Thibault Marsaudon Talks About Overcome and Independent Cinema
Tell us about yourself. How and when did you become interested in making films?
My name is Thibault Marsaudon, I’m 24 years old and I’m the director of the short film “Overcome”.
I became interested in filmmaking at around 8 years ago. I was more interested by theatre at that time. One day, I surprised myself while watching movies, trying to understand how they were made, analyzing them, asking myself how I would have done it or what I would have made differently.
After a lot of watching and thinking, I realized that movies were a better medium for the messages I wanted to convey.
Let us go straight to the basketball court scene. It is filmed as a continuous shot, from the beginning to the point where John overhears the city noises and falls down. It’s a bold choice. Why did you decide to film it in one shot while you could have adopted a simpler way of shooting it in different shots and editing it afterwards?
The whole film is built to make us see from the main character’s eyes. This part, on the basketball court, is extremely important for him. He discovers a basketball court, his biggest (and only) passion. The ball’s sound calms and attracts him, even more after his runaway caused by the roadwork’s noise. He instinctively goes to the two people who are playing, and his attention is strongly directed towards the ball.
From the moment he grabs the ball, his mind is solely about basketball. He lives this instant at 200%, representing it with a long shot seemed the most obvious way to do it.
Then, when he’s overwhelmed by the city noises, it’s just the other side of a coin. His autism makes him really sensitive to those things and, if it allows him to live his passion with an uncommon intensity, it also causes him to live those horrible moments from which he cannot escape. And, if he cannot escape it, so does the spectator.
That’s why we made two long shots for these scenes. To show the intensity he has to live with.
Overcome has a relatively slow rhythm and the story unfolds in a mild, meandering fashion. How long did it take you to finalize the screenplay and transform the initial idea into the script?
I had the idea of Overcome around ten months before the shoot, and the script’s final version was made on the 27th of February 2019, less than a month before we shot.
It took quite a long time to find the good rhythm, the right amount of scenes, the right dialogues (especially dialogues since there is very few of them, I had to make sure they were good).
Autism is an important struggle and a challenging issue in society; however, you’ve adopted a positive approach to dealing with autistic children rather than focusing on the negative aspects of it. How do you think society can face autistic children considering their positive aspects, like what you have shown in your film?
The main goal, when I made Overcome, was to make a film carrying a message of hope for autistic people. I wanted them being able to feel inspired by John’s story, being able to believe in their dreams and not to give up because of difficulties.
I think we should look autistic people for what they are: people. And not just look at them through the prism of autism.
Of course, their condition is and always will be, and we should always take it into account. But they are also human beings, with passions, dreams and hopes. That’s something we tend to forget.
We should help them achieve their dreams as much as we can. We shouldn’t let their internal fire extinguish to give the accompanying people a fake sensation of comfort.
In the end, everyone’s life would be better if we all want the best for autistic people.
Tell us about your previous experiences as a filmmaker. How many projects did you work on before making Overcome?
It was my third project as a director, and only the second one to be finalized.
But I worked on a lot of projects with different roles: assistant director, producer, camera assistant… All these experiences helped me becoming a better director. It gave me enough perspective on each function? in a team to be able to work effectively with everyone.
You use tracking shots as well as medium shots of John and you put him in dangerous areas (like the night-time mugging on the street), having John get closer to the audience and arousing their sympathy. How long did it take you to find the perfect actor for this role? Is the actor playing the role autistic himself?
The actor, Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick, isn’t autistic, but he had experience with these roles beforehand. The main challenge for him was to convey emotions and feelings without speaking, since John isn’t talking in the film.
It took me approximately eight seconds to choose him.
My school director, who already had him as an actor, introduced us. We shared the same passion for basketball and I already had the opportunity to see him play in short or feature films, so it was easy to see him as John. We played some 1 on 1 basketball (which I won by the way), went to see an NBA game together, spoke about the project and it became obvious we’d work together.
He’s so talented, we didn’t have any rehearsal before! He understood and played his character perfectly from the beginning.
Your film revolves around ‘struggle’: struggle for living a better life. Which particular writers have influenced you thematically, especially novelists? Who have inspired you to come up with the idea and be a storyteller?
As far as I can remember, I always had this urge to write stories, no matter what it was about. The first thing I did when I learnt to write was to create stories, so I guess it’s a natural feeling in me.
Of course, every book I read had an influence on me, but I can’t give a title or an author’s name in particular.
I guess I just write how I feel.
One of the great strengths of your film lies in its cinematography. Did you and Jon Mercer, your cinematographer, talk about how to approach the film in the pre-production stage? How many of your frames were already imagined on the storyboard?
Jon and I understood each other very well, and it was really helpful when we talked about the cinematography I wanted. We had a lot of discussions about the framing, how to shoot and why we should do it that way. His experience allowed me to be free minded when I thought about the film because I knew I could rely on him to put me on the right tracks if needed.
I don’t remember exactly how many shots were on the storyboard, but I know there wasn’t enough. Especially the basketball game scenes. I wanted the actors to play and have the camera going freely around them, but it wasn’t really effective.
I should have made a more choreographed scene, with more shots thought in preproduction.
Otherwise, Jon Mercer and his team made an amazing job on Overcome. Most shots were exactly as I imagined.
How many days did it take to shoot the film? What challenges did you face during the shooting stage?
We shot in five day, four during the same week and one a few months later to shoot some missing scenes.
And we faced a lot of challenges. Way too much for a short film. Most of them were schedule issues, like two actors who weren’t free at the same time at all, which made us start the day at 5am to have them both.
We also had a car breakdown, of course it was the camera gear car, on the highway so impossible to go there, take the gear and shoot anyway. So we had to cancel the day.
Some scenes had to be shot without me because I had to go back to Switzerland.
In the end, I don’t think those issues impacted the final result. The crew and actors did an amazing job. It was really stressful on the moment, but I couldn’t have hoped for a better team to face all those challenges.
Do you reckon that independent filmmaking with a tight budget has worked as a solution for your generation? Will you be working within the same budget and scope for your next projects?
I think independent filmmaking with tight budget is, if not a solution, a very good way to start. It allows us to work with a very limited range of solutions for every problem. We have to be very creative with our ideas. How to find a low-to-no cost solution that won’t change my film?
So, to answer properly, I don’t know if it’s a solution for my generation, but tight budget filmmaking is, in my opinion, definitely a great way to start your career.
I’d like to have more budget next time, because I want to be able to live from it and pay my team, but I’m totally fine with low budget projects. Of course, I’d love to work on a blockbuster type of film, but I don’t think my creativity is dependent on the budget.
Is ‘short film’ your ideal type of film? Or do you see it as an initial, yet important, step that leads to a feature film?
I feel, and hope, short films are a step to feature films. I love short films, and I surely will keep on making some, but I have so many stories I want to tell that couldn’t fit in a short movie.
For example, I’d love to make a feature version of Overcome. I believe there is much more things I could develop in the story.
Have you been able to release the film, or stream it on a streaming platform? Do you think young independent filmmakers get enough opportunities to present their works to the public?
Overcome is not publicly released yet because it’s still running on festivals. It will be soon, probably in the first quarter of 2021.
I think it can be difficult for young filmmakers to present their works. It’s easy to show it because there is a lot of video streaming platforms, but it’s hard to present it, to be able to speak about it or to find the right audience.
There are platforms like YouTube or Vimeo, but it’s so flooded in content, it’s hard to be seen. There are festivals, but it costs money.
Unfortunately, I don’t have a solution. I guess the best thing to do is to think about what you’ll do with your short film before making it. Is it for YouTube? Then you shouldn’t expect too much of it. Do you want to send it to festivals? Then you should plan a budget for submissions.
That’s just my opinion of course.
What were the viewers’ reactions when they saw the film? Do you think you could have made a part or a scene of the film any differently?
I had a few different reactions, some unexpected! I was surprised when some people told me they cried at the end. Most spectators enjoyed the film, some were impressed when they learned it was a student short. I’m glad people liked it and felt something while watching it.
The main critics I received were about the end, spoilers ahead, with the basketball game and the happy ending.
I already talked about it on another question before, but I’ve been told the game scene could have been better and I agree. I could have worked more on a choreography to make a less “messy” scene.
However, I believe the happy ending is very important for the story. It sounds obvious but, if John loses the game, he doesn’t win. If he doesn’t win, it’s not the same story.
I wanted to make a story where his passion and efforts lead him to overcome difficulties and allow him to succeed.
If he loses the game, the story tells us that, despite your efforts, you may overcome difficulties but you won’t succeed at the end.
That’s one of the reasons I want to make a feature version of Overcome. To add more challenges for John to overcome.
Please tell us about your next film. What will it be about?
I don’t want to say too much about it before the project is officially in production, but it will be talking about the news, most precisely about the over abundance of bad news in the media, hiding every positive information behind a lot of negativity.
I’ll keep a pretty similar cinematography, less pronounced because it won’t have an autistic main character this time, but I like the idea to have a “close-to-character” style and I think it will fit well with the scenario.
I hope I’ll have the opportunity to talk about it here too when it’s done!