Sundance 2012: Musician-Turned-Filmmaker Quentin Dupieux on Hitting all of the Right Notes with 'Wrong' (Q&A)
The French electronic artist and writer-director of 'Rubber' discusses his quirky new mystery movie, and examines his evolving career.
Given the cult of personality required to command his or her cast and crew, it’s unusual for a filmmaker to openly point out his shortcomings, but there’s little about Quentin Dupieux that’s ordinary. Dupieux is a French electronic artist whose music has filled dance floors since 1999 under the pseudonym Mr. Oizo, but he quietly added screenwriting and directing to his resume with a series of music videos, and later, low-profile, quirky features, including 2011’s “killer tire” movie Rubber. Capitalizing on the cult acclaim that film attracted at festivals, Dupieux rushed right into his next project, the languid, oddball mystery Wrong, which debuted at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. And even in light of that film’s warm reception among festivalgoers, Dupieux seems reluctant to take too much credit for its success, revealing “I'm not a good technician” while observing “the main goal for me is to make people laugh.”Video: THR's Sundance Film Festival Lounge at Village at the Lift
Two days after Wrong premiered to a capacity crowd at Sundance, Dupieux sat down with THR to talk about his technical limitations, and the artistic restrictions he places on himself. Additionally, he discussed the influence of filmmakers like David Lynch on his work, offered some updates about his current music and film projects, and reflected on where he’s at and where he wants to go in the future in his multifaceted career.
The Hollywood Reporter: First of all, how did the idea for Wrong come together, and how does your writing process work in general?
Dupieux: Rubber came from another movie, another idea, but this time I just wrote random scenes and then very quickly I tried to find a connection between the scenes. And then I created the structure and the story and it came super naturally - absolutely everything made sense in a way - and it was quite a simple process. And I don’t know why; I mean, you never know where the idea comes from. It’s always like oh, this is good, yeah, why not - I mean, that’s how I work. I'm not trying to respect any kind of rules, movie rules, because I think it’s useless. So like I said, I started by writing random stuff and suddenly the magic happens, and everything makes sense together. And then after that it’s quite easy to create the links and build the story.
THR: How tough is it to create a sense of thematic continuity when you’re assembling random ideas into a whole? Even if you’re not going to obey conventional rules of storytelling, you still have to create a character and a journey that audiences care about.
Dupieux: I don’t know. I quite follow my instincts in everyday life, so it’s all about feeling something or not, so I don’t know how to describe the way I do that. It’s more like obviously when you write something, you have to be into it; if the character isn’t great, you’re not into it - you cannot write. It’s like you work like this - suddenly you write a scene and the character has something special, and then you’re starting to like him and then this creates what you just described. For example, for the main character, the lead Jack Plotnick playing Dolph, suddenly I was writing the movie and I was loving him. And I think that’s important; otherwise, you’re just emotionless.
THR: Is there a deeper conceptual motivation for each choice that you make, or is catching the audience off guard enough?
Dupieux: No - it’s hard to describe, but there is inside me this very precise logic. I have my own rules, and they’re working for every movie I write. I don’t know, I just trust myself basically even if I know I'm not the best writer, but I think I know how to use my brain to write this kind of stuff.
THR: The film seems very reminiscent of Twin Peaks, albeit maybe the more comedic material in that show including Gordon Cole, the character Lynch himself played. Was that at all an influence on Wrong?
Dupieux: Yeah, of course. I love David Lynch when he’s funny. I'm quite bored when it’s getting deep or too dark, but I love a few bits of his movies. But I've never watched Twin Peaks. I saw a few bits of it, but it looks depressing; everybody is saying that you should watch Twin Peaks and I always tried, and I hate the way it looks. Obviously yes - he’s one of the masters. But the most important thing for me is to hear an audience laugh, which is not the case when you watch Lost Highway in a cinema; it’s quite frightening. I'm really pleased to have some kind of deeper meaning in this movie, but the main goal is to make people laugh. That’s what I like. You can watch this movie and just have fun and if you want to dig, yes, you’ll find stuff here and there, but that is just there because that’s me. But the main goal for me is to make people laugh.
THR: What is some of the deeper meaning of this film to you, even maybe looking at it in hindsight?
Dupieux: What Master Chang says when he explains his job, even if it sounds absurd and really stupid and weird and funny at the same time, this monologue Master Chang does to me sounds real. Like the way you feel when you love something - that’s the main thing for me in this movie, if you want to dig. I think when you miss something you love, everything looks different around you.
THR: How much effort do you put into creating a visual continuity for your films? Wrong, for example, makes extensive use of selective focus.
Dupieux: This, I just do naturally without thinking. I have no plans, I just come up with the angles and stuff the day we shoot the scene. I don’t like to be prepared for this, I like to do it on set because I don’t know. So basically everything is prepared, like obviously the costumes, the special effects, blah, blah, blah, and the actors are prepared. But when we arrive on the shoot, I have no idea how I'm going to cut it and how I'm going to use the camera, and I have to do this on the set and honestly I do it with my instinct. There is no intelligent approach to this. I just think, oh, this is the good angle for this scene. I know it. I don’t know why, but I can feel this is the good angle and I trust myself.
THR: Is there a point when all of those random ideas come together for you and become more than just a story, or do you just put them together, make your film and then go, that’s it?
Dupieux: Yeah, that’s it.
THR: Well, that approach seems to make people kind of uncomfortable.
Dupieux: Yeah, but that’s a good point, I think, because we are too used to watching movies and the movie tells you how you’re supposed to feel, like hey, this is the funny moment, now this is the sad moment, now this is the weird moment - and it’s okay. I watch movies all the time, even bad movies, but I still enjoy everything because I like watching movies, but you always know what is the intention. You see the poster and say, okay, this is going to make me laugh, so you watch it and then maybe it makes you laugh, or maybe you think it’s not as good as it was supposed to be. But usually you know, and what I like about Wrong and I'm trying to do for my next movie is I love uncomfortable situation [where you ask,] am I supposed to laugh, or am I supposed to be freaked out? I think that’s one of the best qualities of this movie, because we did a screening in Salt Lake City, and they just got it - they just embraced the funny side of it. They were laughing all the time without thinking about something else; they were waiting for the funny lines. So that’s interesting. But actually you make the movie - the viewer makes the movie; you can decide to watch it the way you want. The movie is not telling you anything. I'm not asking anybody to react. The timing is quite spatial, I think, and the comedy comes from strange things. So some people will laugh out loud, and some others just don’t get it. But I think the movie is a bit like a freak - you have to accept it like it is, and then you decide if it’s good or not.
THR: How do you decide who to work with on each of these films’ scores? Last time you worked with Gaspard Auge of Justice, but this time you’re collaborating with Tahiti Boy. Is it purely a matter of timing, or do you decide whose sound will best complement the film?
Dupieux: For Gaspard, it was really cool because we were friends - I mean, we’re still friends, but it was quite the best moment. Gaspard had this big Justice thing going on and he needed to do something for himself too, so it was a good moment for that. But this time, it’s totally random. I didn’t know Tahiti Boy before working on the soundtrack; I just picked him almost randomly after a meeting. I was giving him a drum machine and I just loved the guy, and the conversation we had was really cool, so three days later I was like, “this guy should do the soundtrack with me” - without listening to his stuff, just because I had a very good feeling with the guy and I knew it was possible to collaborate. And I was right, because we had fun doing it and we mixed our stuff together and it became the soundtrack, and I think it’s great.
THR: Not to go back to the David Lynch comparison, but there’s one piece of music in the film that’s ironically very similar to a theme on Twin Peaks.
Dupieux: Of course. But [that piece of music] reminds me, and I don’t know if it’s right because I haven’t watched this movie for a long time, but it reminds me of Peter Sellers in the Pink Panther - like this obvious bad detective. That’s what we tried with the music, and we realized it sounds a little bit like David Lynch, so we decided to go for it because that’s like a mix between two very good references. It’s like there is the dirty feeling and also the funny feeling, which is perfect, I think. So we did it and then we realized, this works because it reminds us this, but we were not trying to sound like it. It was just like a coincidence, probably.
THR: How concurrently do you develop music projects and film ones, since your film career seems to be taking off right now?
Dupieux: It works pretty well. I was finishing the script for Wrong and I knew I had like two months before the shooting, and I was in LA so I decided, yeah, I'm not going to do anything else but music. The movie is written. I'm going to shoot it. That’s super exciting, but I don’t want to do nothing for two months, so I decided let’s do music, and then I finished the music. We did the movie and then we did the soundtrack, and now I'm making new music. It’s like it’s just a natural process.
THR: How have your musical attitudes evolved as a result of your soundtrack collaborations, or just through the process of maturing as an artist? Do you hear new things on the radio and get inspired?
Dupieux: No, no, because I totally stopped listening to music. I don’t care about music, because there is too much music these days. I used to be a fan. Like 15 years ago, I was able to just drive and listen to music all day long because I was totally into music and I used to be a fan of many bands and many musicians. And I don’t know why this died, but I don’t care anymore about other people’s music. I'm still interested, and if someone very good comes out I will pay attention, maybe buy the album, play it three times at home, but that’s it. I'm not passionate anymore about other people’s music. So my music is more like a good way to express some strange, weird feeling I cannot put in movies, but I never decide, yeah, I should do a track like this. It’s not like that. I just play. I just lose myself in the computer and I find interesting stuff or not, but that’s the way it works. I mean it’s a bit like writing - I don’t want to be conscious, and I don’t want to know what I'm doing. When I was writing Wrong I hadn’t decided what the movie was like, I was just like, let’s write stuff and let’s get surprised, and that’s the same with music. You always have to surprise yourself because it’s too easy to reproduce something you did yesterday; otherwise it’s too boring. I mean, that’s just my point of view maybe, but I have to be surprised when I make music. Otherwise, if it’s just like I'm going to make a good dance tune, I can’t do it. I don’t work like this.
THR: A few years ago your record label, Ed Banger, sort of exploded as this community of incredible French electronic artists, and since then it feels like everybody has sort of evolved away from one another. Is that a community that you still feel like you’re a part of?
Dupieux: It’s a strong community, but I have always been outside of it. I mean, know everyone, we are good friends. I love [founder] Pedro Winter. I love Justice, I mean especially Gaspard. And there is no conflict, so yes, in this sense, that’s like a strong community, but I've always been on my own. I've never partied with them, for example. So we don’t share that much, actually; we just share the joy of being alive and making music. But I'm doing my stuff on my side, and so to me there is no difference, but I know what you mean. Back in the days it was a strong group of people, and now everybody wants to do his stuff separately, but I think that’s just normal. It’s like when a band explodes and everyone needs to do his own stuff. That’s what happened, and suddenly like when recently Mehdi died, this created some kind of confusion inside the group. I mean, this was too sad and I think maybe he was like the glue in a way; he was a nice guy connecting everyone and I think he was a major piece of this group, and now he’s gone. There is something weird about this group, so I think now yes, everyone is thinking about his own career I think.
THR: What sort of movie projects do you have in the works? Are aggressively going into another project after this one?
Dupieux: Yeah, of course, I have to. I mean, for me Wrong has been done for five months or so, so I've already moved on. I'm super happy to watch it now with an audience, but I moved on a long time ago. So yes, I'm already planning my new one.
THR: Are there any details about it that you can reveal?
Dupieux: No, no, no, it’s too fresh. But the only thing I know is I'm going to shoot 15 minutes of it at the beginning of February. We’ll just shoot a little bit of it, and then we’re going to shoot the rest of it in May, but I have to write it.
THR: So you’re going to shoot it before you write it?
Dupieux: No, the small bit I'm talking about is written, but then I want to see this small bit to write the rest of it.
THR: As a result of the success of Rubber and the attention that it got, are distributors or studios more eager to talk to you?
Dupieux: No. The success of Rubber is very small compared to the industry; I mean, it’s nothing. I know a lot of people watched it and I'm glad it’s still spreading and it’s still existing and it’s still showing, so you can still discover it. But it’s small, so we are still starting something, but honestly I feel good shooting small movies like this, because I can do everything by myself. I have no one behind me. I kind of like this situation. I know I don’t want to do big movies.
THR: So you’re comfortable with the scale of films like Wrong and Rubber?
Dupieux: No, I'm more than comfortable. I'm super happy because suddenly I can do everything by myself with a still camera, and my producer is my best friend. This is quite easy. There is no pressure. Everything is fluid. Everybody is happy to work with me. I don’t want to go bigger, because suddenly you lose control and it’s a different job.
THR: Can you imagine ever doing a project that you didn’t write or conceive yourself?
Dupieux: No, I think I would be terrible at this. Honestly, I think I'm not a good technician. I'm not a good filmmaker. I'm just good because I write my stuff and that’s what makes the film, but I think I'm not a good technician.