Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Press Conference: Arthur and the Minimoys

French director Luc Besson was in town as one of the special guests of this year's Hong Kong International Film Festival, and today is a day set aside for a press conference, as well as the Hong Kong gala premiere of his movie, Arthur and the Minimoys. was at hand this morning during the press conference.

Luc shared that the beginnings of Arthur and the Minimoys was during the time when he was making The 5th Element, where designer Patrice Garcia came up to him with a drawing of Arthur, which opened doors instantly in his mind. Luc had been making "violent" movies like Nikita and Leon, and this movie allowed him an avenue to talk about themes like racism to children. He was able to write for weeks to get the ideas out of his mind.

Every night at 8pm he would become sad and pessimistic with the cynicism in the news, and it made him think about responsibility as a parent, as well as a signal to go back to things about nature (he mentioned he read that when asked to draw a fish, 60% of the schoolchildren would draw a rectangle - fillet in a frying pan), friendship and love. He considered Arthur and the Minimoys as vitamins for kids, and had seen it a few times with children, and each time was amazed by their faces and reactions as they stayed glued to the screen.

Luc was livening up the conference with plenty of anecdotes, one of which recounted his friend telling him that his children now avoid stepping into the garden, in case they stepped on a Minimoy. The word Minimoy, he revealed, came about with the prefix "Mini", and then randomly trying to find a suitable suffix, which he finally settled on "moy" as it sounded nice.

He also talked a bit about his production company Europa, in response to a question about new directors, and revealed that in 6 years the company had produced 65 films, and an average about 3 to 5 films per year made by 1st time directors. He finds it charming to be able to help someone do his first film. He has good people now in the company to take care of the business aspect, and has more time now as compared to 20 years ago, to focus on creative work. Luc had later reminisced about the early days where he can only shoot films from 1 to 7pm, with the time before 1pm used to source for money to get lunch for his crew. The early days had given him a sense of cost and to respect money, like when he had enough film for 2 takes per shot, and had two camera lenses to work with, that now, he only uses things like cranes strictly based on necessity.

Luc had a lot of affection and respect for Asian cinema, and this was obvious throughout the conference, as well as his collaborations in films with the likes of Jet Li and Shu Qi. He stated that Asian cinema is vivid and powerful in the world today, was impressed by the video montage done for the Asian Film Awards, which showcased plenty of invention and ideas. Likening the film festival circuit to a tennis circuit, he was happy to be here, and noted that it was important to come every year.

When asked if Hollywood was still a strong cultural force to be reckoned with, Luc mentioned that as artists, there's a need to have the senses open, and like food, the best is with diversity. He thought that Hollywood had changed in the last 10 years, with the last 5 being more business oriented, with more lawyers, bankers and agents on the scene. So little by little, Hollywood films are becoming poorer every year. He thought that a lot of interesting cinema is in Asia, a little in Europe, and the US indie scene becoming stronger now.

Luc was also of the opinion that every cultural exchange is good, so long as you stay honest, when queried about the trend of cross-cultural film making, and with remakes. He shared that last night during the Asian Film Awards, there was plenty of jibes about the Departed being a remake of Hong Kong's Infernal Affairs, and reminded that Hong Kong too had its fair share of "Nikita" remakes - He recounted that in Cannes, there was a film seller from Hong Kong who was going around trying to sell an exact shot for shot film of Nikita, to much laughter amongst the press members.

But he was happy with the recent announcement that there will be a law to protect Intellectual Property, because Asian cinema in Europe is well protected and taken good care of.

Since Nikita was brought up, there was no stopping questions being fielded about his early filmmaking days. He returned the volley to a question asking him to rank his top 5 films of his career, with a rhetorical question on how could anyone have kids, and rank them. He has made 10 movies, and he loved them all, that film is like taking a polaroid of yourself at that time. However, technically speaking, he was more comfortable and proud of his work the last year, and had seen his ability to shorten the duration of translating ideas and the final product.

Luc went into technical details, like his shooting of Nikita in chronological order, only to find that he had to stop for 2 weeks to rewrite the script and ending, and like a cat that landed on its feet, he was glad that despite the story being different from the original he had in mind, audiences liked it. But no, there will not be a sequel to Nikita as there are already so many Nikitas around the world, and the world doesn't need one more.

Asked about how different it was to shoot live action and animation, Luc said that a third of Arthur and the Minimoys was live action, and for the animation, he had to shoot references with actors for the animators. So it was an 8 months shoot with almost 3000 shots, and it helped a lot to get the emotions of the animations right. Actual Minimoy sets were built too, and the challenge was to merge all the different aspects together, and praised his team on the delivery - it was easier to make a pure 3D film than to make a hybrid one like Arthur.

And you can see very clearly that Luc Besson is a proud parent of his latest baby.

You can view some snippets of the conference from the video below:

Arthur and the Minimoys makes its premiere in Hong Kong this evening, and it'll be opening soon in Singapore. Watch for our review of the movie!

Text: Stefan
Photos: Lokman
Videos: CK Yip

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