Interview with director LÉO LEBESGUE

SHORT BIO OF THE DIRECTOR: Léo is a French actor/director who trained for three years with the famed acting coach Gilles Foreman in Paris and London. In order to refine his acting skillset, he started to coach his friends in their pieces or for their auditions. This love of the art of acting brought him naturally towards the role of director. His first film, MORITURI, explores mourning and the pain that comes with the loss of someone close, something that happened to Léo with the brutal loss of his father in the summer of 2018.

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

Morituri is actually the first time i ever directed. I wanted to write and shoot something that would help me deal with my own grief. And the shooting went so well, I had the best time with the crew, everybody was in sync – that’s when I knew I wanted to renew this experience and become a filmmaker.

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

I don’t think so. I didn’t go to a film institute. I’m an actor, so I went on a lot of pro and less pro shoots. I saw « mistakes » the directors thought they were making, I watched a lot of movies, I decomposed how it was edited, how the rhythm was built… But you can learn only from trying, that’s why Morituri was a test, to see if I would be able to become, later, a « successful » filmmaker.

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

I’d say to keep going. Because even if it’s tough to gather the will to produce and direct your own short-movie, once it is done, you also need to promote it, to write something new, to not let the energy go down. And you get rejected, production or distribution companies are not interested by your new project, so you try to build up your own project once again… It’s mentally tough. But I think when you keep trying, trying and trying, you end up obtaining something. 

  • 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 had to listen to the actors and sacrifice some parts of the dialogue they didn’t really feel. There was a few sentences I really wanted on screen, but I discovered that what the actors usually feel is right. They don’t « feel » that word ? It’s fine – they replace it with their own, and it becomes more personal. A little accommodation that gives them so much more space to create. We were shooting from 9pm to 8 am, so we had to have a great atmosphere on set while always getting focused and never loosing time. I personally wasn’t feeling like taking breaks, I was so scared to lose night-time, but my first AD told me the crew needs to have it, otherwise they won’t feel happy. And she was right, and we had time in the end ! Editing-wise – I learned to edit around the characters, and not around the script. We first had a 12 min movie, but it was edited so quickly i felt it became a comedy ! I needed to edit around their breathing, their time, their rhythm, to make the audience feel the atmosphere. But not too much, otherwise I wouldn’t have a 16min movie but a 20min one !

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

If it would have been shot only for me, the movie would have been so much longer ! I worked so much with the actors, I didn’t want to cut their work on the final edit. It was tearing me apart to cut some sentences that were not useful anymore, to make these characters have less screening time. You always think that the final edit is not enough, but in the end it works just fine !

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

Almost everyone on set was a friend of mine ! Or they became one. For a lot of them, we met at acting school ( Production designer, MUA, actors, script… ). The DoP Guillaume Gaubert we met when we were 13 years old. Head Gaffer Arnaud Ele is Guillaume’s best friend. Best Boy Julien Bonnaud, I acted in one of feature ! We had such a good time with the crew… They know I’ll work with them for my next short, and meanwhile I always keep them posted on our selections and awards on our WhatsApp group.

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

Audiences are different. French people don’t want to see the same things as Icelandic people or Arabic people. It’s rare to please everyone. I think a filmmaker’s role is first of all to stay true to his vision. Then you define with your producer why you want to create that film and to who you wanna show it, while staying true to yourself. I don’t think it’s an actual filmmaker’s role to think about that.

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

As a first-time director and writer, It’s necessary for me to see if my vision is interesting to people or not. To see what worked and what didn’t, so that I can learn from my mistakes. I’m so pumped we won this award ( our first ), and other selections – I think it gives the crew happiness. I don’t feel like selections are my own, but the whole crew’s. It makes us feel we did a good work, and encourages us to create some other films !

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

Original or classic, as long as you don’t force it, and just stay true to what you see in your head, you will be content with the final result. I see original cinema style that are praised by their techniques that are for me not interesting at all. The story is for me the most important. Find your own way to tell your own stories, and everything should be fine.