV show “The Experiment With Dahn and Ali”. I was super excited to be working in production in LA. Got my hands on everything I could. I prepared the shot list for filming, storyboarding, getting the set ready for the cast and crew. The Ballard Family is such a lovely and inspiring family, they were wonderful to work with.
As I was pursuing challenging media studies in Europe, I was also very eager to get into the “real world” of the film & TV industry. This is what encouraged me to pursue these amazing opportunities of working at Panavision in Paris. Afterward at the 2 top film distributors in France, Gaumont and SND (M6 Group). These experiences were extremely inspiring to me. It helped me develop the exact skills and knowledge I needed to learn, whether it’s in production, marketing, distribution. This inspired me to say that cinema is “an industry that stands on 3 feet: art, techne, and business”. It might sound cliché however it’s important to keep these 3 dimensions in mind and train in these different areas!
3. Can we get a bit of insight into your debut feature film “The Golden Age (“L’Âge d’Or”)?
Saint-Tropez was a very important inspiration to me as a filmmaker to create The Golden Age (“L’Âge d’Or”). It’s a village-like none other. Where such great artists from the UK, the US, and over the world gathered to create masterpieces. Such films as “God created woman” with Brigitte Bardot were shot here.
One of the main key parts of recreating the ’60s was to find the ideal locations for filming. I wanted the locations to be authentic to restore the atmosphere of the 60s. After a lot of research, we shot in locations that were at the top of my wishlist. We shot in about 35 exceptional locations across France and the USA. Scenes include the Bir-Hakeim Bridge near the Eiffel Tower, Notre-Dame Cathedral, the Saint-Tropez Harbour, and more.
4. Describe the music in “The Golden Age (“L’Âge d’Or”)?
For The Golden Age, I chose songs from the very best artists from that time including Chuck Berry, Jimmy Reed. Those who will watch the film will see how important music is, from beginning to end!
I created a British band composed of a singer, a guitarist, a drummer, a bassist, and a pianist. We recorded the soundtrack in a studio. We made sure the music would correspond to the film. It included the use of Gibson guitars from the 60s.
5. What was it like directing the feature film “The Golden Age (“L’Âge d’Or”).
Being the Director of The Golden Age is a truly incredible experience in many ways. I’ve been supporting the film from development to distribution stages. Not only as Director but Producer, Writer, and Female Lead of the film. The Golden Age interestingly echoes momentously with the transition times we are living now. First, the film has now become the last drama ever filmed at Notre-Dame Cathedral before the fires. It’s a very ambitious feature for an indie project. One of the main challenges of this film was to re-build this unique 60s atmosphere.
I am grateful to all Tropezians and all our wonderful partners in the Saint-Tropez Bay Area and Paris. Without them, The Golden Age, which was a dream film for us to make, would only have been a dream. They immediately understood what I wanted to achieve and gave me unconditional support, just like back in the 60s. They could encourage artists to thrive, whether they were extremely famous or newbies. I’m immensely thankful and happy to share this beautiful adventure with them along the way.
6. Not only were you the director but you also played a role in the film. Please describe your character in “The Golden Age (“L’Âge d’Or”)?
Thank you, both directing and acting in the film were a wonderful experience. Angèle Devaux was a dream character. She’s the symbol of the strong, driven female artist who fully commits to her artistic projects rather than pursuing her own personal success. She never gives up and always supports her partners when working on a project. When she meets a Franco-American producer in the 60s at the beginning of the film, in Paris, anything could happen.
She has been growing up in Saint-Tropez at an early age and carries the authenticity and passion Tropezians have for art and supporting artists from various backgrounds. She’s a tribute to them and to all the wonderful women in the 60s who fought to bring the change we are enjoying until now, even if the fight for equality is obviously always on.
We need more Angèle in our world! For me as an actor, it’s been a huge honor to be her in the film, to pay tribute to all actors and more generally artists who’re struggling to change the world. I named Angèle after my great grandmother, whose name was « Devaux ». Paying tribute to the great women in our world, past and present, is I believe a great stepping stone to shape our future.
7. Do you have any tips on how to juggle both the director and the acting role in a film?
Here are a few tips and tricks that will definitely help you to achieve your goals.
First, make sure to work in a healthy environment: keep your environment as tidy and organized as you can, not only in your workspace but also in your social life. Surround yourself with people who want to see you succeed and you want to partner with. Turn out the notifications on your phone, put it in airplane mode when having a meeting, make space for your mind to thrive. All the more if you’re juggling many roles, you need to be fully present and prepared to repeat yourself a lot, to make sure all your team members are on the same page. And sleep! This will help you give your very best when you need to be a hundred percent present.
Secondly, make sure you come in as prepared as you can. Build a precise schedule for your projects and create pitch decks and any related documents to share your vision with your team and partners. Have a cuppa with yourself regularly to make sure you’re getting the short term results you want. This will help you achieve your mid-term and long-term goals and turn your projects into successful achievements.
At the same time, be agile and make sure you educate yourself as much as you can about the many dimensions of this industry. Coming from a family of engineers, educating myself to the film & TV world through all the resources available have played a huge role in me getting prepared to start in the industry. It’s the only way to avoid the most common mistakes similar businesses have made before you and avoid them. There are tons of wonderful resources available now even in lockdown, I love listening to The Entrepreneur Way by Neil Ball, who’s interviewed me about running Belle Époque Films and many other entrepreneurs. Not only does it provide many tips to run a business, but it’s also a wonderful way to network and stay connected with your community.
8. Can you tell us about your experience in film production?
I’m extremely thankful for a wonderful journey in film production already, from working with Cécile Gaget, who’s now the Head of International Production at Gaumont, top actors like Robert Sheehan (Season 2 of The Umbrella Academy has just been released on Netflix by the way, if you’re a fan or just happy to binge-watch a little more content!) to working on various shoots in LA and filming The Golden Age in 35 exceptional locations across France and LA. It would be difficult to mention all the behind-the-scene fun stories – there are so many!
9. Any fun behind-the-scenes stories?
Believe it or not, but a couple of days before the first day of principal photography for The Golden Age, I had spoken with so many partners, cast & crew members for so many days, 48 hours before the first “action” I completely lost my voice! You can see it in the BTS of the film, we were rehearsing at the mythical theatre of Saint-Tropez a couple of days before filming, and I was literally whispering directions all around!
Truth is, I had anticipated that could happen and took a couple of medicine to sort it out in time and the first day went wonderful… But really, it’s important to identify what can go wrong and how to fix it. Also, make sure to rest your body and mind as much as you can when you do get the chance, for you to re-generate and be fully present when you must be.
Equally, when you’re filming there’s so much that can change last-minute anyway. For instance, when we filmed the very last shot of The Golden Age, it suddenly rained and got stormy,
I had imagined a wonderful scene where my character walked to an exceptional 50s car from the time, and the scene turned out into this great shot where we see my character going through stormy Paris, a rare atmosphere many filmmakers dream to capture! Being agile and adapting to your environment can lead to the most fantastic, unexpected perks.
10. Can we discuss Canneseries?
I’ve also been working for Canneseries since the kickstart of their very first edition, which has been an amazing adventure championing TV and working with their impressive team alongside MIPTV.
They asked to meet me and I immediately loved their team, working with them to kickstart Canneseries alongside MIPTV was a wonderful challenge.
I’ve been working more specifically on the In Development Forum, which has been a huge success from the very first edition in 2018.
The Festival has only been growing these past 3 years, and we’re going partly online for the upcoming edition in October to enable everyone to join from the safe comfort of home.
They’re such a fantastic team to work with, besides it’s a blast to be part of promoting filmmakers and TV Makers around the world and contributing to champion top series from various forms.
11. Describe your experience at the Cannes Festival last year.
Thanks so much, I highly appreciate the kind words and question. Seeing The Golden Age screened at Cannes in the first place was an incredible achievement, not only because of how famous the Festival and Market are, but also because I love Cannes for many personal reasons.
Cannes is one of these incredible cities on the French Riviera my feature debut The Golden Age pays tribute to.
12. Congratulations Jenna Suru on being awarded Best Female-Director Feature at London IFF. Can you describe this experience?
The Golden Age is now a multi-awarded feature in the USA and Europe and sold-out the Opening Night of the London Independent Film Festival in March just before lockdown. This Opening Night and Best Female-Director Feature Award felt so very special.
It was also the European Premiere of the film and tremendously echoed with the situation we were living everywhere around the globe – the need for change and solidarity as we were heading into the pandemic.