Cannes 2024 and Tea Short Film With Blake Rice and Crew

In Competition at the 77th edition of the Cannes Film Festival, ‘Tea’ is directed by Blake Rice and is starring Michael Gandolfini, Olivia Nikkanen, Zina Louhaichy, and Matt Van Orden, A Comedy, the story of the short film takes place in the early 1990’s, where a highly allergic and desperately allergic Circuit-Shack employee played by Michael Gandolfini is rehearsing asking out the girl of his dreams, when he suddenly gets stung in the throat by a hornet.

The film ‘Tea’ was shot in a total of two days and the team faced challenges from the weather to driving a box around New York City. When the ‘Tea’ met up with CineVino on the rooftop of the Palais at the Cannes Film Festival to talk about working together, and the film’s debut at the Cannes Film Festival we got to see what keeps this TEA-M together.

IN THIS INTERVIEW

  • Blake Rice – Writer/Director
  • Olivia Nikkanen – Lead Actress
  • Gabriella Piazza – Producer
  • Michael Cejovic – Producer
  • Mike O’Brien – Editor/Producer
  • Matheus Bastos – Cinematographer

Eric Ethan: Blake, can you please tell us what is the synopsis of the film?

‘Tea’ is a near and dear story set in the early 90s in New Jersey, and it’s a comedy about loneliness.

“It’s not a solo journey. This thing would stink alone. It’s a team sport. ” – Blake Rice

How did you go about casting?

So casting is one of the most crucial parts of the story, and we are lucky enough to have this picture told by two incredibly talented leads that were gracious enough to lend us the time and their ability to the story. First off is Michael Gandolfini who is connected by our producer Gabriela Piazza, who did the Sopranos project. And after hitting off with them we kind of became friends and started thinking about something creative together and when we found ‘Tea’, we immediately went well who’s going to be the counterpart to someone with such an incredible history of work and future to come. After a thorough, thorough casting process, we put Olivia through the wringer and she crushed it. We actually knew it from the start and part of the success so far and the honor of being at Cannes is so much due to their performances and you know them trusting us and giving you know not only like the professionalism to it, but believing in us and believing in me to put this thing in the right hands and tell a story that’s worth their ability on it. I am really proud of their performances.

How did you begin working with the DoP and the editor here?

Blake Rice: Mateus and I, how did we meet? I think through the New York grind, friends of friends. I think in today’s day and age of indie filmmaking, you’re kinda seeing, I think through a lot of social media, who’s cookin’ up and whose frames are good, and kind of, you know, you’re growing and you’re growing your network, and you start, in New York, that circle becomes shorter and shorter with people as they’re all leveling up. And Mateus is someone I’ve had my eye on for a minute, and lucky enough that I was able to grab him before he’s shooting the next Avengers movie. “What do you got next?” Was able to grab him for a couple days, and again, he’s a total credit to what we’ve got on the screen right here.

(Blake turns to Matteus) Blake: How do you think we met?

Matheus Bastos: Blake and I had a lot of mutual friends, and we met just through, like I said, our small circle friends, and we’ve been chatting about different projects, kind of, shoot together, and some we talked about didn’t work out, scheduling, et cetera, et cetera, and then hit me up for this one, and the timing just worked out right, and it was a project that just seemed like, you know, up my alley, with sort of the naturalistic lighting and the camera movement, and the kind of story, and with Blake’s sort of comedic acting background, and I think it was a good pair, and we got it done.

So, Mike O’Brien let’s talk about editing this film on the short film TEA.

Mike O’Brien: Yes, so I went to college with Blake. We had a sketch comedy show that we worked on many, many years back. It was called Socially Awkward, and we just got to know each other really well, and I learned his style, his technique, and he learned about me, and we just hit it off right away. We applied to, well, didn’t apply, we submitted to Campus Movie Fest, which was the big festival that all campuses submitted to. Yeah, it was. And we didn’t get in. We got snubbed. And I was pretty upset about it. But I’m OK now, because we’re in beautiful conference. And the relationship’s grown over the years. Blake and I have kept in touch. And my background’s mainly with music videos and commercial editing, but the narrative space Blake brought me into. And I’m excited to keep continuing working with this guy.

Could you share a little bit about what’s the difference between cutting for a music video or such project video?

Right. So cutting for a music video, it’s really very stylistic. Usually you take the baton and kind of run with it, do whatever you want. Narrative, you have a structure you go with, which I love. And you still have a style that you infuse into it. But the structure is there. And it’s real life. I feel like cutting up a real story and compared to a music video where it’s just it’s kind of it’s run by the music. There’s no silence and I love the silence and everything that narrative has. To be honest it’s a breath of fresh air,

As Producers, what was the process in bringing this all together?

We’ve had the pleasure of working with Blake and the team, this isn’t our first film together. And I think Blake really fosters a collaborative environment when it comes to every level of filmmaking. So he brings people onto this set that they’re there because you trust them. And I think from a producing standpoint, that’s so helpful because you know that everybody involved is gonna help you out. And he also gives you as producers such trust to really take the reins and do what needs to be done under his leadership. And it took a lot of collaboration. Filmmaking is a team sport. And it starts with your director and bleeds into all areas. And I think this process would not have come together if it wasn’t for insane help from everybody. I mean, I think I called Matheus, like a thousand times. “Is this the right lens?” And then I’m calling Mike (Cejovic) a thousand times, being like, “I don’t know if I can drive a box truck around New York City. I don’t think I can do this!” And it’s just like positive reinforcement.

Michael Cejovic: I mean, when it comes down to getting a bunch of dedicated artists to try and create something and everyone’s willing to collaborate and make something amazing happen, and there’s so many great ideas in this pot together that you try to execute perfectly just through the lens the way that we were able to get, and I think that was just the easiest slash hardest thing to do with this team because it was such a perfect dance with everyone, which is, if anyone knows, it’s really hard to create a crew and cast that you can work with like this, and especially in a quick format of two days, get this all done, shoot it, execute, and nail it. So, I mean, when it comes down to that, it’s great leadership, great leadership, and just teamwork all around everyone. Everyone did great with their positions out here, so it made life a lot easier.

Blake Rice: And jumping in on that, I think a testament to their work is, you know, you create the environment and the energy that the producers put forward of, look, this is super collaborative. This is super fun. You’re going to have a blast on set, but you’re also going to bust ass, you know? We have a high bar for people we like to work with because we’re all friends. We all hang out, but we also are all separately improving our own game and then showing up ready to play. The total vibe that we create and the energy that I hope comes off, I think it all relates to the screen. And I think all that shows up in the frame. And it’s thanks to those two right there. (referring to Gabriella Piazza and Michael Cejovic).

Blake Rice: My next question I have is, we’re all super tight, we’re all homies, but Olivia is new, new to the crew. What was it like for you jumping on this Band of Morons? And what was your experience like when you met these people who hit you up from the internet?

Olivia Nikkanen: Wow. Thanks. What’s your name? (jokingly) Oh my God. So great to meet you. It will be my last time working with him. No, I couldn’t have asked for a more welcoming group of people and the fact that they let me jump in and immediately trusted what I brought to them and trusted the opinions that I gave and trusted the way that I wanted to care for Tierney, the character. And to work with everybody in such a collaborative space, I think you don’t get very often, especially when you have such a tight schedule and you’re working under circumstances that are normal for any kind of short film, which could be a really stressful experience. They made it so beautiful and fun and like what it should be, which is play. So I had a great time and now they can’t get rid of me, which is awesome for them.

Would you like to share a little bit about your experience here again?

Olivia Nikkanen: Oh, absolutely. So this is my first time at Cannes and I still don’t think I’ve fully processed the fact that I’m here or wearing sunglasses or that there’s a sun on my back right now. I’m very blown away by how passionate everyone is about film here and how passionate everyone is about our film and welcoming us into this festival for the first time. It’s been really beautiful and everybody I’ve met is just so excited about film and it makes me look forward to a continuing collaboration and career in this field, which is really wonderful.

Blake Rice: Can I brag about our DP for a second? and someone else so you’ll see when you check out ‘Tea’ it all shot in one day the way you know it’s it’s it happens in about I’d say like a two it’s maybe an hour long story like in the in the world of the film and we’re using all natural light there we’re trying to capture a magic hour look right for the climax and we have two days to shoot and our plan was to shoot everything until basically this third chapter of the story for the magic hour look and we’re checking the weather our producers because they’re on top of it they’re checking the weather and it’s like man tomorrow’s gonna be brutal we might not have the time to do this and so as good production does they look at the clock and they present it to me and they go look you’re gonna either have to shoot out this magic hour right now which it is and you might have one or two takes and or you can risk this shooting the next day and it might be cloudy and the look might suck and so then we say yes to that because Matt is able to make it happen Mateus is able to make it happen and we get to the point where I’m over blocking I’m in between these two in between talent and and him he’s operating and eventually I get to the point where Matt is so precise he has such good knowledge of the Sun coming in and cut in the shadows being cut and he’s he’s basically like Blake you need to rotate these actors we need to reblock this every every 15 minutes pretty much and he’s telling me all this stuff and he’s being so appropriate and I’m like dude you need to block and handle them you need to take over the reins of the rest of this scene and he did and he was able kind of to command the troops and bridge that line between DP operator and working very intimately with the town as well which I think pulled off a major part of the movie and another reason we able to pull that off too is by happenstance our SFX artists the incredible Mackenzie Brooks was 45 minutes early with Michaels makeup Michael’s prosthetics which in the world of prosthetics never happens and because she was ready because the producers saw the weather coming in because Mateus understands everything there’s no about light in our are prepped, and everyone was dialed in, we were able to pull off that climax. And it’s one of my favorite moments from the film. And I’m curious to hear how, do you remember how, like exactly what you had to do then, and what like, walk us through the steps there?

Matheus Bastos: I remember it very well.

Blake Rice: So, I’m gonna jump off the bridge now.

Matheus Bastos: So, I mean, listen, as the job of a DP, I always say it’s both translation and manipulation. It’s the translation of the written material, and the vision of the director into the screen. But it’s also the manipulation of, you know, the audience watching the film. And I also sneak in there, the manipulation of giving the director what they want, without knowing it’s really what I want. And I think a lot of that was, you know, luckily we had a scout day, and I was able to see that while the film, we had to shoot it all in one day, we perfectly kind of laid out almost in order, like in story order, I think, sequentially, that like, the sun’s gonna start here, it’s gonna move this way, and that I kind of would, you know, gently manipulate Blake to be like you know be really great if we block them like this because I always try to have the sudden a certain kind of place and knowing that it’s gonna sort of end up on the other side of the set but I knew we were gonna point down that way and so when we get sort of the last final wee hours of light of the day you know it kind of ends up being a little I feel there’s a lot of filmmaking kind of it’s related to music and the term would be like it felt like jazz right but I think that’s what that meant was a lot of improv and a lot of like trusting each other and it takes a little bit of like looking at Blake and being like let me go you know let’s do it and and he wanted that too and I think that to accomplish that I think it requires trust it requires preparation but really I think with any sort of low -budget independent filmmaking it requires being on the same page if everyone’s on the same page then sort of like budget and restrictions and everything else you got kind of like the weight of that greatly diminishes because you know what you have to do and you know under pressure is when they make diamonds and I think that we accomplished that just by sort of being ready and moving and that comes from Olivia’s and Michael’s great performance of you know there was no like okay how was that it was like there is none of that you’re just in it until the very last little bit of light is gone and that’s what we pulled off in the film yeah

Blake Rice: Okay, so I have a question for O.B. (Mike O’Brien) OB is obviously our wonderful producer and editor. It’s not often that the editor gets to be on set, you know, and kind of watching the day unfold and you were also involved with like, you know, making sure that all these sort of dailies were being processed correctly, also helping like make sure the days are getting done and everything. So I want to know, as an editor, O.B., what was the value of you getting to be on set and how does Editor OB work with Producer OB?

Mike O’Brien: Well, editor OB being on set is a huge advantage for any editor I feel because ultimately you and the director work hand -in -hand once you get into post. So knowing what the shots were, what scenes worked, what didn’t work, you have a first -hand experience. You’re not just reading script notes and, you know, taking guesses at things. I think it’s, and also just a synergy of the whole production to be there on set with everybody is very, very beneficial. So me seeing everything go down and just knowing things sped my process up in post because I knew well this didn’t work I was there, so I could skip through that essentially and just keep the process moving and I think it helped Blake you know as a director to sort of do we need this right we were on such a crunch and you know some things we just didn’t necessarily need do we need to do another take? No we’re good we got it, let’s keep it moving whereas if an editor wasn’t there maybe we just kept going and burnt time so definitely has advantages and yeah I love being on set.

Blake Rice: Producers, you’re now at Cannes for the first time you’re producing shorts coming up the indie way and now you’re very clearly exposed to a different swarm of bees! (Everyone laughs) No, producers you’re in Cannes, you’re in a new experience and I feel like you must be getting opportunities that are different from indie shorts that are self-financed from some scrappy East-coasters. What’s it like being kind of pushed into the deep end on pitches on talking with studios and talking with production companies and scaling up your career to a point that you know might be uncharted territory?

Michael Cejovic: I mean we got into this business in completely uncharted territory. It’s just been get thrown to the sharks every time and try to keep your head above water right and that’s what we’ve been doing. So you know finally we’re all comfortable we love this we’re working together we’re making our shorts we’re enjoying life, this is great like let’s keep another one going and another one going and then yeah we got comfy. So now that’s cut right out from under us. Now we’re in here we’re back to trying to figure this all out just essentially winging it but in like the most comfortable of ways like we’ve been doing this I we live for this. This is what we’ve been working for the entire time so I’ve never felt more comfortable in this uncomfortable situation.

Gabriella Piazza: We’ve got a question for our director really quickly. So in this process of making ‘Tea’ and now where you are. I know I heard somebody at the festival say there are things that you never really allow yourself to dream of. And now you’re here and for you what has it been like you through this process, and what are you most excited about after, you know, when you wake up on Sunday after the awards ceremony, what are you most excited about for the days to come?

Blake Rice: Probably Tums and a Nap and a Pepto -Bismol sandwich. No, great question. What I’m most excited about, I think immediately after Cannes, the first thing’s gonna sound whimsical. It’s like, I’m excited to see the rest of the team flourish. I know that sounds corny and canned response for what everyone says, but I don’t do it for the Blake Show. You know what I mean? Like the fun part is being in the weeds on set and running out of light and figuring it out. And to be here and see not only everyone getting celebrated for their work on ‘Tea’, to see everyone else’s careers flourish on other jobs and other opportunities, and like just seeing this next level of the career blossom is, you know, it’s a total tug on the heart chords for me. And also part of the reason I do it. It’s not a solo journey. This thing would stink alone. It’s a team sport. Next steps too in a dream of mine is like, is bringing the work in, you know? I think I’ve shown 3% of what I’m capable of and what our team is capable of. And now that we’re gracious enough from Cannes and thanks to the Film Festival for putting us in the position to have larger scale work coming out, you know, hopefully within the calendar year is, you know, it’s nothing but a kid’s dream. I started it at 14. My parents gave me a handicam because my grades were so bad that they said, maybe this will, you know, help you be more creative. And I started making, getting kicked in the crotch videos with my buddies. And then I started pitching my teachers that I could do projects instead of take tests. And some said yes. And then I started shooting stuff for the school. And then I started studying film. And to think from having a very fitting end to that chapter and shooting something, like Tea’, that’s partially on a handicam from where I began as a kid back in the day with some of my most trusted and dearest friends, that’s the total dream. And that’s the juice that’s worth the squeeze on it. I’m just pump for the next chapter, man.

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