‘How to make a living with independent cinema, an interview with Jean-Marc Guillier’

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Today I’m talking with Jean-Marc Guillier, a young independent filmmaker, husband and a father of two. How does he juggle his personal and professional life? Is it possible to make a living with independent cinema in Europe?   

First, and maybe the most obvious question, but yet still very important as it’s different for everyone: Why do you want to make films? 

Usually, people say that to be a director and to shoot films is a vocation. Because you don’t do it just to earn money. You do it all the time, in every aspect of your life. For me, cinema it’s also a mission. There are many problems around us and I consider myself to have the talents to address them.

You’ve completed a year-long film directing course at FAMU while already having a Masters from Human sciences. 

Over the years I learned, that you don’t have so much power to change things in politics. However, you have a lot of power to change things in art.

Why FAMU instead of studying film in France?

At FAMU, I shot three films in one year. One even on celluloid. In France, even though the university might be private and expensive, you shot one film. If you are lucky. Plus at FAMU there were many workshops alongside the directing studies.

Would you say that studying film is necessary to become a filmmaker? Aren’t books and watching films enough?

I learned the most during my Human Science studies as I was intellectually stimulated. There were sociology and anthropology studies, history, philosophy, finances and other subjects. Also, I was travelling a lot during that time and lived in different countries so these experiences were in a way the best directing school although it had nothing to do with cinema directly. A filmmaker needs to feed himself visually, intellectually, emotionally. So he has something to say.

FAMU gave me a stamp of having done a film school, some contacts, a few good teachers but mainly the opportunity to make three films. Coming back to France wasn’t easy but eventually, I managed to participate at shootings and learned the most about directing by watching others directors doing their stuff. Nowadays, I work as an assistant director and still learn a lot.

Are social and political problems the main themes of your films?

I would say my films are existential. They talk about the human heart. But they touch social and politic problems as these topics are rooted in an anthropology. My characters are asking themselves ‘Who they really are’ and all characters answer this question in a different way.

All of the characters are also a bit symbolic, metaphorical. Do your film ideas come to you as we can see them now or do you construct everything around an initial idea?

Often, I have a precise vision about the characters and places. The final form is usually very close to the first draft. Actually, the editors are quite surprised we edit the way I drew the storyboard. But I would like to work with a screenwriter. My ideas are very visual but sometimes lack a proper narrative structure. I even draw storyboards first before writing a screenplay which is a habit that I would like to change, since I feel like once a scene it’s drawn, I can’t change it but I can always re-write.

The actors in your films are very natural. What is your method with them?

I always go by less is more and look up to Bresson. However, I like to work with both professional and non-professional actors. To direct professionals is a real artistic collaboration. With amateurs there is this opportunity to treat them as objects, sounds, locations … You use them without them knowing what you are using them for and that creates a lot of space for spontaneity. It’s about showing what they have, something they don’t realize they have …

I was impressed by the performance of the child actors in your film Elsa.

The little boy who played Paul was only a six years old, there was no way of directing him. I chose him for his quality of portraying pure childhood. There was something so childish about him, almost a caricature of childhood. He was just running around, playing with stones, leaves… Of course he wasn’t aware of his actions so I just left him to be natural. My only work was to get rid of everything what would hide his spontaneity.

I’m moved by childhood, especially by innocence. I can cry at any moment of a day if I think of suffering children, losing or sacrifying their innocence. These are universal themes as every one of us has some remnants of vulnerability inside. Children are the closest creatures to perfection but they also suffer a lot, therefore the contrast is very traumatic. This is something I’d like to explore deeper. Kids are in all of my films.

You have two kids yourself. You also work as an assistant director and work on your own projects. How do you find time to write?

I don’t find time. I have to make it. Otherwise it’s impossible to write. My first priority is family, then film and then comes working. Of course, sometimes you have to prioritize work before your own projects. And sometimes you have to prioritize your own projects. If you work too much for others, you never get to develop your ideas. However, if you only work for your own sake, you might have no money. To keep this balance is the most difficult job.

How do you keep yourself motivated?

Sometimes I get very demotivated. But I like this phase as well. Before doing films, I worked in finances. In that sphere, everything was working out, everything was easy – and boring. In cinema, it’s the exact opposite. You get so many negative responses so when something finally works out, you know it’s worth it. 

What about fundings?

A freelancer shouldn’t rely only on a producer that provides funding for a film. That could be a long wait. A film-maker should always work on something, find ways of alternative funding, simply to not wait for perfect shooting conditions. Because otherwise, you don’t create and might experience an artistic death. On the other hand, you have to keep being ambitious, hopeful and look for a producer.

Thank you for sharing your opinions. It’s definitely helpful and inspiring for many freelancing artists. We will finish by a very simple question. What is your favourite film?

Stalker byAndreï Tarkovski (1979) and Time of Gypsies by Emir Kusturica (1988)

All Jean-Marc’ films are available online at https://www.jmguillier.com/accueil

by Ema Nemčovičová

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