Oscar-Nominated Short ‘Timecode’ Reminds Us We’re So Much More Than Our Jobs

Luna and Diego are security guards in a parking garage in Spain. He works at night, she during the day. It’s a pretty boring job which mostly consists of staring at all the security cameras and making sure no cars are stolen or damaged. There’s a deadening routine to it all, with Luna and Diego barely exchanging a word during shift changes before she settles in to another day of sitting and staring at these screens. One day, Luna (played by Lali Ayguadé) discovers what Diego (Nicolas Ricchini) gets up to during his late night shifts: he dances. She’s wary but inspired.

Juanjo Giménez’s Timecode gets its title from the way the two security guards begin communicating with one another, reviewing footage from the many cameras that are all around the parking garage. What was once a mind-numbing job becomes the site for a beautiful collaboration that Giménez slowly reveals to us. Spoiler alert: it will thrill those fond of So You Think You Can Dance. It’s an economic and exciting example of what short films can accomplish as you’re bound to find. Winner of the coveted Palme d’Or at Cannes last year (making Giménez only the second Spaniard to earn that award after Luis Buñuel), Timecode is now aiming to add another golden statue to its mantle: the Oscar. It’s now been nominated for Best Live Action Short Film at this year’s awards.

Remezcla chatted with the longtime director and producer to talk about why he was so drawn to modern dance, why it currently makes more sense to produce short form features, and what he hopes audiences will take away from this story about art within blue collar labor.

Where did the idea for ‘Timecode’ come from?

The original idea comes from a personal experience. Some years ago, while working for a big company, a colleague discovered that during my working hours I spent some time writing personal texts, ideas for scripts, short stories, etc. My colleague didn’t react as Luna in the movie, and without telling me, she used my texts in a bad way. So I thought that the Timecode script was a good opportunity to rewrite and fictionalize this personal story. On the other hand I always had interest in contemporary dance as a spectator. It is a mixture of these two ideas that helped me create this story.

The dancing sequences are so evocative. Tell us a bit about what you and Lali wanted to accomplish with the choreography and what it was about dancing that drew you to write about it?

Shorts provide a great platform for experimenting without the financial struggles of features.

Lali and Nico are both professional dancers. I wanted professional dancers as the main characters, but we didn’t go through a normal audition process. I chose them while watching a Catalonian TV program about emerging choreographers and dancers. I hadn’t worked with dancers before, and it has been a very rewarding experience. Neither of the two had previous experience in film or theater. As I said, I love contemporary dance as spectator, even if I’m really bad at dancing myself. In Timecode choreography is all responsibility of Lali Ayguadé. I stepped in only when dancing implied a narrative intention, and especially in the integration with the space. We chose the concrete shooting places inside the parking even before Lali and Nico were recruited. When they were on board, some choreography was prepared exclusively for that location. However, every decision in this field was discussed always between the two dancers and myself.

“It’s easier for us to categorize people by uniforms, or by their jobs. But they’re more complex than that.”

At the risk of overthinking the piece, there seems to be here a celebration of creative and artistic inspiration in light of what looks like a brain-numbing job. Would you say that’s a fair assessment of what you hope audiences take away from Timecode?

I’m not the right person to explain what audiences must think after watching the short, but some people told me that they look differently now at security guards, or people in uniform, after watching the film. We tend to simplify things, it’s easier for us to categorize people by uniforms, or by the job they do to earn a living. But usually people are more complex than that, and artistic inspiration can be found even in the weirdest places. I watched Paterson by Jim Jarmusch recently, and I think that there are some of the same elements also in this movie.

How does it feel to have this short be so warmly received, both at Cannes where you won and now seeing it nominated for the Oscar?

Timecode began its career in the best possible way, winning the Golden Palm in Cannes. Since then, it has been selected for more than 150 festivals, and it has obtained more than 60 awards. All these awards and the Oscar selection are helping us to find a much larger audience than usual for a short film, which is usually restricted to the festival circuit.

At Cannes you said that you’re a champion of short feature films and that you believe they are the present and the future of cinema. Could you elaborate a bit on what you mean by that?

Timecode is my ninth short film as director. I learned that short films usually fit better with the way I approach filmmaking and what’s more important, that there’s nothing wrong with that. That doesn’t mean I won’t make a feature film again. But shorts provide a great platform for experimenting without the financial struggles that usually constraint a fiction feature. And even if I speak as a producer, in terms of financial results my shorts have always been more profitable than my features. Regarding the present and the future of distribution, short films fit better the new platforms: VOD, mobile gadgets, etc. it’s easier to spend 10 minutes watching a short film online than a two hour feature.