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MIT student blogger Jess K. '10

Meeting Michel Gondry by Jess K. '10

Six MIT students and one Academy-award winning director have dinner in New York, and none of their lives are ever the same again..

There is probably a meter somewhere that measures how much fun you are having at school. Or maybe it’s a bucket, swinging by the handle with each addition of enjoyment. This bucket probably exists somewhere under the tunnels of MIT, and when it fills up past its capacity it tips over and you get showered with psets and tests and remember why you were there in the first place. My bucket sort of exploded last Saturday – and thus the five exams and psets followed quickly after – but it was totally, totally worth it.

A little background, with a lot of parentheses: I just got picked to be a FAP (Freshman Arts Program) counselor, which is an FPOP (Freshman Pre-Orientation Program) that takes place the week before orientation (the week before classes start for freshmen). FAP involves spending a little time in your discipline (either music, creative writing, visual arts, photography, dance, theater, or film – my discipline, which you should all sign up for) and the rest of the time participating in random arts activities (like building a city out of trash, or seeing an improv show in Boston, or having a talent show/karaoke/dance party). Not only is FAP one week of pure awesome (I mean, come on, you get to hang out with The Angela Monster), but you also just might get the chance to participate in crazy incredible opportunities like this one.

Three weeks ago the Office of the Arts invited a handful of MIT undergrads (all FAPers, though not necessarily from film) to participate in the Michel Gondry exhibit at the Deitch Gallery in New York, inspired by his new movie, Be Kind Rewind. The movie features two guys left in charge of a video store (Mos Def and Jack Black), one of whom is accidentally magnetized and causes all the tapes to be erased. Left to their own devices, the pair is forced to recreate all the movies in the store, or “swede” them. “Sweding”, a term coined in the film, implies that the movie is made under a strict time restraint and creative use of limited resources, i.e. switching the camera to “night vision” for a evening shot, with the characters wearing photocopied masks of their faces so as not to invert their skin tones.

Gondry is most famous for this type of organic innovation, as seen in his 2004 Academy Award-winning film “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”. He is also known for his visually stunning music videos such as The White Stripes’ “Fell in Love With a Girl”, Foo Fighters’ “Everlong”, and Radiohead’s “Knives Out”, as well as several videos for Björk. He served as an artist-in-residence at MIT in 2005 and 2006, and also just recently came to visit us at the begining of February to screen Be Kind Rewind. “[At MIT,] you can try something, and even if it don’t work, you can try something else,” he said, during an interview after the screening. “And I really like that.”

So it takes four hours to get from Boston to New York, which means we had to get on the earliest possible bus – 8 AM. Getting on the earlierst possible bus meant getting on the earliest possible T, which meant getting up at 5:30 AM. And it was raining.

After breakfast at McDonald’s and a four-hour nap, we got off the bus and, lead by the director of the artist-in-residence program Michele Oshima, headed off into New York to grab food. Thus began probably one of the most well-fed days of my collegiate life. Lunch was at an organic French bakery/restaurant and MIT Office of the Arts picked up the tab, so when they asked us if we wanted dessert the answer was DEFINITELY a yes. (Except for Ken, who got another quiche.)

After eating, we visited a small gallery featuring the short films of an Australian artist, Tracey Moffatt – “Artist”, “Lip”, and “Doomed” – all of which were compilations of movie clips, edited to create an ironic social commentary. “Doomed” resonated with me in particular, as it showed several clips of large-scale disasters in succession such that that we were essentially desensitized to it upon leaving the gallery.

And finally, we made it to the Deitch Gallery!

We were told that we would have two and a half hours to make the movie – 45 minutes each in Workshops 1 and 2, where we would plan it out, and 1 hour to film. We were then directed to Workshop 1, where we were given a variety of instructions, including picking a genre, a title, writing out a 8-10 sentence storyline, and considering the different sets we had available to use. I became the cameraperson, which means that’s my ugly handwriting on the whiteboard.

Workshop 1 was conveniently located above the rest of the gallery, so that we could look over the balcony and see the various sets available:

After Workshop 1, we made props and storyboarded the movie at Workshop 2, which we later discovered we did mostly wrong. But we continued on to make our movie anyway! Filming was pretty crazy and stressful, but we were pretty much used to that from school, so I really enjoyed directing. The movie starred Sila ’11, Dave ’10, and May ’11, the last three emotional people in a world of apathy, who decide to use their talents to cure everyone of their indifference and are eventually get sucked in themselves. (Hence the giant “FAIL” on the whiteboard.)

Oh, and then Michel Gondry came and watched our movie.

We were all kind of embarrassed about showing it in front of people in the first place, but showing it in front of Michel Gondry felt a little like throwing together everything you have in your refrigerator at the end of term (for me, hummus, saltines, and orange juice) and serving it to Martha Stewart. It was certainly not the best job we could’ve done, especially filming in just one hour with no editing, but that’s not to say it wasn’t a ridiculously fun experience. Running around and trying to find the next set to film in was something I’ll never forget.

And I’ll definitely never forget Michel Gondry coming to dinner with us.

Over dinner we talked about a variety of different topics ranging from our movie (“It was.. okay!”) to the importance of proper storyboarding (“This (our storyboard) is not the best one I’ve seen..”), from Eliot Spitzer (“I don’t see what the big deal is”) to prostitutes (“They are so mean!”). Mostly, though, he told us about his new movie, about a girl who comes to MIT to discover a world of possibility in various experiments being run underground. Hearing him talk about the film, as well as ask us pointed questions about the feeling of arriving at MIT for the first time, was incredibly uplifting, as a lot of movies try to portray MIT pretty unrealistically. The script is still in its early stages; even so, I’m so excited for its release.

As a whole, we left New York feeling inspired, and May left with a kiss on the cheek from Michel Gondry. Except she didn’t know it was coming, so she moved away right as he was about to kiss her goodbye, and left Michel Gondry hanging awkwardly. “Uhh.. I was trying to kiss you, but I will just shake everybody’s hand instead.” And everyone was disappointed. Thanks a lot, May.

Though I think Dave summed it up best when we got back to South Station:

Dave: Can you believe we were here just this morning?
Sila: Look, even the McDonalds menu is different now!
Dave: (wistfully) So much has changed…

(Thanks to Michele for making this entire incredible experience possible!)

26 responses to “Meeting Michel Gondry”

  1. Just Me says:

    FIRST!!!! Made my day!!

  2. Isshak says:

    Wow, I did not know you liked making movies. And you got french accents ! Nice.
    Hey wait, why is there an arrow from “end of civilization” to “Oprah” ??? lool

  3. VERY COOL!!! You’ve convinced me to go for FAP… And try escargot. wink

  4. Becky '12 says:

    That’s awesome!

    When can we start signing up for FPOPs? I was thinking of doing FAP for creative writing. =]

  5. Omar '12 says:

    Can you post the video on youtube Jess? I would totally like to see it. Sounds like it’d be fun to watch.

  6. (Except for Ken, who got another quiche.)
    Wow I’m such a fatty. Good times though smile

  7. '12 says:

    OMG. I can’t believe she almost got a kiss from Michel Gondry!

  8. Paul says:

    Hey Ken (and other friends)! Now I understand the email you sent me saying you were in New York…! :D

    Awesome entry. By the way, pre-frosh, FPOPs are amazing. More blogs and more info later (you can’t sign up until the summer, sorry), but trust me, they are great fun.

  9. @ Aditi:
    No, you can only do one discipline for FAP. Most of the time for FAP is spent on non-discipline time, but for the two-hours-or-so each day you do you can only do one thing. I did photo….I think Jess did creative writing two years ago?? But yeah, it’s fantastic.

  10. May Liu, on the other hand, did get not one but TWO kisses from Michel Gondry.

  11. Snively says:

    Jess did DME, because everybody should do DME, because DME is AWESOME!!!

  12. Steph says:

    I want to see your movie. lol

    I guess we can look forward to seeing a new MIT movie. Michael Gondry will do a great job.

  13. Aditi says:

    enlightenment required smile

  14. milena '11 says:

    Hahah I love how you point out that MIT paid for your food. I always go loco when MIT picks up the tab and I order stuff I would normally not order because I can’t afford to.

  15. Paul says:

    All the dates for next year’s Orientation (including Pre-Orientation and International Orientation) are given here. Enjoy!

  16. Jess says:

    Yeah, I did DME. But I did go to the FAP karaoke party/talent show and had an awesome time!

    We had to leave the movie at the Deitch gallery, but I’ve emailed them asking if we could get a copy back. If so, we might put it online. Like I said, it wasn’t our best work (I definitely have some accidental shots of the ground in there..) soo.. we’ll see! Maybe if you’re good?

  17. Anonymous says:

    Great post, Jess!

    I’ve been reading your blog for a while and really appreciate your photo entries. I’ve been wondering – what program do you use to create those uber cool arrows?

  18. Melissa says:

    May/Can we see the movie you all made? smile

  19. Aditi says:

    And yes, can we please see the movie? smile

    Also, is it possible to sign up for more than one activity/discipline offered by the FAP during pre orientation?

  20. Davorama says:

    I love making movies! Although I’ve only made one really bad 10 min vid.

    However!!! for english this year, five other people and I will be doing something to parody Pride and Prejudice.

    P.S. I still haven’t seen Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless mind :X

  21. wow!

    first 21, and now a movie by Michael Gondry @ MIT?!?

    either MIT has an excellent PR squad or MIT is just an awesome, hip place to be!

    i have a hunch that it’s more the later, however…


  22. Becca says:

    When is orientation/ FPOPs?

  23. DrBurst says:

    “OMG. I can’t believe she almost got a kiss from Michel Gondry!”

    yea, that’s one of those moments that’s going to be in a speech.

  24. The Man wants to say sorry in person

  25. Wow sorry Jess you must have told me ten times that you did DME.

  26. Jess says:

    @ Anonymous – I draw the arrows in photoshop.

    @ Arthur – It’s cool, I forgive you. But I’ll never forget.