|Luc Besson photographed by Silvia Schablowski|
On July 16, between the screenings of The Professional and La Femme Nikita, Luc Besson appeared for discussion with Today Show entertainment interviewer David Karger. The conversation focused on his earlier work, especially the films that were screened during the Cinematheque’s retrospective, yet the upcoming movie Valerian could, of course, not be ignored.
Regarding his movie Subway, Besson revealed that the metro scene was filmed without authorization and that they were accompanied by an assistant working for the station. One scene in the beginning of the movie, where Fred (Christopher Lambert) gives the briefcase back to Héléna, was filmed quickly when the assistant was otherwise occupied for a while. It is these tiny gems of trivia that are revealed during Q&As that make them such a treat for movie lovers.
Early on in his career, Besson already indulged in a much more metaphorically personal script with his third feature film, The Big Blue. Not only was it Besson's dream to become a marine biologist when he was younger, but his parents were scuba diving instructors, so diving was always of personal interest to Besson. But The Big Blue has even more ties to Besson’s personal life. The role played by Jean-Marc Barr was very hard to cast, and it was only the weekend before the first day of shooting that Besson encounter Barr in London and cast him in the movie. Before that, he was prepared to play the part of Jacques Mayol himself, but he was happy that he didn't have to. There were family members who did end up being cast in the movie. The role of young Mayol was played by his half-brother, and the role of his father was played by Besson’s actual father. Furthermore, the opening scene of the movie, which took place in Greece, was where Besson actually played as a little child. To this day one could argue that The Big Blue might be one of Besson’s most intimate movies. However, Valerian is not far from it. His favorite comic growing up was Valerian and Laureline and his first love was Laureline.
His work after The Big Blue, La Femme Nikita, was his first feature with a strong female lead. The protagonist, Nikita, was played by his then-girlfriend, who later became his wife (Anne Parillaud). An unusual move for its time, the reason Besson made a film about a strong female character cannot be related to gender issues. As he stated, “I always try to write a good part for women and men. I never make a difference. It’s probably a way to respect both of them.” For Besson, it's always about the character when it comes to casting an actor. More than the prominence of the actor, he is interested in whether the person auditioning for the part fits the role and sometimes someone famous might not fit the bill.
|Patrons dressed as the main characters|
from The Professional. Photo by
Besson also had to disappoint audience members when he was asked about a possible sequel to the movie. Besson stated that when he thought of the idea Portman was already 30 years old, which would have been too late to stage the movie. Given this conundrum there will not be a sequel. Furthermore, he added that one half would have hated him for doing a sequel and the other half would love him.
Another huge success followed with The Fifth Element, which is a cult classic today. In the film, he revisited the theme of a strong female character and for the first time indulges in a sci-fi world. The movie was supposed to be in two parts, but at the end he was asked to make it into just one movie. The script was also the longest he had ever worked on. The Fifth Element was originally a book of 400 pages and Besson, afterwards converted it into a script.
Besson did not end the Q&A without answering a question of a young writer studying at UCLA who asked for tips regarding scriptwriting as a profession. Besson emphasized, “quantity is important. You have to write, write, write write.” He added that he can now finish a script in 2 weeks, but only after 30 years of writing. As Besson spoke, the young man stood, furiously taking notes. Another interesting fact that was unveiled through a question by an audience member was about Besson’s relationship to technology; while he loves to use the newest technology in his movies, he himself only directs people to use it and to this day continues to write on paper.
A very unusual remark, coming from a director whose latest movie Valerian features 2,355 visual effects shots, beating the latest Star Wars movie Rogue One and his previous movie The Fifth Element which has 250 special effects shots. Besson reported that 900 people worked on Valerian’s special effects, and that some shots that lasted a few seconds in the film may have taken two years to render. This is not all that makes Valerian special; with a budget of 220 million dollars, not including marketing costs, it is reportedly the most expensive European movie ever, and financially competes with Hollywood blockbuster budgets. It will be interesting to watch what project will follow Valerian and to see where Besson’s career takes him. One thing is certain, Besson truly seems to have an infinite imagination and talent for realization where anything can be possible.