BPS 247: Writing an Epic and Impossible Sci-Fi Indie Film with Martin Villeneuve

Today on the show we have writer/director Martin Villeneuve. Martin is the filmmaker behind the impossibly epic Canadian sci-fi film Mars et Avril. Martin didn’t have the $100 million+ budget needed to produce a film of this epic size. He used his skills, hustle, and passion to bring the film to life.

Mars & Avril is probably the first Québécois film to be adapted from two graphic novels. It is set in a futuristic Montreal where humanity is preparing to set foot on the planet Mars. The charismatic musician Jacob plays on musical instruments inspired by the female form and designed by his best friend Arthur. Both men fall in love with Avril, a young photographer who has problems with her breathing.

This original cosmic fairy tale brings together the themes of art, spirituality, the world of inventions, and love; and it’s here that distinguished Canadian filmmaker Robert Lepage returns to the silver screen – as a hologram.

The film received 10 nominations including one for “Best Adapted Screenplay” at the Canadian Screen Awards, and toured in 20 festivals worldwide, starting with a World Premiere in Karlovy Vary. “Mars & Avril” has been described by io9 as

“one of the most beautiful, and immersive, sci-fi worlds ever put on film.”

His TEDTalk is an absolute must for any filmmaker who wants to get the filmmaking juices flowing. In this inspiring talk, he explains the various ways he overcame financial and logistical constraints to produce his unique and inventive vision of the future in Mars et Avril.

And I know you are all wondering, yes Martin is the younger brother of famed director Denis Villeneuve. It was a pleasure chatting with Martin. He is truly an inspiration.

Enjoy my conversation with Martin Villeneuve.

Right-click here to download the MP3



  1. Bulletproof Script Coverage– Get Your Screenplay Read by Hollywood Professionals
  2. AudibleGet a Free Screenwriting Audiobook

Alex Ferrari 0:05
I'd like to welcome to the show Martin Villeneuve how are you my friend?

Martin Villeneuve 4:48
I'm pretty good at you?

Alex Ferrari 4:49
I'm good as as good as we can be locked down and in COVID world and and in dealing with all the craziness that the world is doing but we're hanging in there and you know, as filmmakers You still talk about film?

Martin Villeneuve 5:01
That's right.

Alex Ferrari 5:03
So thank you for being on the show. You have a fairly incredible story about your, your film, Mars and April. But first, before we get into that, how did you get into the business in the first place?

Martin Villeneuve 5:16
Through writing and advertising, so two things that, you know, have similarities with cinema, but that are not filmmaking, per se, but that are school in itself. So I'm really a writer, first and foremost, I started off writing three graphic novels. Two of them were the inspiration for the feature film, Massey, aveline. They were photo novels. So while I was studying cinema, and graphic design, and working in advertising, I did those those books which, which, you know, kind of were successful in the sense that, you know, it was not a huge print, but they got good reviews and attracted some, some talent, I had the, you know, the privilege of working with such big names as Hobart Lopez, which was one of our top, you know, stage directors and actor and he accepted to, to play in my, in my, in my books at that time, there were books, and about came up with the idea of turning turning them into a feature film, because he thought that if we were to combine both graphic novels, it could could be, you know, the meat of the movie and the division behind it, everything was there to to make it a great sci fi movie.

Alex Ferrari 6:33
Now with with the with the graphic novels, did you self distribute them? Or did you have a district a publisher,

Martin Villeneuve 6:39
I did have a publisher, Lapis tech from Montreal, which is pretty much our best publisher here. In terms of graphic novels, it became quite big in the recent years, some of their graphic novels have been turned into into other feature films as well. And my friend, Nick Guzzi, is the publisher, so it's all family. You know, Montreal is quite a small place. You know, when people ask why, why? Why is it so creative in Montreal? That's one of the reasons you know, it's it's small, it's a small town, and everybody knows everyone.

Alex Ferrari 7:10
Fantastic. So then you so you, really, so you released these graphic novels, they do fairly well. And you decide to make a movie out of it, which I know a lot of people who make graphic novels would love to do a film about their graphic novel, especially a sci fi, epic, kind of what you've done. But you're but your budget on the film is still substantial. It's not a small, indie. It's not a small independent film, but it is regarding the scope of what you're trying to do.

Martin Villeneuve 7:41
That's correct. That's correct. It was 2.3 million Canadian. So a little bit short of 2 million US, which is which is

Alex Ferrari 7:51
How did you get ahead? If you don't want me? How did you raise that money?

Martin Villeneuve 7:56
It took a long time, I knocked in a lot of doors to to get it financed. Because obviously, it's you know, sci fi is not a thing in Quebec at all like it, it's probably the first true sci fi movie that was ever produced in Quebec, and it's not a sci fi in the tradition of, you know, the Star Trek and the likes, you know, it's it's has nothing to do with laser swords, or, you know, girls with big boobs, and you know, like the things we're used to associate with sci fi, I wanted to play with those codes, but in, in, hopefully a different way. So it appealed to a lot of people. But also, it's a very specific movie. So to finance it was was kind of a challenge I went to, so they can tell you film, which are Canadian funding agencies, and they welcome the project so that that onboard facilitated me going out to private sponsors, you know, and, and some private equity to, to to complete the financing. I was I started off with the movie with only half of the budget which which I don't recommend to anyone

Alex Ferrari 9:05
You launched you launched with half the budget.

Martin Villeneuve 9:08
I started off with one only 1.2 million, which was enough to get the movie shot, but not enough to finish to finish it. So after completing the editing, I had to refinance for the most difficult part of the process, which was getting those VFX made because there was 550 VFX shots in this movie, the Canadian record before that was like 125 shots so it was more like than five times what what had been done.

Alex Ferrari 9:40
What can you so so let's back up for a second. Can you tell us a little bit about the story because I know the story and I understand what the scope is but can you explain to the audience what I'm saying Mars Mars in April because I don't want to massacre because but what the store what the story is about what kind of scope it is and what you were really trying to achieve with this film.

Martin Villeneuve 10:02
It's a poetic story, you know, it's, it's about the myth of creation. You know,

Alex Ferrari 10:08
It's a small small small indie, very introspective. Got it.

Martin Villeneuve 10:12
Yeah. It said in futuristic Montreal, it's and it's a it's at the core is a love story. So the but it's not an usual love story in the sense that the the hero is 75 year old virgin Jasmine musician super popular that's that people associate with with some sort of charisma and a strong sense of seduction. And but the thing is he has never made love in his life has never met a true his true love. And this this Muse which has served as the model for one of his musical instruments, he falls in love with her. And she ends up on Mars. So it's a you know, like it's in he has to go getter where she originates, you know, which is the fantasy world that originates from, from music and from an internal world. So it's, it's, it seems like a complex pitch, but it's actually a very fairly easy story to get in as long as you accept those codes and are willing to go for the ride and in an immersive world that deals with music and creation and space and cosmos and our place in the universe and, and the language of creation. So, you know

Alex Ferrari 11:28
It's pretty, it sounds fairly ambitious.

Martin Villeneuve 11:31
It is it was an ambitious story, which I would never get into if it wasn't from developers, you know, my my, my friend, Robert, who plays a hologram, the movie, he's the guy with the holographic head, if you've seen my TED Talk, that was the highlight of my TED talk, you know, when I explain how I got to this part of that is a very, very busy man. And at first he was supposed to direct and produce the movie, and I was supposed to only write it, but you know, life being life, you know, like he had to shut down his cinema, company. And to back that was a while ago, that was back in 2007. He, he himself wasn't able to raise financing for his own movies, whereas he's our one our biggest creator, if not the biggest creator in Canada. So it tells you how hard it is to get financing from beginning agencies so so about shut down his company. And to make a long story short, he really encouraged me to continue on and he said, it's your baby, you should direct it. I'll help you. I'll play in the movie of our help you produce it? And yeah, the rest is history. I guess.

Alex Ferrari 12:35
So. So can you talk a little bit about that as far as how you got that because in, you know, in your world and your audience that you're trying to target, he's a very, very well known figure in in acting, and also in directing and filmmaking in general, up up in Canada. So he's extremely busy. So I'm sure every filmmaker out there wants an actor who's extremely busy, and can't, like, you know, do anything? How was your creative work around? Can you explain the process of the creative work around and how you were able to get him into your film in a very creative way?

Martin Villeneuve 13:10
Yeah, it was kind of a crazy thing. Because rabatt announced, announced me when I was finally ready to shoot the movie. He said, Nothing. Unfortunately, I am directing three operas, I'm doing a Cirque du Soleil show, I play in eight movies, I do all these things. Like, I can't do your movie, you know, like, and I was devastated. Because he was the reason he you know, like the he was the encouragement in the first place. So I was like, I cannot do this movie without your bed. And I woke up one morning, God knows how, how these ideas come to you, right? We never quite exactly know what I it's a mix of many, many things. But I said, What if we turn this character into a hologram? What if What if I capture is only his head, and somehow managed to turn that into a 3d object, this I can do in a very short amount of time, and then I can have on set another actor will play the body. And I can stick a bass head on somebody else's body, and that body was going to be unset that can use for, you know, the whole month that that's required for Principal photography, but at least I will have combat in my movie in a weird hybrid of virtual and real, right. And so I saw about one day at the airport, because he's always traveling. And by chance he was he was in the same plane and I got to pitch him the idea and I as I was pitching the idea, he said that's fantastic. But how are you going to do that? Because back in the days it had never been done, this is before Benjamin Button and all that stuff. So I drew remember drawing a circle with six cameras. So it's like basically pictures a silent or a green cylinder. And you you you punch six holes that are at 60 degrees. You No distance of each other, and you place a camera lens behind those six holes, and you place the subject in the middle. So what you end up having is a head that hides all the cameras to each other facing each other. And you're able to capture 60 degrees, so 360 degrees of that object, which is a head talking head, and you dress the person in green. And you end up having a hologram. At that point that I didn't have the technology to create the hologram that came another nightmare later for, for my VFX supervisor, but at least I had the device, which I, which I, I modeled in 3d and that I manufactured myself and that with the DLP and all we build that thing, and this is the very first thing we shot for the movie. So because of that I was super interested, as soon as I said those things, he said, Yeah, I mean, I'm in so now we had to do it, you know, so we build the machine, and about showed up, and it took three days to shoot all all his character for the movie. And the trick, because now of course, like if you shoot that first, that means you have a head, but you don't have the body language, but the head still needs to look real. In the movie, you know, with all the actors, which weren't there, he was in a totally 3d environment completely abstract, and, you know, it was a very experimental thing, but how that comes from theater, he comes from improvisation, and acting from nothing. So him he was like a fish in the in the water. And, you know, he was it wasn't his element he could create and manage to create, but he was like my thing I need to look at the right place. So fortunately, I had spent a year and a half way before that to drawing my whole movie. So I knew only I knew because of my drawings where you should be looking. So I was directing his look with the laser beam within the silencer and saying, you know, there's a character there, and I was playing the other characters, right. And, and, and about that all his character like that being the genius that he is, and being able to picture in his mind that six months, a year later, somebody else would would portray his body and that it would all need to look seamless, you know, in an ideal world, we would have done that in reverse, you know, we would have shot the movie, right the body, and then do about after to match whatever we had shot. But that's not how we did it, we did it. The other in the other direction.

Alex Ferrari 17:34
So you were really on the on the type rope here on this film, you were like you were just you were just jumping off and praying that there was a net somewhere that would appear when you needed it. Because as you just said, I've been imposed for 20 odd years, and I've done visual effects loop and all that stuff. So I understand everything you're talking about. But and I've done this too, by the way I went early on when I've shot my films, we'll figure it out in post, which is a horrible thing to say, if you're doing it, though, you can say it, but you kind of take the leap. And I've been at that place in my in a project where you're like, if this visual effect doesn't work, the whole film falls. Like,

Martin Villeneuve 18:15
That's correct, right. But you could, you could have said that in my movie about everything. I think fails, everything falls apart, if the music is not just right, everything falls apart, everything relied on people doing their very best. And it was my first feature on top of things. And I and I wrote directed and produced the whole thing. It was it was very abstract and difficult. We didn't have previous, you know, like people have now which means that, you know, if you look in the in the camera nowadays, you know, the director of big budget films is, is able to see what you know, a crude version of what it is it's going to be in the final movie, but me it was all in our head. So everybody had to rely on their imagination, which turned out to be great. And you know what, like, I always tried throughout this process of not seeing the obstacles as as you know, something that turned me down. I always tried to use those obstacles as a creative tool to make the movie better. Because in the end, one of the things that people remember the most is that holographic head, you know, which even Ryan Johnson did put in Star Wars episode eight, you know, like in the cantina sequence, you see it, you see a character that's that looks exactly like a Bella patch in my movie. And Kathleen Kennedy was there when I did my TED Talk. So I can't help but think that, you know, the data will not do to my movie it would be would be very hard to think that it's it's just a coincidence because it did exactly the same thing. So it's it's it's one of those things that people remember from the movie and it was born out of a problem. You know, I couldn't get my actor.

Alex Ferrari 19:59
Well, can you also tell them Buddy, how long you worked on this film? You haven't mentioned?

Martin Villeneuve 20:05
All of my 20s basically, it's seven years. Yeah. Well, you know, it took seven years to do the movie, which isn't that that longer than any movie, you know, all of my friends were filmmakers Do you know when the movie is over, people always think that it took a year or two to do. But most of the time, people will tell you, I started up this project like 10 years ago, you know. And, but the books before that took like, three, four years each. So, so in total, you know, like, it was like a decade, like I started in my early 20s. And it's in my early 30s, that the movie finally got out. So it was a long process, but always very interesting. And it was a big learning experience.

Alex Ferrari 20:49
So so you, you made a movie for about $2.3 million dollars, but generally it it looks like a 20 or $30 million film if not bigger.

Martin Villeneuve 21:01
And that's correct. That's, that's that's why in the first place, Chris Anderson invited me to Ted because he saw my movie on the on the big screen in Vancouver. And he approached me after because I had given a q&a. And he said, Hi, I'm Chris Anderson. And of course, I knew who he was, you know, he's the head guru. And he said, you know, how much did you say the budget was like 23 million? I said, No, no, it was 2.3 10% of what he thought. So he said, that's, that's absolutely incredible. He said, You have to come on the TED stage and tell us how he did it. Because he said it, it looks so much bigger than it is. So I think the ambitions that it's far from being a perfect film, but what I'm saying is the the ambition that fueled the project had legs, and a lot of people embraced it and gave it their all. And I had like amazing, amazing people working on the movie, like super talented people that chose to devote some of their talent and time to the movie. Whereas the there was very little money, you know, to pay them or to or to make.

Alex Ferrari 22:13
So what I found what I found in my, in my journeys, because I did, I've done some ambitious visual effects action films in my in my early career, and I have no money. So if this and I think you've, you've mentioned this in Ted and your TED Talk, where when you don't have money, you have to give something else. And I, when I was creating, I created a spectacle, I created an event I created a like, we're going to achieve something here that's bigger than we're going to try to do stuff that hasn't been done before. And we're gonna allow you to play and we're going to give you freedom, and that's the currency of an independent filmmaker with with this kind of project is where you're now challenging them to do something they haven't done before to stretch their, their, their, their wings out a bit. And I have guys who have worked on big giant, you know, Star Wars and bond and all these big movies. But when I call them, they're like, yeah, I want to do your project, because I'm really excited about doing something I haven't done before. Did you find that to be true? In your end?

Martin Villeneuve 23:16
Absolutely, absolutely. You know, this, this, I've always pitched this movie as being a lab. I told everybody who got involved that it would be a place of creation and experiment, and someplace where they could be. To go back to the to the aquarium analogy, you know, where there would be a big fish in a small aquarium, you know, because, you know, when I when I approached one of my childhood heroes, Hans Westgate, and he's a, he's a huge comic book artist from Belgium. And I grew up on his on his graphic novels, you know, they're huge for me. And he was a huge influence already. When I wrote my books. And when I approached him, he said, You know, my thing, you know, most of the time when Americans, American producers approached me, you know, he worked on the golden compasses, he worked on Mr. Nobody, you know, those big, big movies, he said, they, they steal my stuff, you know, they steal my work, and yes, there's a big paycheck at the end of the day, but I have no fun, you know, working like that on big productions because I don't feel that my voice makes a big difference in the end, you know, whereas he said on a smaller movie, like like yours, I can, I can explore I can experiment, I can develop a language and which he did so for four or five years. He and I drew Montreal in the future together, you know, like I come from the graphic world so for me to work with hospice Katyn for five years imagine it was no my dream come true.

Alex Ferrari 24:55
It's like working with Spielberg or Nolan or Fincher for like five years.

Martin Villeneuve 24:59
It Exactly, and it was like a ping pong game. And he would invite me to his place in Brussels and he would come to Montreal. And so it took a long time. So So time is is a currency, you know, when you don't have money, you must take time. That's one of the things I say in my TED Talk. And that cannot be more true for math average, because, you know, like the, for the composer, for instance, you know, I approached us an Oscar nominated composer, Whedon The triplets of Bellville, you know, he's our best Canadian composer. And he said, I'm interested, you know, but how much time do you have? You know, which is the first question that big creators are asking you? And I said, How much time do you need? And he said, Well, you're asking me to basically go back to Kepler's theory from the 17th century, and elaborate a new take on it, which is, which is something that just that holds as then and took years, you know, like, work for years on those things. He said, You don't have that luxury in cinema, you know, you have two months, normally, you know, and I said, Well, I can give you at least a year, it took a year and a half for him to do the music, but his beard would, would grow. Every time I would see By the way, his beard would grow longer and longer and longer. And you would then shave and he was like, trying to figure this out in the music one for Best Album of the Year. And candidate one a Felix for Best Album of the Year. So he did a fantastic job. And you know, the music and this movie was as important as the VFX. As important as the script. As important as the actors and the sets and all that stuff. It was a key component. So we had to get this right.

Alex Ferrari 26:37
So you. So that's, that's amazing. Because, again, when working with high end, people who normally get paid a lot of money, you have to give them freedom, you've got to give them creativity, creative freedom, collaboration at a level that you don't get normally. And to get an Oscar nominated composer to come on board to work on it. And then also having that amazing artists as well come on board, can you can you dig a little deeper into into how he and you created this world? Because I saw that you did a lot of matte paintings as basis and then from the basis then you animated elements in it. So you were doing old school matte paintings, but with some new new world effects, like, you know, water moving, or lights blinking or things like that, correct?

Martin Villeneuve 27:24
Yeah, so So basically, when when you do such a thing, it's like, it's like a puzzle, you know, like, you're a filmmaker, so you know what I'm talking about, like, you shoot one element, and you know that this element is going to fit in a bigger element, and that is bigger than men's will need this and that to make to make a final image that works. So you plan, you plan, all of that ahead, you know, so that when you come on set, it's pure execution. Because I only had 22 days, you know, to shoot this film, which is a huge, huge challenge for most people with 8090 days to shoot a movie like that. So you know, and I regret that a bit now, because I, you know, like, I wish I had more time, but when anyways, a lot of money. The problem. Now, I said, I said earlier that you need to give people more time, but the reality of cinema is that it costs so much when you get to shooting that the less time the better. So you have to be super prepared, like preparation is really the key. So I as I mentioned, I, I storyboarded, the 1200 storyboards, you know, like that I did myself as a few of my friends did help, but I, you know, I didn't have any money for that, that stage show I you know, the more you can do by yourself, the better it is because then again, you you have to picture the whole movie in your mind and get the whole thing in your mind. So that when you come to set, you know exactly what pieces of the puzzle you need to get for the final image to work. So when I worked with Westgate, then I came again, highly prepared, I had done my homeworks you know, like years of research and yeah, they asked me to come up with the concepts from for Montreal or the future. So it's, you know, when you when you come to a big designer like that, like I don't know, when when Sydney did the Blade Runner, you know, it's it's, it's it's not just Ridley Scott coming and say, here, design me, Los Angeles in 2049, or in 2019. It's, it's, it's much more complex than that. It requires the director to come with a lot of references. And yeah, if you can draw yourself that's even better, because you're talking abstraction, and the clearer it gets, the better it gets on the screen, you know, so I fortunately I can draw and I will use drawing as a tool as well. And I sat together and I had tons of references. And we would just look at stuff that that were real things will real projects, utopian projects that had been you conceived in the in the past for Montreal and that do exist like habitat 67, which is a beautiful piece by Moshe safdie. The biosphere by Buckminster Fuller was our thing from Expo 67. And we did contact Marcia Sadie and asked permission to to replicate his his beautiful construction, but make it 1000 times bigger. You know, and again, I took a risk, because, you know, like, I did create the model before I asked permission.

Alex Ferrari 30:32
We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show.

Martin Villeneuve 30:43
No, you know, no producer on the normal movie would do, but I knew he would say yes, you know, because I was working with with also escaped then. And because what we did was good. So why would he say no, you know, so at one point, when we when I had the super strong 3d model of his habitat, 67, I reached out to him to his team sent the pitch, and he wrote me a letter that he granted me permission to use it. Within 24 hours, I had the letter, but I didn't make a few insurance people worried. At some points, that will be because I would do that all the time. You know, like, it would drive people crazy. But, you know, like, sometimes you need to do those things. You need to provoke reality for reality to give back to you, you know, like, most people great comment. Well, sometimes people are afraid, you know, like, they're like, oh, what if he says no, but I was like, why would you say no, you know, like, Why Why are you telling me that? He will say no, of course, he will say yes, you know, like it. Same with, you know, the biosphere was was trickier because it's owned by Buckminster Fuller's succession, and it's, it's owned by bureaucrats. Now it's on viola, Canada. And I, I went to them a few years prior to shooting the movie. And I asked for a 3d schematics, like the original schematics of the biosphere. It was not 3d it was 2d, but I needed to put them in 3d to create to recreate the biosphere, and shoot whatever I had to shoot in green screen, and recreate that thing and place it that at the top of the tower, because password that drawn this beautiful, the cool tower, and you want it to place the bubble at the very top of it. So this was 3d. So I had to recreate that. And years later, I phoned back Aviva Canada, and I said, Come and see the shots, you know, come come in to prove the shots that we did of the movie. And when they saw the shots, they could not believe that they said, When did you shoot in the biosphere? Exactly. Remember you showing up and I said I didn't shoot that I recreated it. And I showed them the before and after with the green screen. And at the end, they just couldn't believe it that I had three bureaucrats there and they got out of the room and they were like, Oh my god, like Congrats, you know, and they were they were very proud. So what I mean by that is when you have something something great why wouldn't people embrace it? You know, like, it's too easy to think that people are going to say no, like it stops so many projects from getting made and I find it sad.

Alex Ferrari 33:13
Yeah, I mean it's the thing is that you have to take risks and sometimes specifically creatively what you were spending is not obscene amounts of money but time it was a lot of time to create so your currency was time there. So if they would have said no, you would have lost time, not millions of dollars. So you were taking risks. But you have to you have to take those risks especially when you have an ambitious project like that. I mean, I've I mean I just been there on my own project so I completely understand I took massive risks and started projects when they shouldn't have started and just like jumped and it's like there's something's gonna be there when I went when I take my foot off and go into the into the unknown and sometimes it works sometimes it doesn't

Martin Villeneuve 33:58
Yeah, but the thing is though like it seems like a fluid process but it's not you face like you know like great great walls you know like sometimes you hit huge walls I had to remortgage my house twice It was a huge night nightmare to to refinance the movie some people had to jump in at the last minute and save save my ass sorry for the expression but again, you know like was was one of those people you know when the last very last minute you know like the you know, the bank was after me they were about to pull the plug and the movie and Bella bash came in and he said How much do you How much do you need to complete your financing and I said I'm still a quarter of a million short you know, it's still to 200 and

Alex Ferrari 34:43
It's a lot of money.

Martin Villeneuve 34:44
A lot of money it's the it's a house it's a you have to remortgage your house with which I had already done twice. So there was no way I could do that. So a buyer said, you know, like, I'm going to help you out and he sent me a check of his own money to complete the The financing so that there was some truly? Yeah, my path, you know, like because if it wasn't from him, we would have never finished a movie.

Alex Ferrari 35:09
Now there was another thing you TED Talk I'd love you to talk about. It's just another way. It's another example of how you approach this entire project because I know there's so many, you know, tribe members who are listening right now who have ambitious projects, but they're scared. They're scared because it's Oh, it's just too ambitious, or I don't know enough about this, or I don't know, I'm sure you learned a lot along the way. I'm sure you did not know everything. When you started the process? I'm assuming that's correct.

Martin Villeneuve 35:37
Oh, I know, I knew very little I, well, I had studied filmmaking and graphic design in university I have done numerous like music, videos, news,

Alex Ferrari 35:48
But nothing like this. But nothing

Martin Villeneuve 35:50
Nothing like this. Nothing prepares you to what if doing a feature film is it's probably the hardest, I wouldn't hesitate to say that's probably the hardest thing a creator can get involved in because it requires so many people, so many people, and you have to deal with so many different kinds of people and to get things right on every department and to keep your vision intact. and navigate with the the financial reality of it. You know, like, there's that thing. It's always that, you know, and especially for something like, like what I wanted to do, no one had done that before. So it's not like people could tell me Yeah, take that road and use those tools and go to these people, to these people to you know, there was no such thing. One thing we did have in Montreal that we still do have even better now is VFX. artists. Yeah, great, great, Vic VFX companies. And this I knew, and it was a time when I did this movie, where the effects companies were, you know, booming there was blooming in Montreal. Lots of great, great creative minds coming here to work on big productions, and companies that would be willing to help you if you're not on the right door, you know, because it's not always magical like that. But I went to the biggest, you know, facility we had in Montreal, because, you know, to make such a, you know, big, big number of VFX. But that little amount of money to go with it. You need a team that's going to, you know, you don't split it in 10 different VFX companies that would be killing the project, you need one strong team that takes six months and just do the thing banks like oh, yeah, so I showed my picture lock the people from the VFX. Company. It's called Mel's now, it was resolved Laval back in the days, and they looked at what I had done. They couldn't believe I had shot this for 1 million, you know, they were like, Wow, that's really, really well, well, we'll achieve and I had planned every shot. I knew exactly how it would be completed, you know, and I had my I had like 10,000 references, you know, like very well put together. Yeah, I had figured out everything. So they were like, Oh, good. And on top of things I had convinced Carlos Munson was just out of, you know, transformers and Avatar and those big big movies as a lead component compositor and he, he was in agreement with the direction of the project, and he wanted to contribute to add that, that card in my back pocket to help get everybody on board. And I got lucky, you know, like, there's a bit of luck. But I do think you create, when you create a movement, you know, there's an energy energy that's moving forward. People go with it, because, you know, like these companies, they're approached all the time to give freebies, but sometimes it's disorganized. It's not done yet. So what's gonna happen maybe, maybe I'm gonna get the money maybe I'm not, you know, like, it's, it's, it's a bit like me, it was it was very real, you know, and I had gathered that the, the one added another one roughly 1,000,001 point 2 million to complete the whole thing. They had to take the sound, they had to take the VFX they have to take the whole thing, but they didn't make money, but they didn't lose any you know, they kept their team because one of the challenges for big VFX companies is sometimes there's a hole. Yeah, you know, you lose it if there's a big us film, Harry Potter comes to town or you know, x star wars without shoot Star Wars. And then there was supposed to be another big movie, it's postponed for various reasons. So they have a drop of six months where they do advertising to keep their team and the team is like, Yeah, but we were promised our wares and we were working on Burger King. So you know, it's so so it you know, so so they're like, Okay, so we have this this great You know, creative thing. You know, it's, it's a very experimental object. It's fun, it's, it looks great. We can try stuff. We have Carlos Munson, we have all these great artists. So let's do, let's let's do it, you know, and so they, they embraced it. And they decided they put 60 VFX artists that worked full time for six months, which was very, very rewarding and fun. It was finally after the nightmare, because refinancing the movie took more than a year. So and, and I was alone working on that and left my full time job in advertising, I was just focusing on getting the thing finished. And after that, you know, kids desire, you know, after going through the desert, to finally get a lot, if I see the Oasis get to get to Mordor with the ring, you know.

Alex Ferrari 40:53
And just so everybody, so everybody understand, you know, what he was able to achieve was what I was able to achieve with his specific VFX team is like, what he's talking about is a 10, or $15 million deal. Like it 60 artists, I didn't expect 60, I didn't know I thought that we're gonna throw maybe five or 10 guys on it, and they worked on another part time on the side, you had 60 artists full time, for six months, that is a massive amount of manpower in the visual effects world. Massive it is, it's very expensive, it's not cheap to do something like that. So that you were able to pull that off for under a million bucks. And that's including music and, and and, and mastering and all that other stuff. Is is amazing. It really is amazing.

Martin Villeneuve 41:41
Yeah, I got I got a big gift, I will admit. But at the same time, the the owner of that company said that it was a very good investment. Because when I did my TED Talk, it got seen by millions of people. And normally when you go on the TED stage, you're not allowed to mention company names. Sure. I mentioned three companies when I, when I went on that stage, and didn't call it that, you know, it's still online. As I mentioned, some said a I mentioned visa global, which helped me with the VFX. And, you know, and all they got, I'm sure they got tons of press for it, they got a lot of press, and they got a lot of phone calls, and they made a lot of movies, and they made their money back, believe me. So it's, it's, you know, sometimes like those projects, the showcase, you know, they showcase what you're able to do. And truly, like, there are some really, really great VFX shots in this movie, you know, like, I'm very proud of some of the shots and some of them, you know, are very simple. But then again, you have to know where to invest your energy and your little money you have you need to invest. In other words, it's really rewarding, you know, because the problem is if you're too ambitious, and that you're doing something that involves, you know, crazy action sequences and the likes, you're not going to finish the movie. That's the that's the reality. Mine was the contained world, you know, it was those were not like overly complex VFX to achieve. It's the number is the number that was frightening 550 VFX shots to complete. This is the the volume that the

Alex Ferrari 43:20
Wasn't a transit is why it wasn't a transforming robot. Fighting robot.

Martin Villeneuve 43:26
No, it was not that that kind of thing. And it needed to be clever, and it needed to be well done. And so a lot of brains, but man was it was fun to see it happening. Finally, you know, when I when I got to that stage, it was the movie was was reaching its end at this point, you know, when it's, it's always a great joy after so many years, you know, wow, it's finally happening. It's kids getting put together.

Alex Ferrari 43:52
And they, I found that too, that a lot of times VFX specifically, they will do a project that they feel that they can they can showcase something or do something that they haven't been able to do before. And sometimes they'll do it for free. Sometimes they'll do it for for cost or for very, very cheap, because they see the value on the back end. And if you can provide them with press, which is something I've been able to do with my project since I started as a filmmaker, get attention. And then once you get a track record of that, like I promise you if the next movie you do, and you need a lot of visual effects are probably a line of companies who will want to work with you because of what you were able to achieve. So once you're able to build up that that credibility as well, then doors open a lot easier for you. Would you agree with that?

Martin Villeneuve 44:42
I wish it was the case. You know, I haven't shot the second feature film yet, but it's been eight years already, you know, so and it's not like I haven't been trying. What I what I do didn't notice is that everybody who has worked either as a cinematographer for, you know, the effects is like everybody was like key department of my movie got a lot of jobs, you know, they offered a lot of jobs. Me and Mike is it's a bit trickier because as a filmmaker, you're you create your own opportunities most of the time. And it's becomes a game of luck, you know, like you do pitches, you try to develop project you, you write things, you invest the same energy in every project. But it's it's, you know, it, luck needs to be on your side and timing. And, you know, like for a movie to all the components to be together and be able to allow you to do a second feature film is it's very complex. And to be honest, I didn't think it would be that hard. I thought after doing, you know, my first movie, it would get shown in more than 20 festivals worldwide, Dwight won awards at the I went to Ted, I was the first speaker from Quebec to get on that stage. Because you you know, and only the third filmmaker and the two others before me were JJ Abrams and James Cameron, you know, and James Cameron. So it I thought, Man, it's going to open doors for me. And it did it Did you know, it got me into into pitches, it got me into meetings that I would never have got gotten otherwise, it got me interview the number of times that I did numerous pitches and stuff like that. And I'm grateful for those opportunities. But for everything to stick together and allow you to make a second feature, it's super hard. And by the way, my brother Danny was directing Doom right now. Huge, huge, huge film. He was nine years without shooting before his second and third feature film in Quebec. Nobody would give him another chance. You know, so it's, it tells you how hard it is. And I mentioned about our bars, you know, like is probably our greatest mine creative mind from Canada, and he was not able to, and he did like six, seven feature film and they will never find in sim again. So so it's it's, it's incredibly hard. You know,

Alex Ferrari 47:12
I'm looking forward to see doing Actually, I seen some of the images, and I am super excited. I'm a fan of the Lynch version. I wish Lynch would have had free rein to see what he was really done back then. But I'm really curious to see what what your brother does with the film. It looks amazing. Yeah, Yeah, me too. Now, um, do you got the film distributed? Right. So how did you get did? Did you make your money back? all that?

Martin Villeneuve 47:40
I did? I did. But not thanks to the Canadian distributor who didn't believe in the movie too much. Like, when he started, Jackie, I think he did. Yeah, I think he didn't know what to make of it, because there was no such thing. And in Quebec, there, there has been there will never be again, because you know, you have to understand in Quebec reproduced comedies, or dramas that look towards the past, never towards the future, it's always about the past. And it's always the same stories. And I don't mind it, I think there's a place for that. But it's always that and nobody is looking at the future, which is what I wanted to do. And it was embraced by around the world, the US in Europe. You know, like, it's a niche kind of audience, but that could be found at a lot of places around the planet. So the movie did reaches its audience, which is very fortunate. Because that is a problem, as you know. And when I was invited to Ted, it became a huge, huge, huge platform, you know, like, something that I could never have dreamed of. And when I when I went to the Canadian distributor, to tell them the good news, you know, that I would be the first French Canadian first cubicweb to get on that stage. I could get millions of people to suddenly be aware of that movie. You know, what his reaction was what he said, what his Ted son, so so so so I said, Okay, let's, let's change the subject. So I kept my rights because I had I had the international rights, he had the Kenyan rights, but I should keep the Canadian rights, no problem. And I went to Ted and the next day after my TED talk, I had like 15 distributors like being like, you know, like wanting to buy the rights for you know, like,

Alex Ferrari 49:36
More than you make more than you made.

Martin Villeneuve 49:40
Yeah, exactly. So in the end of the day, it was an advantage because choosing your allies in the battle like that is crucial. And me I was I was like Indiana Jones making this up as I go you know, like I had no clue but some some accidents that were you know, it's a blessing in disguise is when I came back from that that At that meeting with the Canadian distributor, I was so discouraged. You know, I was like, Man, I'm offering him the biggest platform that the biggest stage on earth and it's free. And what I was asking him is to simply get an international distribution deal with Amazon and iTunes and the likes, so that if people in India, see my TED Talk, they click on the link underneath. And they, they, they can, they can say, I do in India, and if you're in the UK, and so, so on and so forth. And they didn't see it, which is now obvious. But that's back in 2013. So that that's what I did myself, but again, I had to do it myself. So I made those deals with all the international distributors, and the movie did make its money back within six months, you know, it's not like, it's not like the movie, like, made tons of profits, but it didn't make its money back, which is one of the few cases where this happens in Canada, you know, like, our movies very rarely make their money back. So I'm very proud because it's not only a creative success, but it's also you could say a commercial success, in a sense, just to make its money back. And I was, I was able to write a check. Because all my team, you know, the hundreds of people worked on movie, they had to reinvest, like 13% I think it was their salary to, for me to be able to complete it. So that deferred pay, I was able to pay back to all of my team members. And it was the first time some some technicians told me Oh, yeah, the first time I live, that I've worked on a movie and independent movie with a different band that I see my money back. So they, I had many people write to me and say, thank you so much. So, you know, like, it was overall a very, very positive experience. And I'm, you know, I'm, you know, it's, it's, it's what it is, you know, the movie is not perfect, but and some people will hate it. And some people think it's the greatest thing on earth. But, you know, it didn't leave anybody in different than it. It has a voice of its own, you know, like, it's been a while now, I don't I don't really identify to the movie anymore. But I can see that it's relevant. It's its place, and I'm glad it got me.

Alex Ferrari 52:12
No, it's your story on how you made it. And what you're able to do with it is is pretty remarkable. And an inspiration to everyone listening, honestly, because you can't be afraid to take risks. And but you took calculated risks, you know, you did have a base of knowledge to fall back on, you've been in, you know, you work been working as a professional in the advertising space, you are a graphic designer. So there were skills that were, as I say, tools in your toolbox that you walked into this project with, and you learned along the way, but you had a really good foundation to start off with. And then you learned as you went to take risks to take calculated risks. And I think that's something that you did.

Martin Villeneuve 52:51
Oh, yeah, no, absolutely. And then what I remember too, is is the the importance of network, you know, because every, you know, every, even in advertising, this is how I met Dr. liberati. From samsa, they will eventually helped me with the movie and, and Nobel eyepatch, who helped me with the movie and, and all these people, you know, I met by doing something else than cinema, which is also very important because sometimes we focus and we think like, it's cinema Cinema, so I there's a path that I need to take, but don't never underestimate the other paths, you know, the other path that you may take, because that may go a long way at one point, you know, you may find out that, you know, some some contacts you made. And in that sound company like a year a few years back may be very, very handy and helpful. And that, you know, people that you've met in the circ world suddenly will help you make you make your movie. And so so that, to me, is super important. And everything I've shot since Massey, I really have been because of my networks, you know, because I wasn't unfortunately able to get more money to shoot another feature, but I've done short films, and I got like the some of the best people in the industry wanting to shoot with me again, and you know, like, an experiment again and do other things. And so, so I'm still continuing in filmmaking and I have numerous, you know, feature films that are on the verge of

Alex Ferrari 54:23
Always on the verge, you know, that money that money's gonna drop any day now.

Martin Villeneuve 54:31
Well, yeah. But I am really hoping that next time we speak, I will be able to tell you about about the what it was to shoot the second feature

Alex Ferrari 54:42
Yeah, and what are you working on now?

Martin Villeneuve 54:45
I have like, six or seven projects, but I shot last fall before the crisis. I shot two sequels to a short film that I shot right after a massive avalanche which was kind of Little success in itself you know, it's called Imelda, and I play my own grandmother, which which may sound funny, but it's a character that I really really like and it's very simple form of filmmaking doesn't require a lot of money and I had a lot of fun doing the first one and I won the award for Best Actor from any all these artists which is the the only, you know, award you can win in acting for a short film in Quebec. So I you know, and people were like, what's happening after like, we want to see more of Imelda. So I know I shot two sequels and now I had the ballot badge for real he's not a hologram but he's cool starting to nail that too. I'm with about a patch and an email that three I'm with Jeanette Renault, which is a singer and actress Yeah. And so she sings in the in the third one and she plays my other grandmother. Family history, you know, my my Bella bash play plays my dad. So it's, you know, I use my family mythology as as a drama, which is very fun doing. I'm also working on a very elegant sci fi thriller called Joanna. Buy, you know, I this is a pitch I won for voltage pictures in Los Angeles last year. And if all goes well, we should be shooting in November, if not, you know, early 2021. If the fortunately the COVID crisis is over. It's about androids and we have a few actors at that show already. And financing is going well. So read it's a small budget, you know, it's 556 million US. I'm also working on a small drama. It's a dramedy called two pianos. And it's, it's a great great, great script, just two actors, two older actors, few few settings, very simple filmmaking but complex at the same times because everything relies on details. So this is also ready to shoot. I'm working on animated series called Red ketchup. It's based on a cult comic book series here in Quebec that I grew up with. It's a crazy FBI agent. That's that's feeding on drugs and it's completely stickability. worldly like it's like James Bond, but shut by Tarantino. You know, I would watch that. I want to watch that. That's why I want to do this this series. So this is looking good to

Alex Ferrari 57:41
You sound busy.

Martin Villeneuve 57:42
I am. The thing is, I've been I've been living out of writing you know, I this is why I could leave advertising because now producers, you know, pay me that's one of the great luxuries of of Massey Avril because it created another kind of network or suddenly like, I'm getting paid to develop projects. So Aquatica is something that I've been writing for years. Again, I'm teaming up with passwordstate. And it's it's an animated feature. So in the, you know, European tradition looks looks very nice. We did the test already. And finally, I'm working with another childhood heroes of mine, James v. Hart. Yes. Great script. You wrote Dracula, Dracula, Dracula. He wrote contact with Jodie Foster come back, of course, the. So, you know, like, he's amazing writing. Yeah, we're writing a big sci fi. Drama together called water Nova. And, yeah,we have an amazing script,

Alex Ferrari 58:47
Man, you are an absolute inspiration. You're an inspiration. Honestly, you you you personify the creative spirit. Because just to get your movie made in seven years, that takes a level of persistence. That's pretty remarkable. In the in the artistic world in general, but you are definitely an inspiration, my friend. I'm gonna ask you a few questions that I asked all my guests. What advice would you give a filmmaker wanting to break into the business today?

Martin Villeneuve 59:21
The patient process Katyn told me many times, you know, from his experience in cinema, it's not about talent. It's about being patient and tenacious and pushing your ideas forward and always always believing that it's going to happen. Never give up. You know, it's the it's the clue, every every filmmaker that makes it. I had big dreams and they never gave up, you know,

Alex Ferrari 59:43
What is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film business or in life?

Martin Villeneuve 59:49
The biggest lesson, I think, is not to get depressed by the fact that things aren't happening now. Because otherwise you know, you wouldn't Anything the problem with cinema is that it takes a long time. It's a long time in the making, it requires a lot of money a lot of people so don't get depressed if your projects don't take off right now. That's why I'm, I'm still believing in cinema. It's because you know, there's a timing for things and sometimes if you're too too early, things falls flat. If you're too late things have been done before you know, you need to hit that that string and that chord where it's just the right time to tell a story and stories want to live you know, believe me like Masada wanted to live beyond everybody was working on it. It's not used sometimes dictates those rules. It's, it's the project itself. So need to believe in that.

Alex Ferrari 1:00:47
You're essentially a vessel for the story to be born into this world, basically. And I feel the same way. A lot of times the story is much more powerful. And the message is much more powerful than you are. It's not about you. No, absolutely. Now I'm and three of your favorite films of all time.

Martin Villeneuve 1:01:05
Brazil, Brazilian, the first Blade Runner, yes. And the first Indiana Jones I would say probably. And of course everybody who knows me intimately know that I'm the biggest fan of Back to the Future on the planet. I know a lot of people will say that, but I am the biggest fan. You know, and

Alex Ferrari 1:01:27
I don't see a hoverboard anywhere. I don't see a hoverboard anywhere. Where is it?

Martin Villeneuve 1:01:31
Next time we speak. I'll show you my little collection. I got to meet the actors last year thanks to my girlfriend. She she introduced me to Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd and Thomas Wilson and James Tolkien and Lee Thompson. And it was in Orlando and it was probably one of the highlights the last gathering. Yeah, and I had kept all that because when I was a teenager, I replicated the time machine in my parents basement, of course. Yeah, and all those those letters that they would exchange and all that stuff for you know the letter from 1885 and 200 from 1955. And I back then it was a VHS so I had to pause the VHS on the TV and try to

Alex Ferrari 1:02:14
The tracking thing what the track with the tracking going like that.

Martin Villeneuve 1:02:16
Yeah, exactly. Right. And it was a poor VHS copy. Let me tell you, and I, my mother, thankfully had kept some of these items, so I could bring them with me. And they all signed it and it was like amazing.

Alex Ferrari 1:02:29
That must be amazing. Yeah, I'm a huge Back to the Future fan. And they were talking about was that they were talking about trying to reboot it. And again, I hope not though Gail the producer, what's his name is Robert on the bob bob Gale, Bob Gill. Bob Gill said not while I'm alive. Right? It's like it's not gonna have to kill him. Eventually he will die and I hope that his estate will not allow the sequels to happen or anything to happen. It's done. It's it's perfection as it is.

Martin Villeneuve 1:02:58
Yeah. And it's all about the actors, you know, you will never be able to never inworld it and even with with tons of money and VFX you will never be able to replicate the chemistry between Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd

Alex Ferrari 1:03:11
Enza Mecca NZ Mack is there and, and Spielberg has look at the Godfather around it. Like it is just it's just and

Martin Villeneuve 1:03:20
It's like any film, you know, it belongs to a time. You know, it's ironic that it's a movie about time, but it's really like about the moment where it was made in history and the influence it got and the writing of it and everything about it is great. And the age pretty well, you know, like and then that is a key for me. And movie that age ages well, like Brazil or Indiana Jones or all those classics like there's a reason why they're classics is because the the biggest, you know, thing that a film must do. It's not box office, it's not pleasing the fans. It's It's It's resisting time, you know, like, Is it still relevant in 50 years and 100 years?

Alex Ferrari 1:04:01
I mean, I can't I can't believe that, that, that when they shot back to the future that they shot like half the movie with Eric Stoltz as a guy, and then they just stopped. And they just like, yeah, we're gonna have to recast this and we're gonna shoot everything again. Like I can't even comprehend that in a studio project. But I think if it wasn't for someone like Spielberg backing Zemeckis at that time, because he, I mean, how much that cost that must have cost millions.

Martin Villeneuve 1:04:30
And it's not as a scenario that you would see nowadays. It's not any. It's not a movie that would be produced nowadays, and it makes no sense but that no, not by studios. And it saddens me sometimes to see that some of the best movies that were ever produced wouldn't get made today because people are afraid of risks and even Back to the Future back in the days was super hard to get off the ground and get through the script was refused 40 times

Alex Ferrari 1:04:55
Everybody. Yeah, Disney. So Disney said like there's incest like that. That's

Martin Villeneuve 1:05:02
Exactly that's another proof that you need to like the two creators were like no we're gonna get this menu Gail and the two Bob's, you know, they were fighting for it and they got it made. But I think it's an inspiration for for everyone you know that you need to fight and there is still plays for original voices. But what saddens me is nowadays, like it's all about sequels. It's all about collection, it makes that common grace and V that would that work 30 years ago, let's like, let's do a 98 Star Wars because, you know, and, you know, it's, I think there should there should definitely be room for that. I'm not saying those movies shouldn't get made. But please leave some room for the new because one of the things that cinema is proven is that it's the new original ideas that people are like, wow, I THIS I Like You know, this I'm excited about I back in the 80s we were surprised like movies

Alex Ferrari 1:05:57
Every every every weekend, there was something Ghostbusters Back to the Future Goonies Gremlins like Indiana Jones. It was just constant, constant originality, and they were taking risks. That Yeah, never in a million years get done today. Can you imagine Goonies today? Like this? No way. That's a Disney. That's like a Disney Plus, you know, three or $4 million movie if you're lucky.

Martin Villeneuve 1:06:26
Yeah, but but but people do Stranger Things. And they allude to those movies all the time, because they were good back in the days and they try to recapture this magic, which I understand. But you know, like, yeah, I wish there was more room for original and I stick to my ideas. You know, like, I want to make original films that people have never seen before. That's what drives me to do it.

Alex Ferrari 1:06:49
And to do it on a budget now because we don't have the the endless pocket book that the that are our ancestors, our cinematic ancestors had.

Martin Villeneuve 1:06:58
Yeah, no, exactly.

Alex Ferrari 1:07:00
And now working, where can people find you and your work?

Martin Villeneuve 1:07:05
I'm everywhere. I'm on Facebook, I'm on LinkedIn. I'm on IMDB, Vimeo, Martin Villeneuve and very easy to find. And I encourage you to see my TED talk if you haven't seen it yet, because that's what you know, I think it's a nice little introduction. 10 minutes, it's not long, you know, as every TED Talk is and then you can have a link to my my movie underneath. Thank God. And, you know, like, you can watch my shorts, you can Vimeo you can watch my advertising word. My name is demo reel. Everything is they're very easy to find.

Alex Ferrari 1:07:39
Fantastic. I'll put all of that in the show notes. Thank you, Martin. Thank you so much for being on the show. My friend. It's you are truly an inspiration. So thank you again for fighting the good fight. The creative fight and and keep and keep doing what you're doing my friend.

Martin Villeneuve 1:07:51
Oh, thank you so much, Alex, I appreciate it.

Please subscribe and leave a rating or review by going to BPS Podcast
Want to advertise on this show?
Visit Bulletproofscreenwriting.tv/Sponsors

Want to read all the 2016-2022 TV Pilots?

Learn from the best screenwriters working in Hollywood today!