Making “Tiny Furniture”

A still from the film

Lena Dunham is a recent Oberlin graduate who grew up in Tribeca. Her mother, Laurie Simmons, is an artist who, among other endeavors, photographs miniatures; her sister, Grace Dunham, is a prodigious high-school student. Dunham’s new film, Tiny Furniture, is about characters based very much on Dunham and her family—the film was even predominantly shot in the Simmons/Dunham loft—although judging from the success of the film, Lena Dunham is presumably not as lost as her cinematic alter ego, Aura. Conceived in October 2009 and finished by January 2010—for just $45,000—Tiny Furniture won the Best Narrative jury prize at the 2010 South by Southwest Film Festival, and it opens at the IFC Center tomorrow. Dunham, meanwhile has been profiled by the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.

It’s definitely a Tribeca film, with characters we all know and sometimes love: the artist who has gentrified right along with the neighborhood, the entitled young adult who thinks she’s wise beyond her years. I recently spoke with producer Alicia Van Couvering (a semi-local herself, having attended Stuyvesant High School), about what it was like to shoot around here. (Watch the trailer.)

There are relatively few exterior scenes in the film. Was that because it’s prohibitively expensive to shoot in Tribeca?
When you shoot exteriors you have to block off streets and get permitting—if you want to shoot from across the street, you have to move the cars, which means you have to hire people to manage the cars and so on. Basically, we didn’t have the money to clear cars away. But I don’t think Lena wrote it the way she did just to make it easy. She wrote it to take place in her own house.

Where were the Tribeca exteriors shot?
There’s the scene on the Holland Tunnel pedestrian bridge, where Aura calls her friend, and the one on the pier. There are also some shots at the Film Forum. We were trying to plan the shots where they walk away, and the DP was like, “I think this street is nice.” Lena said, “But that’s not the way home from the Film Forum!” A lot of the walk-and-talks we actually shot in Dumbo.

I know that the loft in the film is Dunham’s family’s loft. Were any of the other interiors shot in Tribeca?
The best friend’s house is in Tribeca— a friend of Lena’s owns it.

What did Lena’s neighbors think? I guess it helps that the downstairs neighbors were hired to play neighbors….
The neighbors were very supportive. It’s an arty neighborhood. Besides, we weren’t noisy. There weren’t that many people around. Although one day we had a scene of Lena walking in and out over and over, and we broke the electronic lock in the building.

Is there anything else I should have asked?
I want to plug the Jin Market! We bought breakfast there every day. And we rented equipment from Hand Held Films on White Street.


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