behind the scenes with my life in sourdough

Sheldon chau sourdough

Connecting with people who are living life a little differently or creatively is a really powerful force in my life. Whether it's my little urban family of girlfriends, other freelancers, or just reading about someone fighting for a cause or owning who they are, the interactions always leave me feeling inspired and excited to power on. I thought it would be fun to share some conversations here on Frolic! with people who are making interesting things happen.

I am a sucker for a good romantic comedy. Even better if it offers a refreshing angle on the single life and better still if it involves the love of food! Enter: My Life in Sourdough (previously mentioned here). This wee web series features the adventures of Jeanne, a food-loving, French girl living in Brooklyn. Watch the trailer above, and find all the episodes right here. Marie, the star of the show, writer, and director, joins us today on Frolic! for a chat about food, filmmaking and pursuing a creative life. I hope you enjoy!

Chelsea: I love that blogs are blank, creative slates that can always be kept current. I am always trying to think of new ways to use mine so i was excited to see that you integrated a mini series into your blog. Is there a reason you chose the blogging format to present your show?

Marie: I have been blogging for a while on my personal blog and I really love the freedom of the format. The idea was to release additional content such as recipes, photos, and behind the scenes photos between episodes. I'm using Vimeo and You Tube for the video content but I also wanted the series to have a home.
C: I  appreciate that you are showing a different view of the single life than is normally shown in mainstream media. It feels more relatable. Is this story true to your own life? Does it have any basis on your own experiences? 
 M: The series was inspired by my love for food and film: if you love doing two things separately, why not try doing them together? There are a lot of shows picturing the life of single women, but I think they sometimes make it look more glamorous – or at least more eventful – than it actually is. In My Life in Sourdough, I wanted to focus on a character who is just not having one night stand after the other – though she probably wishes she did. She is looking for something else. And that something else is harder to find. Living in New York is all very exciting but the dating scene is not exactly a piece of cake. Just as there are too many restaurants here, there are also too many options. People are more afraid of commitment : they've just settled on a good Ramen place but what about this other Sushi place round the corner? Aren't they missing out? The same applies to relationships. 

My life in sourdough is loosely based on my own experiences – as well as that of the actors and non-actors I've cast but the storyline of each episode is fiction. I do own a sourdough starter in real life, just like Jeanne. Stan, who plays Paul does eat raw eggs as part of his boxer diet. Patrick, who plays Peter used to be a ballet dancer before becoming an actor and the mustache guy really is a salesperson who brews cider in his basement! 

Filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky's advice to beginners was 'not to separate their movie, their film from the life they live. Not to make a difference between the film and their own life'. I'm a beginner – I've only been making films for 3 years – and I very much relate to this. Cooking has been part of my life for a long time, and I've incorporated it into my filmmaking process. I cook, I shoot the things I eat, my life becomes my work and vice versa. The line between fiction and first hand experience becomes blurred – almost like in documentary fiction. Sometimes real life follows film: in episode 5, my character Jeanne waits for a text from Carl, a chef she met the night before. While we were shooting that scene, I was actually waiting for a text myself. 


C: The show feels very natural and unscripted sometimes, like we are just peeking into your life. Do you follow a script or do you improvise as you are shooting?

 M: The episodes are scripted but they're grounded in real life – the line between the characters and the actors is voluntarily blurry, and some dialogue lines are based on actual conversations, hence the unscripted feeling. When we shoot, we follow the script but we read just as we go, dropping or adding lines. I also leave room for some improvisation – but always basing the improvisation off of the main beats of the script. Shooting a film is about creating an atmosphere where surprises can happen.

C: Do you have any formal culinary training? 

M: Not really. I cook everyday and try a new recipe or ingredient at least once a week.  A few years ago, I followed a pâtisserie course in Paris 3 hours a week for 5 months, in which I learned some basic techniques but my culinary training mainly comes from my own experience. I've cooked and baked since I was a kid, inspired by the people around me – my grand-mother, my mum and dad – as well as cookery books from the library and trips to food markets. One of my next projects is to tell the story of my grand-mother's journey as a political refugee across Europe through the recipes she left me (all typed with her type-writer).

C: Do you do all the styling? The visuals of My Life in Sourdough are so lovely!

M: Yes, all the styling is homemade. The food props either come from my own kitchen or become part of it! Together with the very talented Chananun Chotrungroj, who is the director of photography on the series, we created the visual style of My life in sourdough.  

C: I love that the epiodes are so short. Is there a reason you chose to keep them around 5 minutes?

M: I love short formats in general – short films, short stories, short plays – and on the web, shorter is always better. I chose to keep the episodes under 5 minutes and the food videos around 1 minute but I'm working on a longer version of the series.  

C: So you write, direct, and star in the show but also are a full-time photographer? How do you balance all of your creative pursuits? 

M: Yes, it's a bit intense. There are weeks where my life is very 'sourdough' heavy. Some shooting days have been hectic! For the next episode, I asked a friend to be the guest director and the actual shoot was a much more chilled experience for me where I could focus more on acting. 

I'm used to doing many things at the same time, and I love it – while training as a lawyer, I would write, direct and take photos on the side. Now my focus is filmmaking and photography but I also write, cook, and act.This month, I've been editing the next sourdough food videos, rewriting my feature script, shooting a series on gay Paris and I'm now acting in a short film in Abu Dhabi.


C: Do you have any tips on cooking for one?

M: I love cooking for people but I don't like the idea that cooking for one is not worth it. Just like I like going to the cinema alone sometimes, I also love cooking for myself. Buy fresh food and improvise would be my tip. In my daily life, I always have basics in my pantry and fridge (risotto rice, pasta, butter, eggs, crème fraîche, parmesan cheese, gorgonzola). I try to go to a farmer's market once or twice a week to buy fresh vegetables and fruits. And comes the night, I improvise: spaghetti with broccoli, parmesan and lemon zest; leek risotto; roasted romanesco cauliflower. I also love recycling left-overs: making arancini with left-over risotto is the best! My own version works without the breadcrumbs. I make little rice balls around a square of gorgonzola and let them fry in oil until the rice becomes crispy. These days, I also love baking apples, sliced in thin slices, with a little bit of honey and a cinnamon stick in the middle. Makes a great desert and an even better breakfast. And If I decide to make a plum jam, a cheesecake or salted butter caramels, I'll bring some to my friends the next day. Cooking and taking photos on a daily basis center me – if I don't cook or take photos every day, I don't feel as creative. 
Thank you, Marie! Check out My Life in Sourdough right here. Also, I had fun digging through Marie's photography and writing blog, Est Ouest. Check it out for refreshing portraits, cinematic photos, travel, film talk, thoughts on feminism, and cooking tips! 
Top photo: Sheldon Chau. Other photos: My Life in Sourdough