Shoot on site, any site
Michel Gondry is determined to promote community filmmaking, writes Andy Seccombe
FRENCH director Michel Gondry has shown what he can do by stretching the imaginative possibilities of film; now he’s asking amateur filmmakers to try it themselves. The Oscarwinning auteur behind Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind , The Science of Sleep and last year’s Be Kind Rewind has written a memoir, You’ll Like This Film Because You’re In It: The Be Kind Rewind Protocol .
It’s all about encouraging people to create their own entertainment as an alternative to commercial offerings.
‘‘ Most people are being told they can’t express creativity or it’s something either for a privileged group or for kids,’’ says Gondry, 45. ‘‘ Reaching out to those people, giving them a chance to express themselves, we reveal treasures, unknown treasures.’’
Gondry is all about DIY filmmaking and the Neighbourhood Movie Club. The concept rose to prominence last February with the launch of Be Kind Rewind , in which Jack Black and rapper Mos Def play two bumbling friends forced to swede, or recreate, Hollywood blockbusters ( including Ghost Busters , The Lion King and Rush Hour 2 ) without a budget. Accompanying the film’s release was an exhibition at New York’s Deitch Projects art gallery, where school groups and visitors made movies in an installation space decked out with multiple film sets.
In the book ( described as a ‘‘ functional memoir’’), Gondry outlines the Be Kind Rewind Protocol, a set of filmmaking guidelines that emphasise fun, democracy, detailed planning, a single cameraman and the avoidance of so-called professionalism in community creativity.
‘‘ I resent professionalism in those instances because [ it tends to] limit creativity,’’ he says. ‘‘ My experience at the Deitch gallery was that some of the teachers acted as if they knew how a professional would, and it limited the creativity of their pupils.
‘‘ We had to correct that, to make sure the community was the leader, not the teacher.’’
Gondry also makes clear in the book that the exhibition ( which travelled to Brazil in December) and community filmmaking are not about training people for the film industry; it’s anything but. Instead, Gondry wants people to explore their own creativity, embrace their community and not rely on Hollywood for thrills.
‘‘ I don’t mean to replace the system,’’ he says. ‘‘ I’m proposing something different. It’s an activity that can lead to creativity but I don’t think it can lead to a real job. I don’t even know if it’s a form of art. [ With this idea] I’m actually stepping out of the film industry.’’
In an amusing, light-hearted style ( one shoot involved naked women and a live chicken), Gondry writes about the misfires and successes of the Deitch exhibition as well as his experiences in community filmmaking.
‘‘ That’s the whole arc of the book: that this can exist without the film industry or art industry, because in some way it was sort of rejected in both,’’ he explains.
‘‘ I can’t go everywhere and do it myself, but I think I propose a recipe that allows people to do it themselves.’’
Gondry says one of his goals is to get people to assert the value of communities. True to this ethos, he recounts how he assisted his Brooklyn neighbours in creating a local movie-club film, There’s a Hand in My Soup . ‘‘ We just shot in my street, basically, in three or four houses. It was very contained,’’ he recalls. ‘‘ That was interesting because I wanted to demonstrate the protocol could work in a real world.’’
Previously based in New York’s East Village, Gondry moved to Brooklyn’s East Williamsburg last February. He also spends two months of the year in his native Paris, where he scheduled another community film project last December. He explains that the two creative environments could not be more different.
‘‘ In Brooklyn, or in New York in general, I can wake up with an idea in the morning and achieve it in the afternoon,’’ he says. ‘‘ In Paris, you would have to count one week, if not one month, if you’re not discouraged.’’
Gondry is certainly living and breathing his philosophy of inclusiveness, revealing in his book the street ( Orient Avenue) on which he lives: a somewhat unusual disclosure by a filmmaker with an international following. The acclaimed director isn’t afraid of attracting attention and says that when people recognise him, it’s always with a respectful interest: they usually just have a question about DVD extras.
‘‘ People sometimes talk to me but it’s not like if I was an actor or public figure, it’s not [ the] type of stalking that you could encounter,’’ he says. ‘‘ Most of the time people talk to me when they recognise me or tell me they’re happy because I give them the energy and inspiration to start being more creative, which is exactly what my purpose is.’’
Gondry has a few projects on the boil: another draft of his film The Return of the Ice Kings is in the works and he’s writing a script, set on a school bus, that explores how group dynamics affect children’s behaviour, a theme he’s been obsessed with since childhood.
It’s a project he may pitch to Hollywood studios one day ( as opposed to his neighbours) and Gondry admits he’s aware of the contradictions of working in the insatiably commercialised world of Hollywood while concurrently promoting an alternative.
But in keeping with his aim to promote community-based, non-commercial creativity and entertainment, Gondry is also willing to contribute more than just a protocol. In the closing paragraph of his book, he offers readers a free digital camera if they send him a proposal for a neighbourhood movie.
‘‘ If 200,000 people ask me for a camera, I will be in trouble,’’ he admits. ‘‘ But then it would mean that this book has a big impact. That’s the risk I’m taking.’’
More information: www. michelgondry. com
Through your own lens: Director Michel Gondry, who holds do-it-yourself filmmaking courses, encourages amateurs to express themselves through film
A functional memoir: The director’s book