After “Martyrs”, Pascal Laugier delivered in 2018 with “Ghostland” his fourth feature film: a multi-award-winning horror slap in Gérardmer, the backstage of which is told in “L’Image Fantôme”. Meeting with its director Thierry Sausse.
L’Image Fantôme – On the set of Ghostland by Thierry Sausse
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During the fall of 2016 in Winnipeg, Canada, Pascal Laugier, accompanied by his cast of actors, set about making his fourth feature film. As close as possible to the speakers who in turn entrust us with their doubts, their joys and their desires, experience the filming of Ghostland alongside those who do it.
AlloCiné: What does the title of your film, “The Phantom Image” mean?
Thierry Sausse (director): “The Ghost Image” is the term Pascal Laugier uses to describe an idea that is close to his heart when making a film. It is about what can arouse in the spectator, the connection between two plans which correspond perfectly to each other: an invisible third plan, a phantom image. This image, which is only a sensation, an idea that would not be shown in the film but nevertheless well felt by the spectator, would be found in the junction of the two first shots, somewhere in between. The association of these two ideas therefore creates a third, much stronger one. These are the kinds of moments of grace in cinema that he seeks out while making his films, and he was telling me about it while I was interviewing him for the making-of. Beyond sharing this pretty thought with me, he served me the title of my film on a platter!
Your film is not a classic making-of, which goes from pre-production to delivery of the finished film, with a follow-up of the different stages of production. On the contrary, you offer specific sequences that allow you to understand the intimate work of Pascal Laugier. Was this approach planned from the start, or did you adopt it as you went on filming?
No, indeed, this is not a pure and simple making-of. I wanted to make a slightly singular film, to be so interested in Ghostland than to the people who do. I already had a vague idea of what I wanted to give this making-of before shooting it. I wanted to give an “impression” of the shooting, of the passing time, of the film being born before our eyes, but no certainty as to how to proceed. I arrived in Canada with the intention of letting myself be guided by the course of events, of improvising according to what would unfold before my eyes. But after a few days of shooting, I noticed that I was filming more or less the same thing every day: a shoot. Rehearsals, shots … I was a little bored … And I quickly changed my mind, I returned to my first desire: to talk to people, to know their states of mind then that these laborious weeks followed one another. And Pascal and his “troop” of actors, as he called them, turned out to be proud allies in my approach!
In the film, Pascal Laugier asks that the technical team preserve and respect his exchanges with his actors. How did you manage to convince him to welcome you in this very intimate circle to capture these exchanges, and how did you make yourself “invisible”?
Pascal himself made a making-of and knows how precious these moments of intimacy can be for the creation of a beautiful logbook. Thus, he gladly gave me access to his moments of sharing with his actresses and his personal moments off set. I made a point of never disturbing anyone (for example, I never filmed someone against their will) or enter the family sphere (Pascal’s family was present by his side in Canada), but beyond these two main principles, I filmed absolutely everything.
There’s more to making a movie than what happens on set while the camera is rolling. Between the first and the last clap, everything is cinema, and at the bend of a coffee break, in the car on the way back, something amazing can happen for the making-of and you have to be ready. ! As for making me invisible, you only saw what I was kind enough to mount! But the principle of “fly-on-the-wall” cannot always be applied when filming in real settings, often very small, in the middle of a film crew, often very large. But I was lucky, the team quickly understood my approach, what I had come to do among them, and I had my place around the camera, just like every technician in the film.
Which filmmaker did you discover while working with Pascal Laugier? The film shows him as a storyteller in search of moments of total truth: does that sound like a good definition to you?
I don’t know if we can talk about the search for truth, but more simply to capture and transcribe as well as possible the sensations he may have felt as a child, while he was discovering the tales to which he refers in Ghostland. Pascal is a pure cinephile and a large number of films certainly crossed his mind while he was working on his own film. But I believe that in order to preserve the freshness of his desire, that of mixing the universe of wonderful tales and the modern world, he was thinking above all of the drawings and engravings which illustrated the books of his childhood. My best discovery, while working with Pascal on the making of Ghostland, was not therefore the work of a particular filmmaker, but rather the imposing work of the illustrator Gustave Doré and particularly his work of engravings on the tales of Charles Perrault, which Pascal often mentioned.
The actors you have met seem totally delighted with their experience with Pascal Laugier …
Of all the elements that make up the making of a film, I think that working with actors is among those that fascinate Pascal the most. It is obvious when you see him at work, and I wanted to make it a central element of my film. Watching Pascal direct an actor is fascinating. He is all the characters at the same time, demanding, reassuring and benevolent. I’m sure the whole cast loved their “Ghostland” adventure.
Pascal Laugier evokes a script or various technicians who left her films, faced with her hard-hitting approach. How was the atmosphere on the set of “Ghostland”? Did you sometimes have the feeling that sequences went too far?
No never. Ghostland is a violent film, just like the fairy tales it draws on. And the engravings of Gustave Doré, already more than a century old, show it to us! That was it Tom Thumb, Hansel and Gretel… The scriptwoman was not in agreement with the film and preferred to leave, it is her most complete right. It just wasn’t his thing. But I can assure you that beyond the stress, the doubt and the pressure of the watch that I illustrate a lot in the making-of, there was a very good-natured atmosphere on the set!
We can sense in the film Pascal Laugier’s frustration at being confronted with a North American technical team that is there to do a job, when he is there to capture moments of truth. How did you experience these moments of incomprehension between two very different visions of cinema?
I lived these moments with a lot of interest, it is the advantage of making a making-of. Whether the moments are joyful or desperate, there is always something to take! I was the spectator of the shoot and I filmed in total neutrality. But yes, you are right, Pascal has very difficult to acclimatize to the North American way of proceeding. This big machine deployed around his film was not the way he hoped to shoot it. He envisioned things much more simply, fewer people, less constraints related to the shooting protocol, more freedom in short. But objectively, he did not do too badly!
The film ends with his dismay with regard to the poor consideration that French cinema can have of genre cinema. Is this an injury on which Pascal Laugier confided a lot?
In fact, Pascal often spoke to me about his desire to film “his own land”, his own myths, rather than having to go into exile each time on the other side of the world to shoot his stories in English. I think it’s really sad not to be able to do it in France. But the cinema wins every time. And basically, whatever the language, subject or genre, the important thing for him is to make films that he loves and that resemble him. And if that involves a lifetime of traveling to put down his camera, I know he’s up to it. From the moment he is fully satisfied with what is happening on the screen, I am convinced that the rest is ultimately of very little importance to him.
What did Pascal Laugier think of your film?
It is to him that we must ask the question but it seems to me that he rather appreciated it.