Michel Gondry Talks CGI, Geometry and Why Amy Pascal Let Him Do 'Green Hornet'

The French filmmaker also tells the third annual Digital Biscuit film and technology forum in Dublin how a dream plays into his latest feature.

On Thursday, French director and screenwriter Michel Gondry told an entertainment and technology conference in Dublin about his love for geometry, critics' reactions to his early films and an interaction with Sony Pictures Entertainment co-chairman Amy Pascal that sealed his spot as director of The Green Hornet.

Speaking at the third annual Digital Biscuit film and technology forum in Dublin, he said that Green Hornet seemed to go over particularly well with European audiences and acknowledged that his background in art house film and more experimental visuals gave Sony some pause before picking him for a superhero studio movie. Recalling a meeting at Sony, he said Pascal asked him to promise not to do handheld camerawork, but instead to go for solid framing of shots. "I did, and I got the job," he said. "So, I just had to say that," then he was then free to do other things in the film. "I think that’s how it works," he joked.

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The "tireless innovator" Gondry, as DIgital Biscuit's agenda called him, drew a big crowd, filling the room at Dublin's Science Gallery where he appeared. Organizers of the event made available an overflow room to allow additional people to listen to his comments. 

Discussing visual style, Gondry was asked about his pioneering use of a visual effect known in the industry as "the Matrix shot" or "frozen time" — a technique made famous by The Matrix. "I can't really claim that I invented [it]," said Gondry. Since someone else developed it at the same time, "I always share the credit," he explained. "It came at the same time from different directions."

Gondry's résumé includes an Oscar-nominated romantic drama (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), a superhero film (The Green Hornet), a hip-hop concert film (Dave Chappelle's Block Party), an episode of Jimmy Kimmel Live! and, most recently, the Noam Chomsky-animated documentary Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy? and the fantasy dramedy Mood Indigo.

After discussing his music-video work, Gondry talked about his first feature film, Human Nature, saying he now regrets storyboarding it. The film was "not successful at all," but taught him a lesson. "It was hard to swallow bad reviews," he recalled.

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In his second feature, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, he was "much more involved" in the story and "worked much more with the actors," he said. But the positive critical response the film received also proved problematic for him, he said. "Sometimes it feels like a burden" that his later films always get compared to Eternal Sunshine, explained Gondry.

Asked about his latest project, Gondry said it was feature comedy Microbe et Gasoil, a story about two kids who go on a road trip. The film tells of the "wild adventures of two rather offbeat adolescents, little Microbe and his inventive friend, Gasoil," explained a description by co-producer StudioCanal last year, when the film was announced. "As summer holidays approach, the two friends have no desire to spend two months in the bosom of their families. They decide to make their own 'car,' using a lawn-mower engine and some wooden planks, and set off for an adventure on the roads of France."

The first part of the film is based on memories of when the director was 14, and the second part is based on a dream he had when he began to write the screenplay, said Gondry in Dublin on Thursday. He said he often uses dreams in his writing, but he didn't detail the contents of the dream that inspired his work on Microbe.

Discussing his approach to movie technology, Gondry said he was attached to film and had to get used to digital.

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When asked what technology excites him in the film world these days, Gondry mentioned CGI, but said its current use in such films as Interstellar isn't quite what it could be. "We should [create] something with the computer that we [haven't] seen before," said Gondry.

The filmmaker also briefly discussed his time in school, saying he was a bad pupil, except when it came to geometry. Said Gondry: "I always loved geometry. It was my favorite subject."

Email: Georg.Szalai@THR.com
Twitter: @georgszalai