Did you enjoy the first interview of Olivier Megaton? He kindly accepted to answers new questions in order to satisfy our thirst of knowledge but also about his personal experience.
Thought it happened few months ago, it still can enlighten some points about Taken 2 which is breaking the numbers all around the world.
Considering that you’re at the final stage of Taken 2, how does it work for the French version?
For the French version, you need to check everything because there are huge mistranslations. The original version is the one to be released in the US, so it’s normal that I work on the French one in order to be sure that everything will be in it, because I know it better than everybody else. Sometime, it happens that during the translations, information about movie vanish for some style elements or for the translator personal interpretation.
Normally, I work on everything and I’m even present during the recording sessions. On Taken 2, I only checked the adaptation, I received the French texts and it’s up to me to check that all the elements proper to every character areadapted, because I know every the dialogs after spending months to work in post-production.
I try to avoid lots of expressions that shock us when we watch a movie in French version, like the “nom d’un chien”, which aren’t used anymore even if in the original version, the character say “God sake”, or even to avoid the French class lesson so important to some adapters, who thinks there are investigated with a holy mission during the adaptation.
Movie dialogs are closer to the spoken language than to Balzac or Proust, so you have to look for the meaning more than for the literal translation in French (like for this interview).
We have the impression to create again the characters when you do adaptation.
I try to do my best because 95% of the copies in French theaters are dubbed and not in original version with subtitles.
Generally, I work all along the French version recording, the actors casting, chosen by the set director and I’m also present during the French mixing: that’s why the voices are close to the intention.
Unfortunately, on this movie, the distributor took the decision to have the same logic than on the first one and he has already chosen the cast. As a movie director, I didn’t see how my experience could have been helpful and it was in the end, the opposite of my French version conception.
I can’t imagine myself not to be implicated in my movie from the beginning to the end; I’m the only responsible according to others.
If suddenly the marketing department and the distributors are participating to the artistic decisions and are not logical with my vision as a movie director, I won’t have anything to do and above everything, I refuse to be responsible for things I wasn’t agreeing with.
Are you able to express your opinion regarding the dubbing comedians?
I try to be as rigorous as I was during the rest of the movie, but you have to keep in mind that productions are making their choices lately, after the original editing, so you’re working with the ones who are available rather than the one you wanted to work with at the beginning.
There are often few exigencies and quality for the French version, so you have to fight in order to have a budget adapted to the movie representation in theaters.
It’s good to remind that 95% of the copies are in French, in our country. Distributors are more thinking about economic part rather than about the artistic continuation: this explains the French version quality.
They do everything they can to avoid the director’s presence in order to gain some time and some money: those two logics are in opposition.
How did the idea of the Megaton nickname came?
It’s very particular. Long before being a graffiti artist, when I was starting to do stencil drawing and discovering the alternative or even punk mentality, everyone had a nickname like Destroy, Snuff…without necessarily a precise meaning.
Me, I have a particular story: being born on the 6th of August in 1965, the doctor present at the time of my birth noticed that it was exactly 20 years (day and hour) after Hiroshima tragic event.
When I was told the story, I kept a profound souvenir of it despite the fact I didn’t know exactly what it was. It’s only when I was 12-13 years old, period of my life when I was asserting myself, that I finally understood it.
It is also at this time that I had to choose a nickname so, I choose – Megaton – like the biggest explosion ever created by man, on earth.
At the time, I was terrorized by the threat of a nuclear conflict, I remember having nightmares where I was waking up in a world devastated by the H bomb…my first war documentary souvenir was the Vietnam with shocking pictures at the time and nuclear threat was a regular subject. I don’t know if it was to exorcise this fear, but I decided to face it and choose a name…
It was O.Mega and for a long time, I signed my painting with an omega symbol (Ω) followed by T, O and N. Later there was an evolution in my nickname and people got use to call me like this for years in my previous life of artist.
Right before shooting my first short, I took consciousness that I was doing something else, a different project with first steps into a different social and cultural class. May be it was about time for me to use again my civil name; I had difficulties to imagine the credibility of my nickname for people who were already looking down at you, at the time.
Complexed by my social origins, very likely, but you can see something unofficial in a nickname and linking it to something official was dangerous and would create confusion in the codes.
Moreover, during the meeting with the first comedian in my career, I’ve discovered that his name was Patrick Fontana. Very funny thing, he had the same name like mine but not the same origins: I’m Corsican and he is Italian.
In the end, I wanted to keep using my civil name while doing some sort of transition but nobody understood why I signed No Way with Olivier Megaton Fontana. They knew me with the name of Megaton and my comedian was Fontana so they thought that we were doing the movie together: big mistake.
So, I kept Megaton. I thought I would be able to use again my civil name but I never could. It’s not my will or a pretention, it’s just that I tried for two shorts and I let it go. Besides, I think that for my third short La Grande Clarté, I used only Megaton.
I can’t explain it, thought I never felt any shame or proudness of my civil name. It was a nickname just to hide myself, but when you work in the cinema industry, you need to assert yourself and to have recognition: this is why I kept this name and it’s now impossible to call me with my civil name.
I found this name strange at first, but it’s like Johnny Hallyday or Catherine Deneuve. Curiously, the more atypical your name is, the more easy people remember your name, but officially, my name is Megaton and is officially known by the Civil State as an alias (Fontana a.k.a Megaton).
During our first interview, you said that all your experiences have created some kind of “character”, didn’t you wanted to shoot it?
No, I don’t feel the envy or even want to write about it. I’m not megalomaniac – it’s this opposite – but you have to be a bit if you want to write about yourself (I don’t say it’s bad, simply not my type) and I’m afraid that people may think it about me. Most of the time, people thought that I was pretentious because I wasn’t talking very much. Indeed, when I’m with people I don’t know, I don’t talk. So, they wonder why I’m observing them but I’m just shy and during years, I’ve suffered of this, not knowing how to introduce myself to people. I was afraid not to communicate correctly, to have the same language, the same culture…
On the opposite, I’m very glad to discover people’s life and to talk about what I’m doing, but talking about me is something very complicated. I found very amusing to remind some souvenirs, but it’s only in private.
I tried and did so many things, very particular, atypical, unique and bizarre, that it has created a very special career. It made me think about Le Festin Nuof William Burroughs. It’s a book making the apology of getting high (not related to my life but very interesting to read) which begins by: “lots of people talks about different subjects, I will talk about getting high” then he does a list of all he has made.
Just by reading the beginning of the book, you have a brief view of the author experience and for my part, I’ve also had a lot, in various and rich environments, different lives. I’ve discovered different networks only in order to satisfy my curiosity and my hyperactivity.
The beginning of the punk and the alternative rock period, the debut of the graffiti, the antifascist fight, the suburbs and the beginning of an impression to exist… A rich life, which permitted me to travel all around the world and to meet different people, strange but rich situations…
I like to talk about, but it always gives me the impression to be a former soldier and I don’t think that it might interest lots of people…
Even if it’s only about getting the inspiration to create this character, and not to reproduce it on screen?
No, because you’re afraid to expose yourself and I’m afraid to get involved; I like to keep distance and talk about people or things I appreciate or I’m afraid of, but for things too personal, I don’t have feelings for and the only kind you might have is to hate yourself for various reasons. If I don’t do it, it’s modesty and I’m too modest to do it.
However, I’m aware that at one moment, I’ll have to write it all because there are history moments and the more the time pass, the less I want to forget.
I like to share this kind of moments with people it might help to understand, or those who had the same of existence. I’ve recently discussed with young people at a film festival in the Cap d’Adge, they were preparing a city and suburbs film festival and I’ve talked to them about the film festival CINEMA et BANLIEUE of Vaux en Velin in 1990 – 91.
During this conversation, I could tell them the following anecdote, showing them that sometimes, experience may get you involved into weird situations: I won my first price after presenting my first short No Way during this festival and Annie Girardot was the jury president.
During the last night, I was with her and she was trying to explain to me that I won a price without telling me directly, so it was very important for me to stay in order to receive it the next morning.
Clearly, I didn’t understand any of this and I left to go to Clermont Ferrand where the short film festival was and where mine was part of the selection.
The next morning, I arrived at Clermont and still didn’t know that I won a price in Vaux en Velin. I’ve learnt it when arriving at the festival office of Clermont while some officials threatened me to get me out of the competition, because my movie was no more an exclusivity…what an event! During all the festival, it was the same; the jury came after the projection in order to have dinner together, which created a scandal… until the point that the jury was advised not to award me an important price… In the end, I won the “extreme” movie price, so everyone could be satisfied: welcome to the world of the short movie!
For me, these are crazy souvenirs, interesting but I only had them in my memory. It built me, gave me a protection, allowed me to be organized…
Don’t you want to write it down, to tell a crazy story?
Not yet because I consider this dangerous. I’ll do it as a memoir only for me, considering the amount of things and connection that are important in my social progression, from nothing to few things in the dominant culture.
The graffiti, the alternative relation to graffiti, but also with a certain dominant social class. A family came to power, dictated her rules and wrote history with her own arrangements and today, I still have some bitterness about how it happened and the way people have forgotten the true story (see the first interview).
But it still could sleep and discovered little by little that it was in human nature to fight, in concrete terms or by imposing a non-truth by omission, a social strategy to the detriment of my own friends.
Curiously, I won’t dig into my personal experience, historical or even in my movies but No Way could be the one I’m the closest to.
For the occasion, I’ve searched in all the others experience and not in what I’ve lived (which I know perfectly), such as the subway, the street, les squats or even urban violence.
I didn’t dig into my experience because I spent half of my life trying to channel this energy, I can’t see myself making its apology.
One of the canal such as the Thai boxing for a long time, didn’t appeared to me as a theme or even an evident subject on which I had to work on, in the cinema industry and yet, I’ve spent thousands of hours to punch a sand bag, with paos or even on a ring. This is still too recent in my mind…
How old were you, when you decided to stop Thai boxing?
Around thirty, I’m hyperactive, I need constantly to be physically challenged and it helped me to get into condition. When you do combat sports since your very early age, you increase the intensity because the discipline you’re doing isn’t enough in the end, you’re always looking for something harder, more efficient, more dangerous… the Thai boxing was a guide to me, it reinforced me, and it sculpted me physically but mainly mentally.
In a way, it programmed me for my job, because it’s a very hard one, requiring discipline, strength of character and will… You have to go in training camps in Thailand and train yourself all the day and for weeks in order to get the analogy. When you get out of there, you have reached your limits and making a movie isn’t not that far from being in this condition.
Can you describe to me the objectives you use for your movies?
It depends on the movie, what it’s about, its style, the light you’ll have in order to shoot, because regarding all of this, you won’t chose the same optical lenses. Your choice will be influenced by the graphic character, the different aspects of its render, the blur it produce, the flares so unique as the optics and you have to know that everything change from one optic to another.
You also have to take in consideration the practical aspect: for example, when you shoot an action movie, it’s more delicate to do it with a Primo series, which is my favorite for anamorphic. Of course, it’s not the best, but it has a graphic, a render that I love and which gives this impression of a cinema movie, the way the depth field is displayed, the exceptional quality of the accuracy, the contours made by these optics. It’s very difficult to work with and to my humble advice, it’s the most beautiful optical series ever made.
I also appreciate the Master Prime for their wide opening, permitting you to work almost at night with few diaphragm and lights while keeping this graphic aspect I’m fond of, but also with flares and blurs very unique.
In order to get practical, my crew and I are working a lot with Hawk or Cooks, giving the fact that it’s easier in 35mm; however, these are not my favorite objectives.
On the opposite, I’m not very fond of the Zeiss that I find too metallic. We used them for clips and commercials because it’s an optic you can use for everything, but for movies, it’s something else because it ends on a big screen where each details is increased.
Regarding the objectives, my favorite model that I use for every close shot is the 24/290 Angenieux Optimo which permits me to do all my close shots with a super longue focal: I want to shoot precisely with it and then change instantaneously the focal, it is my main working tool with the 2.35 ARRI.
On the 16 short I’ve made, ten are in true scope (anamorphic) because I’m fond of it. For me, this is the real cinema, which show the emotion when you watch it, which sublimes it, in the end which is the closest thing to the relation eye/ reality and the way the brain analyze it again. Sharp shots and foreground are very precise, with also some blur in the foreground which is close to the way you see it and how the eye focus on it.
Because I’m sensitive to this, in the cinema, this is why I can’t stand the HD, because you don’t know where to look, it deletes the point of view, the director but also the cameraman and the clapper loader interpretation. The HD gives us too many useless information because too much definition kills the definitions. The digital is very useful and could make our task easier when it’ll be as efficient as the 35mm. You misunderstand definition quantity with definition quality. I don’t care if I can see the ears hear of my favorite actor in a movie. What I want to see, it’s his emotion and you need to “interpreter” the information in order to keep your regard on this regard and this emotion.
A director is like a painter: he has to be precise on what he is showing (will the sharpness be on the actor’s left eye or on the right?) and it’s not with showing lots of things that it’s necessarily good. There are real choices to make which have an influence on everything in the frame, but also the composition related to the clearness, the depth field. This is why according to me, the anamorphic is better for cinematographic expression.
However, it’s not handy and you have a deplorable depth field. When you work with a focal distance, few light – and a small aperture – you probably have a two centimeters depth field… so if the actor breathe too fast, it becomes blurry.
Exit has been shot in anamorphic (Primo) with a development and a printing without laundering. In the end, it gives a picture so high leveled in the overall that I think I’d probably have difficulties to find again such a quality in my next movies. Five years ago, I’ve shot a short titled Angie, for which we came back to this logic and we took a risk by not doing a laundering, regarding the lab. It was worth it because we have a picture so sublime cinematographically speaking: black like ink, white almost fluorescent, the picture lives, it’s almost organic…
La Sirène Rouge had a printing without laundering and twice at the beginning of the movie: it gives a grain but also the impression that the characters’ lives with unique contours: for me, this is really sublime.
On Transporter 3, we had to deal with commercials movies including special effects. For this one, I had to give up the scope in order to work in spherical 2:35 and super 35 mm (I won’t give a cinema class about the difference between anamorphic and spherical otherwise it’ll last two hours). All at once, picture is no more living, the equipment more compact but in the end more adapted for action, because we are used to work with three cameras most of the time, even up to seven cameras for action sequences. The scope on Panavision is more complicated to use because it’s more precise and above all heavier.
On Colombiana, we shot in super 35 mm, full super 35 mm. We have shot in 3 perf except for the special effects in 4 perf, in order to have the maximum amount of image to expose.
At last, for Taken 2, all the part taking place in the United States was shot in Panavision scope, real anamorphic.
I really came back to my first love with a beginning very clear, very sharp but also with emotion because there are lots of things exchanged during this part of the movie. Moreover, I wanted to have a very cinematographic picture, like movies in the 70’s made up of gorgeous shots, that we are able to be in the comedian’s place
With an actor like Liam Nesson who has sublime eyes, you only want to look for the emotion in him, which encouraged us to shoot in scope. Giving the fact that there is no action, it’s not the same lightness, even if I’ve already shot action movie in scope (it’s a false debate to say it’s not possible) and the rest of the movie was shot in super 35 mm. The difference isn’t that big, but when you’re in the action, things are getting fast.
I’ve also shot a lot in digital, in particular with an Alexa or a Red but you reach very quickly its limit of and the problem is that you take the marketing consideration before the reality, arguing that it’s less expensive with light and labs (another debate that we won’t start here).
In comparison, Panavision equipment with a Primo optic series – which is cheap because nobody use it – and the lab work will cost you the same, regarding the tons of treatments and corrections for a digital picture. Today, the image quality between the photochemical and the digital, for a theater exploitation of course, is still very different.
Now, if you want to keep going counter flow and work this manner, you’ll be told that it’s complicated, quite curious regarding that we used to work this way during 100 years.
I’m not against digital but I’d like to have one day cameras with the same high-tech degree, lightness and easy to work with but it’s not the case today.
When you use an Alexa which is nowadays a good camera in order to shot stuff for TV, clips, commercials and you put it on a steadycam configuration, you have 10 more kilos with the codex on the digital camera. Regarding the additional weight on the steadycamer, you can’t make him the moves, which influence your directing and above the fact that you have to pay attention to lots of things otherwise aberration will happen.
Once we are in post-production, I’m nicknamed the Lynx because on a set, I can tell you how will be the contrast. I have this gift, being able to analyze a picture very quickly, so when I look closely at the special effect, I see things that are not obvious for others, like vibrations.
Olivier, thanks again for these informations and great stories. To be continued…? 😉
Taken 2 is still in theater, so I strongly advise you to go see it, if it’s not the case.