Reference: StudentFilmmakers Magazine, April 2007. Borja Cobeaga’s Eramos Pocos Makes a Date with Oscar: The Experiment and Challenge of the Short Film: Mixing Drama and Comedy by Mary Ann Skweres. Pages 26 – 28.
Short films are not only the most accessible form for an emerging filmmaker to hone his or her art, they also provide much needed exposure and can even take a talented filmmaker all the way to the Academy Awards.
Spanish filmmaker Borja Cobeaga followed that path. His short film, Eramos Pocos (One Too Many) had an auspicious beginning, winning a Kodak award that included money and 35 mm film stock, and garnering a Studio Canal production deal. The film went on to win 70 awards, including Best Comedy Short Film at Aspen ShortsFest, the Grand Prix at the Bordeaux Film Festival in France, Best Short Film at the Valdivia International Film Festival in Chili, Best Short Film at the Magma Festival in Italy and three awards at Spain’s leading short film festival, Festival de Alcala. It was also selected for the International Competition at the prestigious Clermont-Ferrand International Film Festival in France. Best of all, it received a nomination for the 2007 Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film.
With a wink, a good laugh and a great twist at the end, Eramos Pocos tells the story of a man named Joaquin (Ramón Barea), who is unexpectedly abandoned by his wife. As the household falls into disarray and dinner turns into a bag of chips, Joaquin comes up with a plan. With the help of his son (Alejandro Tejería), Joaquin takes his mother-in-law, Lourdes (Mariví Bilbao), out of the nursing home, in order to help them deal with the housework. Lourdes contentedly buys the groceries, tidies the house and prepares real food for the appreciative men. Unfortunately, Joaquin discovers that the arrangement may be too good to be true.
The road to recognition came through writing about his own experience – the important role of the mother-figure in Basque traditions and the fact that you don’t choose your family – which Cobeaga admits, “Is a Cliché, but true.” Cobeaga also understands the short film format, “ You have to be to the point in a short. Unlike a feature film, you only need to present one or two ideas.”
Coming from a sketch comedy background, Cobeaga likes absurd comedy and strange, crazy situations. He believes the best way to confront problems is with a sense of humor. When people are entertained, they are more likely to accept the important messages that a filmmaker is trying to convey. In Eramos Pocos, Cobeaga and co-writer Sergio Barrejon wanted to laugh about a serious subject – the need that people have for each other. During an era when modern industrial nations tend to warehouse their elderly in nursing homes, the film touched on the timely subject that even when people are old, they want to feel useful.
Cobeaga believes that shorts are for experimentation. The experiment and challenge that he faced in the film was mixing the drama and the comedy. In working with cinematographer, Ignacio Gimenez-Rico, he decided to make a comedy without comedy lighting. Really a black comedy. In blocking the actors and visually setting up the shots, he combined comedy clichés and dramatic clichés – droll physical stick, a bit of deadpan and dark dramatic imagery with comedic music that would play in counterpoint to the scene. To successful comic effect.
In post-production Cobeaga collaborated with editor Jesus Rame who he had worked with previously on his television projects. Cobeaga has a traditional take on editing, “If you have a good master, use it. It is not necessary to use everything.” He shares, “I used to do all long shots.” Cobeaga gives Rame a lot of freedom in the edit. As in the shooting, in the editing, contrast is used to draw out the comedy by juxtaposing scenes cut internally in a quiet, slow rhythm with an overall fast pace from scene to scene.
Composer Aranzazu Calleja began writing the music during the shooting in order to have music available during the editing. She has had a 10-year collaboration with Cobeaga. Like the actors contributions Cobeaga says, “The music is an emotional part of the film.” Two motifs were eventually chosen from the 10 or 12 themes that Calleja came up with during the production.
Because of the delicate balance between the comedy and drama, Cobeaga relied on test screenings to finesse the edit. He works with a supportive creative community of writers and directors that offers constructive feedback.
The film has screened at 250 film festivals around the world. Cobeaga contends that the exposure that he received was due to the help of KIMUAK, a film promotion and distribution project that retains a catalogue of short films. The company specializes in festival distribution and has relationships with the programmers and press. “Distribution is the most important part of making a film, because films are made to be seen. An artist needs an audience, not to be in the closet,” Cobeaga advises aspiring filmmakers.
The film was edited on an Avid Film Composer. Cut lists were output for negative cutting. Conventional chemical color-timing processes were used in finishing the film. It screens in its native format of 35 mm film. Eramos Pocos is coproduced by CANAL PLUS and was sponsored by the Government of the Basque Country.
Born in San Sebastian in 1977, Cobeaga graduated from the University of the Basque Country with a degree in visual arts. He directed several programs and wrote comic sketches for Spanish television. His first short film, La Primera Vez (The First Time), won over 30 awards and was nominated for the Spanish Academy awards in 2002. He has shared his art and craft with the students of Chapman University and the University of Southern California. Cobeaga and Academy award nominated director, Nacho Vigalondo are founding members of Arsenico P.C. (Arsenico Film Productions).
Mary Ann Skweres is an award-winning independent writer/director with over a dozen produced short films under her belt. A member of the Editor’s Guild, she has edited feature films, documentaries and shorts. She writes about the art and craft of filmmaking for magazines including Below the Line, Film and Video, VFX World and Animation World Network. She can be reached at [email protected]