Officially Selected Alumni Interviews

Valentin Petit: Lift-Off Filmmaker Interview

French-based Filmmaker Valentin Petit’s narrative short “The Noise of the Light” follows musicians Pablo and Marius, who make a disturbing discovery about their childhood friend Lou: she appears to be able to synthesise the light she is exposed to into sound . But as she soon becomes an instrument of their musical experiences, her gift turns into a sort of curse…
The Noise of the Light” will screen at Toronto Lift-Off on Wednesday 18th July at 6:45pm, as part of Shorts Programme 1. We interviewed director Valentin to hear a little more about how this film came to be, and his path as a filmmaker.
Interview by Sneh Rupra

What inspired the concept for The Noise of the Light


I was seeking to an idea that naturally mixes images & sounds, my two passions. The key point came from reading Daniel Tammet’s autobiography “Born on a Blue Day”. The synesthesia was perfect and almost sounded like science-fiction to me. It allowed me to easily bring a layer of the fantastic into the script.


What were your initial ideas about how to portray Lou’s synaesthesia on screen? 


My first idea to represent synesthesia was to distort the environment like waves of sound. It’s difficult to have organic representation of an immaterial concept. What I wanted to propose was shapes, colours, and organic effects, leaving each spectator to have his own personal interpretation of what he sees.


How did you go about casting the roles?


As it was my first experience in fiction, it was really important to have a real connection between the actors: they are friends in life, and that helped me get more natural interactions between them. For Lou’s character, it wasn’t really a casting – I met Alice before I started the project and we immediately wanted to work together. She wanted to take risks alongside her career in feature films and TV series (mostly in comedies, where she plays the girl-next-door), and it was a great opportunity for me to direct a talented and experienced actress.


Regarding Patrick (Marius) and Jonathan (Pablo), I also chose them because they are real musicians. If you really feel music, you can speak about the attraction, the rhythm, and your vision about it.


The camerawork and the visuals are so key to setting the tone – how did you go about getting that so perfect? 


The key is building a very long relationship with your crew… For example, I work a lot with Fabio Caldironi, the DOP on this film. As a more personal project, it seems natural to work with people you speak with often, especially my references and my inspirations… It’s easier, since we are now looking in the same direction. It’s the same process with Valentin Tuil, who I did most of the effects of my music videos with, and previous personal projects like Anthophobia or A Portrait of Rafel Delalande.


In addition to the crew’s core, I also always seek for new talents, and this is how I met Nathan Almeras, who worked on Lou’s hallucinations. Despite his youth, I liked that he uses old school effects, mixing shooting and VFX.


I also choose the locations with a lot of precision and without concession. We shot in my home-town Bourges and its surroundings because I know the place perfectly and when I wrote the script, I already knew where I wanted to shoot each sequence.


The relationship between human nature and greed is so important to this film — was that something you were keen to explore? 


Yes, absolutely! I already explored it a bit in Anthophobia. In fact, I have a pessimistic vision of human nature. Despite your religion, your skin colour, or your origins, a human being’s instinct remains to serve your own interest.


I wanted to let each spectator answer this question: how would you react to this opportunity? Would you take the same path as Pablo and Marius? And in fact, they didn’t take this path for the same reason.


How much did the film change from script to screen? 


The film is pretty much faithful to the script – of course there are some adaptations, but in regard to the economy of the project (we entirely financed it with my production partner through our company Ocurens), we didn’t made a lot of compromises.


But the characters’ dialogues were flexibles. I wanted the discussion between the characters to sound as realistic and natural as possible, so I allowed a bit of freedom to the actors.


Were there any unexpected challenges you faced during production?


Yes, or course, and you have to accept it, it’s the game! There are the common challenges: in my first shot list, we had 50 shots to do per day. My 1st AD came back to me with a weird face (maybe it was fear?! haha), and we obviously had to forget some shots. At that moment, I had to find a way to tell the same story but in a more efficient way.


But at the end, the main shooting took us 7 days in a row, and the crew was amazing, always seeking to help and willing to do more, despite the obvious tiredness at the end of the shooting!


I don’t want to reveal too much, but the key location was the Nancay Observatory. We had only one day there, and we finished it with the sequence with Lou in the middle of the giant antenna. When Arthur Paux, the color grading artist, got the footage, I can tell you absolutely no shots were in the same light (and it’s not Fabio’s fault, we were racing against the sunset!), and he miraculously managed to make sense of it!


Are there any new projects on the horizon that you can tell us about? 


Of course, I find it hard not to be preparing something or even shooting! I just shot a music video for a French hip-hop artist who I love, and I got the chance to shoot it in 35mm! What an experience for a young director like me! For this project, I wrote an old gangster and noir story that matches perfectly to shooting in film. And of course, I’m seeking to find a good script for a feature film. I already have one or two options, just have to find the right people to help me and of course… the funding!


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