Jean-Pierre Jeunet Interview For MICMACS
Jean-Pierre Jeunet took some time to talk to a panel of reporters about his upcoming movie, MICMACS which opens June 4th in LA (See trailer and photos here). In this interview, Jeunet discusses the story of the movie, the cast of Micmacs, his directorial style and his affection for science fiction.
Where did you get the story for ‘Micmacs’?
Jean-Pierre Jeunet: I was so starving to shoot. I wanted to make something very quickly and I had some different ideas in my computer. In fact I mixed three different feelings. One of them was a preoccupation about a weapon seller because I had a fascination for these strange people who are able to invent things to give suffering. Also, I wanted a story about revenge. I love ‘Once Upon A Time in the West’. I love the story of revenge. The third thing was to make something with a band of original weird people like The Seven Dwarfs and Snow White. One of them is shy. Another one is always pissed off, this kind of stuff. So mixed three different feelings and it wasn’t so easy. I was concerned to make serious issue like the weapons deal into a slapstick cartoon. I thought, ‘Okay, “The Great Dictator” was a comedy, too.’ I hope it works pretty well.
How deliberately did you want this to have a political undercurrent and how hard was it to combine that magical realism into the film?
Jean-Pierre Jeunet: I want to say politic because it’s such a cliché to say it’s not good, that it’s bad to sell weapons but we made real research. We made a beautiful interview in a weapons manufacturer in Blegium that make some arrows to go through the tank that gets the temperature so high and at once everybody burns inside the tank. We met very interesting people. They have a passion for technology. I would like to have these kinds of people in my crew. Very nice people, but at the end when you say, ‘You kill people,’ they say, ‘Yes, but we work on the right side.’ I remember this sentence. It’s in the film. ‘We work for the Minister of Defense, not for the Minister of Attack.’ Isn’t that beautiful? They say, ‘No, no. We don’t sell for the bad guys.’ They know that they resell it in Africa for poor people. It’s a war.
How do you come up with these ideas in your film? They’re all so rich. Can you also talk about using a lot of wide lenses?
Jean-Pierre Jeunet: I would say that it’s a question of style. I like a director with a strong style. When you recognize the styleafter ten seconds. When you see a film from Tim Burton you recognize immediately that it’s Tim Burton. That’s the same thing for Terry Gilliam or Kusturica, David Lynch. A long time ago it was [Federico] Fellini or whatever. I don’t want to compare myself with these great directors but I love to shoot with short lenses, to use warm color and I love to do that. So that’s it. This time I wanted to make something faster with a lighter camera but everyone told me, ‘No. It’s too early for the digital. We spend the time to fix the defects.’ Next time I want to make it all on a lighter camera.
Do you share your character’s vision that ingenuity is a way of defending yourself from the world, from the violence?
Jean-Pierre Jeunet: Yeah, absolutely. I believe about imagination. I was worker when I was seventeen. When I was seventeen to twenty one I was a worker in the telephone company and imagination saved my life. In fact the character of Dany Boon is a little bit a metaphor of my work because to accomplish his revenge, he needs a crew with specific characters like I need a crew to accomplish my film. It’s a kind of metaphor, isn’t it?
Does it usually take you several years to develop an idea and get it done?
Jean-Pierre Jeunet: Yeah, because I write myself the script. It’s not for everybody. It’s so much work. I need to be in love with a subject. For example, I’ve read some books now since last October, and I need to be completely in love. So it’s a long process and after you write it, that’s between six months and one year and you look for the money. Each time you have a problem is time. I lost my actor because I lost with a major actor to another director. I lost four months. I took advantage of that time to make a beautiful commercial for Chanel 5. It’s a long process and it’s very long to make, long for the postproduction but during the shooting it’s very long because I’m very picky. For example, I spent seven weeks just to fix the color at the end. It’s very long but I love that.
Do you think that imagination nowadays is a rare commodity with all these sequels and remakes?
Jean-Pierre Jeunet: Yeah. It’s getting difficult because for example in France they love realistic stories. You see that Terry Gilliam is getting tough in terms of box office but on the other hand the biggest success of movies from comics. But you’re right, it’s from another world. After one century we told so many stories that it’s difficult to innovate, to find new ideas. It’s not easy. I know it’s not easy.
Mechanical devices always seem to figure in your movies. Can you talk about that?
Jean-Pierre Jeunet: For me I would compare to a construction set. Inside the box you have the costumes, the dialogue, the music and I want to use everything in the box to build the most beautiful toy that I can and don’t lose anything inside the box. This is my concentration. In other words, I am like a chef. I prepare a good meal and I want to share. ‘Do you think it’s good, no?’ Sometimes they say, ‘No. It’s not good.’
But you actually put the train sets on the screen.
Jean-Pierre Jeunet: Yes and for this one I hired a guy because I discovered this guy who’s a knife artist and he was in a museum in Paris, a beautiful animated sculpture. It was so beautiful. We didn’t build ourselves. I hired the guy to lend us a different sculpture.
You talked about this being a cartoon. I would say silent film. Can you talk about that?
Jean-Pierre Jeunet: Especially the cannon men in the film, I thought especially about Buster Keaton, of course. When Dany Boon makes you think about Charlie Chaplin it wasn’t on purpose. During the shooting I see him and say, ‘Oh, you make me think of Chaplin,’ and he said, ‘You think so?’ Afterwards I think he continued to think that. It was on purpose after.
Dany Boon is a really great actor. How did you cast him in your film?
Jean-Pierre Jeunet: I’ve followed him for fifteen years because he’s used to making one man shows, standing up and just after I hired him he got a huge success with ‘Welcome To The Sticks’ but when I say huge, it was like $21 million admission. ‘Amelie’ was a huge success and it was $9 million. Can you believe it? I’m very jealous. He’s good, a good actor. Everyday he was perfect. He never had a bad day and he’s a nice guy, very simple and very funny.
How do you work with actors?
Jean-Pierre Jeunet: They have to precise. That’s the reason that I love Audrey Tautou or Dany Boon. You have to have your head here and not here in order to move a little bit because when you use short lens, if they’re too close to the lens they could be like a monster. I’m very precise but on the other hand if they want to surprise me, if they want to propose to me something different I’m very open. I’m free. I make a storyboard. ‘Okay, new idea. No problem.’ But I love technician actors.
How did you decide to incorporate the Max Steiner score and is it ‘Maltese Falcon’ that you used?
Jean-Pierre Jeunet: At the beginning we used maybe six or seven pieces from different films from Max Steiner. In fact I wanted to just use ‘The Big Sleep’ to make the guy with the end starting the film. It was on my mind, on my notes and of course we had the music and the music works so well and we thought, ‘Maybe we could use Max Steiner music for the whole film, for the action scenes.’ It worked so well. It was like a miracle. I remember one scene there were forty seconds, not one cut. Every scene point was perfect. I imagine Max Steiner in paradise [laughing], like a second life. It was a great moment and by luck we found some good recordings from the ’70’s. It was in stereo and good quality. Not amazing quality but good quality.
When you make a movie do you try to present what you think is right or do you try to think about what the audience wants?
Jean-Pierre Jeunet: No. You work for yourself. See, if you’re a chef you’re the first taster. ‘Hmm. I love that. Do you want to share?’ But you have to love it before. You are the first spectator of your film. If you think about the other people you’re dead.
It’s very personal.
Jean-Pierre Jeunet: Yes. It’s very selfish to make a film but that’s not the only recipe. You can be happy. You can make something very sincere and it can not work, too.
You have little hallmarks in your films. In this film the guy who’s listening is urinating and the urine goes down to this little dog. How do you come up with these things that are so entertaining? Are they jokes for yourself?
Jean-Pierre Jeunet: The only thing that I can say is that it’s ten percent inspiration and ninety percent perspiration.
What are some of the talents or superpowers that you considered for the characters and then rejected?
Jean-Pierre Jeunet: Not really but I imagine maybe fifteen character but I can’t remember now why we got rid of. I knew something. I kept seven because that’s a magic number. Seven dwarfs. Seven Missionaries. Samurai. I remember I had some twins but I don’t remember which quality that they had.
When you’re writing are you thinking about directing, too?
Jean-Pierre Jeunet: Yes. When I write myself the visual scenes that’s the case. When Guillaume [Laurant], my partner, writes the dialogue scenes it’s different. I have to imagine afterwards and that’s a different game but it’s pretty easy to imagine the storyboard for me. It’s an easy game. I close my eyes and I see the scene.
I remember for ‘Amelie’ that this was a very French film, that there’s a very distinctive flavor with the film. Is that part of the way to compete with Hollywood? Not imitating Hollywood but coming up with your own accent?
Jean-Pierre Jeunet: I don’t know. I really don’t know. I love Paris. I try to show a different Paris each time. I don’t know if it’s French. Of course if I use the music with accordeons it sounds French, of course. In France, you have to know I am not French. They think that I’m international because my films are seen everywhere and I don’t feel especially French. I’m not a member of any guild. For example, [Pedro] Almodovar, they don’t like him Spain. He quit the Academy of Spanish Oscar because they don’t like him. At first I could complain but now it’s getting difficult because I had three huge successes. ‘Alien’. That was a success in France. ‘Alien’. ‘Amelie’ and ‘The Long Engagement’. Now it’s time to pay.
The other film that you were working on before this, was that meant to be a more commercial film or was it just that it had a bigger budget?
Jean-Pierre Jeunet: No. It was a very risky movie. That was the reason that they didn’t want to make, because it was expensive and risky. A young kid alone in the middle of the see, that’s not very commercial. Who knows, maybe it’ll be a success but nobody can know.
Do you think at all about merging your sensibility with something more commercial? Or are you happy on this path?
Jean-Pierre Jeunet: I have different ideas. For example just right now I tried to buy the rights to a small French book. It would be a very intimate story, a very beautiful one and emotional but not very commercial. On the other hand I would like to make an amazing American book. It’s a masterpiece but I don’t want to tell anything because I’m going to meet the author of it next week in New York. It’s such a good book. Oh, my God, it’s going to be a fucking masterpiece but I heard he would like to direct the film himself. Big mistake.
International audiences and critics have complained that they’ve Americanized foreign books in the process of adaptation. Do you feel that turnabout is fair play if you took that book and made it into a movie?
Jean-Pierre Jeunet: No. This one is very – I don’t want to tell more but it’s in Russia. It’s during the war. It’s very different. It’s a war film. It won’t be American and it won’t be French, except I suppose we have to use American actors because who cares about Russian actors you know.
Do you think you have a dark imagination?
Jean-Pierre Jeunet: I can if I want and I try to make something brighter because it’s more interesting and more difficult to make something positive than negative. To be negative is very easy.
But as far as ‘Amelie’, a more romantic love story but thinking about ‘Delicatessen’, ‘Micmacs’ and ‘A Very Long Engagement’ –
Jean-Pierre Jeunet: Yeah. I like both. For some people it was dark. Can you believe that? In France they said, ‘Oh, it’s very dark.’ Intolerable critics.
How do you relate to science fiction, the extremes of the genre?
Jean-Pierre Jeunet: I love science fiction and I don’t like fantastic. For example, if you have a magical ring and you can explore the world for me it’s like, ‘What are we talking about?’ It’s not interesting. I don’t like ‘Lord of the Rings’ or even ‘Star Wars’. I don’t understand this kind of story. But ‘Alien’, because the rules of the game are very precise. I love science fiction. I have an idea about robots in the future.
What’s the main influence in your work?
Jean-Pierre Jeunet: For this film I think it’s Sergio Leone, Buster Keaton, ‘Mission Impossible’
You talked about making a film that might not be commercial. Yet, you also talked earlier about the relationship with the audience, that you want to share your concoction with the audience. Are those two sides of a coin?
Jean-Pierre Jeunet: Yeah, if you share with one person. You can have dinner with one person or with ten people, like now, and it’s the same pleasure. Sometimes it’s very sincere. It’s just a question of money. If you can get the money back for the film it’s not a problem. If I’d wanted to have a huge audience I would make American movies. If I prefer to shoot in my own language it’s to play in my own language, to play in Paris and I have the complete freedom in France. It’s amazing. If American directors could imagine how I am free they would all ask to have political asylum.
So your experience on ‘Alien’ was different?
Jean-Pierre Jeunet: I was waiting for this question. No. It was a great experience. I read so many times, ‘It was a nightmare for Jean-Pierre Jeunet!’ You know the guy who made ‘Up In The Air’, he made a joke in the photo like the dwarf in [?]. They say it’s like in the French film because I read in an interview, he said, ‘Because it was a nightmare to make “Alien” for Jean-Pierre Jeunet and he came back to France to make “Amelie”.’ It wasn’t a nightmare. I’m sorry. It was tough. It was difficult because you have to convince people to have your own editing. You have to speak with a lot of people but it wasn’t a nightmare. It was just tough and in France it’s not tough. You have the freedom by law.
When you’re writing a film like this do you have the visual style already in mind or does that involve as the film goes on?
Jean-Pierre Jeunet: It depends. The main important thing of course is the story. I think that we made a mistake with ‘The City of Lost Children’ because we had the feeling and the mood of the set before the story and this time we said, ‘Okay, now we need a story.’ If you think you need a story then that’s not a good way. You have to have a beautiful story and then you go, ‘Oh, I’m going to shoot that.’ This is the right order.
Can you talk about the love story between Bazil and The Contortionist?
Jean-Pierre Jeunet: I think it’s not enough. Some people told me, ‘It’s not enough. We need some stronger emotion,’ and they’re right I think. Pixar is my main, not in films, but I have a great admiration. I have the great privilege to make a master class at Pixar in San Francisco with one thousand people. It was amazing. They say one laugh for one tear.
Bazil’s best feature I think are his memories because that guides us through the movie. Is that the main idea for this movie, that we have to follow that to understand him?
Jean-Pierre Jeunet: Yeah, and the bullet on his brain was just a pretext to give him imagination, fantasy. The first time I wanted to give him more fantasy, more voice over, more imagination but it would have killed the story and so we limited it just for the animation scenes.
What kind of casting challenge was it to find Julie Ferrier?
Jean-Pierre Jeunet: You have to look on youtube at Julie Ferrier. She’s amazing onstage because she’s able to play fifteen different characters and you can’t recognize her. You think it’s a trick, that she’s a different actress. She changes a wig, the aspect, the voice and she’s different. She’s amazing. But in my film she’s okay. Onstage she’s absolutely amazing. She’s a genius. Of course she’s very flexible because she was a dancer but not enough for the character and we found a Russian girl acting in Germany and she does an erotic show in Germany and it’s very interesting. Very interesting.