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Say Hello to 'Goodbye, Petrushka'

Script contributor Rich Monetti speaks with filmmaker Nicola Rose about her creative filmmaking and puppeteer journey to filming her latest film, 'Goodbye, Petrushka'.
Actors Lizzie Kehoe and Casey Landman and director of photography Omar Torres set up for a shot. Photo credit: Tierney Boorboor.

Actors Lizzie Kehoe and Casey Landman and director of photography Omar Torres set up for a shot. Photo credit: Tierney Boorboor.

On occasion, a puppet actually gets a handle on popular culture. Mel Gibson gave us The Beaver, Rocket Raccoon was unleashed on the Galaxy in 2014 and Stravinsky’s Petrushka is the gold standard. A century later, Nicola Rose has similar hopes for Goodbye, Petrushka, and having plenty of source material bodes well for its Dances With Films opening on June 12 at the TCL Chinese Theater in LA.

“I watched a PBS children’s show called, Storytime. It was hosted by a puppet,” said the Manhattan resident. “That triggered my love of puppets.”

So while a fairytale tone follows a 19-year-old puppeteer, Rose asserts that the quirky RomCom is really a tale of growing up. Nonetheless, this adult reverted to childhood form with study abroad, and a path was set. “Puppetry is a big thing in Europe,” said Rose, and unavoidably, the 2011 Columbia French Major embarked on a study project in the art form.

Rekindling her passion, Rose eventually returned home and a decade performing for children left her gratified. However, the Maine raised creative grew weary of having her strings pulled. “Puppetry started to feel like babysitting,” she recalled.

The transition to filmmaking didn’t come out of nowhere, though. She also studied film in college, and in 2015, created a web series called Callie & Izzy. “I had no idea how to make a film, period,” said Rose. “That was my first filmmaking attempt.”

[Q&A: Doc Filmmaker Philip Shane on Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey]

Unfortunately, puppetry doesn’t provide much filmmaking crossover. Still, mastering the improv skills helped limber up the future screenwriter. “Puppetry keeps your mind flexible and on your toes, because you're never allowed to stop thinking,” Rose revealed.

So on alert with the coursework, a short called Creative Block got her out of the gate in 2017, and into actual education mode. “Doing short films has essentially been my film school,” said Rose.

She learned how to hire and run a team, and without a production designer, Rose really got into the weeds. She won’t cop to being self-taught, though. “The most important part has been surrounding myself with people who know things better than me,” said Rose.

Nicola Rose on set. Photo credit: Kimberly Torres.

Nicola Rose on set. Photo credit: Kimberly Torres.

The learning curve continued with In the Land of Moonstones (2018), Gabrielle (2019), The Test (2019), and Biff & Me (2020), but despite the festival accolades, she again reached her limit. “It was just time for a different level,” said Rose.

Fortunately, the blueprint had already been envisioned. Rose previously wrote a full-length version of Goodbye, Petrushka but had no budget. So Creative Block stood in at the time.

Full circle came in 2020 and smoothing over began in collaboration with her producer. “Tierney Boorboor’s unique ability lies in being able to look at something, and even if at first she doesn't know why something doesn’t work, she knows exactly what must happen.”

So lopping off the excess also meant not losing the core. “The essence of being nineteen that you’ve managed to get into Claire, you need not to lose that,” Rose conveyed Boorboor’s intervention.

The 3000 miles in-between didn’t get lost in translation either. After meeting at a film festival, the duo retreated to their neutral corners - NYC and Portland.

[From NYC to LA - Sonja O'Hara's Filmmaking Journey to 'Mid-Century']

The synergy was then at the mercy of all matters of electronic communication. For instance, Rose recalled, “If a file came in from our colorist, we needed to compare and contrast and make notes together. We used Zoom, screen shares, texts and talked on the phone,” said Rose.

A back and forth that Rose recalls with playful irony. “For Tierney, this meant she single-handedly oversaw the film's financial, logistical, budgetary, commercial, technical, procedural, organizational, marketing, digital, administrative, and strategic aspects. For me, it meant thinking of the next silly hat,” Rose joked.

In all seriousness, though, the teammates saw the creative and the business aspects crossover, and each learned from the other. Either way, the childlike wonder of Goodbye, Petrushka remained, while straddling the finish as a coming-of-age film. “It’s a really fine line in terms of Petrushka being a fairytale for adults,” she said.

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The age of the character reinforces the point. “We have a 19-year-old protagonist, which means she is walking the line between childhood and adulthood, and she reacts with her gut all the time,” said Rose. “She has not yet learned to curb her impulse.”

As a result, Claire drops everything after an impromptu encounter with a French Figure Skater. Crossing the ocean, she doesn't so easily adjust when he isn’t as amenable to joining her fanciful dreams of puppetry and romance.

Thus, the task of finding a Claire who could emote the heartbreak, naiveté, and quirky humor wasn’t easy. “You’ve almost written yourself into a corner,” the director lamented.

Unconstrained, Lizzie Kehoe emerged, and nailing the triple threat makes us fondly remember our own difficult journey. Even so, Petrushka wasn’t going to work unless Kehoe had chemistry with her costar. Thomas Vieljeux had already played Thibaut in the short, but he still had to mesh with Claire.

A concern that was dispatched without a face-to-face. Chemistry on Zoom is an oxymoron but they defied the constraints, according to Rose.

Alongside a cast of talented actors really put the Com in RomCom. Casey Landman, Dhane Ross, Joëlle Haddad Champeyroux and Frédérique Nahmani provide a dearth of off kilter resets so the dramatic load never overtakes the comedy.

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But no writer ever knows whether laughs will leap off the page. So Rose couldn’t hold back when the marks were hit. Trying not to make noise or jump for joy, she remembered the many fist pumps. “There’s a lot of photos of me like that,” she boasted.

Still, she credits the actors first and understands they aren’t supposed to bend to the director’s will. “At that point, you’re hiring actors to be puppets.” she said.

Poster by Haley Turnbull


Poster by Haley Turnbull

The trick is to share your intentions, Rose reflected, and sometimes the line bends. However, Rose has never preferred the straight and narrow of RomCom endings. “I wish I could see one movie about a person growing up in a messy, complicated, and uneven way, where things don’t tie-up with a bow,” she said.

No such strings in Goodbye, Petrushka, say hello, and you’ll be glad you gave this filmmaker a hand.

Goodbye, Petrushka is also a selection for the Nevada Women's Film Festival, which begins on June 23.


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