You have evolved your own particular aesthetic, the way you frame and light your work and the way you grade and use editing to visually tell your narratives particularly in Anton. How did this skill and your visual language evolve?
I’ve always been a very visual person. When I was ten, I used to run to my bed at night an hour before sleeping time, choose a precise song, close my eyes and begin to imagine very detailed stories. I was editing my dream on the music, pushing play or stop on the Walkman during heroic or intense sequences haha…
After my cinematography degree I used to be a DOP on short movies then I shot fashion editorial for model agencies and magazines. I was afraid of trying to tell a story on film, so I worked as much as possible on aesthetics, trying to learn the technical and theoretical aspects of it.
Everything changed with Anton. I realised then that my need to narrate, to project very structured stories, was a matter of discovering my self identity. And that maybe people will recognize that signature one day and appreciate it.
Now I work very closely with my chief camera operator Thomas Ozoux, who perfectly understands my visual and pictorial references and we share the same instinct in framing a shot. We work as much as possible before shooting, so I can focus more on directing on set.
For example, the day before the shoot day for Anton we shot everything with a 5D mark II so that we knew what lenses, timing, axis and ratio aspect to use for each shot. It’s easier to improvise then and let your mind go.
Your locations are very distinctive. Do you write your narratives with a clear idea where they are set – are the characters born out of worlds you already know – or do you write and then go location scouting?
I try to build a strong main character on paper. One with a goal, a classic drama in three acts. Then I place them in a very specific context of location and urgency. I like to focus on short periods of life, to have a more or less restricted area helps that. Location scouting and good casting are in my opinion the most important things when the screenplay is written.
Love the boy character in Autumn Carnival and his single-minded drive for freedom. How did he come alive for you, and what references inspired you to create him and the girl in Anton? Have you drawn on personal experience?
It’s based on personal memory but I’m not that child. I’ve discussed a lot with him to push his own interpretation. He’s much more aware of what he wants and where he wants to go than me at the same age. Haha.
I was more interested in the act of expressing the positive aspect of the tough quest for innocence. How when an identity is bullied, isolated, living in a restricted world he makes a playground of it. How people can adapt themselves with a creative mind to survive. The special relationship of childhood, freedom and reality. I really like the humanist authors.
Autumn Carnival is more linear story-telling whereas Anton is more of a sensory journey. Which form of film making appeals to you the most?
I want to combine both at one point! But story-telling is the strongest and more timeless material.
What was the creative process with The Dandy Warhols in creating the video. Did they give you complete creative freedom? What was the original brief?
I’ve wanted to shoot in Blackpool for a while now and the story inspired by listening to Dandy’s song fitted with it. The label opted for a carnival theme, I’ve tried to combine our wishes but they gave me total freedom in the end. I had a quick talk with the label because my first script was really, really open: “A young skeleton robbing people and doing magic tricks to buy a moped and thus flees his home”.
They trusted me and I want to thank them for that. I decided to shoot on Super 16mm to encourage risk-taking, naturalism and the spontaneous nature of the film. They agreed on that so in a way I was the only master on board. Scary but vivid.
What is your process for evolving ideas – do you sketch or write words? Do you keep notebooks or work on a computer? And do you storyboard your narratives in detail?
That really depends on the project. When I can, I like to write a clear and very precise screenplay. Storyboards are too restrictive in my opinion but sometimes you don’t have the choice.
I make photo-boards most of the time. I have a script and after location scouting I make a proper document on Photoshop.
I keep notes of everything. I write thoughts, visual ideas all the time in a notebook and I classify everything on my computer at night. I have a lot of visual references and possible stories stored on my laptop.
You need to be very reactive in music video, sometimes you only have one day to give a pitch so I store ideas and try to develop them gradually. I’m a hard worker haha. But some songs impose themselves, the idea comes in a second. That’s heaven.
She doesn’t die in Anton does she? Please say she doesn’t.
For me she is reborn. Or maybe I am reborn! But it’s just my point of view. It does not belong to me anymore.
Writer and Director: Thomas Rhazi
Producer: Laurence Nguyen
Production: We Are / Kaleidoscop’art production / Thomas Rhazi, Wanda Productions.
Cinematographer: Thomas Ozoux
With Maud Wyler & Antoine Sansonet