Nicolas Kadima is a creative director, filmmaker and personable fellow with an eye for the fantastical in the everyday. In his film Radio Tennis he uses that same eye to tackle the always pressing issue of workplace horseplay and competition. In this instance, the nocturnal time-passing sport is Radio Tennis, favoured by those silent guardians of civilization’s greatest treasures – museum security guards. Far from the portly and nap-inclined, these young competitors are lithe, athletic and willing to punish themselves in pursuit of their final aim – total sport domination.
At the time that this conversation took place, Nicolas had just started working on a new independent film noir called The Invisible Mouth (another new project for the always busy director), but he was able to gather his affable collaborators on the project, Director of Photography Sasha Moric and producer Foad Almassi, to join our conversation. We spent a good bit of time talking inspiration, method, the importance of tom-foolery on set and in life and film from JAWS to Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1966 mod era defining masterpiece of a film, Blow Up, which also featured pantomimed tennis.
“I think there are literally stories in every little piece of equipment, of furniture, or anything that we look at.”
“I don't know the reason why I got into it, but it's the only thing I've ever done. Like if didn't do this job, then I'd be homeless on the street. This is the only thing I can do.”
NICOLAS: You know when I was in first grade, we had to do a slide. And so what we did is we did a drawing on a piece of paper, like just a regular eight and a half by eleven paper. And everybody in the class did a little drawing in one square of the paper, right? So the paper was divided in like, I don't know, thirty squares. And then the teacher took the page and she dipped it, and she soaked it in oil, like a vegetable oil. And then she pulled it out and it was translucent. So after like, cleaning it up, we cut each of our little squares of the page and sandwich that in a little slide holder. So you're probably too young to know slides, but you've used things like projectors, yeah? There you go, so, basically we sandwiched each of the little squares – then they were translucent now – and then we'd projected a slideshow and all our drawings were huge on the screen. So that was a big kind of uh, turn on, going like – wow the projected image is amazing – because these drawings were like, I don't know, one square inch. So that was kind of empowering, right? As a kid? To see your image that size – it's bigger than the teacher, it's bigger than everything – and you go wow, I can do that stuff! So I'd say that would be a good start… Yeah, and then over the years – all kinds of projects and uh, leading up to hooking up with Foad and Sasha, and working on the feature film project together now so, it's been non-stop since then. SASHA: Well I started shooting uh, I got my first camera when I was sixteen – like a little Sony high 8 camera. And now, ever since I was a kid I've always been interested in the visual arts – there was a history of painters in my family too, and artists. So my medium was video. I got the camera when I was like sixteen and I started shooting little short films and then I got into photography after that for a few years. I got my own setup and stuff in the basement – and I've always been into it, I've never done anything else. I don't know the reason why I got into it, but it's the only thing I've ever done. Like if didn't do this job, then I'd be homeless on the street. (laughs) This is the only thing I can do.
FOAD: I would have to say early on, I guess… I would say 'the' film that kind of, based on the effect that it had on me and my real life – I was a big fan of JAWS. I remember I saw that film and I just couldn't fathom at the time like how can just seeing something on TV could really have such an impact, an actual effect on your life. I mean you know, it went from that to being scared of big bodies of water, and then sharks, and then that turned into an obsession with the great white shark. But I remember the uh, I was just fascinated with the impact that just sitting somewhere and walking away with this feeling of you know, who made this film? They probably don't know me but like the fact that they had that effect on me was very intriguing and um, just carried on from there and the love for film grew and uh, yeah! Here I am today – I just can't imagine doing anything else. I just live and breathe film and I love everything about it.
NICOLAS: I think that uh… Well, I mean that's a very personal question – I can tell you for myself, Jay, I think there's so many ideas everywhere, and I can give you an anecdote but I mean I have a million of those but um, I went to the bar the other night and I sat down on the stool and something dug into my butt. You know, and I was like what is this? And it was like a weird plastic widget, and looking at it I had absolutely no idea what it was for – I couldn't figure it out. I showed it to the people at the bar, they had no idea what it is, so obviously that thing was going to end up in the garbage can, but I'm thinking who made this? You know? Somebody made this thing. And I started picturing like, probably somebody in China in a factory – maybe a lady – and you know, she got up, she was sick that morning, she got out of bed, she was feeling awful, she had to run to work and she almost got fired… and you know, she got in big trouble and all that stuff and got a pay cut, and then she made that widget, and it kind of made its way here, and nobody knows what it's for and it's going to end up in the garbage can. It’s kind of amazing the amount of stuff that surrounds us and things that are around us, surrounding us that we have no idea where they come from but somebody actually sat down to make it. And I think there are literally stories in every little piece of equipment, of furniture, or anything that we look at. If we sit down and if you don't think of the function of it, you have to think of it in another way than its normal function and our piece is about that. It's about using a security guard, using a walkie-talkie and now completely disregarding their normal function and looking at what else we can do with them. So I think probably the creative process is looking at something and see what it's not meant for, and use it for that. Do you know what I mean? So that'd be, I don't know. For me, that's it. SASHA: My process – working with Nicolas – because Nicolas is like the idea man, so he'll come up with the ideas, the concepts, and sometimes I don't understand them a hundred percent. But, I believe in Nicolas – I believe in his fault-free vision to put all the pieces of the puzzle together. So he'll come to me with a project and we'll talk about what the project means, what we want to say, and then I'll suggest visual styles to him possibly that help convey that message in a subtle way. And Nicolas started working with me, and he always believed in my work – he always let me do, kind of what I do – and he just happened to like it, we just happen to have the same tastes in the way… in the visuals that we like. And I think because of that, we have a trust for each other, and it allows for the movie magic to happen. When you can trust the director… If the director trusts you and if I trust the director in return, it really allows for a very comfortable environment and uh, get great stuff. It just uh, it matched.
NICOLAS: I'm gonna cry. (laughs)
FOAD: No, but uh, a lot of that, it's true – what Sasha said – I think that between them, they have a really unique relationship. There's a trust factor there as far as leaving some creativity for the cinematographer and vice-versa, back and forth – what they have is a great report. It's a little bit of a different relationship to have with Nicolas – we actually tend to see a lot of the same things together. Our eye is very similar as far as taste goes, and, you know, what gets us excited.
NICOLAS: Mhmm. Yeah, totally. That's a great film by the way – thanks for bringing that up – it's such a gorgeous classic, that's cool.
NICOLAS: You know Jay, that's exactly it. Like uh, I was in Montréal a few years ago after the bars and I was trying to get back home and the subway was closed and I kind of somehow got… I don't know the underground of Montréal, and I somehow got lost in there and popped up in the convention centre, Le Palais des Congrès and it was empty. It was closed and I couldn't get out because the doors were locked. So I kind of started wandering in this thing and uh, I heard exactly what you described; pong! And I'm like what is going on? So I could only follow that sound because you know I thought maybe there was an exit around there, and I actually turned this corner and what I saw was actually exactly what we were doing, which is two security guards that were bored and they were playing tennis with no ball. And they were using their radios to make the beeps. So I watched them for about twenty minutes and they didn't know I was there, and they were doing some amazing moves and I thought it was so beautiful and magic and playful and um… Part of also being a director, there's a point where you kind of just have to catch those ideas when they're there, and be open to them and put them in your box and keep them until the moment comes again. So that's what's really behind our particular thing is the fact that they were using their radios completely… in a way that the radio wasn't meant to be used. But I could almost see the ball, the guys were so good at it, so I assumed they must have been doing this for a while. And it was just – they didn't even have an audience – it was just pure fun. Finally I had to stop them and ask them how to get out, but uh, we all had a good laugh about it. And they literally had games where they would stop, "Okay, let's start a new one", all that stuff. Yeah, beautiful. Beautiful, imagination of people when they're bored.
NICOLAS: Like that? That's a bit physical. But I used to work in a big entertainment company when I started in the biz and um… the best thing I could say, I mean a fun story is that everybody had the same computers – we all got new computers, I don't know how many hundreds they bought – and there was a key that was bad, the 'e' was bad on one of the keyboards. So we used to kind of switch them around and see who would get the bad keyboard in the morning. And then tried to get it up the ranks as high as possible. And so you had to have the balls to go switch it on a, you know, a VP almost, and that kind of thing. And then one day, I swear to you – e-mail comes from the president, with the missing letter 'e', like every second word was missing the letter 'e', and I don't know who scored that one but whoever did that won the game hands down because somebody had the balls to kind of somehow get into the president's office – which was locked – and swap the keyboard on the guy. And that's a true story! So that would be as close as it comes to a radio tennis for me anyways, I don't know about you guys… Oh, they're gone. What about you?
FOAD: Louvre would have to be one of them. I mean you've got uh, Roland Garros for French Open, and Louvre should be probably one of the grand slams of you know, beep tennis ball uh, whatever, we have to come up with a better name for it. Whether it's beep ball or uh, yeah I would say Louvre or one of the main ones. NICOLAS: I don't know… The Louvre is a very good one. My three museums would be, you know the museum of death in Bangkok? Have you ever seen images from there? That's like the world-renowned museum of death. That would be very cool to play there. And um, I'm thinking also you know Madame Tussauds makes all those wax figures? That would be a cool place – a wax museum – to play as well I think.
SASHA: The more household name museums would be equivalent to what a grand slam event is – and so all the smaller, you know, inner-city, small-time art galleries would be one of these ATP tours. Kind of like, they'd play those throughout the year and if they have enough points they get an invitation to these prestigious museums to play for a championship.
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Article by Jay Watts for Stoli Canada