Girls with Balls, Olivier Afonso, the talented SFX make up artist‘s first feature film is currently in post production. We took the opportunity to ask Sacha Wiernik, SBC, a few questions.
Alright, tell us about you, what was your career ?
SW : I studied at the INSAS between 89 and 93. Then I started in the commercial and documentary industry and I did extend my projects to music video and feature films pretty quickly. In 2005, Philippe Lioret asked me to shoot Je vais bien, ne t’en fais pas, with Mélanie Laurent and Kad Mérad , who both got a Cesar for that movie. Then, I have worked on other features like La folle histoire de Max et Léon, a comedy occurring during WW2. That allowed me to try a lot of things with the lighting and the SFX. It is after watching that movie that they called me to shoot Girls with Balls.
Synopsis : When the Falcons, a female volleyball team, get in their old van after a game and break down in the middle of nowhere, they are not aware that they just fell in a mortal trap set by a group of crazy hunters who decided to “blonde-hunt”. For the players, a long, long night is starting. They will race for their lives and their team spirit will be needed more than ever. But under their innocent victims look, the girls will reveal a lot of resources. In the heart of the woods, the roles of the hunters and the preys will soon get inverted…
Staring : Denis Lavant, Manon Azem, Camille Razat, Louise Blachere, Anne Solène Hatte, Tiphaine Daviot, Danny Verissimo, Margot Dufrene, Artus, Orelsan
What does the movie talk about, to you ?
SW : It is the story of a group of girls with strong temper who gets hunted by a crazy band of hunters, in the middle of the woods. Some are going to be lost in the race, the others will revenge them. The scrip is a pretext to create some gore and funny and violent and choreographed situations. It is a film de genre sitting between the gore movie, the road movie, the comedy and the girl power action movie…
How did the collaboration go with the director ?
SW: It is a first movie. Olivier Afonso, the director, was until now, best known as one of the greatest SFX make up artists. Like it is for every movie, this one asked for a lot of prep to figure out the visual style and the way we wanted to tell the story. On a first movie, it is even more important to reassure the director on the fact that we were working in the same direction and on a complementary way. I also had to bring some answers to his questions and solutions to his problems such as decoupage, storytelling.
What were your intentions with the image ?
SW: Olivier knows the film de genre pretty well and he had already a strong visual universe. He wanted to break all the rules, to make kind of an ufo. The idea was that the place and time of the story would stay unidentified. One of our major reference was Quentin Tarentino’s Death Proof because he puts the girl power and their ability to invert the situation in front, just as we did. For Olivier, we needed to manipulate and mix some codes, sexy ones with gore, scary and funny ones. The idea was to adopt kind of a teen movie style, a bit of a cartoon or manga style, with strong colors, slo-mo’s, smoke, blood and all sorts of visual effects on camera.
How much time did the shooting last and where did it happen ? Did you have enough prep time ?
SW: We shot it in March and April 2017 in Tenerife for 26 days. The crew was mainly local but there were some heads who have collaborated with the director for a long time and who came with us (costume, make up, stunts, SFX) I was lucky enough to be able to bring my AC, Fabien Ruyzen, from Belgium and his second AC, Ada Detraz. We had five weeks for the prep and location scouting but the timing during the shoot was short.
Did you have any particular problem to solve ?
SW: Our main problem was the choice of the locations. Even if the island is beautiful, it is difficult to shoot there, mainly because of its complicated weather conditions and because of the limited interior locations. Almost every day, it was sunny on the morning and around 11, the clouds would start to grow above the volcano, creating a dense fog that was hiding the amazing exterior sets that we had scouted. Sometimes, we couldn’t even see more than 6 feet away. In addition to that problem, the Spanish crew had a working schedule that implied to break around 10-11 in the morning for a snack. Most of the time, we had shot the wide shots in one direction before the break and after it, the fog was on. It was pretty hard for the continuity and frustrating during the shooting, but in the end, it gives a mysterious tone that is really interesting; I used a lot of smoke for the interiors, which allowed to unify it all and gave a real style to the movie.
What did you shoot the movie with ?
SW: We used 2 Alexa Mini’s with the Cooke Anamorphics from TSF. I like these lenses but I find them to be too clean sometimes for the look that we were looking for. And if I had to do it again, I wouldn’t use the Mini with these lenses, as they are too heavy compared to the camera body, which unbalances the rig’s center of gravity to the front. I used very little filtering in front of the camera as I wanted some real rendering with the skins, the sweat, the dust, the blood.
And what about the lighting ?
SW: Due to the style and the budget of the movie, I decided to spend almost all the money reserved to the lighting rental on the three main interior locations. It was supposed to be one same place (the hunters’ residence) but we had to cheat it and shoot on three different places.
For the exterior scenes, I could barely work on the lighting. I always had one skypanel and a small LED panel powered on batteries that we used a lot. As I said, the exteriors were complicated on continuity! I used a lot of smoke, to create a look on one side, but also to hide the misery and to link the interiors with the exteriors.
The most complex scene, light-wise, was the one when the girls are taken to be tortured but they end up inverting the situation and revenge their friends. That set of “sacrifice room” asked for a lot of lighting. Therefore, we build in a town parking lot, based on the existing walls, the interior of a farm. Even if the decor was complex, I had a lot of fun lighting it. In that kind of movie, everything is allowed! The complexity was to be able to shoot some big fighting scenes with a lot of different actors framed at the same time with two extremely mobile cameras. We had to be pretty good to shoot at almost 360°. For the close-up’s, I was free though. The advantage of these scenes is that there are so many shots and SFX involved that the continuity has almost no more importance. We can use the most fixable axes. All the lighting and grip stuff came from a local rental house.
You shot a lot of the movie handheld, I think ?
SW: Yes, 99% of the movie was shot handheld. We had neither the time nor the budget to use a Steadicam. That is why I rented a Maxima from Arri but I did unfortunately underuse it because it took too long to get from one setup to another. Every minute counts when you only have 26 days. The choice of handholding the camera responded to both style and money criteria’s. Since we had a lot of different sets, we had to be extremely fast The second camera operator was a local who came only for the big action scenes shot with two cameras.
How did the work with the actors go ?
SW: The girls were all good actresses. They couldn’t really play volleyball but thanks to their coach and to the decoupage, they did a pretty good job! One of the main male character was held by Denis Lavant who played the hunters’ leader. He is an incredible actor. He didn’t really have a text to stick to, besides one single sentence. For the rest, he is so expressive and present that the role suits him perfectly. The other actors were locals, they were pretty good, spontaneous. The movie was shot in french but besides the girls, almost no one spoke french, the other characters were mostly mute. With the Canary as a background, it gives a weird feeling and it is not identifiable geographically.
And what about the collaboration with the other departments ?
SW: The director had a really precise idea of what he wanted for the art direction so we had a great collaboration going on with the art, costumes, make up departments. For the colors of the visual elements for example.
Because of some elements in the script, the actresses were frequently covered with mud, blood, sweat, which are some really cinegenic elements and I really liked it. I like the texture that it gives to the skin, it is interesting to shoot.
Due to the tight budget, the art department had some trouble finding the decors that we asked for though. We missed a lot of decouvertes in the backgrounds, which makes the getting in and out of frame complex to realise. The scenes were often cheated and we had to shoot some parts in different locations, the interiors and exteriors. For instance, there was that bar scene where we needed the actor to get in the frame facing the camera. But that location was on the second floor and the door that we framed was leading on a 1 square meter balcony where we had to fit the actors, the light and a decouverte without any post production.
Do you know what was the movie’s budget ?
SW: It is a co-production between Belgium, France and Spain. I don’t know was the exact budget was, around 1,5M€. The choice of shooting in Tenerife was a production choice. It is less expensive there. There were some evident economical pros but also a lot of cons: a fewer choice for the decors, a complex weather, less available equipments.
Did you use a lut on set ?
SW: No, I asked the data manager to print me screenshots of each shot. It allowed me to keep an eye and a reference on what was shot and it let me watch the movie getting built day by day. We had no time and possibility to watch the dailies, and they were sent back to us with one week of delay anyways.
What do you think of the movie ?
SW: I am very pleased and happy that I was able to work and express myself on that kind of particular movie where the atmosphere is its basis, its body. It is still in editing process but I am sure that the movie will be successful and particular. The lack of time will be felt I think but the energy and style that we put in the project can only make people want to see it.
Camera : Alexa Mini, Cooke Anamorphics and Arri Maxima
Camera rental house : TSF
Grip and electrician rental house : High Voltage ES
B Cam operator : Guille Gil Martin
Focus Puller : Fabien Ruyzen
Grip: Tenseur Quintana
Gaffer : Oscar Gonzales Etayo
Translation by Gaston Struye