Anybody can pick up a hand-held camera and pretend to be a filmmaker these days. But once a producer starts to work on movies with actors like Josh Hartnett or John C. Reilly, and sees their films play at festivals like Sundance, few are eager to go back to the “anybody” ranks.
For his directorial debut, though, David Guy Levy did just that. The 30-year-old Silver Lake resident made “A Love Affair of Sorts” with just two $300 Flip camcorders, an actor he barely knows and a budget of $1,600. He’s not just showing it in his living room, though: The movie, apparently the first Flip cam movie to get a U.S. theatrical release, will open Friday in cinemas in L.A. and New York.
That’s just a week before “Terri” — a somewhat higher-profile Sundance film starring Reilly that Levy served as executive producer on — arrives in cinemas.
For Levy, “A Love Affair of Sorts” was not meant to be a grand demonstration of his directing skills so much as a playful, curious experiment in the power of filmmaking.
“A lot of people might question why I’m making the first Flip cam movie,” Levy said at his home, where half of “A Love Affair of Sorts” was shot. “They might say, ‘Why did you do that? Why not a big movie with a big story?’ Well, I’m not trying to make ‘Avatar.’”
Indeed, the motion is shaky, the lighting imbalanced, the scenes long and still, the plot (two strangers forming a tentative relationship) minimalist.
Not only is Levy’s camera technology pedestrian, it’s now obsolete. Cisco, which makes the Flip, announced this spring that it’s discontinuing production.
“If I was to shoot it now, I would use my iPhone,” Levy said with a laugh. “But even if someone had given me a million dollars and asked me to make something bigger, I would still shoot with a couple hand-held cameras. Because that’s what the movie is about.”
Levy started Periscope Entertainment in his early 20s. “August,” starring Hartnett, went to Sundance in 2008 but fizzled in theaters. Still, he was named one of “10 Producers to Watch” in Variety last year.
“A lot of directors [working on their first movies] want to do something big and spectacular and be like, ‘Here I am!’ Of course I want to do that too, but this movie wasn’t about that,” Levy said.
Instead, “A Love Affair of Sorts” is of, for and about ordinary people. “This [film] is a story about two people in a contemporary relationship who had the access and ability to film and capture it,” Levy said.
Levy said he was inspired by a 1967 film, “David Holzman’s Diary” in which the main character tries to make a documentary out of his life. It contains a quote from Jean-Luc Godard: “Film is truth at 24 frames per second.” Never mind that Flip records digital video, not on celluloid with frames per second.
Though “A Love Affair of Sorts” is fiction, reality starts seeping in somewhere in the middle of the 93-minute film.
Levy plays painter David Guy, who’s always using his Flip cam and accidentally catches Enci, a beautiful Hungarian nanny (Lili Bordán, whom Levy met at a party), shoplifting. It’s a classic boy-meet-girl story, except that the two decide to capture the growth (and complications) of their relationship on camera.
The movie, shot over 15 days, is the product of them toting their Flip cams everywhere, shooting every insignificant word and action. “Not having a relationship with her or any sort of trust beforehand was important,” Levy said. Bordán “didn’t know who I was or what I was capable of, so she wouldn’t know if I was messing around or it was really me.”
The fact that a Flip is only a few inches tall helped create an intimacy that bigger, fancier cameras couldn’t offer. Awkward pauses, spasms of expressions and subtle drama are captured as the audience “secretly” watches from the coffee table or the bedside.
“With the Flip cam, we can just put it down and two minutes later forget it was even there,” Levy said. “We would interact and realize that we’ve had the camera rolling.”
Inevitably, the line between fiction and reality blurs, leaving viewers to mull: How much of truth is revealed in film?
“I don’t know if I want to reveal that,” Levy said, laughing. “I kind of want people to ask the same questions, not only why was this film made, but what was real and what wasn’t.”
Whatever conclusions viewers reach, Levy said he hopes one message gets through: Film is something anyone can try.
“That would be the best if people came up to me and said, ‘Oh I saw your movie and that made me realize I can make one too!’” Levy said. “They have their own ideas, I have mine. You can never have too many ideas or films.”