Making an Impossible Film: How Director Martin Villeneuve Brought His Sci-Fi Drama to Life
Filmmakers 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 Avril, offers 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.
Video is no longer available: www.youtube.com/watch?v=0940wODWy4c
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.
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?