Circling Cinema: Fabien Montagner On His Visually Gripping Film ‘The Friend’

Director Fabien Montagner joins us on Close-up Culture to talk about his short film The Friend and his big plans for the future.

Q: Can you tell us about ‘The Friend’ and where your idea for this story came from?

A: I have often told myself that if I were to make only one feature film in my life, it would certainly be a fantasy film. That is because it is still a genre where everything is possible and is rich cinematographically speaking!

One day I read a collection by the Belgian author, Frédéric Livyns, called Amy’s Tales. I was looking for a good source of inspiration to try to put together a fantasy story. I love paranormal stories such as Alejandro Amenabar’s The Others and James Wan’s Insidious. Signs, spirits and mediums all fascinate me because they touch upon existential questions…

In Frédéric Livyns’ collection there was a short story titled The Friend, which touches on subjects that spoke to me – a ghost, relations between adults and children, a special house etc. So I contacted Frédéric spontaneously and three years later we have managed to put together a longer version of the story.

I must thank Frédéric for his hard work and passion. I kept bothering him to add or remove things in order to fit my vision too, but Fred is so easy to work with. I hope our work together will be effective and touching at the same time! We now need to “sell” our know-how to people who might want to finance our script. I made this short film, The Friend, to help with that.

Q: The film has a gripping visual style. What were your thoughts behind the circling camera?

A: What I find great about these ghost movies is the role you have as a spectator. You are very active and on alert for anything that might startle you. You always want to look for something in the frame like a clue or a mysterious character hidden in a corner of the room.

It is this side that I wanted to play with in my staging, to lock us into a setting but at the same time live an immersive experience that gives the feeling of being active. It is a little like a VR (virtual reality) helmet. We play with the spectator and his imagination!


Q: What challenges did this approach present to you and your actors?

A: The main challenge was, of course, the choreography of the actors and finding the right rhythm so that you never get bored and there is always something to feel or see. The same goes for the use of lighting and the speed of the turntable.

It took several rehearsals and many takes were necessary, but it was very exciting to create!

Q: As you referred to, this is four minute short film will also act as a proof concept for a feature film. What direction would you take feature film in?

A: By doing this teaser, we want to prove to the professionals (investors, sellers, distributors etc.) that we can create an atmosphere, a style and an efficiency in only a few minutes.

At the same time, it synthesizes the primary story of the film quite well: the mother, the little girl, the house and the disruptive spirit. So we hope that, thanks to this short film, people will read the script with these images in mind and understand our abilities to make a good film. We already have very good contacts that can help take us in the right direction, but we know the path will still not be easy.

The film will be a ghost story, but I hope it can go beyond that too. I want an effective film, like the teaser, but one that will also touch us at the end. A film with feelings!

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Q: Can you tell us more about your background as a filmmaker?

A: After studying cinema in Paris, I quickly found my professional path in editing while continuing to make my own films on the side.

I am clearly attracted to fiction because it allows me to put all my dreams into images. As a director, it’s a little complicated to define myself in a genre, because I think I like Cinema with a big ‘C’, so it doesn’t matter what genre. I’ve done comedies, darker stories and fantasy, especially with my last two short films: The Passage in 2011 (50 international festivals) and The Friend this year. I secretly dream of science fiction too!

As an editor, I am always open to beautiful collaborations in fiction. I don’t always know how people see me – some know me better as an editor, others as a director. But I like this schizophrenic side because I don’t have much trouble wearing different hats. One skill feeds the other.

Q: What are your hopes and plans for the future?

A: My immediate focus is to make this film a reality. We need to find financial partners and a broadcaster, perhaps with an English or American co-production, because this kind of film is very Anglo-Saxon. I am really open to all eventualities to finance the film (except selling my body to science).

Then, with our production company and my partners (Olivier Compère and Jeremy Banster), we will try to make this integral shift towards cinema (we produce a lot of things for television and commercial companies) that we started a few years ago with La Vie Pure, a film directed by Jeremy Banster in 2015.

We want to develop films in all kinds of genres (drama, comedy) to really succeed in our transformation!

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