How Emmanuel Tenenbaum made an award-winning short for less than $3,500

Two Dollars” is a workplace comedy showcasing the tensions that arise after an office lottery ticket hits the jackpot. The 10-minute short was completed in 2017 and has since enjoyed a successful festival run, screening at more than 85 festivals and garnering 8 awards.

This week, the film premiered online as a Vimeo Staff Pick Premiere. We had a chance to connect with director Emmanuel Tenenbaum to learn more about the film’s production.

10 days of production

“Two Dollars” originated as part of Quebec’s Kinomada. The event challenges filmmakers to write and produce a short film in just 10 days. Writing and shooting a short film can be challenging enough, but the limited 10-day turnaround led to some less than stellar results. “It’s an explosion of creativity,” Tenenbaum explains, “but there’s almost no time for production.”

After watching and getting feedback on the original edit, Tenenbaum ended up reshooting the opening scene to make the film work. But if the final film’s critical reception is any indication, that extra effort paid off.

Time wasn’t the only thing in short supply

Beyond the limited time frame, Tenebaum and his team were also working on a limited budget of just €3,000, or roughly $3,400 USD. This budget was split between miscellaneous production expenses — accessories, food, parking tickets, gasoline, extra rentals, etc. — and post-production.

“A DOP will definitely offer you a day of his work for free,” Tenenbaum notes, “but a post-production artist who has to spend a week or two on your film needs some kind of compensation, which is perfectly normal.”

The Kinomada event itself was the first factor in keeping costs low. The participants had all committed to cramming in as much filmmaking as possible during the 10-day production window, so there was lots of free help available. Using the gear people already owned also helped, as did discounted rentals via Quebec’s film cooperatives.

Another way the “Two Dollars” crew keep costs down was shoot in a single location — an empty office space the team was able to use for free for the shoot. “Changing location costs time, requires cars, logistics, etc.,” Tenenbaum notes, “It easily becomes too expensive. All my former films, as well as the next one, are shot in one location only. We clearly think about it during the writing.”

Tenenbaum does admit, however, that the film would look different had they shot with a larger budget: “We had to make compromises.” These compromises, however, have not seemed to slow the film’s success.

Finding the right collaborators

While Tenenbaum directed the short, he worked with writer Guillaume Fournier to write the story and script. “It’s a sad reality that many great writers are terrible directors and many great directors are terrible writers,” says Tenenbaum. “If you’re both, great for you! But if not, realizing your skills and accepting your limitations will save you years of suffering.”

Still, Tenenbaum dismisses the notion that you can’t make it as a filmmaker without an existing network:

“The vast majority of filmmakers I know, including myself, weren’t born into this environment. All you have to do is to make stuff and be self-critical. Events like Kinomada are an extraordinary way to learn, and they’re practically free. I’d advise anyone to attend.”

Find out more

You can find out more about the film and the filmmaker on Vimeo’s blog. Keep up with Tenenbaum’s work at studiotenenbaum.com.

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