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Quick Chat: Interstate director Laurent Barthelemy

It wasn’t long ago that Laurent Barthelemy joined the new directors group Interstate — founded by executive producer Danny Rosenbloom and director Yann Mabille — as a partner and a director.

Barthelemy is probably best known for his work as a CG artist/designer at Pysop. While there worked he on the AICP Award-winning spot Crow for MTV, as well as the Clio and Cannes Lion Award-winning spot Human Chain for Nike. He later went on to direct projects for Michelin, British Gas, American Express, Showtime and TED.

As an independent director, he has helmed commercials for Google and Xerox, as well as the Heather documentary via production company Smuggler.

Let’s find out more about his move to Interstate and how he will us both his CG background and directing skills in his new role.

Why Interstate, and why now?
Interstate was launched by Danny and Yann, who are among my favorite people in the industry. They’re really great guys with tons of drive and passion. We are getting together with a tight group of like-minded artists to make something fun.

Can you talk about the differences of directing VFX/CG versus live action?
Time is the main difference. Do you like to improv on the fly and jam with your band? Or, like a classical music conductor, do you like to craft each musical queue with your orchestra before you play? I like the idea of a classically trained conductor jamming with a metal band!

How do you pick a VFX supervisor, especially since you are a CG artist yourself?
I am, indeed, demanding since I’ve been a VFX supervisor myself. But the most important factor for me is to find a supervisor who understands that it’s all about the emotion and the story we are telling. It doesn’t really matter how we get there. If they are solid technically and approach their craft with creative flexibility and a fresh eye every time, I love them.

Is there a particular camera you like to work with, or does it depend on DP or project?
Recently, I really enjoyed filming with the Red Dragon. It handles colors from nature beautifully. We were shooting a film called Campers in the middle of the French countryside, and the range of greens we captured is gorgeous. Of course, it all depends on the project and my collaborators. When we shot the documentary Heather, an intimate portrait of a female boxer from Brooklyn, we used a nimble little Sony F3 with older, slightly beat-up lenses and I think it worked well.

Laurent Barthelemy on set (left).

You have talked in the past about how you like working with actors. Can you elaborate a bit on that?
There is a bit of wanting to be an actor myself (smiles). Remembering my own stage fright, I know viscerally how vulnerable it is to be an actor. You put yourself out there entirely. It’s you bringing something out from your soul and your body. So I guess the first part of my answer would be that I have a tremendous amount of respect and admiration for each actor I work with. Then there is something truly magical in seeing a scene unfold in many different ways; a new world being created every time the actors and I have a quick word before a take.

Can you talk about a project you either just finished or are about to start?
The project Campers I mentioned earlier is very dear to me. It is a naturalistic film with a supernatural twist. We had a six-day shoot deep in Ardeche, a part of the French countryside we rarely see on screen. We came with our star cast from Paris and found a few non-professional actors there who were trusting and very generous with their emotions. We are now crafting some crazy VFX sequences on top of that world. It’s very exciting.

What are your roots? How did you get started in this business, and how did it evolve to where you are now?
I got started in this business after I did my first short film. The guys at Psyop saw it and gave me a chance. I owe a lot to Marco Spier and Marie Hyon, in particular, who believed in me.

My roots are in Japanese anime, French new wave and American cinema. Pretty different influences, but in a way their collective stimulations resembles my work today; mixing different inspirations and having a lot of fun doing it.

Looking back on your career, if you could change one thing or do one thing differently, what would it be?
I’d probably have kept working with actors the entire time. I took a hiatus to focus on animation and design, but I’m grateful for the experience and exposure to these different skills, which have brought me to where I am now.


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