At the end of 2007, I was lucky to actively participate in the production of the feature film Largo Winch by Jérôme Salle , with Tomer Sisley and Christine Scott Thomas. I was part of the production design team, hired as a Fixer, interpreter and coordinator. As such, I helped on the construction of many sets. My role was to help Michel Barthelemy’s ( the production deisgner) become a reality . Michel is also the production designer of the film Un Prophète, for which he had a complete replica of a Penitentiary built on the outskirts of Paris. This film is currently receiving a lot of Plame D’or buzz at the festival de Cannes. He also has created the sets for the Jan Kounen’ s films (Blueberry, 99 F). To know more about Michel’s work , below is his IMDB page, but please come back quickly here as many other stories are in the pipeline.
Helping the french and hong Hong kong teams work together has been a real challenge that has helped me make leaps and bounds in Cantonese as well as improve my Cinema vocab . The job was all about : Optimize time and resources, facilitate communication, manage intercultural conflicts. understand and help others to understand. I will later post on the chinese cinema vocabulary. Who knows, maybe this research could one day become a full glossary. Do not hesitate to ask what words might interest you in the comments! Finally, and that is the most important of all, working on Largo Winch has helped me focus on my mission: bring cultures closer together with cinema and art.
An initiative I took that was appreciated by both teams was the organization of a traditional “Works opening” Taoist ceremony . French people and locals shared a spiritual moment around a “Yu Ju” (grilled baby pig) and thus learnt a little more about each other, by exchanging incense joss sticks. This ceremony is so important in Hong Kong culture that I will dedicate a post to it in the future. Check it out….and stay tuned to the Hong Kong Fixer’s tips on HK ‘s culture and film projects by subscribing to the RSS link located at the top right corner of this page.
Anyway, what and adventure it has been. ! And what luck to be able to work with such a team of pros. The film was very well received at the french box office( over 1.5 M fans went to see it) and has been sold all over the world by the distributor Wild Bunch. Largo will therefore will return to the big screen and should normally pass by HK again , the HQ of the W company being now located in Wan Chai ( Malaysia will be another location). In the meantime, I remember:
– The construction of the sets for the final fight scene between Marcus and Largo : better not be subject to fear of heights as our team of carpenters, headed by Martinus Van Lunen, built from scratch a terrace deck as well as the façade of the presidential suite of 5 star Hotel, on top o f the 47th floor of that hotel! Wood gratings, metal structures, deco sheets, wood panels, steel fences(made to order in a China factory, production managed by yours truly), glass sheets, and also , furniture, plants, set props…all of this had to be brought up in the service lifts of the hotel. Many were the funny encounters between Dream makers of two worlds: after all, luxury hospitality is not so far from movie making. Using blue prints drawn by First Assistant Benoît Bechet , carpenters, welders grips and helpers, have produced a set so spectacular that the director Jérome Salle could not help not film it from above.. and used a helicopter for that. One of the most memorable moments has been the installation of the glass sheets onto the metal fences ( the idea was to have Largo floating over the cityscape). That day, a very strong wind was blowing and made our work very very hard.. we were at least ten to stabilise, insert and secure these this heavy industrial grade glass sheets. No worries on the safety side though , as the boss, Michel, had safety nets installed all around. The view from the top, at night , was the most impressive.. even better than any IMAX!
I also remember:
– The preparations for the modeling of the Winch Co 3D virtual tower. For this , Alain Carsoux, Jérome Billet ( aka Lardux) of Duboi effects and Benoît Bechet) first Assistant Prod design on Sophia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette and on Rush Hour 2) had invited me at the lift off of helicopter ( rigged with a spacecam from LA) used for the arial shots. Impressive! The Spacecam , on its special cradle is absolutely stable. The camera operator (here , Alain) frames the shots from inside the Helicopter’s cabin, using a remote control…What was difficult about this shot, was that the flight path had to reproduce exactly the one pre-calculated by computer beforehand… little room for error… Below is a pic of the flight path over the district of Wan Chai… One can see the reclamation works of the Central Wanchai by pass. Do not miss the video of the pre-visualisation in the next post , cut to a music composed by Julius Bates.
There was also :
-the transformation of the Coloane Village in Macao into a Brazilian village for scene revealing Largo as an adult. This location was chosen by the production company ( La Pan Européenne) for its proximity with Hong Kong. Adding a location such a Brazil after having shot in HK, Malta and Sicilywould have caused the budget to be overstretched.
Michel wanted to “DeChinese” the streets of the village. For this, I did an extensive iconographic research, allowing to direct the ream of painters and decorators ( under the helm of Master Xavier Buffin). The dried fish shops (sooo Chinese) were transformed, the streets and the village square adorned with boards and signs in Portuguese… Perfect illusion. We were not shooting in Macao any longer, instead, we were in the middle of the Pantanal. Largo had the background for his adventurer profile, getting a tattoo and getting chased on a bike by the bad guys deep down in the jungles of South America.
This visual research was also used by Philippe Tanasic ( props designer) for the look of the cops cars. Coloane was also the location where we set up, under the direction of Eric Bourges ( also chief builder of the sets of Asterix), the pre-build hut of the tattoo artist (played by Eddy Ko)
One more anecdote.. I remember…
– Climbing the highest towers of Hk with Benoit Bechet, specialist of the Set Backgound picture, for the image used in the boardroom meeting shot in Paris studios. Vertigo of the Cityscape…..
To know more about this very special art that is the Set Backgound picture, the next link will take to Benoît’s interview ( in french ) shot by Vincent Cassiro ( director of the making of ) , as the three of us were on top of city’s roof.
Lastly, below are a few comments by Michel Barthelemy, mentor extraordinary, on the work I did for and with him :
“We hired David as a translator, as we were preparing the Hong Kong part of « Largo Winch », A French international « Action & Comedy » film, shot in Malta Sicily, Hong Kong, Macau, and Paris.
As we had at the same time to settle all the Art Dpt processes (install, deals, manpower chase, ability tests,etc…), David appeared to be really helpfull. Approaching with a good spirit the Art Direction matters and concerns, using willingly his personal general knowledge and good thinking, he found very quickly the way to assist us (the head of dpt) in many points, like dealing technical points with architects, engineers and subcontractors we had to fight with, communicating with chinese production, researching Hong Kong potentials and suppliers.
Beside, David is a very good fellow, able to guide you in and around HK, and will be the perfect go-between for various film production mission.”