This post was written by Matt Fagerholm.

Arthur De Larroche and Micaela Wittman had no intention of making a movie together.

Booking jobs as an actor in Hollywood was Wittman’s top priority, and she felt that making her own projects would be tantamount to admitting failure. De Larroche had already directed and starred in a couple of features, neither of which had left him satisfied. 

“When you’re working with any person you already know, you get kind of afraid,” said De Larroche. “You don’t want to find out that they’re worse than you think they are. Micaela and I looked at each other like two dogs at the dog park for a long time before we decided to work creatively together.” 

“We were constantly marinating in each other’s existential dread,” said Wittman. “We wanted so badly to be successful, and we both harbored the same pain over rejection, that eventually, we decided to collaborate.”

How they came together

De Larroche’s 2019 restaurant-set comedy, American Bistro, served as an impetus for his and Wittman’s first co-writing/directing effort, 2021’s Clairevoyant, in part because the previous experience made him want to quit filmmaking forever.

“It was my personal Vietnam,” said De Larroche. “I started making movies just to star in them, and I thought it'd be a quick nine-month turnaround, but then I was bogged down in that production for years. It had everything that you’re supposed to have but soul. Even with the small budget that we had, decisions were made by a committee, and it was pulled in so many different directions. The only reason I got it finished was because of Micaela. I just had a bunch of footage in a drawer, and Micaela was like, ‘You can’t make a movie and not complete it.’”

American Bistro gave us a great framework for how to make movies,” said Wittman. “We learned from the mistakes that Arthur made on that film. It was the complete opposite of Clairevoyant. He had a budget, he had time, he had a crew, he had everything that you are supposed to have to make a movie, and everything went wrong. Those lessons are what inspired Clairevoyant’s production style.”

One of the best things to come from completing American Bistro was the relationship they forged with Gravitas Ventures.

After finding that no one at the American Film Market was interested in Bistro due to its lack of stars, De Larroche made the bold move of copying down by hand all the e-mail addresses in the market’s non-exportable database. He then put them in a Mail Chimp folder and sent each person listed an e-mail, pretending they had requested a screener for his film. Suddenly, he began receiving kind responses and was eventually recommended Gravitas, which served as the distributor for not only Bistro but Clairevoyant.

“They worked hard for us and got us an international distribution deal with Myriad Pictures, who sold our film to several territories at the Marché Du Film at Cannes,” said De Larroche.

"There's nothing shameful in making your own projects"

Wittman found herself leaping at the opportunity to forge her own path. Though she had previously appeared in such hit programs as Modern Family and Sharp Objects, serving as the co-director, co-writer, editor, and star of Clairevoyant liberated her from having to worry solely about messing up her performance on camera. 

"When you go on set as a guest, it's like being a planet that's trying to join someone else's solar system,” said Wittman. “You only have a couple hours, a couple lines to make an impression. It's intimidating, and I developed terrible performance anxiety. Being able to holistically tell a story from pre-production to post, while acting in it, is liberating. Auditions used to bring me a lot of pain. I was in this really painful cycle for a while. I was up for my dream role, doing producer session after producer session, and after seven months of getting dragged through the mud, I eventually didn’t get it. That was my final straw. I thought to myself, ‘I’m losing my life to this. I’m going to die and never be in anything!’ That's why I decided to make Clairevoyant. I realized there's nothing shameful in making your own projects. Ironically, that movie I auditioned for still hasn't come out.” 


Creating Claire

Clairevoyant begins as an uproariously funny and cringe-inducing mockumentary starring Wittman in a tour de force performance as Claire, a young socialite desperate to escape the burden of her white privilege by achieving Nirvana. The fact she has very little understanding of the world existing outside of her pampered cocoon repeatedly complicates matters in ways that reminded me of the funniest bits in Christopher Guest’s improv-based marvels.

“I always like to make a joke that I just fell down the stairs with a camera and the movie was done by the time I hit the bottom,” said De Larroche. “But Micaela had been working for years on a character that was similar to Claire, a very sad performative girl. Then we got invited to the screening of a movie that shall not be named. It had a really misguided energy, and coalesced every disparate element in Micaela’s character, along with the framework of this counterculture, comprised of an unspoken underclass of people who are so desperately lost. No one seemed to be acknowledging how bad the film was, and when we left that screening, Micaela suddenly became Claire. It was as if she had downloaded this entire other person, fully formed, and I told her, ‘Stop what you’re doing, I can’t have you use up the energy.’ We got a camera the next day and began filming.”



In terms of comedic inspirations, Wittman cites her love of Michael Scott on The Office as well as I Love Lucy, while De Larroche singles out Guest’s beloved 1996 gem, Waiting for Guffman, along with Borat.

Many of Claire’s funniest lines are seeming throwaways delivered under her breath like Michael Cera, such as when she absentmindedly mistakes a mailbox for a recycling bin. Yet as Wittman continued to sit with the character in take after take, she began to delve into Claire’s underlying sadness, which leads to several poignant moments in the film’s second half. As her character’s already fragile public persona started to crumble, Wittman found herself growing with Claire, unearthing new depths in her fractured soul as the camera rolled.

“I have so much tough love for the people who inspired the film,” said Wittman. “It’s easy to make fun of LA people. Everyone’s vegan, everyone’s trying to do yoga, and everyone's trying to join cults as a way of finding happiness. It’s the dominant culture here, but it comes from a good place. We had to include that in her character or else it would’ve fallen flat. I don’t think that someone like Claire deserves to be written off. And it wouldn’t be truthful to portray her in an entirely negative light.” 


Casting the ensemble

In casting the film’s vividly etched ensemble, which includes everyone from bewildered bystanders to predatory opportunists, Wittman and De Larroche drew upon their fellow students in an acting class.

“My initial plan with Clairevoyant was to bring in all of our actor friends, set them up against a wall, and have them improv for eight hours over one day,” said Wittman. “So we contacted everyone from our acting class and said, ‘Hey, email me if you’re free, and we’ll write you a role.’ We built each character around whoever was interested in being in the film, we shot their scenes and then we worked backwards to fill in the gaps.”

Perhaps the film’s funniest scene-stealer of all is Pedro Rojas as Pedro, the clerk at an Indigenous art center. Claire is stunned to find he isn’t, in fact, from India.

“The most amazing thing was that the actors would say thematically perfect lines without me prompting them at all,” said De Larroche. “We wrote the most basic note for Pedro’s scene, which cements how Claire is in the wrong while upending whatever stereotypes she may be associating with his character. In order to achieve that, all I had to do was let Pedro talk, and the first thing he began discussing was his real experience with Buddhism. I just wanted to keep widening the scope of the world in order to show how little Claire knew about it, and these people were great at making that happen. We would draft up a couple pages, make sure to get the dialogue we had written, and then we’d tell the actors to throw it all away. This spurred them to subconsciously grab onto their favorite bit, and then populate the character with a bunch of other stuff that’s much better than what we could’ve imagined.”


Cutting costs

Neither De Larroche nor Wittman attended film school, yet their experience of making Clairevoyant could serve as an invaluable teaching tool for anyone seeking to helm an excellent movie on a mere $3,000 budget over seven weekends.

They strategically rented their camera equipment from ShareGrid—picking it up Friday and returning it on Monday—so that they could shoot on the weekends at a discount. Clairevoyant was shot with an URSA Mini 4.6 and an URSA Mini Pro with the Sigma Art 18-35mm photo lenses to capture the faux camcorder visual style of The Office.

After the first two weekends of the shoot, Wittman opted to rent just one camera, not only as a cost-cutting maneuver, but also because of how it enhanced the film’s increasingly neurotic tone.

“The shaky-cam footage appears the more stressful the film becomes, which was a nice accident,” said De Larroche. “I realized that if you just go with the flow a little bit, the film will catch you. It really will all work out if you decide to believe that it’s all going to work out. That was not at all my MO before making Clairevoyant. A lot of people pretend that they’re Selznick and believe that they have to do a crunch time shoot no matter what. I see people on a lot of indie projects who have kickstarted $50,000 for a 13-day, non-stop shoot, and I’m like, ‘Dude, you could make seven movies with that money.’ Bob Evans is not gonna come and break a bottle of whiskey over your head if you don’t make your day. No one is stopping you but you from making this movie as good as you want it to be.”


Ninety percent of filmmaking is indeed problem-solving, and De Larroche wants his indie peers to remember that they have an amazing freedom and opportunity to create and make mistakes.

“You need to make your filmmaking process consequence-free,” he said. “We went overtime, had several reshoots, made wrong choices, but so did big studios back in the day and so do big studios today. Pickups and reshoots are a must. And don’t kid yourself, we are competing with Marvel for that guy in Iowa’s attention. It costs $12 to see my movie and $12 to see Avengers. So it’s better that you make your film the best it can be instead of completing it in the shortest amount of time, even though that’s intoxicatingly exciting in pre-production."

Shooting on the weekends enabled him and Wittman to continuously course-correct while reshaping the narrative. A lavalier microphone was used to record audio straight into the camera, while Peerspace proved to be immensely helpful in booking locations for only $200 a piece. Wittman disregarded the company’s time minimums by asking via direct message to shoot for only one hour at a given location, a request that was nearly always granted. 

The FLUTTER art gallery in LA proved to be an especially inspired location choice for the psychedelic climactic sequence where Claire has an acid trip. De Larroche also highly recommends using the houses of friends for filming locations, and insists that shooting on the street without any obvious equipment is entirely possible.

“Don't worry about permission,” he said. “Even if someone stops you from filming, they can’t take your footage. If it’s good enough for the Safdie brothers, it’s good enough for us.”

A direct message sent via Instagram connected De Larroche with composer Jordan Ezquerro, whose music for the 2020 documentary, Live from the Space Stage: A Halyx Story, moved him to tears.Ezquerro’s score for this film carries distinct shades of Wendy Carlos’ ominous melodies for Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 masterwork, The Shining, a film that—like Clairevoyant—illustrates how growth can only occur once we dare to learn from our perpetually overlooked past.


Nailing the third act

The third act was originally set to be another run-in with a guru, this time a lengthy and informative conversation differentiating between Nirvana and Enlightenment, the three schools of Buddhism and respective subcategories, and how westerners have misconstrued eastern teachings. They even shot and completed the scene, but upon watching it back, they knew something wasn't right. It didn't have the correct je ne sais quoi that the filmmaking duo was looking for.

But Wittman and De Larroche knew that the film would ultimately tell them what it wanted to be. The soul of the film that emerges in a startlingly emotional rooftop scene, thus setting the tone for the third act, was spontaneously inspired by the passing of Wittman’s cat, Heidi, to whom the film is dedicated.

“I just had an instinct that she was going to die within the next month,” said Wittman. “She wasn’t doing very well, and that day I discovered a tumor on her throat. She ended up passing only a couple of weeks afterward, but the day we filmed the rooftop scene is when the weight of losing her really hit me. She is my childhood cat, and it was so scary knowing it was coming. I was just crying that whole day, and Arthur was like, ‘How bad is it of me to want to be recording this right now?’ Honestly, it wasn’t bad for me, because that’s why I’m an actor. We exploit our pain and hardships to make art, so I was like, ‘Let’s go,’ and I’m glad we did it.”

In the scene, Claire opens up about her dead family members, whom she had previously told a medium didn’t exist. It provided a less contrived path to detail her inner life than De Larroche’s original idea to have her speak with a therapist. It was one of those magical movie moments where everything came together perfectly, from the overcast skies to the crows flying overhead. In this scene, Claire also refers for the first time to her mental illness, which she says is “barely dormant.” Though Wittman and De Larroche agreed that the character struggles with depression, her psychology is not defined simply by this label.


“You can be under so much stress and have so many problems—and you only get that hour every week with a therapist,” said De Larroche. “Claire could have no diagnosable mental illness, and also her mental illnesses are barely dormant. It’s a complicated thing, the mind. Claire definitely has depression, but she could also have ADHD. When she gets stressed and has a little bit too much introspection, she has this amazing tendency to constantly fixate on details around her to try to find something to distract her or some form of stability. You see that in the creek scene where her attention drifts toward bugs that are not physically there.”

De Larroche and Wittman wanted to end on an affirmative note akin to Schitt’s Creek by illustrating that Claire can indeed evolve for the better. Rather than burn the humiliating footage she has shot for her documentary, she decides six months later to own up to her mistakes and share them with the world.

“It felt like the only way to show her growth,” said Wittman. “Some viewers think that it’s a really abrupt ending, but if you consider the fact that she had to sit with the footage for six months, editing it all herself, it makes sense that she showed up and went, ‘I’m different now!’ Being confronted with your flaws is probably the best way to learn and grow, so it just felt like the right ending. I didn’t want to come up with something overly saccharine, and by having her realize that she’s not enlightened, that’s the closest that she’s been to being enlightened the entire movie.” 

“I like that people get a little disappointed that she hasn’t found the meaning of life, but the truth is, she’s found an answer—it just happens to be in the negative space of her statement,” said De Larroche. “I love how incredibly different and less tense Claire is in that final scene.”


Feeling whole

When Clairevoyant began being rejected by festivals, De Larroche and Wittman realized that festival programmers were switching off the film after only three minutes, indicating that they may not have realized they were watching a satire.

Only once the directors specified in the film’s synopsis that it was a mockumentary did the movie start getting accepted into festivals.

In a sublime full-circle moment, Claire’s stated dreams of one day having her film picked up by Prime Video were fulfilled when the platform made Clairevoyant streamable in the U.S. last June. As of the publication of this article, the film is now available in 20 countries and has an 86% Certified Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

And then, at long last, an in-person screening for Clairevoyant was held, enabling the filmmaking duo to view the film on a big screen with an audience comprised of friends and industry members, an experience De Larroche likened to a jacuzzi.

“Would Clairevoyant have struck a chord with people pre-pandemic?” said De Larroche. “I’m not sure. There was this element in American culture before where people were like, ‘Get your unsuccessfulness, your personal failings, away from me. Do not curse me with your sadness. I don’t want it to rub off on me.’ That was something we saw out here, and now people are very open to sharing it with one another. We did not think that the spiritual community would rally around Clairevoyant at all, but they've proven to be the best people to laugh at themselves. When they watch the worst things that Claire does, they’re like, ‘Man, that was me once.’ The media so often derides them with no empathy, so it must’ve been nice for them to finally feel seen.”


“The second I stepped foot in Los Angeles, I instantly felt lost,” said Wittman. “I was like, ‘I didn’t have depression five minutes ago, but now I do. It’s a weird vibe that permeates this city of people searching for something more, and Claire came about when I was here looking for answers. There’s so much more autonomy in filmmaking than there is in acting. That’s why I’ll take this experience with me for the rest of my life. If I’m ever down and out, hit by ageism, nepotism, or any other ‘ism’ Hollywood throws at me, I feel equipped now to handle everything. While acting remains my main focus, I’m so grateful that I was pushed to the brink and made Clairevoyant, because I love making movies. Claire definitely healed something inside of me. I felt a lot more whole after being Claire for a while.”

“There is no reason for anyone reading this to not get up and go make a feature,” said De Larroche. “Just be smart about it. You need to use your weaknesses as strengths. We came up with a plot where it was okay if we had technical problems or flubbed lines or got kicked off the street or even arrested because that would just add value to the film! We didn’t need a crew or much help. We live in a time of unprecedented opportunity not just due to technological advancements but also in the industry. Hollywood has been extremely receptive to us. We didn’t know anybody. We’re not connected and yet once you give people something to be excited about, they meet you halfway or go out of their way to help. People love art. We have been to the mountaintop, and it's looking good.”

Matt is an assistant editor at and is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association. He spent four years writing film reviews and interviews for and has contributed to a variety of publications including Time Out Chicago, The A.V. Club, and Magill's Cinema Annual. His writing/editing experience includes serving as Assistant A&E Editor at the Columbia Chronicle and a full-time writer at the Woodstock Independent. He is a monthly guest on Vocalo radio's The Morning AMp program, and is also the founder of Indie Outlook, a blog and podcast featuring exclusive interviews with some of the most exciting voices in modern independent filmmaking. Follow him on Twitter at @IndieOutlook and @mattfagerholm.