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Fabrice du Welz • Director

"Shooting in LA is like being in another world”


- Cineuropa caught up with Belgian director Fabrice du Welz, who is back with his American production, Message from the King, at the Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival

Fabrice du Welz • Director

After two “little” Belgian films shot in Belgium (his first and latest feature films, The Ordeal [+see also:
film profile
 and Alleluia [+see also:
film review
making of
film focus
interview: Fabrice Du Welz
film profile
), a Dantesque experience set on the other side of the world (Vinyan [+see also:
film profile
, which was shot in the Thai jungle), and a nightmarish French experience (Colt 45 [+see also:
film profile
), Fabrice du Welz is back with Message from the King [+see also:
interview: Fabrice du Welz
film profile
, a pure genre film shot in just a few weeks in Los Angeles with independent producers, starring Chadwick Boseman, Marvel’s Black Panther. We sat down with the director on the occasion of the screening of his film at the Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival.

Cineuropa: How did you end up working on this project?
Fabrice du Welz: I was approached by American companies a long time ago, specifically for remakes of horror films, which I always turned down. A few years ago, David Lancaster, who was associate producer at Bold Films (Drive, Whiplash, Nightcrawler), pitched a rather special project to me, one that was never made as David left Bold. He went on to become executive producer at different companies, and inherited this screenplay, which was put to me by my agent, William Morris. We had to shoot quickly, as the main actor involved in the project, Chadwick Boseman, only had a limited period of availability for us before he had to go off and play Marvel’s Black Panther. Everything happened insanely fast. I read the screenplay, met Chadwick, we got on very well, and I went to set up there as quickly as a could. Filming an independent film in LA isn’t easy, and you have to realise that it really is another world. 

Why America?
I’m a director, and I like taking risks. So if I have the opportunity to go somewhere new I do. It can be frustrating, particularly during the post-production on this occasion, as I had no control. In the United States, the kingdom of the director is the shoot. During filming, I chose everything. But afterwards no. The Director’s Guild of America allows directors 10 weeks of filming, the famous Director’s Cut. After this period has elapsed, producers come to look at the edit, and decide whether or not the director can keep going. It’s always the producers that have the final word. I didn’t give in, because I wanted to make this film as close to my vision as possible. I wanted to make a film without special effects, on a human level. In a sticky LA, I managed to secure the 35mm format. You have to take the film at face value, a real pulp fiction with archetypes, and, I hope, a little extra something.

You portray Los Angeles in a very organic way.
In all my films, the environments are portrayed as real antagonists. Even if they are anchored in realism, you have to make a shift towards cinematographic omission. Los Angeles is a city in which the worst rubs shoulders with the best, and I really wanted to give it a smell, to make it appeal to the senses. I took my inspiration from the 1970s films on this city that I love, like Hardcore by Paul Schrader, as well as the books of James Ellroy, Chester Himes, and Elmore Leonard. I think that the kind of films that don’t age are those in which the photography is as balanced as possible, thanks to their artistic abstractions. The three main axes are the setting, actors and light. The films that age badly are often those that can’t strike this balance, or sacrifice one of these aspects, often the setting or the light.

The film has been purchased by Netflix, and is being released in theatres in France, but not elsewhere…
The global map of film is changing with Netflix. Of course, I shot my film in 35mm format, I’m a deeply committed cinephile, and dream that people will go to see my film in theatres. But we have to stay abreast of the changes. I’m sure that in 10 years’ time, just one film in 10 will be released in theatres. That will be the end of the dictatorship by exhibitors and distributors. Studios will be able to take on directors under contract, for multiple films. I think Netflix has understood than it has to encourage creativity, and that it can be an opportunity for creators to take back control of Hollywood.

Can you talk to us about your next project, Adoration?
It’s a small film, very modest. If there’s a planetary alignment, we’ll shoot this summer. It’s the story of a child, an 11-year-old boy who lives with his mother in a kind of house for people with psychological problems, well off people. His mother works as a handywoman there. One day a young 15/16 year-old girl arrives who is breathtakingly beautiful, an enigma for him and a schizophrenic. He falls head-over-heels in love, beyond reason, and she leads him on a strange journey. Casting is currently underway for the children. Benoît Poelvoorde will play a small but essential role in the third act.

(Translated from French)

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