Day 155: Martin Villeneuve: How I made an impossible film

Martin Villeneuve tells us in this talk how he made a film that was impossible to make; he didn’t know it was impossible at the time. He made the film he wanted to make since childhood, ‘Mars et Avril,’ the first science fiction film of its kind to be made in expensive Quebec, using green screens and tons of visual effects.
‘Mars et Avril’ was made on a total budget of 2.3 million dollars. According to Villeneuve, if a filmmaker doesn’t have the money to make a big feature, they need two things; love and time.
In his early twenties, Villeneuve made some graphic novels, telling a science fiction story through images and text. Most actors who starred in the movie had already lent their images to these books, including the stage director and actor Robert Lepage. Villeneuve badly wanted Lepage to be part of his film, but the actor had no free time in his schedule. In a meeting one day, Villeneuve came up with the idea of turning him into a hologram, as the character was between reality and virtual reality anyway. The idea stuck, and they shot Lepage with six cameras, each shot capturing 60 degrees of his head. Six months later a mime on set provided the body for Lepage, wearing a green hood which could be replaced with Lepage’s head in post- production.
Villeneuve’s next constraint was in obtaining imaginary musical instruments as props. He’d visualised these in his mind for many years but couldn’t afford them. He approached the CEO of Cirque du Soleil in Montreal, Guy Laliberte, and outlined his idea to him. Laliberte jumped on board immediately, taking a leap of faith, as Villeneuve tells us, because he would get his art products cheaper in the end.
The final barrier Villeneuve had to overcome was in how to replace the green screens. He approached his hero, Belgian comic book artist Francois Schuiten, to ask him if he could work as a production designer. To his surprise, Schuiten agreed, as he could be a big fish in a small pond. This is a perfect example of Villeneuve’s strategy; offering a project that stimulates the imagination, when there’s no money to pay for talent. This also secured him the services of VFX artist Carlos Monzon, who’d previously worked on Avatar and Star Trek. Finally, the postproduction company, ‘Vision Globale’ lent their 60 artists for six months full time.
Villeneuve’s talk sparks an interesting debate on the TED page, with many arguing that artists can’t be expected to work for free. In the case of Villenueve’s success story, many of the people he worked with went on to obtain great professional contracts after the movie. He is proof of the fact that we need to follow our dreams and embrace the challenges along the way.

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