Academy Award-Winner Michel Hazanavicius’s 5 Tips for Filmmakers

During a private Masterclass as part of the 2015 Palm Springs Film Festival, the Academy Award-winning director shared tips with a small group of international filmmakers. Here are the highlights.

1. Shake Things Up and Try New Genres.

“The Search,” Hazanavicius’ ambitious follow-up to the 2011 international blockbuster “The Artist” screened at the Palm Springs Festival and, as the director acknowledged, the drama about the war in Chechnya is “the opposite of ‘The Artist.'”

“Luckily, nobody expected me to do another silent black and white movie.” – Michel Hazanavicius

Like “The Artist,” his latest film also stars his wife, actress Berenice Bejo. But, as Hazanavicius explained, “the two movies weren’t competing. This is a more political, historic movie. ‘The Artist’ was like candy.”

For Hazanavicius, “[‘The Search’] helped me kill ‘The Artist’ very quickly and swiftly. You have to kill your previous project…Even when you do the same thing, it has to be different. Luckily, nobody expected me to do another silent black and white movie.”

2. Use Success to Get Your Passion Projects Made.

“I took the success of ‘The Artist’ as an opportunity to make a very specific story. [The film] really makes no economic sense, but when you win an Academy Award, especially when you’re French with a silent movie, people are a bit confused.”

The Search
Wild Bunch “The Search”

3. Listen to Feedback and Make Necessary Changes.

When “The Search” premiered at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival, some journalists at the press screening actually booed. But in the public screening a few hours later, the film received a standing ovation.

“I thought it was ready to go to Cannes. They should show it to the public first and then journalists. Journalists, in particular French journalists, were very tough on the movie. I knew it was too long and I didn’t know how to cut it before the festival,” he said.

Following Cannes, Hazanavicius incorporated feedback and went back to the editing room. The updated, slightly shorter version screened at the Toronto Film Festival and more recently, at Palm Springs.

4. Don’t Underestimate the Audience.

“When you spend four or five months in the editing room, it’s important to watch the film with audiences,” Hazanavicius said. “When you see the movie with an audience, sometimes you discover another shape.”

He added that audience reaction mattered to him even before screening his films. “I always try to put the audience at the center of the entire process,” he said. “The one who works the most in a screening of the movie is the audience.”

Additionally, Hazanavicius relied on advice from a dependable source. “I’m a big fan of Billy Wilder and he would say you don’t have to tell the audience that two plus two equals four,” he said. “Just say ‘two plus two’ and the audience can fill in the rest. The rule in comedy is let people finish the joke. It’s always funnier.”

5. Casting is Essential Because Directors Can’t Create Great Actors.

“I think direction of actors starts with writing,” Hazanavicius said. “What the actors understand of characters is in the script…I don’t think I am able to create a great actor…When you have a great actor, you see something very magical.”

During post-production, Hazanavicius said, he watches scenes without sound. To ensure an actor’s performance is hitting the mark, he then listens to the audio without pictures to ensure it is equally telling the story.

While casting, Hazanavicius said he casts more for voice than image since it’s easier to adjust the look than the voice. “You create acting in editing,” he said.

Special thanks to Indiewire for this one.


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