French film The Open screens with Lift-Off in Amsterdam in a few weeks time. Ahead of the screening, we spoke to director/writer Marc Lahore to discuss the project, his debut feature.
Interview by Claire Richardson
So my first question is why film? What made you fall in love with it?
I know it’s the cliché answer, but it’s something I’ve always wanted to do for as long as I can remember! When I was 12 years old I had this huge poster of Steven Spielberg in my room, and I always knew I was going to be, well, the next Spielberg! I have quite a way to go yet but… Yeah, I’ve been fascinated by the whole thing since I was a little kid, so there wasn’t really ever any choice. Once more I’m sorry for the cliché, but it’s all about following your passion I guess.
What was your career route, did you study film?
I did, I actually studied editing and the very technical side of films, but the main aim was always to be a director in the end. I worked on a shitload of short movies over the years. Directing, writing, co-writing and editing. Something like 20 or 30 short films. I’ve also worked as a cameraman, a sound technician, a lot of different roles. Then The Open was my very first feature.
Where did the idea for the film first come from?
Well without mentioning any spoilers, it is not so much a film about tennis, as it is a film about fiction. Fiction in general, and cinema in particular. This necessity we all have to tell stories. I do believe, on a very personal level, that we do live because of, and thanks to, all these stories we all keep telling ourselves. Even if it’s just ‘what are we doing tomorrow? What have we been doing previously?’ You have to live in some sort of fiction if you want to be able to face the bleak reality of life. I think it’s something really healthy for us, and really human, too. There’s this quote from a French poet, Paul Valéry, who says “We wouldn’t be anything without the help of the things that do not exist.” We need to believe in stories and keep telling stories. It is absolutely vital to human beings.
But it is really difficult to put that on screen though. How do you shoot fiction? I knew I needed to shoot something quite abstract. Very quickly I thought about sports, and nothing seemed more cinematic than tennis without the ball. Which forces you to use your imagination, and the absurdity of it all was an allegory for fiction and imagination.
How did you find the experience of directing your first feature?
Not that different to directing short films to tell you the truth, the only difference being the scale of it all. Instead of devoting 6 months of your life to a short film, you spend three years… But I’ve been working with the technicians and crew members of the feature for years now, they’re like family to me. So I knew everybody on the set, I knew exactly what to do, where to go and how to shoot. It would have been very different had I had a huge, golden budget, but since we were extremely reduced in our scale (in that sense) it was easy enough, and I knew what I was doing.
Well leading on from that, what advice would you give to people making a feature on a small budget?
Train a lot before you attempt a bigger project! As I mentioned, I’ve worked on lots of projects, which is where you learn how to do things without time, without money, with the sun setting, with the rain beginning to fall. This training proves absolutely necessary when it comes to making your own first feature. I benefited from all the times I’ve made mistakes. So just go out, shoot. Fall, and get up again. Once again it’s a cliché answer… but a sincere one!
Well it sounds like you were very on top of everything, but were there any unforeseen difficulties during production?
It was such a difficult shoot that I actually wrote a whole blog about it, for filmmakers to come! You may have seen the movie Lost in La Mancha (about Terry Gilliam’s failure to make a film)… Well I’m not kidding, our movie was way more difficult to shoot than his! At the end of the shooting, the make-up artist actually wanted to know if I was conscious of all the risks we had taken all the while, even with the actor’s lives. She wanted to make sure I wasn’t a monster, and I’m happy to say we are still working together!
I mean, everything went wrong, it was crazy. We had enormous thunderstorms, sandstorms, flooding, and I even got caught in quicksand twice. I was shouting to the crew to help me… The actors were so cold, from 8 o’clock in the morning to midnight. We had to build fires next to the set so they could keep warm between the takes. Everything went wrong, but we made it, and we’re extremely proud of the movie… And I’m so proud of the actors and the entire crew.
Speaking of the actors, what was your casting process?
Well Stéphanie is my ex-wife (we didn’t split because of the movie, I must add, we are still on very good terms!), she’s been acting in my movies since the beginning, since we were teenagers. She’s very beautiful but also distant. There is something very autistic in the character which I knew she would achieve perfectly. The coach (Pierre Benoist) had also acted in one of my short movies, and I knew he had a lot of potential to play this role. Finally, I didn’t know James Northcote at all, but a friend recommended him. We spent some time talking and I didn’t even ask him to audition, I just knew he was the guy I wanted. I am really proud of him, and I’ll always be happy be the one who gave him his real, first big role on screen. I am sure he will be a huge star. I’m so happy about that.
We are very excited to be screening the film. Where else has it been shown and overall, how do you feel the film has been received?
Actually this is the end of the festival year for us. We had more than 50 selections, and won something like 25 awards. It was very well received, which was a blast, because let’s face it, when I finished editing it, we all really liked it but I thought ‘who the hell will want to see that strange movie?!’ Two languages, unknown actors, a movie about post-apocalyptic tennis… The first months no festivals selected us, but after a few big selections others followed, and we went all over the world. It’s amazing, I’ve been touring the world thanks to my movie. So I’m very proud, but completely broke!
Well best of luck with the screening. We can’t wait to get it on our screen and see its reception!
The Open screens at Lab 111 on Friday 6th October at 6:45pm. Tickets available here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/amsterdam-lift-off-film-festival-2017-tickets-37657147542