Montreal filmmaker Denis Villeneuve talks about his adaptation of Dune

Montreal filmmaker Denis Villeneuve talks about his adaptation of Dune
A lot of digital ink has been spilled in recent months about the films that were already made and ready to be released when the pandemic hit – these are the James Bonds and Mulans and Tenets of the world, sitting completed somewhere and simply weathering the storm until release. There’s a whole other category of upcoming film that has been less discussed: the films that were in the process of being made when the pandemic hit. The new adaptation of Dune, by Montreal filmmaker Denis Villeneuve, is one of those films.

In an hour-long interview with journalist Tanya Lapointe (who also happens to be Villeneuve’s partner, which in turn explains how one can get an hour-long interview with a filmmaker during even this phase of lockdown) done to promote the Shanghai International Film Festival, Villeneuve explains that the pandemic hit right smack dab in the middle of production, which he had split in two.

“We were about to finish some shooting… the movie was, like, almost finished,” he says in the video. “Dune has been made in an unusual way, which is that we made the main shooting, and then I edited that part of the movie and I was planning to go back to shoot some elements later because I wanted to readjust the movie.”

The interview also reveals that Villeneuve has been working on all of the post-production effects remotely, with the filmmaker being confined in Montreal and the rest of his crew remaining in Los Angeles. The situation has put some strain on the editing process, but Villeneuve says that it has worked out much more smoothly in the VFX realm.

“As much editing is like playing music together,” says Villeneuve. “VFX is more a process where you respond to something you’re seeing, you give instructions and it comes back a week or two later. It’s a process where it’s good to have a fresh mind, it’s good to have that distance. (…) I think that the work we are doing on Dune right now, VFX-wise… I have the best crew in the world and I’m very proud of it.”

Villeneuve spends some time explaining the importance of filming on real sets rather than entirely CGI backdrops, explaining that it will help trigger the actors’ imagination. “Me, I’m there to observe. To listen. On set, I need to be a good listener to see what the actors are bringing to the film. Sometimes, they give very bad ideas! But I just discard them. Sometimes they bring better ideas than mine! (…) It’s not a science, it’s something you have to be attentive to.”

Villeneuve also expounds on his relationship with the source material, explaining how he had always dreamt of adapting Frank Herbert’s novel but that science-fiction always seemed out of reach earlier on in his career. “When I landed in Hollywood and I started to make movies with bigger budgets and people asked me, ‘What would you love to do?’ I told them I wanted to make science fiction and my goal would be to make Dune.” 

When asked if his love of Dune had informed his previous films, Villeneuve cited the desert locales of his films Incendies as being Dune-esque, saying that his location scouting for the 2010 film inspired some of the locales in the adaptation.

Villeneuve also has kind words for his Dune cast (most of whom were his first choices), singling out Jason Momoa (who plays the fighter Duncan Idaoho) and his “elegance on-screen” and Timothée Chalamet (who plays the lead, Paul Atreides) and his “insane charisma.” Villeneuve calls the casting process “very stressful,” stressing the idea that casting is a “search for muses that will trigger your creativity.” Villeneuve also has nothing but kind words for his regular collaborator Roger Deakins and his particular methods of cinematography, which are explored at length in the interview.

A good part of the interview is spent exploring Villeneuve’s influences, which include Spielberg, Bergman and Stanley Kubrick. In terms of contemporary directors, Villeneuve mentions Jacques Audiard, Yorgos Lanthimos and Christopher Nolan (“He is someone who is able to do things that very few directors are able to do”). In the end, Villeneuve cites Quebec directors Pierre Perreault and Michel Brault (both highly influential NFB stalwarts) as his biggest inspirations. ■

Watch the complete interview with Denis Villeneuve about Dune below:

Montreal filmmaker Denis Villeneuve on Dune

See more details about Dune 2020 here.

For more Montreal film coverage, visit the Film & TV section.
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