The Austin Chronicle

Two Americans in Paris

UT grads go abroad for "Margot"

By Richard Whittaker, January 29, 2016, Screens

Every student has been there. They find someone they really like working with, but after graduation, one or the other moves away, and that relationship fades. In the case of UT film students Selen Flores and Hannah Smith, when Flores decided to move to Paris, they simply decided to take production of their new short "Margot" there too.

The pair met at UT's Radio-Television-Film department – more particularly, in the advance narrative production course taught by local director Kat Candler (Hellion, Jumping off Bridges). Smith said, "We have to name-drop her because she's been such a great mentor to so many people." The class produced their first collaboration, "With Unveiled Eyes" with Smith directing and Flores producing, "but for that class, everybody had to write a script, so Flores wrote what would become 'Margot.'"

Inspiration for the story came to Flores when she was traveling around Europe. She said, "I was in Prague, sleeping, and the window was open. This group of kids out the window were like, 'Hey, has anyone seen Margot?' That's all it took. I couldn't fall back to sleep. I went to a cafe that morning and I started writing the characters." Over the three years after that single overheard conversation, Flores started developing the story, influenced by her own experiences of "being young, being careless, having no parents around." What she presented during Candler's class was what she called a "very unseasoned" version of the story, and began bouncing back and forth with Smith. Flores said, "She's an excellent writer and, reading her stuff, she has really great ideas. I wanted her voice in this story."

The pair started talking with Czech producers about shooting in Prague, but that plan seemed likely to be derailed when Flores moved to Paris. She said, "I came over after I graduated. I didn't have a job, I didn't have a place to live, and I knew a handful of people, but it was a burning fire."

However, rather than give up on their partnership, the duo simply relocated filming to Flores' new adopted home. She described early pre-production in Paris as "a little bit scattered," but she had already done some work on small films in the French capital, and through friends, got to know producer Léonard Láng, who introduced her to line producer Valentin Wattelet, "who helped me with all the very serious documents, getting authorization to shoot on the streets, and things like that."

With that local expertise on board, they assembled a production team, half French, half American. For Smith, the opportunity to shoot in Paris was daunting, but she described the experience as surprisingly similar to shooting in the U.S. She said, "I speak very minimal French, had never traveled to Europe in my life, but when you get down to the roots of it, directing here and directing there are very similar. It's like Kat taught us: You want to work with good people."

However, at the heart of it all was the partnership between the two UT grads, and Flores credited Smith with bringing "Margot" to film. She said, "I wouldn't be here if she wasn't by my side from the very beginning."

Now the pair is back in their respective homes: Smith has returned to Austin, and is working with a casting agency based at Austin Studios, while Flores is still in Paris. However, that does not mean the collaboration is over: They are still in post-production, with the aim of getting "Margot" into festivals later this year. Smith said, "There's constant communication, at all levels. Lots of email and text messages, and we try to Skype every week or so."

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