In an ambitious imaginary biopic, French filmmakers Paul Lê and Julien Pichard set out to capture what David Lynch’s time was like in art school. The Dreamlife of David L is a wonderfully surrealistic look at Lynch’s possible inspirations for his film career, and is filled with countless visual (and audio) references to some of the most classic Lynch moments. Recently the two filmmakers were kind enough to answer some of Cinedelphia’s questions.
The Dreamlife of David L makes its Philadelphia premiere tomorrow at PhilaMOCA (in the Eraserhood!), with a few screenings throughout the month! Check here for details!
Cinedelphia: What was your experience like using web-based crowd funding? Would you use that method again?
Julien Pichard: We knew it would be difficult to find money for this film so it appeared to be obvious that crowd funding should be the best way to find it. Because some people on the internet are tired to see always the same kind of movie on television or even in theater. It was a great experience and it is always helpful to know that there is an audience that is interested in your film before you even begin to shoot it.
Paul Lê: It was a very good experience. And our first movie was a kind of laboratory for many things. To find money, just after writing the script, was a very important thing. And for an independent feature, you have to be rich or clever. We chose to be clever. The crowd funding is very interesting because it’s the way to interest people to your movie project. Not only for money. French fans of David Lynch were interested by the idea to do a movie connected with his life, even if our movie is an imaginary story. And we received money from very distant countries: India, Dubai… and the funniest anecdote was a French banker in Algeria who sent us $1300 USD without knowing us! The dream life of crowd funding. 😉
C: Choosing to release a film simultaneously on VOD is gaining a lot of popularity here in America. Is that at all common in Europe? What made you decide to release the film that way?
J: It was our first goal but in France it´s something new and both distributors and theaters are not comfortible with this kind of release. In fact I think that in France the film may be released only on VOD. But we still have to find a distributor to do that.
P: VOD is a good solution for an independent film. Because to be screened in France in theaters, you have to be part of the system. We wanted to have this freedom. I know that the American public is more accustomed to VOD. And it’s a good thing. Netflix is coming to France just on September 15th. But to make films and sell them, are two different jobs. And with Julien, we want to find a good distributor. The three awards we won in US will be a great help for this. We are open to every proposition.
C: What was the casting process like for the role of David? Is Sylvain Urban a Lynch fan?
J: We were very lucky to find Sylvain very quickly, on the second day of casting tests. We stopped searching as soon as we found him. It was clear for Paul, Jerome (producer) and I that Sylvain was the young David L.
P: As Julien said, to find Sylvain Urban was a great relief. Because he was the main actor of the film. He passed the test with Marguerite Dabrin, a French actress, and for the both, it was very clear for us: “This is the girl…and this is the boy,” as they say in Mulholland Drive (2001).
C: I was pleased to read that many of the extras and some crewmembers were actual students at the school you filmed at. Did that change the filmmaking experience for either of you in any way? Were they eager to be involved?
J: They were completely into the filmmaking and they gave to us and to the other professional crew members some good point of views, especially in the production design, of course. And we asked some of them to draw and paint for the film. It was a great collaboration.
P: This is a very good memory. They were very serious and professional.
And with artistic feeling. So, it was a very precious collaboration.
And they knew by heart the immense art school where we shot the film.
I was often lost in the corridors…like David in our movie. 😉
C: What was it like co-directing a film as two friends? Did you encounter any major artistic differences?
J: To write with Paul was very easy, very quick, we never had a blank page. So it was the same during the shooting. We were well prepared and we began the filmmaking with all the technical and artistical questions solved, so we were ready to face the unexpected as one person. But I must say that for a first movie it’s so comfortable to be two.
P: I would like to advise all the directors for a first film, to do the same thing. It is a perpetual exchange in ideas, while writing and filming.
When you’re tired, he’s fit. And conversely. To edit the film, we invented a rule between us called “We try!” Even if we had different feelings, this rule was very effective. It’s very difficult to do that when you’re alone in front of your screen and not sure that your choice is the good one. The rule of “We try!” is a patented invention of Julien Pichard and Paul Lê.
C: I was very impressed with the musical score—it really reminded me a lot of some of the music Lynch has used. Would you say a lot of inspiration was drawn from the music in his films?
J: I’m very happy that you enjoyed the music. If we exclude the sound design part that is in the style of David Lynch’s films, the music was very personal and I was afraid it would be too electronic or too different than what people were expecting for this film. I didn’t want to compose a score in the Badalamenti style because it would have been too parotic. In fact I just wanted to pull out all the feelings that the film gave me and of course to translate the feeling of the different characters.
And for my inspiration…well it’s difficult to know from where it is coming from. I started to make computer music when I was 12 years old, so for sure it’s related with the ‘80s music, classic 8bits video games and certainly more with films like Blade Runner (1982) and early Michael Mann’s movies than the David Lynch’s ones, because when I first saw Eraserhead (1977) and I was 22 or 23 years old, it was more a sound and vision experience than a musical one.
P: I met Julien a long time ago, through a friend who told me: “Julian is the man you need.” It was for the music of a short film I made. Basically, Julien is a musician. With a huge musical culture and he is a talented composer. We didn’t want to copy Badalamenti because it was not correct and more than that, not original. And we wanted contemporary music. The music Julien composed for the film is really great and all the pieces of music are good.
C: I really loved all the artwork that was used. Can you speak a little bit about what you both find personally appealing about Lynch’s paintings?
J: I think there was something both childlike and violent in paintings and drawings by David Lynch. Our production designer Apostolos Skourtis made tremendous research. He used the works of students of the art school where we were shooting. Paintings by artists specially designed for film or that fit with the style of the film. And he made a lot of drawings himself.
P: I love painting a lot. And we saw, few years ago, the painting exhibition in the Foundation Cartier in Paris: “The air is on fire” by David Lynch. It was a big shock, because we find in his paintings, the universe that we love in his films: strange, sulfurous, bizarre and at the same time, so magnetic. Students have made paintings for the film, Stéphane Carricondo, a urban painter from le 9e concept (a French crew of painters and graphists) made a painting for us and of course, some friends of our production designer – Apostolos Skourtis – who has a very good taste for painting.
C: Going off of that, what was it about this time in Lynch’s life that you both find particularly important to his artistic career?
J: For many people college is a time of discovery and experience, as much as in love, and in relationships. Furthermore we find interesting to show the challenges one has to face when choosing to study art and become an artist. Artists are often more solitary than the filmmakers or musicians for example. It is difficult and often there is a lot of competition and jealousy among artists. We were very attached to recreate the often conflicting emotions that an art student may know. The excitement of discovering a new world he may dream about but also the more general disillusionment and confusion so many students have about their future. So for an imaginary biopic it was the perfect starting point. Everything was possible.
P: His hesitation. This time, as for many people, is a crossroads. When you’re a young adult (and a young artist), you have to make choices. Painting or cinema, for example. And at this age, you think that these choices will affect your life permanently. In the reality, we know that the real David Lynch is a “Swiss knife” as we say in France. It means that he has many talents (as the Swiss knife has lots of blades). He studied to be a painter. He became a filmmaker. But the painting never left him. It is in his films, in his framing, and in his atmospheres. Then he became a musician. And it’s not over, I think!
C: What was it like creating an imaginary biopic? Did you find it allowed you some creative freedom? Additionally, how much actual research about his past was involved?
J: Being an art student was the only true element of the life of David Lynch that we borrowed. Everything else is imaginary, we made no research. It’s so much fun write that way. We wanted to have the most freedom possible and let our imagination float to create a young and actual David L. from the memories we had from his work. It’s like a back engineering process. But we also wanted people who do not know David Lynch to recognize themselves in the character. So we put a lot of us in the film. For the audience to identify with the character you need to be as honest as possible when you write it. The funny thing is that after the movie was completed, we read articles related to his recent exhibitions and we were amazed to lean that reality sometimes catches up with fiction.
P: We knew things about the life of Lynch. But we didn’t want to read big books about his life, to have more details. While writing the script, we wanted to be free. So we invented all the situations. Of course, sometimes we made some little references, but the greater part of the movie is completely imaginary. The funny thing, as Julien said, is to discover after the screening some incredible coincidence with the “real life.” As the great italian Director Federico Fellini said: “Reality offers more surprises than the most incredible imagination.”
C: Did either of you have any communication with Lynch himself before during or after filmmaking? If not, what do you think (or perhaps hope) he would have to say about your film?
J: We contacted his assistant, Mindy Ramaker, she gave him a DVD but warned us that he doesn’t have a lot of time to see movies. A little amusing story is that this year in may, Jérôme Gallioz (the producer of the movie) met David Lynch with Jean-Michel Fouqué (the professor Laurent in the film) in the lounge of JFK airport in NY. He told them that he was aware of the movie but unfortunately he didn’t see it.
P: We know that David Lynch knows about our film. And he received our film on DVD. But in the same time he is very busy and he is very often in France, for exhibitions. Each time we had a price for the movie ($3 in the US!) , we send the information to his assistant. With Julien, we relax about it and we believe that one day he will give us his opinion. Of course we would love it!
C: It’s pretty clear you’re both huge Lynch fans. I loved all your visual references to his movies. So, I have to ask both of you…what’s your favorite Lynch film?
J: Definitely my favorite film by David Lynch is Blue Velvet (1986). It combines all the elements I like in his universe: humor, love, fear, violence, weirdness, sexuality…
P: This bad boy Julien has chosen Blue Velvet first. Therefore, I choose: Lost Highway (1997). But I also love deeply Blue Velvet, Twin Peaks (1990) and Wild at heart (1990).
Author: Catherine Haas
Catherine Haas is a native Philadelphian who received her master’s in film history from Columbia University. She is a freelance film programmer, writer, and an avid pug enthusiast.