Benoît Debie • Director of Photography
Success story of a genius fascinated by light
by Anne Feuillère
Exceptionally gifted in overcoming technical hurdles and shady atmospheres, in four years Belgian Benoît Debie has become one of the most sought-after DoPs, after having had a quite unconventional career. Debie hasn’t let the fame go to his head though and remains modest. Following his studies in photography at the Belgian cinema school IAD (Institut des Arts de Diffusion), Benoît Debie did some stints as a camera assistant. Very quickly boredom got the better of him and he started to work on television sets where in ten years he would experiment with everything and develop his working style: quick, efficient, conscientious. His curiosity led him to make clips, advertisements and short films, for example A Wonderful Love by Fabrice du Welz which was a great success. Now Debie is best known for his work on Gaspar Noé's controversial film Irréversible, as well as on Lucile Hadzihalilovic's Innocence, Dario Argento's The Card Player, and Fabrice Du Welz's The Ordeal [+see also:
Cineuropa: You have made six features and there is already a "Debie" light, isn't there?
Benoît Debie: Yes, it’s quite a surprise. It all began with Gaspard Noé who had specific demands for the making of Irreversible. He didn’t want to use projectors in order to do 360° shots – which is impossible with projectors. He also wanted his film to resemble an everyday occurrence as much as possible, with natural images, but a potent universe. He contacted me after having seen the short from Fabrice where the natural image was natural but typical. That’s what he wanted, but without the light (laughs!). I had to reconstruct a whole new approach with the light, which is a rather rare thing to have to do on a feature. We didn’t use cinema projectors, but natural lights in the field; I used a lot of sodium light bulbs as projectors. I worked a lot with the decoration in order to create a luminous image. With Lucile Hadzihalilovic on Innocence, it was the same principle: we only used the light of the sun, by using reflectors, mirrors, in order to direct it where we needed it. The Ordeal was a combination of these two approaches, without direct sources of cinema light, everything coming from the windows. We tested plenty of things. With the constraints of Irreversible, I realised that there were other ways of lighting. There was a reason why I used several sources (laughs)! If I use little light, everything is decided on from the outset and I work a lot with the art director. When I also work on digital calibration, I know it’s not necessary to be able to see everything.
You only work with artists whose universe is very strange.
The people I meet have demands, dreams, different and extreme preferences. So each time it’s a new challenge – I have to invent a new system. There’s a real role to play, and that I like, because I wouldn’t want to make a film where there were no images to write. And as I get bored very quickly, I don’t like doing things twice (laughs)! People say to me that I make a lot of genre films, but I don’t think so. Innocence is an atmospheric film. Locked out [+see also:
film profile] is a Tex Avery type animation.
Are you are weighed down with projects at the moment?
I have ten films lined up, yes. But I’ve chosen them well, I prefer to take things slowly. I’m particularly fascinated by one of them, the first feature by Marilyn Manson, in which he will also star. He wants to make a rather odd film and is looking for things that don’t exist. Recently I was in Los Angeles to do tests with a new HD camera in 4 K. I was able to see the entire digital process, from the capturing to the projection of the image. I almost fainted! (laughs). It’s very fine, the image is completely smooth, very new. I really want to make this film, I think it will be very passionate visually.
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