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Making an Impossible Film: How Director Martin Villeneuve Brought His Sci-Fi Drama to Life

06.14.13 @ 9:30PM Tags : , , , , ,

Martin VilleneuveFilmmakers are no strangers to experiencing the dark night of the soul, whether it be at 3 in the morning on a set that has come to a standstill or 3 in the afternoon realizing your screenplay calls for more money than your life is worth. Those who wish to create movies often don’t for a bunch of reasons: becoming creatively stymied or overwhelmed, fatigue, and financial crises — just to name a few. However, Martin Villeneuve, Montreal-based director of Mars et Avriloffers some insight into what it was like making a film that was “impossible to make” by embracing the many constraints independent filmmakers are bound to face in order to increase the amount of creativity and opportunity.

Villeneuve is the writer/director/producer of Canadian sci-fi drama Mars et Avril. The film was adapted from Villeneuve’s graphic novels of the same name, and takes place in Montreal 50 years in the future at a time when humans are about to venture to Mars. According to Villeneuve, the thing that made this production impossible was its ambitious VFX and its (comparatively) measly $2.3 million budget. Check out the trailer to know more about the story.

Also, here’s a video showing how some of the VFX were created.

As you can see from the trailer, the VFX are pretty astonishing, especially when you consider the fact that Villeneuve and his team constructed a futuristic Montreal — an entirely new world — for a fraction of what that would normally cost. But, how did they do it? Well, Villeneuve was invited to speak at TED2013‘s and gave a TED Talk, and in his speech, he explains how he was able to pull the impossible off, and I’ll let you know right now — it has nothing to do with money, knowing people, or having the latest gear. It has everything to do with time — and love. Check it out below.

Villeneuve says:

So, you might wonder, what’s the deal here? How did I do this? Well, it’s two things. First, it’s time. When you don’t have money, you must take time, and it took me seven years to do Mars et Avril. The second aspect is love. I got tons and tons of generosity from everyone involved. And it seems like every department had nothing, so they had to rely on our creativity and turn every problem into an opportunity.

That brings us to another one of Villeneuve’s excellent points, that “constraints — can boost creativity.” They really can and do. I was just talking about this with a friend of mine. He was telling me that having a wide open world for him to paint is often too big of an undertaking, but once gives himself a rule to follow, then immediately his imagination comes alive.

This is what the Danish filmmakers of Dogme 95 did back in the 90s. They took their “Vow of Chastity”, and in doing so, made some of the most interesting pieces of film I’ve ever seen (e.g. Vinterberg’s Festen and Von Trier’s Idioterne.) Obviously, these filmmakers chose to limit themselves in order to achieve a different, perhaps (and definitely argued) greater level of creativity, whereas Villeneuve decided to accept the constraints put before him. But note this: he didn’t look at his project in one hand and the funds to produce it in the other and give up. He embraced the challenge as an opportunity:

So, I want to tell you that, if you have some crazy ideas in your mind, and people tell you that it’s impossible to make, well, that’s an even better reason to want to do it, because people have a tendency to see the problems rather than the final result — if you start to deal with problems as being your allies rather than your opponents, life will start to dance with you in the most amazing way. I have experienced it. And you might end up doing some crazy projects, and who knows, you might even end up going to Mars.

Perhaps the key to making the impossible film isn’t a whole lot of concrete tips and tricks or suggestions on cameras and mics. Those things absolutely help, but even if you have those things, not having a positive and creative outlook will hurt your project. I like to believe the first to ever film a “kiss in the rain” scene hadn’t planned for rain, but saw a creative opportunity and went with it. Now, kissing in the rain on film is like — a thing.

What do you think about Martin Villeneuve’s speech? What helped you get through your impossible projects and what advice can you share to fellow filmmakers?



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  • Too bad you can’t buy it unless you’re in Canada.

  • People talking French in the future? Suspension of disbelief GONE.

    Oh, we Anglo-Canadians like to pick on the Franco’s… But seriously, that production value is incredible.

  • This is ABSOLUTELY the kind attitude we should all strive for if you’re in any way creative or dealing in creativity. This guy’s an inspiration for sharing what should be so obvious and simple, yet seems to be the exception and not the rule in our everyday lives. Regardless of whether the film is a gem or a turd, I applaud the effort and his patience of 7 years (!). Bravo.

  • I wish I could speak more languages so I could understand without subtitles lol

  • Wow!

    l buy it. Now the digital download is where?

  • Sigh, why does every modern sci-fi flick have to have a wide shot of a grand mega-loposis cityscape with glistening towers?

    • It is called an establishing shot.

    • It doesn’t. You can make your own Scifi. Then you can have the “space to dream” whatever you like too ;)

      Thanks for this blog V, and also to Martin Villineuve for a very inspiring talk at just the right long dark tea time of the soul moments for this little indie film maker. Unfortunately your right V, there tends to be a lot of these moments… so keep em coming eh :D

  • Kind of a shame that I live in Montreal and totally forgot about that movie (maybe it has to do with the fact it took so long to come out). The fact that this movie is in french is even more incredible. Here, you can get your script turned down over 7 times if it’s in french but translate it in english and I’ve seen a lot of directors getting funded immediately. Kind of a shame. Will definitely check it out.

  • To me the article perfectly sums up the point of cinema and NFS – although I doubt very many people agree. Constraints are essential rather than unfortunate. This is especially true when digital technology democratises high quality tools. For all the most important bits, there are no limits and no constraints. The utopia of filmmaking has arrived. At the same time, there is no money and Hollywood is dying, ie. there are unimportant constraints that merely serve to push creative solutions and force one to think of cinema as it is practiced most of the time in most of the world. It is wonderful that Hollywood is dying. Yet despite the obviousness of it’s demise, people’s dreams of making big films persist.
    “Here are the most powerful and democratic film tools in human history.”
    “Excellent. Now we just need to convince someone to give us 23 million dollars.”

    Hollywood is the constraint. Hollywood leads people to feel anxious about what professional means, and about being given permission to make their big film, with big crews, big budgets, big marketing, big distribution, big audiences, and big rewards. Hollywood is a pair of golden handcuffs constraining one’s imagination.

    Ironically, visual effects films that were the biggest films are increasingly the smallest films because they are the most digital. They are mostly made in bedrooms. Examples in terms of digital 3D image making, using off-the-shelf software, time and love: The Third and Seventh – photo-realistic 3D cinema. (The optical effects and photorealism remind one even the camera may become obsolete, never mind fucking Hollywood.) Also, Modern Times and of course, Monsters

  • This looks amazing! Inspiring talk mostly for maintaining inspiration across such a long period of time.

    Again i am kind of bugged by these articles framed as if someone has magically done a film with less money. what it boils down to is in this case, a lot of artists worked for free or below cost because they loved the film. There is no secret to doing things cheaper so please stop framing articles this way. It’s a great inspirational story we don’t need the phoney carrot.

    • I am not sure the point is that they “magically did a film with less money”, I think its more along the lines of don’t let a big or small budget be a deal breaker for your project. There is an old adage : you can have it well done, you can have it prompt or you can have it cheap: pick two.

      The lesson here is that keeping up enthusiasm for your project (passion) helped him get the assistance he needed, but it took a long time to get there. He made a quality (visuals at least, I havent seen the film for the story to judge) with a limited budget (cheaply relatively) but he did not do it quickly. And he did not lose the vision to complete the project, and was able to succeed in reaching his goal/ dream.

      I think this is right inline with the NFS message which is, if you have a passion, anything is possible. The “Constraints” that he discusses are inevitable on any size production, I’d call them challenges, and even on a Six Hundred Million dollar budget, they still have things they have to tackle and overcome to complete the project, it may be different than the hurdles you experience on a half million dollar short, but those limits help breed creativity (even beyond film making).

      This is not meant to be a ” phony carrot” nor are the author(s) saying this is what you must do to succeed, but they have laid out an example of someone being successful and telling you how they did it. It also outlines his workflow and how he went about accomplishing his visuals etc. He was able to reach his goal, and overcome many limitations that we are all familiar with when it comes to production. This could be helpful to someone trying to think of a way to accomplish their goals. Inspirational stories of success (overcoming adversity of overwhelming odds) are there to serve that purpose. Provide an insite and hopefully brew your own passion and creativity. It’s why they make good movies. It’s also what TED is all about.

      We always learn from history,good or bad, and this is just a friendly lesson in perseverance and passionately pursuing your dreams will breed success and in some cases it may help you get an idea or see something that will allow you the same.

  • Amazing. He’s a genius.

  • Can anyone explain how to get this film if you don’t live in Canada? There are no digital downloads available anywhere but ITunes, and they won’t let you buy something from another “store” (so absurd). The only copies you can get online via amazon appear to be standard def. DVD without subtitles.

    Why are they not distributing on something more open ended to market to an international audience? Why are ITunes/distributors putting up arbitrary roadblocks that shouldn’t apply on the internet. Finally, why is there not a blu-ray edition of this film?