Thursday, June 29, 2006

An Interview with Director Michel Gondry

This interview was conducted on June 18th, 2006 at the W Hotel in Seattle, WA prior to the release of Gondry's film The Science of Sleep. It was previously posted on the forums at, but for the sake of preservation, I'm posting it here as well.

I would really love to see the White Stripes project he mentioned happen. It sounds amazing.

Michel Gondry: Hold on, you need to push the microphone, it pops up, somehow...there.

Tyler Foster: Have you been to Seattle before?

MG: Yeah, I been a bunch of times. Let's see, once was for wedding, and I was here for, it was Charlie Kaufman, to promote Eternal Sunshine.

TF: I notice your movies and your music videos all have a circular, mathematical logic to them. Is this something you shoot for?

MG: Yeah, very much so, I like mathematics. Not that I was really good at it, I was good at geometry, I liked the thinking of mathematics, and I like to try to find patterns in nature, and in life and in storytelling as well. I like to find shapes in the storytelling, try to represent the flow, the continuity of the story as a graphic, and actually I always did sort of a map of the movie before I started to shoot.

TF: Was the movie written in all the many languages it's performed in or did that happen when you were shooting?

MG: Ah, initially, I wrote it in French, and then in American, in English, and then I did a version with the two languages together.

TF: I mean, say, you cast Gael Garcia Bernal, did his character speaking Spanish come from casting him, or...

MG: Well, yeah, it came from casting him, but I cast him like one year before we started to shoot, so I had time, all this year. I worked on the last draft, having him in mind, and we knew, Miou-Miou, that, we knew she played his mother, we knew she didn't want to speak English, and we said, "Okay, with her, he's going to have to speak French." Sometimes obstacle like that, like, you get an actress you really want to work with but she refuse to speak English, so we have to make it work, but sometimes it's for the best of the project, because it made it good that he has to speak with her in French, it makes it really makes sense for the story. And so, I had to resolve these issues, but I tried to make it believable as possible.

TF: Is this related to why you decided to shoot it in France, because your other two films have been essentially American productions.

MG: Yeah, it's a French production, it's because it's really personal, and I wanted to have the background I knew. Like, for Eternal Sunshine, I did three months of research around New York to find how people live, and to make it real. And this one, I didn't want to spend this time, and I really want to make it from what I had in mind originally. So we actually end up to shoot in the building where I used to live ten years ago, two floors above, and all the streets of the location, I know them, so it saved a lot of time, and as well, I wanted to have this emotional thrill, when you come back to a place you've not been for awhile, and you come back there, and you feel something, and I wanted to take advantage of that.

TF: Again, leading in, is this why you decided to use more of your "homemade" physical effects and prop gags and stop motion instead of CGI, because you used a lot of CGI on Eternal Sunshine.

MG: Well, I suppose...I'm doing a video for Beck now, it's going to be a lot of computer effects, but we have done some effects as well in the camera, and for this, The Science of Sleep, especially since everything like, Stéphane's creation or Stéphanie's creation, I think it makes sense it's all handmade, because I don't want to feel when you watch the film, you think you are going into the world of a crazy art director or director, you're just going into Stéphane's world. If you assume Stéphane is me, then you're going into my world, but before all you're going into Stéphane's world, and the different landscape of the dream could be all different, or contradictory, [but] they all match, because you feel he made them himself, it was important for me. Even though I was not really aware of this element, it was important that it was his production.

TF: Had you written Charlotte Gainsbourg's part for her?

MG: Ah...the part was written for someone I knew, and I knew by hiring Charlotte, it would bring some humanity, because it could have been a harsh...with some other actress, could have been much harsher, and I didn't want this character to come off as being unfriendly, and I think Charlotte brings so much humanity, and it's interesting, I didn't give her direction in the sense of...I didn't know if Stéphanie is in love or not with Stéphane, and I told her, "I'm not going to tell you, because I don't know it, so I give you the dialogue, and you make the intention you want." Obviously, I gave her some direction, but overall I would not say what was in her mind, and I asked her many times, "Well, do you think she likes him?" Obvious, I was taking it for me, but at the end she says, "Of course she loves him," so I was happy, but I think she was talking more about Stéphane Gael than Stéphane Michel.

TF: Do you know when we'll be seeing an American trailer for the film?

MG: Oh, the first one, it's going to be in the coming weeks. It's coming out very soon. And there's going to be a website, called, and we're going to ask people to share their dream, and I'm going to do a journal of my dream, with my videotape, and I'm going to explain them in my own way. And I did interviews with people, I did interview with Beck, and he told me his dream, so it's going to be fun. It's going to be related to the film, but not completely directly, we're trying to create a community website.

TF: Moving onto some of your other projects, how did Dave Chappelle's Block Party get made? Did Dave talk to you, or...

MG: Well, lately we're joking around, we are doing some festival together, and he said, he tried to call Spike Jonze, so then, because he wasn't available, he asked me, so I was not serious and I joke I want to do a documentary with Chris Rock but he wasn't available so I asked him. But we had the same agent, and when he saw my DVD he was a fan, and when I saw his TV show I was a fan, and as much as we are different, we have a lot in common in the creative process, and as well, he, suppose, at an adequate place, he wanted to give back to the people who helped him with the show, because all the musicians came to play on his show when he was nobody. Now he was becoming a big star, he wanted to give something back to them, and I liked his suggestion so I wanted to be part of it.

TF: Speaking of that, what do you think is the most rewarding thing you've gotten out of your relationships with your constant collaborations with Björk and The White Stripes, and would you ever do a film with them, whether that's a fictional film or a concert film like Block Party?

MG: Yeah, I think so, I have a project I wrote for The White Stripes, and then it was put on the side, and it was a biographic project, and basically, I was really happy with the project, and I hope it's going to happen someday. I wanted to interview them, with a stage, with some people re-enacting what they're saying, and we would bring more and more props, and I would have two actors to play Jack and Meg, and Meg and Jack would be there to play their music to illustrate what...I think the idea was that, I would play them their music, and they would tell me, listening to their music, what they had in mind when they wrote the song. Then, we would illustrate these moments with two actors, one for Jack and one for Meg, while they are doing the same music. So it would build up like that. Each time we would have some interview or voice over, and we see people re-enacting as they were playing the next song, and it would build up like that. And Björk, at some point, maybe it was Björk, it would be a different medium, maybe we would do a big exhibition together, maybe we would do it next year. I don't think she wants to be an actress, ah...

TF: Yeah, that's what she said after Dancer in the Dark.

MG: Well, yeah. She did with her boyfriend, but that is different, she was just being herself. Working from A to B, and she was not having to pour emotionally. I'll do anything they want me to do, basically. And it's great to have met those people, I mean it's, it's like you wish for any director, with my background, coming from being a video director, doing music directing, that you get on board on a project that's taking off. You never know, you get on board many projects, whether it's a band or artist, and a lot of them are going down, and you don't know it, and you jump on one that's going *boom*, to the sky, and it happened to me with Björk and the White Stripes, it's your best luck, because you travel with them and they help help them and they help you at the same time. Like The White Stripes at some point, they consider me a third member of the band. It's very flattering, and they have never been disappointed by anything I did for them. And when you work again, again with the same artist, you have an enormous pressure, which is to make it better than before, not disappoint them, and it's really a pressure you put to yourself, but it's a good one; when some other artists are...give you...make your life difficult, then you have a pressure that makes it not as good.

TF: Do you think you'd ever collaborate on a single project, like a movie where you co-directed, with Spike Jonze?

MG: We did some stuff together, we did like a Kadavasky's little film. We are like, hanging out with one of those fast cameras with a little screen, so it was starting a story, and we would carry on after another, and we didn't know what was going on, because we just see the last frame. I don't know, maybe, but I don't know, maybe we are too close, and I think he's more willing than me to collaborate and stuff, I'm more individualist, I fear too much to lose my individuality, I feel my personality is maybe not so strong, so I really want to establish myself. And maybe selfish.

TF: Well, then, do you know when, if ever, you'll be doing another installment of the Director's Works Series you did with him?

MG: Yeah, I want to do another, but Palm Pictures, they didn't pay me yet, so I'm a little...[laughs] I mean it, this thing was the best thing that happened to me, to put out this DVD, because after that people started to think of me as a creator, as before they said, "Oh yeah, he's a video director, so he's just like the visuals, doesn't care for the story," but once they look at that, they, people from the movie business, who are a little bit close-minded, started to open to me. And they say, "Oh, you can do good videos, actually, he did some good ones, so, maybe these are not so bad," And that helped with a large amount of Eternal Sunshine, so I'm really pleased on the way it turned out, with the book, and all the menus, everything was exactly the way I wanted, and it was very nice, and I wish it was always the case. The only thing is, we sold like two or three hundred thousand copies, but it's okay, I'm [trying with] the next one to have more right on it, and get some...I have already, like, 15 to 20 videos lined up to do it, and I'm doing a subject on my auntie this summer, who has been a schoolteacher all her life in countryside, little town, and my son, the documentary will be called Paul Gondry, he's my son, and it's going to be about his painting, and he's grown up a lot since the DVD. (The planned third wave of Director's Works DVD were never released, but Gondry released a second volume of his work on his own, through his official website.)

TF: The DVDs showcase a lot of your animations. Have you ever considered doing an animated film?

MG: I'm not sure I would want to do all animated...I was thinking, like today, I would like to do an animation, that I would do every day, would do five seconds, for one year, then see where it goes, but completely improvised. I just did a video for this guy where I just did like, an animated doodle. It's very satisfactory, it's like, just very relaxing, doing your little drawing and then it comes to life. So maybe I will do something, like, the other day I was interviewed for TV, and I took a notebook, and as I was doing the interview, I did the figure, and then the one, and then the one, and I said, "Okay, you have to take all the shots, and cut one frame on each, or two frames and it's going to be animated, and I did this guy with a small foot and a big foot, and he's trying to walk, boom, boom, boom, boom." (mimics the character walking in a circle) And I said, "ah, I should do something like that in a bigger size."

TF: Just as a curiosity, did you get offered Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy?

MG: I don't know, I think Spike had it, I didn't remember, I think I was probably working.

TF: Do you have plans to do a science fiction film?
MG: I don't know, I mean, I'm trying to do science fiction, I'm working on Rudy Rucker's book [Master of Space and Time], with Dan Clowes, but it's complicated, because we like all the quirkiness of the book, and the producers, they like, they try to make it more mainstream, to be able to raise the money, so it's complicated, science fiction, and I think it's why, except maybe for, Philip K. Dick, it has been very hard to adapt, because he's had history about being paranoid, maniac, and messy, disorganized, and this is not a quality that allows you to make money for a movie, and you need a lot of money for a science fiction movie, because you have to reconstitute the whole world,, I don't know how to make a science fiction movie that excites me, it certainly would not be like Matrix or Ridley Scott, but I think...Blade Runner is a masterpiece, but's been in France, shown for too many years now, and I don't know where movies can go. I mean, I think, Verhoeven has done new stuff of science fiction with RoboCop or Starship Troopers, really great movies, but you need a lot of money to do a science fiction movie, and sometime, like Starship Troopers or Mars Attacks!, truly great science fiction movies, they are not so accepted by the audience because they are too, too edgy.

TF: Well, in here [Gondry's Director's Works DVD booklet], you mention Back to the Future.

MG: Yeah, it's quirky, and it is some darkness in it, but it's not slick.

TG: Well, it's just not a space movie, I think too many people think space when they think science fiction.

MG: Ah, yeah. But I think in a space movie you could do something quirky. I mean I guess, Galaxy...Guide, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy was like that, but there was something, I don't know what it is, too...mainstream and clique. I don't know, it's hard, I don't want to judge other person's film.

TF: Finally, on your highly publicized next project, do you think Be Kind Rewind will be stylistically more like Science of Sleep or Eternal Sunshine?

MG: I don't know, I'm going to try to shoot a wider format, anamorphic, the letterbox, and it would be a contrast with the way we shoot the movies, which is video, and completely crappy, and the way the film is going to look, which is going to be a little more slick, so we'll see. I put myself in a different situation, like, the last film I did, the two last films I did, it was all handheld camera, and this one I think I will put my camera on a tripod, or crane.

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