Interview with director JUSTINE LÉAUX

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

5 years ago, I was on a plane and an idea came to me for a feature film entirely set on a plane. It stayed with me and I decided to start taking film classes at Raindance, in London. At first, I was just trying it out but fell in love with it when I realized how rich a simple video can be, and how it can incorporate so many types of art and creativity, which is amazing for expressing yourself.

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

No. What I loved about Raindance was its very practical and networking approach to filmmaking. They encourage you to make films with your friends using your iPhone and there is no elitism towards people starting out. What has helped me the most at the point, by far, is reading screenplays regularly.

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

Both, in different ways. For me, personally, the toughest obstacle has been writer’s block. Writing “71 Questions” actually only took me about 2 days and a few tweaks later on, but it was the writer’s block that made the process take closer to 6 months.

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

To trust my own vision and not get hellbent on listening to people’s feedback on my script. If there is one recurring concern that most people seem to bring up, then yes, it’s important to address it and see what I can change. But with “71 Questions” everyone was giving me conflicting feedback which made me feel like I didn’t know which road to take with it. It was only when a friend advised me to just do what I wanted to do that things started to go much smoother.

  • 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?

There were certain things that I refused to compromise on, if I felt they were integral to the original story and vision. There were others that I would have preferred to keep and that I had to let go of, but in the end I know it was the right thing to do. One of those things for “71 Questions” was that I had always pictured the film happening inside a big, empty warehouse. For budget reasons, we had to come up with an alternative.

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

Having to replace the lead actress a few weeks before the shoot. It was a tough decision but one that ultimately paid off.

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

Through networking and working on film sets, mostly. Some of us may have different styles and goals, but as long as we’re communicating, understanding of each other, and everyone genuinely cares about the project, it always feels very rewarding to be able to work with the same people again. You get a feeling of everyone driving each other and keeping the motivation going.

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

I always felt that I wanted to make films that I would love to go see. You can never please everyone so as long as I and the rest of the team enjoy the process and are proud of the result, that absolutely works for me.

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

They have been crucial in getting the film seen and talked about in different parts of the world. I try to attend them as much as I can. It’s a great way to meet and exchange with other filmmakers, and to be inspired by their work as well. If the film can start a conversation, that also feels very rewarding.

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

I believe filmmakers should be whatever kind of filmmaker they want to be, though I have a personal preference for the ones who bend the rules. One of my all-time favorites is Tarantino, who was instrumental in making the non-linear style as popular as it has become today. I also love Richard Linklater, whose films rely on characters and dialogue more so than plot, something that seems ludicrous to some people. As long as I am coherent with myself, I genuinely feel like that will come out in the film one way or another.