To all of our movie nirds out there, if you love visually arresting and beautiful works of film, have I got a treat for you today. I sat down recently with director Pascal Payant to discuss his recently released short film On the Horizon, which will serve as a lead-up to his first feature film Dark Days & Nights. Before we get down to business, let’s view the stunning short:
Gorge, right? Now on to the interview:
First, please allow me to thank you for the opportunity. Our readers are very engaged in pop culture and visual arts, so being able to “sit down”, so to speak, with a talented director is an honor. Before we get to the issue of On the Horizon, I’d like to get a little background on you, if I could. I’ve looked up your website, your Vimeo page, and your IMDB page, and you’re quite the busy man! What an awesome resume – everything I saw was very visually arresting. What inspired you to become a filmmaker, and how did you develop your style of storytelling?
- I’d never been interested in sports when I was young. I really didn’t care at all. The only thing I did was rent and watch films every day, skipping school and going to the video store. Then at 18 years old, I bought my first camera and started to do the worst home movies ever…but the feeling that I had when I played with it, creating them was just amazing. I knew it made sense for me to do this. Then at 24 I did my first real professional film called Black Rainbow and it won best new short film in Canada for a CBC show. That was pretty amazing. Poetry and beauty on screen has always been something that I loved. I’m trying the most that I can to bring to every project that I do. My style of film, you like it or don’t and that’s great. Everyone’s got their own taste. All my films are about women and their beauty, their strengths. In cinema, male dominance is very important in Hollywood. I’m just trying to give women a place to express themselves, make them as important as men if not even more and give them a voice… In my own way :)My style came to me pretty easy. I found it with the first film I did, but since then I’ve perfected it. The richness of the image, the quality of the frame etc. It takes a long time to make it the way you want. I love nature, I hate anything that looks fake (special effects, indoor studio locations). It needs to be organic and alive. I let the image in front of me guide me on what to create. When I see fields, sky, amazing locations…I get inspired. For me, there’s nothing more fun to shoot with than natural lightning. Again, because it’s organic and it creates a natural look.
I always say that for a movie director it’s never just about story telling. It’s about the mood, the approach on how you tell your story. It’s about style, aesthetic moods, the music genre that you use in the film. Angles, concepts that you create. There’s the author, and the generic director. Some can be amazing storytellers but the “style” of the director is missing, and that’s fine. We need all types of directors, but for me, it’s crucial to have your signature. To work and create like crazy to find who you are as an artist. When you watch films from David Lynch, [Quentin] Tarantino, P.T Anderson, Bertrand Blier, they have a very specific genre that people will run to the cinema just to see their style. In 2 seconds you know it’s them. That’s what I love. Now after 10 years, 35 films, music videos…I can say that I know exactly who I am as a director. I got my signature and people can say yes it’s a Pascal film.
Who are your major influences, in both writing and directing?
- David Lynch is my #1 because of the moods. It’s not even about the story. It’s about the universe that he takes you in. Him and Terence Malick are my two biggest influences. Lynch for mood and Malick for the poetry in the frame and the fact that he improvs everything. Ingmar Bergman is my #3. Every movie that he did was perfect. I hate when it’s too prepared. I want to be surprised, like the audience I want to discover things as I shoot them. I really love P.T Anderson, Bertrand Blier, Steve McQueen, Nicolas Winding Refn, Michael Mann and others.
According to your website, you personally fund all of your projects, which is amazing. With the advent and growing popularity of crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo, will you ever consider reaching out to your fans to help fund any future projects?
- My goal was always to create amazing visuals with no team and budget. I love working with people, but most of the time it slows me down and I hate depending on people. When you are alone you are in total control and you can go so fast. Most of my films were shot in 3-5 hours max because I know exactly what to do and how to do it. By doing everything alone, you learn so much more than if you were doing it with a lot of people because you touch all aspects. So when it’s time to work with a crew, you are way more in touch with everything because you know all aspects of everything. Yes you need a lot of tenacity and strength to motivate yourself because no one is doing it for you. That’s where you see the [difference between] real passionate people and the ones who just wait for money to create something. Art should not cost thousands and thousands of dollars. There’s so many ways to make it look amazing and for nothing. That’s why I love shooting in natural elements. The production value is huge and it costs nothing. So because of that, I don’t really need Kickstarter or Indiegogo. I’ve thought to myself to do it for cheap and on my own. Don’t get me wrong, it’s an amazing solution for artists out there. It’s just not the ultimate solution.
Keeping with the funding theme, your site says that you keep your projects low-budget. To look at any example of your work, be it a music video, short film, or feature-length, they are all high-quality productions. How are you able to produce such quality work with a low budget?
- One thing that I know I’m good at is that I pay attention to details in the frame. That’s where most people miss the mark when they shoot short films. They don’t think about the aesthetic or details in the frame. Each frame should be beautiful. Each character, their clothing, make up, choice of actors, the locations, the color correction – everything needs to blend together, otherwise it fails. Everything needs to have a reason, not just “Ah, it looks cool”. Meaning is always behind any actions or visual choice in my films. That’s why it takes a lot of years to master everything. Again, I’m alone. If I had an a team maybe I would have learned quickly but I know that now with my knowledge I can bring so much more when I do work with a team. You need to be aware of the fashion in the world, you need to know about what looks great on camera and what doesn’t. You need to be sensible to the quality of the frame. I call it the “dreamy state”. Once you capture something so beautiful, it’s supposed to make you dream and give you goosebumps. When I did On The Horizon I took the time with the actresses to make sure they could look perfect for the film’s mood. Not everyone can be dreamy or gorgeous on camera, that’s why there’s casting. There’s no magic trick. You just need to sharpen your eye and practice all the time. I did films when my [eye for] casting was horrible and it killed the film. You learn and you will never make the same mistake again.
Is it your goal to remain an independent director and visual artist, or will you choose to go mainstream one day?
- I don’t think I will go mainstream. Having the the freedom to write your own project, to have total creative rights and make them for cheap is way more exciting than doing a 50 millions dollar film without any control. If one day I can do a big film that gives me the freedom that I want then sure, why not? At the end it’s always making sure you can do the film that you envision. Staying true to yourself is the most crucial aspect.
You graduated from the University of Quebec in Montreal. Is that where you’re from?
- Yes. I’m French Canadian. I’ve studied psychoanalysis in film. I did a screenwriting class there but I didn’t learn anything there. Everything related to psychoanalysis – that’s what really changed my life and vision on films.
I see that your projects are filmed in several different countries. How would you compare the international film market to that of what we experience in the United States?
- You have to go where your style fits the most. I don’t relate at all to Canadian films or Quebec. It’s a beautiful place to live and I love it but film-wise I don’t connect at all. I know USA is the place to be for film, same for actors. Mostly what I do is [figure out] where I can go to make the film that I have in mind. It doesn’t matter if it’s in Europe, Canada, USA. It’s all about the story and visual that I want to create. The beauty about the USA is that there’s so many different vibes of visual. Snow, desert, mountains, ocean – it gives you the choice to really be creative and film amazing locations. Like I said, for me it’s all about being organic and shooting in real locations. I will go anywhere that I need to be to shoot something great. Locations are one of the most important aspects of a film. You need to get it right to make something professional looking.
What would be your dream film to work on, in regard to subject matter, locale, and actors?
- One thing I have learned is that nothing is set in stone. Everything changes so quickly, you can have a project in mind then something else happens and everything changes. I would love to work with Naomi Watts, Nicole Kidman, Michael Fassbender. I have around 7 feature film ideas lined up. Are they gonna happen? I don’t know, but at least I know I’m busy for the next 20 years :). I love working with unknown actors. This way you are not distracted by their celebrity status. I want to be lost in their world and not think about their fame, etc. With unknown [actors] you discover them for the first time and you give them a real chance to shine.
I’d now like to move on to On the Horizon. The description of the movie on your Vimeo page is simple: a woman that got her heart broken. That’s a common trope, because it happens all the time, both in film and in real life: boy meets girl, girl falls in love with boy, boy is a creep and breaks her heart, girl tries to deal. What followed, for me at least, was much unexpected. While not explained explicitly, the viewer comes to realize that the “heartbreaker” in this case isn’t a boy at all, but in fact a woman, and a woman who doesn’t seem to be all that concerned about what she’s done. What made you decide to go that route? Were you purposefully seeking to make a statement on how modern ideas on love and relationships are changing?
- The beauty about art is that any meanings are good. If it makes sense to you, who am I to tell you otherwise? You make your own reason and analysis of the film. I love to take universal subjects of life like love. That’s my main theme in my films. It’s the subject that I know the most and experienced the most. This film can be about love and relationships, but it can be about other stuff. Like a moment, a situation that totally ripped you apart. Not once in the script or film have I talked about a love affair. We think it is, but I don’t say. It gives the viewer a chance to see it in so many ways. That’s what I love, not forcing you the answers but, [allowing you] to find your own.
You describe your work as ‘visual poetry’; the lilt of the monologue that I presume belongs to actress Jolene Kay certainly lends itself to a poem. Speaking as a woman who has endured heartbreaks a time or two myself, I found the sentiments within the writing to be extremely true. I was amazed that you, as a man, would be able to hit the bull’s eye on those emotions that truly seem to belong to women only when dealing with a relationship ending before they were ready. I’d like to know what inspired you to write what you did. I know that it’s a bit one-dimensional to attribute such feelings only to women, but I know we’re much more likely to express those thoughts and emotions out in the open. If it’s OK for me to ask, did the writing stem from personal experience, or shared experiences as told to you from friends and loved ones?
- All my films are about myself, about experiences that I’ve lived. Cinema is like a diary to me. I express my life through characters, moments, moods. I’ve been Jolene’s character (the blonde). I’ve been a victim. I had my heart broken. I love to be alone, isolated like her in the desert, being in my thoughts, thinking about what and how I can make it better and grow. On the other side, I’ve been Mariel’s character, the dark edgy girl who destroyed you, who played you. I’m always in every character in my films, good or bad. Life is complex…so are we. I’m always positive about love and life, always hoping. Love is about getting hurt and being so happy. It’s a balance. You cannot have one without the other. People are scared to feel, to experience real love. Real love means real emotions that can destroy you or make you fly in the most magical way. Either way, you are feeling. That’s the most important part. That’s why in the film I say at the end, “As long as I feel, I know I’m alive”. If people were more connected with themselves and stopped living in the fear of being hurt, people would be happier. Life is simple. People make it complicated. All problems and solutions start within ourselves.
The imagery you used to express each character’s emotional states tells us what the characters themselves do not. Our broken-hearted Jolene Kay seems bright and airy, but she is alone in the arid desolation of the desert, the only moisture to be found is falling from her eyes. She’s been completely emotionally depleted. Mariel Gomsrud is all dark and dangerous, replenished as evidenced by the crashing waves behind her, and apparently unapologetic as she defiantly smirks at the camera. What goes into your process for coupling scenery with your message?
- You ask yourself, “What can be visually stunning and create a huge contrast?” At the same time, I’m like how can I make this for no money at all. Shooting outside costs nothing and it’s so easy. You don’t need any lights because the sun is your best friend. I thought of the desert, a place where she’s alone, dry, cracked like a scar, but there’s a hope of walking towards the light. The desert is calm and you can really escape in your thoughts, like Jolene. She really let herself go and she was very surprised at how calm and easy it was to connect to the emotions just because of the vibe of the desert.Then [there’s] Mariel. She’s wild , edgy, dramatic, sexy and totally different than Jolene. I wanted something that you can’t control, a force of nature in sync with herself. Ocean and waves were perfect. Everything moves, it never stops. It’s violent, calm, then violent again. It’s a beautiful contrast and visually stunning that fit perfectly with her. Jolene’s got golden long hair. With the sunset, it was a perfect combination. The way the sun reflected on her was stunning. Even I was shocked how gorgeous she looked. I wanted some black boots, an edgy look to try to connect to Mariel. A flowy dress, a brown destroyed jacket as a metaphor as her life experience and state of mind. Everything is there for a reason. Every part of her movement, gesture, actions, looks, make up, location, mood of the song, tone of the voice over. It’s there to make a statement and to bring my point to the audience. It’s my best work to date.
I believe you mentioned that the On the Horizon short is a teaser to a full-length feature film. How will the short tie into the movie, and is there anything else you’d like to share with my audience about the full-length film?
- The film is called Dark Days & Nights. It’s a very challenging film but I’m so excited to start shooting. I’m in the final phase to sign the contract to make it. Once it’s ready, I will make sure to talk to you about it. The film will be about the two girls and what happens after the short. It’s wild, intense, and visually stunning, and will be shot all around the world. It’s the perfect film about how love can make us crazy and lose control 🙂