Thursday, February 14, 2013

Interview with director Vincent Kesteloot for his latest movie Sammy's Great Escape. Read it here:


What did you like about the second episode of Sammy’s adventures?
What I liked was how Ben Stassen’s story managed to preserve the charm of the heroes of the first film, SAMMY’S ADVENTURES, whilst taking a different direction in the second. In this new film, the animals are captured to be specimens in a huge aquarium in a theme park. We still have the variety of different sets as we did in SAMMY’S ADVENTURES, but the story structure is no longer that of an odyssey. Our heroes no longer have to abandon each new character they meet on their travels. This allows one to widen out the characters and observe how they evolve. This second chapter introduces many more new appealing and powerful characters and a whole new generation of turtles!

The little turtles are alone in a very hostile place so their parents absolutely must escape from the aquarium as quickly as possible. This allows us to intensify the dramatic tension, but also to view the world from some very different points of view and to accelerate the pace of the action. This also marks a difference between the two films and is surprising for the audience. In the first film, we follow Sammy as he grows up, and in the second, the action is much more intense. This is a race against time and a shared adventure. Above all, the film is about entertaining people, but we also added a few elements here and there  to make people think. For example, I very much like how the fish are faced with a real dilemma: do they choose the comfort of a gilded cage or the freedom of the wild oceans?

You also play with the codes of the escape movie.
Yes, but without using any elitist references or pastiche. Such conventions can bring an additional dimension to the atmosphere but must never slow down or divert the story. A segment of the audience will appreciate these references, but the film wasn’t constructed around them and the audience doesn’t need to understand them to enjoy the story.

The second film also has an environmental dimension to it.
Yes. That was the central theme of the first film, which highlighted the major impact the human race is having on the ecosystem in terms of deforestation, pollution, population growth etc. In this sequel, we are raising awareness amongst younger people about the food chain (the fish eat one another). But above all, we are using the aquarium to bring together a wide variety of different behaviors in the relationships between humans and animals.

Some animals cannot bear to be in captivity. Others are disturbed by the constant presence of human beings, or don’t want to be part of a show. Others still are delighted by the treatment lavished upon them by the vets at the aquarium whilst some – like our naughty seahorse – even profit from this artificial ecosystem to try to change the hierarchy between the creatures.

As for the human beings, we also have a wide range of behavior regarding the animals. At one extreme, the vets take care of the animals and look after their well-being, and at the other, the smugglers scorn the law and capture the animals. At the end of the film, when all the creatures in the aquarium are in danger, we understand that the human characters have different levels of involvement and militancy: some never get beyond treating the animals as fun things to look at and are thus easily manipulated, whereas the vets will do anything they can to protect them.

How did you handle the sets and the colors?
The artistic direction was based on SAMMY’S ADVENTURES, to keep the style coherent and identify the characters. We used the opportunity to improve the visuals and all the artists who worked on the film did an extraordinary job.

The central theme of the story is captivity. So it was essential to create a big difference between the interior and the exterior of the aquarium. Because it wasn’t like a classic prison with little identical cells, but rather a huge, extraordinary and varied aquarium, I swapped the conventions. Around the aquarium, the colors are drab and the shapes are harder. This desolate landscape underlines the difficulty of surviving in the outside world where everything seems like a threat and also gives the impression that the human world has “switched off” the natural one surrounding it.

In contrast, life in the aquarium is easy and the abundant food is wasted. Visually, there is an opulence of shapes and colors, an escalation of all things spectacular. A desire to collect different architectural styles or exotic landscapes has resulted in a completely artificial, megalomaniacal ensemble. For example, the corals in the aquarium are very brightly colored and look like delicious candies. However, outside, they look like an almost abandoned forest that reminds one of pollution and the risk of species becoming endangered. Between these two worlds, there are partitions that demonstrate how difficult communication is: between animals and humans of course, but also between the creatures who are inside and those outside the aquarium.

Gradually, the aquarium becomes a character in its own right.
Yes. It remains somewhat discreet but you can feel a certain drift in the building with its machines and pipes that try to suck in nature. It’s as if the aquarium is trying to keep its animals in its belly and the ventilation systems fire up and suck in the characters gravitating around it, the aquarium’s cables helping the baddies to capture Sammy. And when the little turtles break into the machine room, the accumulation of pipes makes it seem as if they have got right into the very veins or intestines of the aquarium.

What do you think 3D brings to the film?
Beyond the elements bursting out at the viewer, our main concern was the position of the camera. We tried to adopt the point of view someone would have if they were witnessing the events or that of one of the characters in the scene. The position of the camera is no accident, nor is it about aesthetics. It simply had to correspond to the reality of a witness or a character in the scene. That’s what the audience feels when they are immersed into the film – they are witness to the events that take place.

How did it work, sharing the job with Ben Stassen?
I’d like to point out that Ben wasn’t simply the co-director, but he was also behind the project. He had already developed the story with Domonic Paris when he offered me the opportunity to work on the film. We had already worked together on FLY ME TO THE MOON and SAMMY’S ADVENTURES, where I’d had a less key role. This time, he asked me to co-direct because we’d worked so well together. Ben supervised the screenplay, the recording of the American actors and the musical choices. His wealth of experience in 3D films also guided the project’s immersive intentions. I concentrated on the mise en scène and the artistic direction. I worked with around 100 talented infographists to allow the images to take shape.

You can feel the collective nature of the project.
Absolutely. In the same way that Ben trusted me, I tried to be open to the different ideas thrown up by the team. All the different departments brought their contribution, and not just in terms of the specific tasks they had been given. So it’s down to the flexibility and the investment of everyone involved that we were able to go so quickly on such a high-quality creation.
The decision-making process was facilitated by the fact the film was almost exclusively produced in one single place. Although the screenplay was developed in collaboration with Domonic Paris in the US, and the voices were recorded there too, the rest of the production was done in Belgium.

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