Jenna Suru established Belle Époque Films in January 2015. Her experience in film production started in Los Angeles, where she was Production Assistant on Dahn and Alimi Ballard’s (Numb3rs, CSI, Castle) TV show “The Experiment with Dahn and Ali”.
With her company Belle Époque Films, she produced the highly‐praised, sold-out Los Angeles Premiere of “Happy”, published by Samuel French. She Executive Produced two UK shorts. The first, “Spitball”, was funded by the Northern Ireland Screen, and the second, “Bigger Picture”, starred BAFTA‐nominated Robert Sheehan (Misfits, The Umbrella Academy) and Rosie Day (Outlander).
She directed and produced her debut feature film “L’Âge d’Or” with an international cast, 35 exceptional locations, and an outstanding soundtrack, featuring songs from Chuck Berry and Jimmy Reed. Jenna has been working for Canneseries (Cannes Series Festival) since the very first edition and her multiple talents enable her to give the best of herself on any project, from development to distribution stage.
Welcome to TV Series Hub, how do you usually introduce yourself?
Thank you for having me! I’m the CEO of the French feature film company Belle Époque Films. “L’ Âge d’Or” (“The Golden Age”) is my debut feature I’ve directed, written and star in, a period drama set in France and USA in the 1960s. It’s a tribute to artists from over the world who flew to Saint-Tropez at that time to change that world they didn’t fit in.
I’ve produced “L’ Âge d’Or” as only producer under Belle Époque Films, through which I had produced a few awarded films, for instance, “The Bigger Picture”, starring Robert Sheehan (Misfits, The Umbrella Academy) & Rosie Day (Outlander), shot on 35 mm with an Oscar-nominated DP.
What does being a producer entail? How did you decide to follow that career path?
I started acting in Paris when I was 8 years old and decided to undertake more acting classes in Los Angeles when I was 17. There I also learned a lot about the many dimensions of the film industry, from directing to producing, even marketing and make-up, and made my final commitment to become a filmmaker.
Being a producer entails a lot of hard work and responsibilities as you’re in charge of gathering the financing for the film, as well as planning and coordinating all the aspects of film production until the completion of the project. In my eyes, as a producer, you’re also in charge of making your film as high level as possible and partnering with the very best of talents.
When did you decide to establish your own production company? Why and what urged you to do so?
Training in Los Angeles as an actress was a big inspiration, which led me to study very hard at number one of what we call in France « Classe Préparatoire » (an intensive preparation class for highly competitive entrance examination to top-level Business Schools). I enrolled at ESCP Europe, where I specialized in the media sector and creativity marketing, studying both on their Paris and London Campuses. There I learned a lot about the many dimensions of the cinema business, aside from the artistic training I had pursued internationally as a filmmaker and actor.
As part of my studying I’ve also worked at the International Sales Department of Gaumont and Digital Sales Department of SND, two top film distributors in France. Those experiences were such inspirations that when I moved to London to finish my studies, it felt like a no-point return. I opened my French feature film company Belle Époque Films in January 2015.
What challenges have you experienced so far?
It’s been the most challenging and exciting journey ever for sure. The first challenge I had to face, aside from establishing the company legally, working on its marketing and finding first clients, was to choose the right projects to produce. The first productions of a film company are key, as they’re part of your branding and are a way to prove your gut-feeling and skills as a producer. I kickstarted Belle Époque Films with both film and theatre projects. I produced the highly-praised, sold-out Los Angeles Premiere of “Happy”, published by Samuel French, and Co-Produced two UK shorts. The first, “Spitball”, was funded by the Northern Ireland Screen, and the second, “Bigger Picture”, starred BAFTA-nominated Robert Sheehan (Misfits, The Umbrella Academy) and Rosie Day (Outlander). These happened in the very first months after opening Belle Époque Films and again felt like a no-point return, I haven’t stopped working since then.
Another challenge after these first steps was and is to always improve and work on projects that are more ambitious than the previous ones. More recently, I’ve been working on the international promotion of Canneseries (Cannes Series Festival) since the very first edition in 2018, which was a very exciting challenge as TV is skyrocketing across various international platforms like Netflix or Amazon.
How do you juggle between playing more than one role for a film?
Directing and acting at the same time as I did for “L’Âge d’Or” felt wonderful. I loved it. I understand how hard it can be to do it, I’m quite lucky that I can switch my acting on and off very quickly and easily. This enables me to always be present both as a Director and Actor, even when I’m acting in most scenes.
Being prepared also helps me tremendously playing more than one role for the film, as for “L’Âge d’Or” when I’m also the only producer. When I arrive on set, I have discussed the various aspects with the team already and rehearsed so many times, that it becomes much easier and exciting to be present in those different roles. It’s obviously a hell lot of work, as there are also many unpredictable elements that can still happen on D-day, no matter how prepared you are, so I feel very lucky I have this capacity to manage a lot at the same time, take quick decisions when needed and also can gather the right team to get the production going at a high-level.
Just to tell an anecdote, I had talked so much with various team members and partners a few days before filming, that I actually lost my voice. One day before filming I couldn’t even talk, that’s true, you can see it in the BTS (laughter). But that’s the magic of cinema and of being a Director, nothing ever stops you (laughter).
At the end of the day, I love how working in various capacities helped me understand all the dimensions of filmmaking. When I’m not directing or acting, I Line Produce foreign projects filming in Europe. For instance, I was Line Producer and Casting Director on « The Sesh », a British short film we filmed last September in Leeds, that is meant to become a feature.
Your feature film, L’Âge d’Or (The Golden Age), debuted at the Cannes Film Festival. How would you describe the movie?
“L’Âge d’Or” is a period drama set in 1967, a tribute to artists who went to Saint-Tropez in South of France in the 60s to change that world that didn’t work for them. I was glad I was interviewed by Écran Total (French equivalent of The Hollywood Reporter) on this very day the film had its first Market Screening at Cannes last May. The film was very well received.
“L’Âge d’Or” was filmed in more than 35 exceptional locations across France (Paris and the South of France) and the USA, with an outstanding soundtrack from the 60s (Jimmy Reed, Chuck Berry…). Developing the soundtrack for “L’Âge d’Or” was also a big challenge as 60s Saint-Tropez can’t be recreated without music, which holds a very important place in the film. Those who will watch the film will see how important music is, from beginning to end!
An impressive aspect of the film is that it was shot in 35 locations. How was that achieved in terms of filming, logistics and other aspects of making a film?
Thank you so much for your kind words, I’ve been amazed myself by the trust and support I’ve received to achieve my vision for “L’Âge d’Or”. I’ve scouted many locations with our Production Coordinator, we’ve been meeting with the Authorities in Saint-Tropez, Ramatuelle, Paris. Finding the best locations was essential to the film, I wanted them to be as authentic as possible to be true to the story and characters. It was very important to me that the audience can feel 60s Saint-Tropez and that unique Douce France atmosphere.
After a lot of research and location scouting, we managed to film in the locations that were at the very top of my wishlist. We shot in about 35 exceptional locations across France and USA for the film, including the Bir-Hakeim Bridge near the Eiffel Tower, Notre-Dame Cathedral, the Saint-Tropez harbor, Ramatuelle beaches, etc.
This is why “L’Âge d’Or” is also a tribute to the French Patrimoine, to those cities and villages I love so much: Saint-Tropez, Ramatuelle, and Paris. One of the most magical moments of filming was shooting around Notre-Dame Cathedral, it was a unique moment of its own and now even more as we’ve all heard about the April events. We are the very last drama fiction that will have ever shot around the Cathedral in its XIXth century form, and I’ll cherish those moments of filming all my life.
Why was the setting to chosen to be 1967 and in Saint‐Tropez?
Both the time and place are key. 1967 was a really important transition time, an era of deep cultural changes. There were many pressures and tensions indeed: the Vietnam war, racism, riots in America and Europe… These pressures tremendously affect the decisions Sebastian and Angèle make in the film. Sebastian and Angèle are a modern tribute to the artists that involved in May 1968, Woodstock, Isle of Wight… to change that world that didn’t work for them.
Saint-Tropez was a very important inspiration to me as a filmmaker to create “L’Âge d’Or”. Discovering this village that used to be a small fishing harbor and became this internationally famous point of gathering has touched my heart. It’s a village, like none other, where such great artists from the UK, the US and over the world gathered to create masterpieces, where such movies as “And God Created Woman” starring Brigitte Bardot were shot. Filming there and in the 35 exceptional locations of the film was one of the deepest experiences of my artistic life.
One of the toughest decisions anyone may face is having to choose between following one’s dream or pursuing a dear/beloved one. How does the touch on that?
“L’Âge d’Or” shows how far characters are willing to go to change that world they don’t fit in, which sacrifices they are ready to make to achieve this dream. It also shows how support and solidarity help you fulfill your dreams, as you can rarely achieve them when you’re just alone. As you watch “L’Âge d’Or” you get to be in Sebastian and Angèle’s heads and wonder: « Do I feel good in this world myself? Am I ready to take action and how? ». As the movie progress, new questions come in: « Who should I trust? » and « Can I have an impact at all? ». Through the characters of Sebastian and Angèle, the film gives hope as it highlights on this journey, the evolution of your relationships and how far you’re willing to go or trust another person to help you fulfill your dream.
A lot of filmmakers can be incredibly dedicated to their projects, but I can tell you “L’Âge d’Or” in particular is a project that has been very, very loved and worked hard on. The making of the film itself shows in its own way a dear dream the team and I had decided to pursue together. This is how important I feel this message is, it’s an important story to share with the audience now.
“Change” – a term that scares many to their cores. In what light does the movie show how change is important?
The film shows how change is important both because of how it was made and because of the film story itself. As you’ve mentioned before, I’ve written, produced, directed and starred in the film. That’s a bit unusual. Truth is, “L’Âge d’Or” really is a special film, not made under the traditional French model of public financing, and is meant to be the first one of many of its genres in France, in the context of a growing need for content and of the launch of streaming services like Netflix and Amazon.
Bringing change is indeed always very scary, whether it’s in your own life or for the world, as it implies a lot of sacrifices and even failures. “L’Âge d’Or” shows the journey of those artists who’ve decided to overcome that scare. My character Angèle Devaux is a Parisian theater actress who plays in small Parisian theaters in front of empty seats. She’s more ambitious than what the world she’s living in has to offer her. As a woman, she feels she’s mainly asked to become a decent mother rather than pursuing any artistic purpose. When she meets Sebastian Davis, a Franco-American producer in Paris, her life is turned upside down. She decides to embark on an artistic project with him to change this world neither of them fit in. Change is not just important to them, it’s vital. Angèle needs to be given a voice to show how ambitious she can be as an actress and the impact her characters can have on the audience. Sebastian feels incredibly ill-at-ease in the world he lives in, as he’s always pushed to take part in the Vietnam War and seems to fail any of his other endeavors.
How important was it to recreate the 60s era in the film? How was that accomplished?
One of the main key parts of recreating the 60s was to find the ideal locations for filming, we’ve touched on that before. As actors, we also needed to come in very prepared to evolve in this 60s era, as at the time, there was no internet, no cell phone, you would live in a much different way from today. Working on my acting to fit that era was truly wonderful, the research I had done for writing the film helped me a lot, as I got to hear from many people who lived love stories, war stories at the time, and I watched a lot of documentaries about those different places and that era.
Costumes, hair, and make-up also had to be picked up very precisely in order to match the feel of the 60s. We did a lot of work on props and set design. The house where interior scenes (bedroom, living room, bathroom) and scenes in the garden or pool were shot, was also carefully dressed. Cars were chosen very precisely, all the cars you can see on screen are vintage cars: police car, sports car, 404, DS or Simca. The oldest of all of them was a Simca Presidency, dating from 1957. Last but not least, we even shot in a real train from the 60s!
What message does the movie give to the current generation’s youth?
A very important one. I created “L’Âge d’Or” precisely to give hope to the current generation’s youth, help them find answers to their questions about changing the world on their own scale. The film suggests some ideas of how you can bring change, which is a tough journey and also often requires putting aside your personal success. The Beatles perfectly exemplify how artists managed to bring change in the 60s, for instance when they refused to perform in front of a segregated audience in Jacksonville in the USA in September 1964.
I often think about all of those who just like me are reading the news in the morning and are reminded everyday of how crazy this world is turning. It can be extremely overwhelming, especially for the generation’s youth. Through the characters of Angèle and Sebastian, “L’Âge d’Or” suggests some ways to bring change and encourages the young generation to take action, even if they don’t feel important, rich or powerful.
Circling back to you, how have you grown after this achievement?
It’s hard to describe because achieving the film was the most wonderful artistic experience of my life. It was such a magical project, there was a lot of hard work involved and I cherish every moment working on it, because of how magical it has always felt. That’s the magic of filmmaking, and spreading such an important message for the World: neither the sleepless nights nor the sacrifices or barriers I had to overcome ever really affected me. I’m thankful that my passion for the film has only kept growing since that moment I wrote the first scene from the script. Every day was and is a joy.
I’m also glad I’ve learned a lot, improved both as a Director and Actor thanks to the film, for this opportunity to work with such wonderful talents and partners. I’m proud to be part of change on my own scale.
What projects should we look forward to in the near future from you?
In the near future, the British drama short « The Sesh » I was Casting Director and Line Producer for is meant to be adapted into a feature and released in the Festival circuit end of this year. I’m also directing and lead acting in the British comedy horror « Dead End », which will be filming in the coming months.
I’m longing to direct and act more in the future, hopefully alongside A-level actors. Working with such actors as Robert Sheehan and Rosie Day was wonderful, I’d love to pursue directing or acting alongside such talented individuals. I’ve actually started writing another period drama, also set between France and the USA, that I’m willing to film with top-level actors.
In a few words, what has inspired you to be who you are today?
Aside from my passion for filmmaking, definitely my will to bring change. I’ve felt extremely inspired from my training as a Director and Actor internationally, from the wonderful talents and experts I’ve met along the way, whether in the USA, UK, France… At the end of the day, what has inspired me the most to shape and be who I am today, is my will to make the world a better place on my own scale. With “L’Âge d’Or”, I could not be more thankful for a better start.
Jenna Suru’s debut feature “L’Âge d’Or” (“The Golden Age”) has been selected at the Massachussets Independent Film Festival. The film will have its World Premiere at the Regent Theatre near Boston, on Saturday September 7th at 2:15 pm. Jenna Suru has been nominated as Best Actress for her role as Angèle Devaux, and will be a speaker on the Festival panel « From Script to Screen » immediately after the screening.
You can visit www.belleepoquefilms.com for more info or follow Jenna on her social media accounts: @jennasurureal (Instagram) & @lagedorfilm (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter)
Link to “L’Âge d’Or” World Premiere: click here