Elena Beuca‘s directorial feature debut D-Love is a poignant portrayal of her own personal journey, or at least a semi-biographical motion picture depicting a very important chapter of her life. Beuca, who plays the lead in the movie, thus has a real feel for the story, a kind of bumpy, emotional tale bringing human issues like companionship, trust, and good will to the surface. And bumpy not in style, Beuca is assured behind he camera, the biographical elements are not meant to be smooth, and the director has the presence and the passion to match what appears to be a technical eye for story-telling. I was lucky enough to ask Elena some questions about her first feature D-Love and just how she got there.
Robin: Where did you grow up? Do you have any fond memories of watching films as a child?
Elena: I grew up in Romania Transylvania in a small village. I grew up taking care of the farm and milking the cows, plucking potatoes – you name it – the regular farm work. Working hard is a normal thing on a farm. I grew up doing the communism – many days we didn’t even have electricity, so after a whole day of working on the farm, in the nighttime I had to do my homework by candlelight. My family did not have a TV growing up. There were very few in our village – I didn’t really watch movies except when we would go to our uncles house and the only movies that they would show actually were the Romanian movies – there was only one channel to watch.
Later on, my parents bought a TV and I think I was 13 years old at that time. It was during the summer we had to work the field all day long, but we asked our parents to let us miss work for an hour because our favorite show was playing during the day. So while the rest of the family was resting during lunch time, my sister Lidia and I were running home from the field – which was a good half an hour away just to watch the show and then turn around and go back to work – but we were so happy and excited that we can watch it – it transported us to a different world and it made us dream of seeing the world one day.
Tell us a little bit about your journey into the film industry?
The desire to make movies started really late in life. I came to America almost 10 years ago and I was 27 at the time. I have never acted or had anything to do with the films (I studied law and had owned a real estate in Bucharest). But I got to a point where I knew that that wasn’t fulfilling so I decided to change my life and give up my real estate business in Romania. All of a sudden I became interested in the acting – I did some research for the best schools in the world and I came across the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.
I prepared two monologues: one comedic and one dramatic and flew to Hollywood to audition for them and for whatever reason I got accepted immediately. So I decided to move to Hollywood for good. I did not know one single soul in America or in Los Angeles at that time but the idea of studying acting felt right – as if it was a part of me all my life and I didn’t even know about it – and starting a new life felt very intriguing and exciting to me.
What is your filmmaking background? When did you know for sure that is what you wanted to do?
After acting for a couple of years I decided to direct a short film for a film festival and soon after that I realized I was falling in love with directing – I was fascinated with the idea of creating a film from scratch of being able to bring my vision to life and making those characters on paper became real – so did a few more and then realized that I’m ready to do my first feature.
How difficult was it to get D-Love off the ground? What obstacles did you face?
Getting D-Love off the ground… it was a little challenging because the number one challenge that we had is that we are unknown names… we don’t have any stars in it, no one famous is directing it, therefore, no one really wants to invest in it. That’s when my husband and I we decided that if we wanted to make this film come true we will have to invest in ourselves and we decided to self-finance it and pretty much put everything that we had into making this film. We were fortunate enough to have a lot of friends who came on board and they have helped us tremendously in making this possible. But yes I would say the biggest obstacle was not having enough money and not having recognizable names in the film- and it forced us to be creative.
There has been great success in the recent festival run for D-Love, how do you respond to such high praise?
You know it’s still almost unreal that we have won – I am beyond grateful and thankful for all the awards that we have received. A few months ago, I was praying for one win or let’s just say that I was praying for one festival to accept us – because we got a lot of NO before we got the first YES. The thing is, we worked hard on the film, but we didn’t really know if it’s a good film or not. We hoped it was because we put our hearts into it, but until you see an audience’s response to it, that’s when you truly know. To see that we have actually won a couple of them a few months later on, it feels unreal and all I can say is Thank you to all of those festivals that chose us and chose our little film and to the audiences who care to see it and for their love.
Without knowing anything about you, the autobiographical element shines through, and that’s credit to you. How fine is that line between your reality and the story you told?
D-Love is based on our true encounter with a stranger at the airport. My husband and I met Ditlev at LAX airport, a couple years ago and we both had one of those days when everything that could go wrong, went wrong and even more! We were in the middle of the LAX chaos, dealing with a stolen car, a stolen wallet, lost luggage and a plane delayed for more than 10 hours. Ditlev (who looked homeless to me) stops and asks me if I can give him a ride at the freeway – because he wanted to hitchhike from the 10 freeway to Utah. My husband thought that it’s a very dangerous thing to do in America and he wasn’t comfortable letting him hitchhike (it’s not as dangerous for us in Europe because we are used to it – I actually grew up hitchhiking and that’s how I went to high school every week because we didn’t have a car or there are very few buses). But in real life, Dave and I decided to take Ditlev to get him something to eat and as soon as we got to talk to him we realized what a beautiful soul he was.
What aspects of the true story did you adapt differently for the sake of the film?
Actually, I liked him right away once I understood what a what a beautiful soul he was, but we knew no one would want to watch a movie without conflict and everyone like each other, so we had to create a drama around it and as you see my character hate him right from the beginning. There are a few elements that are true (the losses that Dave and I both had), but the rest is a fictionalized version of ourselves.
So, your husband Dave Rogers plays alongside you, and wrote the script. How did you two meet?
I met my husband Dave in acting classes at Ivana Chubbuck Studio. Both him and I moved to Los Angeles within the same year in 2006. He was so charming and soon became my best friend, my scene partner and we started working together on different projects. We had such trust and respect for each others work and we were best friends for two years before we started dating.
With D-Love, how did you and Dave delegate your roles as writers and directors? What challenges did you face working together in this way?
I wanted to be director my first feature, but I did not know what that film will be until one night when I came across a short story that I wrote after I encountered Ditlev and it was titled “D-Love”, so I came to my husband and I told him I think I know what my next film is going to be, what film I want to direct. I had no idea at that time that my husband will write it – I thought I’m going to have to write, but in the end, Dave turned out to be a better fit for this story.
One of the challenges was deciding how we were going to tell the story : whether it’s going to be from the woman’s point of view, from the man’s point of view or from all three characters. After talking about it we decided that the story would be best served if we tell it from a woman’s eyes. It was challenging at the beginning because Dave has never wrote a feature film before and I have never directed a feature film before so the biggest challenge was communicating with each other on what I would want from the story. We learned a lot about each other and about ourselves and thank God he is my best friend because otherwise would be a whole different story!
Ditlev Darmakaya plays the vagabond in D-Love, I have heard he is the actual wanderer this character is based on – is that right? How did you cast him exactly?
When we decided to make the film, I wanted to cast the real D-Love because I just love his persona and he’s calmness and his aura, and I knew he would be best for this role more than anyone else. I called him and I told him that I would like him to to play himself in the film and he said “Would love to, but I have never acted before” and I smiled and I said “That’s OK because I want you not to act… I would want you to be yourself and that’s what I’m trying to capture on the screen as much as possible”. And of course playing yourself and being real is a hard thing to do (because you are still acting in an imaginary situation), we had to use a couple of tricks to make him look and act as natural and as real as possible – but I think he did a brilliant job.
The score by Billy Howerdel, who also plays a friend of the family in the film, is hard to forget. Provides real emotive strands without making D-Love melodramatic or sentimental. How did you work with him to get that tone just right?
Billy Howerdel is a pure genius in music. He’s an excellent musician, but he has never scored a film before this, it was his first time. I don’t really know anything about music, but I was able to communicate with Billy through emotions that I was trying to convey in the scene and he was able to write the score. We spent a couple of months in the studio and once we got the tone of the film, he was on a roll he had no problem composing and coming up with lots of different elements. One of the reasons that I knew Billy is a good choice for this film is because of his sensitivity and gentleness, and I think he did an amazing, amazing job with it.
Your boss in the movie, and I have had managers like her, is a real ball-breaker. Did you exaggerate that character a little for the sake of film drama?
My husband Dave used to work at the New York Stock Exchange and he had a boss for a couple of years who was much worse than Annie actually. This was his inspiration for Annie. Unfortunately, I talked to a lot of people and it seems like there are too many people like Annie out there.
D-love is a fine feature debut, you should give yourself a huge pat on the back. What is next for you, in front of and behind the camera?
I’m working on my next feature film that I would like to direct and that will be a romantic comedy.