Interview with director Christophe Lopez-Huici

  • Was there a particular event or time that you recognized that filmmaking is your way of telling stories?

I graduated from the illustration department at Parsons School of Design, so my first way of telling stories was through single pictures. I’ve always been an avid fan of animation though and some of the ideas or stories I wanted to tell needed more than one frame. I obviously knew how to draw so I thought to myself ‘well how hard can it really be to animate my drawings’? Turns out it’s incredibly difficult!

  • Do you think it is essential to go to a film institute in order to become a successful filmmaker?

No, I think it’s necessary to have a good cinematic knowledge though. I’d say it’s more important to have seen a lot of (good) movies than having been taught how to make a movie. I studied illustration but learnt filmmaking and animating on my own. A few books really helped me understanding film making though, in particular the Hitchcock Truffaut interview. A lot of making-of and books about animation, mainly the Animator’s Survival Kit and René Laoux’s ‘Ces Dessins Qui Bougent’ (an in-depth history of animation techniques) helped me figure out the animation process.

  • Is it harder to get started or to keep going? What was the particular thing that you had to conquer to do either?

I think it’s way harder to get started, especially if you start thinking about everything that needs to be done in order to complete a movie from beginning to end. It’s a daunting task and you have to understand that you will need to be dedicated to the project for a while, through ups and down in order to complete it. In order to get started I had to let go of my fear of fucking up. Once I jump in, everything slowly falls into place and seeing the movie taking shape little by little is enough for me to want to carry on until completion.

  • What was the most important lesson you had to learn that has had a positive effect on your film? How did that lesson happen?

As a freelance illustrator I got used to work alone and trust my own judgement, but a movie, even a short one is a much bigger project than an illustrated piece and it’s easy to lose the necessary hindsight needed to move in the right direction. I learnt that it was really crucial to listen to people around you, producer, editor, artists, technicians to try to make the best film possible. Making a movie is an incredibly difficult task which gets slightly easier if you listen and respect the views of other people working with you on the project. I realized all this when I worked in my second short, for which I had a budget and a team. Having people around me, either validating my decisions or making me see where the film could be improved made me feel more secure and dissipated the feeling of moving in the dark I had when I worked alone on my first film.

  • What were the production realities from casting through editing that you had to accommodate? How did you navigate those compromises or surprises and still end up with a cohesive film?

I have to say my producer (Nicolas Burlet of Nadasdy Film) is super relax and really let me run the whole project. He didn’t object when I wanted a music composer who was asking quite a bit more than what he usually spends on music, and generally let me do the film the way I wanted for which I was very grateful. I feel I hardly had to compromise at all!

  • What was the hardest artistic choice you made in the making of a film, at any stage in production?

Making a movie is nothing but artistic choices. Making an animated movie is even more pure artistic choices. There’s basically no reason for any frame in your film not to be perfect because you’re basically not held back by technical problems (no camera or light issues etc.). You’re 100% free to draw (well maybe I’m only talking about 2d animation here) each frame the way you want, and therefore each one of these frame is an artistic choice, and each one is as complex as the next.

  • You are a collaborator. How have you discovered members of your team and how do you keep the relationship with them strong?

I’m the director, but also lead animator and I did the compositing and editing of the film. I met my producer at Anima Mundi in Rio de Janeiro back in 2018 when my previous film was programmed there. We got along well and he told me that if I ever had an idea for a new short, he’d be interested to look at it. Six months later I brought him a script and full storyboard for The Benefactors. He liked the project and decided to produce it.
The other animator worked in-house at Nadasdy’s studio. I hadn’t worked with her prior to this project but we got along very well and things ran super smoothly. The music composer Emile Sornin had done the music on my previous film, and we’d been friend for a long time. I first met him when I interviewed him about his band Forever Pavot for a fanzine that I ran back in the days. But he’s getting pretty big now and I’m afraid that soon I won’t be able to afford him anymore! The sound engineer, sound mixer and folly artist are all regular collaborators of Nadasdy and once again, we really got along very well and the whole thing went pretty well. Finally for the voice acting, because dialogues where gibberish I wanted good improvisation actors and through a friend who works in theatre, I found those four incredibly versatile actors. They had never done voice acting for a film but were seasoned improvisation actors and they didn’t let me down. We had a blast during the 48 hours recording session.

  • What do audiences want? And is it the filmmaker’s role to worry about that?

Well, short films being mostly viewed by festival audiences, I feel what the ‘audience wants’ is rather wider than what the regular moviegoer is looking for. They are much more open-minded about what they watch, more inquisitive, and crave stuff that’s different and generally make for a great audience and I do love to talk to people after a screening. I think it’s absolutely not the filmmakers role to worry about what an audience wants. You should make a film for yourself, because as an artist you’re compelled to make it. If the audience responds favorably, then that’s the cherry on the cake.

  • What role have film festivals played in your life so far? Why are they necessary? How do you get the most out of them?

I first attended film festivals when my animated short The Christmas Rabbit was in the festival circuit. I mostly attended animation festivals and I was blown away by the quantity, variety in style and quality of all the animated shorts I viewed. It really redefined my view of what an animated short films could be, I understood that the possibilities were limitless if you had the talent and the creativity. Like any form of culture I think they’re vital but it’s such a shame that only a fraction of the population will ever get to see those incredible films and that their life-span pretty much ends when the film is done in festivals. I really wish short film industry wasn’t such a niche market and that regular cinemas would do more programmation of short films. It’s such a great medium and of course like any other movies best viewed in a room full of enthusiastic people rather than on a streaming platform.

  • Do you believe that a filmmaker should be original and fresh or he/she should stick to classic but safe cinema style?

I really like this answer of David Thomas, singer of Pere Ubu when asked about his music in an interview. He takes his cup of water and shows it to the journalist. He explains that this cup represents pop music, but held from above and looked at from below, it represents Pere Ubu’s music. I believe every story’s been told, but it’s a matter of how you tell it that matters. Nobody’s ever gonna argue that painting portraits is revolutionary, however there’s a million way to paint the same face, and Picasso’s portrait of a model would be radically different from Freud’s or Bacon’s portrait of the same model. The same goes for cinema. Some foundations will always be more or less the same but within that framework you have an infinite way to express yourself. Don’t make some wacky crazy cutting edge film just for the sake of being a wacky crazy cutting edge filmmaker, but please don’t recycle the same shit over and over either.