Jeremy Teicher and Alexi Pappas went to the 2018 Winter Olympics without any medal aspirations, arriving with a digital camera instead of figure skates.
Whatever it lacked in athletic prowess, however, their exercise in pairs filmmaking scored points for artistic achievement in the form of the modest yet groundbreaking romantic comedy Olympic Dreams.
The mostly improvised film was shot entirely on location in Pyeongchang, South Korea, in February 2018, with complete behind-the-scenes access to the Athletes Village and with the participation of real Olympic athletes in supporting roles.
The husband-and-wife team was invited to participate in the International Olympic Committee’s new artist-in-residence program, which originated in 2016 as a method of enabling ex-athlete creatives to capture the Olympic experience through art.
“They’re always open to growing this tradition. This program is about bringing arts back to the Olympics,” Pappas said during the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin. “When we decided to take this stick and build a treehouse, for them to be open to that was remarkable. We felt like we had a playground.”
In the film, Pappas plays a cross country skier experiencing plenty of nerves in the days leading up to her competition. She meets a volunteer dentist (Nick Kroll) who provides a calming influence while experiencing personal issues of his own.
“It was supposed to be a short film and kind of grew,” Teicher said.
Pappas is a distance runner who competed in the 2016 Olympics in Brazil, finishing 17th in the women’s 10,000-meter final while representing Greece.
She made her film debut in 2015 with Tracktown, directed by Teicher, which depicted the trials and tribulations of a fictional runner training for the Olympics. They funneled that same spirit into this follow-up project.
“They had to hustle for every frame they got,” Kroll said. “It’s a really hard thing to make a movie of this size with how we shot it. That’s a testament to how innovative Jeremy and Alexi were.”
As the only experienced actor in the cast, Kroll joined the production only a couple of weeks prior to filming. But he eagerly jumped into the guerrilla-style production by helping to create dialogue and even lugging around equipment when needed.
The logistical challenges and limited resources dictated that Teicher performed many functions during the rushed shooting schedule, from lighting to sound to camera operation. After all, it was impossible to request the necessary access for an entire film crew.
Meanwhile, Pappas used her athlete connections to help assemble the cast practically on the spot. Many agreed to participate during their off days, including American freestyle skiers Gus Kenworthy and Morgan Schild.
“I would just approach them in the game room or the dining hall and respectfully ask them if they wanted to be in our movie. When you’re not competing, you have some time,” Pappas said. “Olympians are really used to being on camera, and they really opened up in ways that they haven’t traditionally. We know how to improvise, and we know how to work hard. They brought their own experiences to their characters.”