New York, I Love You (2009): How 11 Directors Shot One Film in 8 Weeks

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“New York, I Love You” is a feature film comprising of 11 segments directed by some of today’s best filmmakers, including Yvan Attal, Allen Hughes, Mira Nair, Natalie Portman, and Brett Ratner. The concept was created by Emmanuel Benbihy. The film is being released October 16, 2009 by Vivendi Entertainment.

To kick-start the intensively creative, not to mention intensely fast-moving, process of making NEW YORK, I LOVE YOU, each one of the film’s 11 directors was initially provided with a set of simple but inviolable mandates for their screenplays, including:

• Each story had to be visually identified with one or more New York neighborhoods.
• Each story had to involve some kind of love encounter, broadly defined.
• There would be no fades to black at end or beginning of any segment.

Soon Benbihy found himself in development on eleven amazingly intricate stories simultaneously. Though each narrative was only about 8 minutes long, they were full of epiphanies and epic ideas that merited long conversations and debates with their impassioned creators.

Once the screenplays were finalized, came another set of shooting rules:

• Each director, along with his chosen DP and cast, would shoot for 2 days and 2 days only.
• Then, that director would head to the editing facility with his or her chosen editor for 7 days, while a new director and cast would start shooting.
• The production designer, costume designer and all below-the-line crew would remain consistent throughout the entirety of the exhausting, albeit exhilarating, 8 week shoot.
“We shot continuously from day one, without a break, revolving straight through the directors,” explains Benbihy. “The organization required for doing this was extremely challenging and very specific. There just doesn’t exist a structure in filmmaking for making a movie with more than 2 directors, so it has its own unique process. This meant that there had to be really good communication between everyone on this new production format.”

At the same time, the approach was always to be open to creative accidents and the fruits of collaboration. Comments Grasic: “We were very fortunate in that we were working out of a building in the West Village where we were able to have the Shunji Iwai directs Orlando Bloom production office on one floor and an editing room on
another. So we had one director getting ready to shoot while another was editing, which made for a really inspirational and creative environment. We had all these artists kind of looking in on each other and interacting in a way that only further added to the cohesiveness and community we wanted on this film. It felt almost like a film workshop.” At one point, for example, the German-Turkish director Fatih Akin was working next door to his long-time American favorite, Allen Hughes. “It was really exciting, even just to go ask to borrow some cream for the coffee,” laughs Akin.

Meanwhile, the team was also shooting the transition sequences that tie together the individual stories of the film – via the story of a New York videographer moving around from neighborhood to neighborhood (played by the French American actress Emilie Ohana, VATEL) – into a singular experience. These were directed by Randy Balsmeyer, best known for his collaborations with the likes of Spike Lee, the Coen Brothers, David Cronenberg and Robert Altman in creating unforgettable title sequences.

“The transitions became an interesting way to engage the audience and to challenge them with new information about the characters they’ve met as well as introducing a group of what we called ‘community characters,’” explains Benbihy. “One of the wonderful ideas that Randy Balsmeyer brought to us was that of using a videographer – an artist whose work unifies the people all around her – to unify our stories.”

Production on the wild and wooly streets of New York is always an exhilarating challenge but with NEW YORK, I LOVE YOU that challenge was intensified by several magnitudes, as the directors collectively traversed every inch of the city – shooting outdoors, indoors, on street corners, in bars and apartments — coming into contact with every conceivable obstacle and situation, while trying to complete their films in the allotted 48 hours.

Thankfully, throughout, New York City itself stood behind the project. Notes Grasic: “There was a real appreciation that this movie is a love letter to the city and the city infrastructure was very generous in its support. That meant a lot to us because this production was nothing if not logistically challenging. Just the transportation alone was mind-boggling! We had directors and cast flying in and out of the country constantly, and there were immigration challenges and hotel challenges and the amazing thing is, daunting as it was, everything turned out as well as we could possibly have hoped for. New York was completely welcoming and, of course, always inspirational.” As carefully strategized as the epic production was, Benbihy and Grasic knew that with so many creative balls flying through the air at once, they would have to flow with the unpredictable nature of the enterprise. Summarizes Benbihy: “When you’re making a movie such as this, things are constantly evolving and shifting, and the key is to always be ready for the opportunity to open the door into something else. In the end, the final film is a balance of so many elements: merging the fun and the upbeat with the edgy and poetic. It’s a journey into New York different from what audiences are used to, but filled with the excitement of love and lots of fresh air.”