"Since I didn't go to film school, nobody told me I wasn't supposed to do everything." Part 1.
Review by: MiamiMovieCritic
Added: 8 years ago
Conducted in the fall of 2008, this is the first of a two-part interview with Patrick Boivin, one of FilmNet’s top contributors. Boivin’s career has seen a meteoric rise in the months since this interview took place, so it’s fun to go back and see what his concerns as artist were then. This was before he started getting huge commercial and music video offers – when he was basically working on his own, producing some of the most eye-popping shorts the Web has ever seen. We discussed his process as an ultra-independent filmmaker, the different challenges presented by animation as opposed to live action, and his dreams for the future – many of which, by now, have come magically true!
What first sparked your interest in film? Were you making other kinds of art at the time?
My first approach with art was comic books. I learned to draw just to be able to tell stories. Then I discovered that it was faster to tell stories with a camera. By chance, I came to the cinema when it was changing and becoming more accessible with DV cameras and computer editing. So I learned to use those tools as they were developed. Also, since I didn't go to film school, nobody told me I wasn't supposed to do everything. In a way, that became an advantage, because I can now perfectly understand every step in the process and, sometimes, create films completely on my own for fun.
Your films are visually striking. Describe the process of working with your crew. How do you translate the ideas in your head onto the screen?
Actually, for lots of my recent work, I've been doing it on my own. But I usually make very precise plans, and then I go shoot my film once with a mini DV camera, alone with an actor, and then edit it as a first draft. If I'm happy with it, I use it as a prototype and show it to every key member of the crew. Then I choose stills from the film to build a precise storyboard for the actual shoot.
What different challenges are presented by working in animation as opposed to working in live-action?
I have to answer that question as two different guys. The first one is Patrick Boivin, who prepares a lot for his live-action projects. The second one is Monsieur Monsieur Boivin, a retarded kid who animates toys for the Web just to have a reason to buy and destroy some. If I have an idea, I buy the toy and begin to think about all the shots without trying them first. Since I've done a lot of directing, having a one- or two-minute animation story with all the shots clear in my mind is easy. And so I animate a shot each time I manage to find an hour or two alone in my apartment. I edit the story progressively and change things throughout the process. A real animator would have a great time laughing at me when I do my thing over a corner of my dining table. The bad thing about this is that I sometimes regret choices that I made earlier. When I really regret a shot, I do it again. But since it's something I do for fun, I'm not too hard on myself and I include a lot of mistakes in the final cut.
Some of your films have political themes and iconography, like the Confederate flags in Jazz with a General Problem and the brain dead politician in The Bean. Do you like mixing art and politics?
I'm really interested in what's going on in the world today. An important part of my day–to-day thinking is about politics and human beings. So when I develop a story, I think those concerns naturally come up. And, of course, those concerns sometimes provoke stories. But it's not something that I feel forced to do. It's just part of the process, and having good ideas is so difficult that I don't trash one for the sake of political correctness. As for the Confederate flag in my last animation, it all began with the desire to invent a Transformer. So I had to find myself a cool car! I'm 34 years old, and when I was a kid, my favorite car was The General Lee on "The Dukes of Hazzard." I figured from the start that the Confederate aspect of the car would embarrass some people. I even thought of picking the voice of a known black actor to make my General Lee talk, just to add some more confusion. By the time I was ready to animate the segments where he talks, I thought of Michael Madsen, who plays the evil Mr. Blonde in Reservoir Dogs. So General Lee, the Confederate decepticon, is in fact Mr. Blonde, the evil maniac of Reservoir Dogs, killing one of my favorite autobots with his Confederate flag – an unfair weapon in a fist fight. All of this is to say that when you feel you have a great idea, you can easily lose yourself in explanations and justifications. In the end, I personally think that all that matters is to be comfortable with your own sensibility. Doing things to please everybody ends up watering it all down.
The National Endowment for the Arts is underfunded in this country. Talk about the Canadian system and how government grants have helped to fund your films.
I'm not well informed about the arts funding system in other countries, so I won't try to make comparisons. But I feel that in Canada, we've managed to find good ways to help artists over the past 20 years. But it's really hard to get funding for any kind of project because I feel the cultural budget is not enough. Also, I'm living in a French reality, here in the province of Quebec, where the market is small. We are a bit over 7 million, and our French movies don't travel much, so the private funding is almost nonexistent. And, most importantly, the actual government is engaged in a cutting campaign over cultural sector funding. That's what my film LES COUPURES, ÇA TUE LA CULTURE is all about. It was a commercial made just before the federal elections we had in Canada this October. Personally, 90% of what I have done for the last 15 years has been independently financed.
You were involved in a TV show called Phylactere Cola. Tell us about it.
"Phylactere Cola" was a French-Canadian TV show that was broadcast in 2002-2003. There were nine of us doing everything, from the set building to the acting. I was the director, DP, cameraman, editor and FX coordinator. One of the team members, Strob, specialized in 3D and makeup. Another one, Eric Pfalzgraf, was the sound designer and music composer. Everyone had a specialty. An important thing to mention is that we were all cartoonists. That's how we met at first. Since we started the project as a hobby many years before doing it for TV, we have made over 400 sketches. That was my school.
There’s a DVD for sale on the Phylactere Cola website. What’s on the DVD?
It's the complete second season of the TV show, plus some extras like making-of.
Radio is one of my favorite short films ever. Where did the idea for the script come from?
A: Wow! I'm glad you appreciate it! One day during a car ride, a friend of mine – who was also a team member of Phylactère Cola – told me he had an idea about a guy hearing news from a broken radio, but he wasn't sure about doing something with it. It was my birthday, and I asked him to give me this idea. Ten drafts later, I was shooting it in a five-day production. Eric Pfalzgraf took care of all the audio parts, including the beautiful music he made with another great composer named Alexis Lemay.
Name some filmmakers who inspire you.
It changes a lot. I think the work of Roy Andersson, who did Songs from the Second Floor, and Paul Thomas Anderson is what I'm going to be looking forward to the most in the next years. But to be honest, I think Tom Waits is my greatest inspiration. Oh, and my all-time favorite movie is 8 1/2 by Federico Fellini.
What are you working on now?
I just finished two shorts on the same level as Radio. One is a love story. The other is the story of a dead clown discovering that he became a zombie. And I'm actually working on the editing of a 30-minute science-fiction film with a lot of FX work. I'm also working on four feature films. The more conventional one is scheduled to be shot in May. As for the stop-motion, I think I'm done with it for a while. It started as a funny hobby, but the last one took me a lot more time than I had planned. There are many things I'd like to experiment with in life, and I already know that if I managed to live another 50 years, it won't be enough. So when I do something, I try to be as intense as possible, which sometimes leaves big gaps in my responsible adult life.