“I think a deeper meaning of happiness is contentment.”
Danielle Arden, whose short film ‘The Rhythm’, was announced as the winner of the Happiness Films Award 2018 is a professional actor and director currently based in Dubai. She has a Master’s degree in Acting from the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in London and has worked and trained in London, New York, Sydney, Beirut and LA. My inquisitive mind could not hold back from contacting her to answer a few questions of mine, which she kindly did.
NAMITA: It must have felt great to win the award, no doubt, but I’m curious to know what emotion struck you first when you heard your name called out?
DANIELLE: I was waiting beside two fantastic filmmakers who could have easily won first place, so in the moments leading up to the announcement I was sure I hadn’t won, and I was already consoling myself with how great it was just to be in the top five. When they called my name my first thought was to look to the producer and DOP who were sitting in the audience. It was wholly a team effort making this film and I was so pleased that all the work put in was recognized. I don’t know what that emotion is specifically, it’s a mixture of relief, gratitude and, of course, excitement. I could already hear the team celebrating together in their seats!
NAMITA: Your short film is titled, ‘The Rhythm’. Why this title and what was it that you wanted to emote to the audience when you chose it?
DANIELLE: The Rhythm refers to the natural rhythms of our lives and the fact that true happiness lies within that. Happiness is often portrayed as a fleeting and ecstatic feeling that we should be constantly pursuing. It’s the pursuit of happiness. The pursuit of a quick high. I view it a little differently. I think a deeper meaning of happiness is contentment. Contentment to me is relishing the small moments of our day that we enjoy. It’s acknowledging that we can already be happy, even if that isn’t a trendy thing to say right now. Happiness is very much a case of living within the rhythm of our lives, not fighting against it and constantly looking elsewhere.
NAMITA: How challenging was it to present your idea in just one minute?
DANIELLE: One minute is a very short film! But we did manage to squeeze fifteen scenes into that one minute, so we certainly tried to make the most of it. The message was distilled very early on for me. It’s the final line of the film ‘Happiness is being in step with the rhythm of your own life’. We actually could have told the story in just a few seconds. But that wouldn’t have been a very interesting film.
NAMITA: The film was for a minute, but I’m sure the process behind it wasn’t. If you could give us a little behind-the-scenes of the work involved – from the idea to the story-line, cast and crew, filming process, etc. What really went behind creating ‘The Rhythm’?
DANIELLE: I found out about the competition a week before the deadline and thought I was too late. On a whim, I mentioned it that evening to Walid Baaklini and Elsi Ghoussoub and we decided to go for it. Walid shot the film, Elsi produced it and was also the production designer, David Berberi was responsible for all the sound, including the beautiful soundtrack. Luckily the idea for the script came to me quite quickly so I was able to write it the following morning and we began pre-production immediately. With such a short time frame we looked around for our nearest available resources to make the film work.
Everyone in the film is a friend or a neighbour. You’ll even see each of us in the film at least once, as it was too late notice to bring in other cast.
The post-production came together as a result of two very very late nights and the generosity of Charbel Reaidy and Taimour Elaasar.
We managed to assemble all the pieces and submit the film just in time for the submission deadline. In future, I would advise avoiding writing a film with fifteen scenes in fifteen different locations if you only have two days to shoot!
NAMITA: If someone else was to create a short film on Happiness and you had to act in it, how would your solo scene portray happiness?
DANIELLE: I do have an acting background and in my first audition when I moved to Dubai I was asked to stand in front of the camera and ‘show happy!’. It made absolutely no sense to me because happiness isn’t just smiling or laughing, (and you don’t need to be an actor to be able to do in front of a camera anyway). Happiness an emotion based on context. There are a million different things that could make you happy and a million different ways you might express that happiness, not all of them overtly smiling. There is always a story behind it. So, in answer to your question, I’d have to read the script first!
NAMITA: Content creation is a platform that is widely subjective to individual opinions, likes and dislikes. How do you deal with criticism, both constructive and non-constructive?
DANIELLE: I don’t shy away from criticism. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. However, you need to remember that that is exactly what it is, an opinion. I seek criticism from people whose work I respect, and I let the other opinions come and go without carrying too much weight. The hardest thing I find is self-criticism. I have a lot of trouble watching my own work without picking it to pieces. As content-creators we often need to silence the inner critic if we are to continue making work.
NAMITA: Do you think there are certain elements that aspiring filmmakers tend to overlook during their creative process?
DANIELLE: Every individual’s process is different; however I do tend to find that aspiring filmmakers overlook the minute details as they’re contending with so many other moving parts. Everything from the smallest shadow in the frame to the most insignificant prop can make a difference to your film so there is no such thing as being over-prepared. Take a breath, take a really good look at EVERYTHING, and don’t compromise on working to get it right. Having a strong team helps with that as there is so much to consider in pre-production. When you think you’re ready to shoot, there is always another detail you can attend to make sure you have things EXACTLY as you want them on screen.
NAMITA: What can we expect next from Danielle Arden?
DANIELLE: This has been a really encouraging process in getting me thinking of short films again. I direct commercials for a living and making short films has fallen by the wayside a little. I am already writing the next short and can’t wait to be back on set with the brilliant team from The Rhythm.
NAMITA: Now, the most important question – have you thought of what you’ll be wearing for the Cannes Film Festival next year?
DANIELLE: I have absolutely nothing suitable. Perhaps instead of putting the prize money into the next film, I should spend it on a wardrobe for Cannes!
Watch Danielle’s short film ‘The Rhythm’:
Link to Danielle’s website: https://www.daniellearden.com/