“What’s particular about Martin Villeneuve is that he has faith in what he’s doing. His great strength is his ability to think of a plan B that’s always better than plan A. For example, since Robert Lepage (right) was unavailable for principal photography, he integrated him virtually into his scenes as a hologram! What a plan B!”
—Jacques Languirand, actor (left)
Science-fiction films do not come cheap. Star Trek Into Darkness reportedly had a budget of $190 million, while the Will and Jaden Smith vehicle After Earth, which opens this weekend, cost $130 million. (Side note: Jaden Smith recently shared with New York Magazine that his dad watches “hours and hours of TED Talks.”) That’s why it’s so thoroughly amazing that Mars et Avril, a stunning sci-fi epic set in Montreal 50 years in the future, was made with a budget of just $2.3 million.
Martin Villeneuve: How I made an impossible film
“I made a film that was impossible to make, only I didn’t know it was impossible,” says scriptwriter, director and producer Martin Villeneuve in today’s TED Talk, given at TED2013.
In the talk, naturally, Villeneuve reveals how he did this: with very creative problem-solving. For example, when Canadian superstar Robert Lepage said he would only have a few days available for filming, Villeneuve opted to turn Lepage’s character into a hologram, so that another actor could play him by wearing a greenscreen mask.
To hear more about the making of Mars et Avril, watch Villeneuve’s talk. Here, some incredible images from the movie, along with notes from key creators on set about how they happened.
“My greatest challenge was to find ways to reconcile strong visual ambitions with very limited resources. Throughout the process of writing and publishing the graphic novels, a number of creative collaborators had already become involved. Both the participation of the lead actors and François Schuiten were significant factors in encouraging other creative partners to join in the adventure. I think people really took this film to heart and gave it their all.” —Martin Villeneuve, scriptwriter, director and producer
“The thing that appealed to me the most is that it’s the first time in Quebec that a work tries to project ourselves into the future. We have a tendency in Quebec – and I include myself in this – to describe ourselves using the past. We’re always nostalgic. And this guy has the courage to say, ‘Yeah, but what happens 50 years from now?’ He’s made a very beautiful, poetic science fiction film about Montreal and I find that very courageous and surprising.” —Robert Lepage, actor and artistic consultant
“I liked the idea of getting into the veins of Montreal. When you tell a story, you have to start with something you know, your origins. To speak to the world, you have to start with your roots. I’m from Brussels. The creative team enlightened me on Montreal and what drives people here. Only then were we able to develop the city of the future. I didn’t want to see Schuiten on the screen, but rather give all of myself for a common vision.” —François Schuiten, production designer
“The great thing about science fiction is that it tells us who we are now, because the future we imagine today is the product of our era. That’s why I love utopias – every utopia reveals the era in which it was conceived. I couldn’t care less if they actually come to be. Sometimes predictions are off, and that’s fine, because it forces us to dream that much bigger!” —François Schuiten, production designer
“I was trying to marry the old and the new, as a metaphor for the unusual love story between an old musician and a young muse, but also because I was aiming for a ‘retro-futuristic’ look. I think of the film as a cosmic fairy tale that brings together the themes of art, spirituality, the world of inventions, and love. I wanted to explore the relations between space, time, music and desire, as I believe these notions are tightly connected.” —Martin Villeneuve, scriptwriter, director and producer
“The power of suggestion was central in this project, as the story has roots in fantasy and desire. I find fascinating how images can create desire. The relationship between what is hidden and what is shown. The most interesting images are always those born in the imagination of the audience – which we cannot see.” —François Schuiten, production designer
“What I recall the most from this overwhelming experience is the human aspect of it all, the process of making a collective piece of art. A story is not only told; it’s also created. When you start to think otherwise, the difference is visible on the screen. For a project like this one, we couldn’t just think about the finished product – we had to build it piece by piece, collaborate. Since the adventure is long, it has to be beautiful and giving.” —Martin Villeneuve, scriptwriter, director and producer
“I saw this young man face great adversity and overcome the largest obstacles. He had a way of not letting anything that threatened his company get in the way. While others would have easily abandoned the project, he believed in it from beginning to end. We’re not talking about your typical person here.” —Jacques Languirand, actor (Jacob Obus)
“I strongly believe in this type of project, made with respect and an economy of means; it compels people to work differently, which creates a network of complicity, of trust. I believe in the quality of the team, but I do not believe at all in a pyramid scheme where money is taken for granted. You must consider an art project in the context of today’s society, which needs to strive for higher standards, and needs to rethink the way it operates. This was the key to the creative drive of Mars et Avril.” —François Schuiten, production designer
All these images from Mars et Avril are courtesy of Martin Villeneuve, Mars et Avril Inc. © 2012. Watch the film’s trailer, opening sequence, or a short video on how the visual effects were created. Or order this great film on DVD.