Interview with director Michael Guillod

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

Well, even before high school I was fascinated by special effects and video editing. I used to research interviews and programs dedicated to filmmaking. I always wanted to make a movie or a play. So I took several filmmaking classes in high school and bought my first Macintosh back in 2001 just to be able to experiment on iMovie. From that day on I spent lot of my time writing, directing and editing short stories that I would later share with my family and friends (the VHS/DVD era) YouTube didn’t exist back then. Since then filmmaking became my passion, my unique way to create a parallel world where I would feel safe and confident.

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

No, I think that going to a film institute might help you along the way, but it isn’t essential. Film schools certainly allow you to create a network of people who might motivate and inspire you for years to come, from teachers to classmates with whom you’ll be able to create and experience the craft of making films. For me the very best way to learn and succeed is to actually do it… meaning… make films. Doing whatever it takes to make films, on your own, with friends, just make films. Just do it! I believe that you become successful at what you do only if you are passionate about your craft… and what does being a successful filmmaker mean? Successful has so many different aspects. It depends on what standards a filmmaker is being judged and how the filmmaker judges him/herself.

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

Getting started isn’t easy, you need to get to know people, to build a network and create a space for yourself somehow. This takes time, especially in a country like Switzerland that doesn’t have a “film industry” and where people tend to be over protective of their territory. Nevertheless, keeping going might be as difficult but on a different level. With each reject you need to have the stamina and perseverance to continue. Each film is a new project, which means that you have to start all over again from scratch. But that is exciting as it is a challenge and progress toward always being better. To me that is success. I think that there is nothing to conquer, because the passion, perseverance and the love for this art will carry you throughout the more difficult times. For me when I feel like giving up, there is always something that tells me… “This is why you want to make movies”

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

Anything can happen, be ready! Filmmaking is made of constant changes and unpredictable events that might change the structure of the film, the plot etc. I had to learn to be constantly aware and quick on my feet.
Learning to be ready to let go of an idea is something I had to go through while making Pastel. For instance, while editing the film, I had to make the difficult decision to cut a character from the film. This was obviously not planned, but that specific character was making the story line too complicated and I realized that, only late, in the editing process.
This was a difficult decision to make, but in the end it was the right choice.

  • 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?

We made Pastel with 10% of the estimated budget for this film. Most of the money was spent on cast and crew expenses, food, rental and festival submissions. Because we couldn’t afford any salaries on the project, I needed to find people who believed in me, in the film and were willing to spend time working on it. I’m so very proud of the team we became.
That being said, from a production stand point, we spent lots of time adapting the schedule, mostly on post-production, based on the availability of the crew. You can’t go as fast as you wish when you make a project under these financial restraints. Once you are at peace with that you can be more relaxed.

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

Filmmaking is about making difficult artistic choices, so the list could be long… I would say the last one was while on set of my short film Pastel. I had a very precise idea for a car scene, I wanted the car driving on an unpaved road, that was fitting the story, the characters, and visually it was very strong idea for me. The day of the shoot, our set up was quite complicated – we had a homemade “Process trailer” with part of the crew on it… to make a long story short, we were unable to get proper, stable shots while driving on that portion of the road. At that very specific moment, I had to “kill” an idea that was germinating inside me for months, keep my head up and find a solution right away. As far as I can remember this was very challenging to me. We ended up using the road next to it that was paved and flat ! What might have saved me that day is me telling the director inside me, “We’re only making a movie… CHILL”

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

For me it is very important to be surrounded by a team of inspiring people that have a strong passion for their work and a clear understanding of what making movies mean. Most of all I expect that everyone respect the craft of each and everyone from the cast to the crew. Making a movie is going to be an exciting ride. I want to be surrounded by a family. One of the best parts of making movies, for me, is the people you get to meet along the way. I tend to follow my instincts when it comes to choosing my crew. The only way for me to keep the relationship strong is to be authentic and open to carefully listen to what your crew or cast might be experiencing. I want them to feel understood and safe.

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

It’s not possible to sum-up what are the needs of an audience. Without an audience there is no film, so as filmmakers we need to be sensitive to their needs without compromising our creativity and objectives.

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

Film festivals are very important, especially when it comes to short films. It’s pretty much the only way out there to share your film and meet the public. It’s, as well, a recognition of the work that has been done by a team, it’s a way of getting feedback. It’s the best platform to screen, engage with your public and share experience with other professionals. Submitting your work to the right festivals takes time. However, it’s the minimum your project deserve to go on.

  • 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 true to themselves and to their projects. The rest will follow.