The month of July ended with a lovely treat for a few hundred Sydney-siders. George Street Event Cinemas offered an advanced preview of the film, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (which starts screening from the 10th August in Australia), and not only was the session offered at an IMAX theater in its glorious 3D format, but writer/director Luc Besson, the man himself, was personally there to answer any questions the audience had after the movie!
It was a delight to watch this special-effects laden film in this format; it truly is a gorgeous spectacle. Though for more information regarding the actual content and plot, please read Sarah’s review of Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. With many fans of Besson’s previous work, The Fifth Element, in the crowd, the man emerged after the screening to much applause. To my surprise, there was no interviewer; the Q&A session opened up to the audience straight away.
For those who have had the privilege of attending these types of events before, then you would know that sometimes it isn’t the best idea to give the audience free reign when it comes to questions. Yet with seemingly many amateur filmmakers in the crowd that night, not only were the questions relatively on point, but Luc Besson responded with genuine hints and tips, and didn’t just rely on anecdotes to pass the time.
For ease of navigation, and because the people in the audience didn’t always have access to a microphone, below are the time stamps for each question, along with summary of some of the responses. The list will also help if, like Luc Besson, you have trouble understanding the Australian accent!
LANGUAGE WARNING: The f-bomb is dropped multiple times during this Q&A session, along with the s-word. God’s name is also used in vain multiple times.
1:45 – How long did it take to write the script?
2:37 – What’s your advice on adapting something that you like?
Luc Besson reinforces the importance of your project having a message. He also shares what he learnt after making his first film, which was about a mermaid.
7:02 – What was the single biggest issue that you needed to overcome?
Besson provides an insightful response about the trouble surrounding the maintenance of the story’s timeline, when the creative process is indeed much longer.
9:15 – What was it like to work with Cara Delevingne?
After praising Cara, Besson talks about the prejudices some people have against actors who have come from a different line of work. Then there’s the story of Robert Mitchum.
11:11 – In the comics, Laureline has red hair. Was it Cara’s choice to not be a red head?
Besson admits that it’s a trap!
11:53 – When it comes to special effects in film these days, how much further can they go?
Luc Besson laments on the current direction that cinema has undertaken, particularly when it comes to superhero movies. “I like to take risks.” He doesn’t actually answer the question here, but he does impart his thoughts on what it means to be an artist.
16:15 – Do you have any tips on how to overcome writer’s block, or how to replenish your inspiration?
It seems that honesty (with yourself) really is the best policy, particularly when it comes to screenwriting. There’s some really good advice here about developing a script.
19:47 – If you had access to the amount of technology that we have today back in 1997, when you made The Fifth Element, what would you have done differently?
Ah, we’re in love, it seems. Luc Besson tries to convince us that The Fifth Element isn’t that great!
21:30 – What is your approach to directing actors?
This is quite a detailed response – upcoming directors, take notes! He also tells us how he trolled Scarlett Johansson while prepping for Lucy!
26:00 – Is this the movie you’re most proud of?
27:08 – Two part question! Considering you’ve been a fan of the Valerian comics for years, at what stage did you realize it’s now time to make it? How do you direct actors when they are dealing with a green screen?
Besson explains the relationship between “freshness” and “knowledge.” He then delves into how he works on set. “I don’t know how to direct a tennis ball!”
32:05 – Your films regularly feature strong female characters. Why is it important to you to depict complex female characters alongside the men?
Short answer: They are important! Long answer: Luc Besson talks about his childhood and the women that have influenced him the most.
34:57 – What message are you trying to convey in Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets?
“You just have to propose something; you don’t know how people will react.”
37:39 – How do you draw inspiration for so many diverse aliens?
Apparently there was a contest! The city of New York also played a role in the process.
41:54 – You’re great at casting! How does it come about? Is the role made for the actor, or is it the opposite where the actor fits the character?
Luc Besson warns us about the pitfalls that can occur when we write with a particular actor in mind for a character.
42:45 – Why did you choose to make Valerian in English? Why not French?
Let’s just say he’s not impressed with French actors. “The French… they wake up at noon.” Although he does compliment the ladies in the industry.
44:14 – With so many special effects, how much is real; what is the balance with the production design team on set?
45:50 – When you’ve been working on a project for so long, how do you maintain your motivation?
Turns out that even directors like Luc Besson have fears when it comes to finalizing the shoot and moving onto the special effects stage of the project.