Movie PictureQ: Why are these stories about inspirational teachers always so effective?
CB: Because the story is partly autobiographical. In fact, this is a movie really pulled from me because I lived, not everything of course, but I lived a lot of those situations when I was a kid. My parents and all the rest of my family were working in the movie industry, so I'd been born with the movies, with the theater, all that kind of thing. Everybody was working in the movie industry but as very often with artists, my parents got divorced very soon and then I've been raised by my grandmother during a long while. And there I met music and of course when I was taking notes from the first grade for my first movie, it was really inspired by history.
Q: Who was the inspirational teacher for you?
CB: When I was seven years old, my grandmother was watching me in the schoolyard. I was very shy, very lonely and she told me, "But why don't you want to do a sport or music school?" And I said, "Why not music? Let's try." And I met a very, very talented teacher. He was not a great musician, but he was a very talented teacher. He taught me music, I knew how to read music. He was the head of the choir. I was, I think, a very good singer, soprano boy and so just meeting with this teacher and the music really changed my life because music has been a very wonderful rescue for me.
Q: Why did you still end up going into film?
CB: I came back to my origin. I don't know why. I was brought up on cinema. I love cinema, but maybe because the cinema and this business was in my head responsible for my parents' divorce, I was refusing to come back to cinema. I was really involved in music and finally, step by step, I began to produce a soundtrack. And then I began to produce movies and after I began to write movies and little by little, I've been a director.
Q: Is music a good way to rebel?
CB: No, it's not really to rebel I think, because there are two types of authority. There is the stupid authority shown in the film, with the sentence "action or reaction," it's a very stupid authority. But music is a discipline. Music is very tough. It's very difficult to be a good musician. So it's a kind of authority but I mean that music can change your life in a way that it can show you that working could be a passion. Working is not only boring. You know, when you are a child, very often to do your homework, you think it's very boring, but music asks you a very hard discipline, but it's really a passion where you don't feel it's working. And in that sense, music is a very good reaction to the desperate childhood I think.
Q: How hard was it to direct the young actors?
CB: Well, it was not too hard. The difficulty was to make the good choice, because the young actors don't have technique. So if you have done a bad choice, I mean, the choice is 95% of the directing. If you had done the bad choice, you can be the best director in the world, you will be lost. Because the five percent left only affects things on the set to put the right atmosphere and to explain a little but really, I think I worked a lot to make the good choice with the actors and even with the leading actors, the two young guys, Pierre Morhange and Pepinot in the movie, they are very good. It was also their first experience with a camera and they were really great. I think it's always difficult to work with children, but if you know it will be difficult and you work a lot to avoid problems, that's 90% resolved.
Q: Did you look for kids who could already sing or did you teach them how to sing?
CB: There were two cases. If I had chosen only the boys' choir, it wouldn't have been good because [if] they're really in the choir, very often they look very cute, very handsome, they are from very good families and I didn't want that for the background action. I wanted all the very tough characters, very tough faces and those ones were not really singing. They were performing on a tape. But for the lead actor, I mean, the young Pierre Morhange (Jean-Baptiste Maunier), it's really himself who sings because I wanted absolutely to find a singer who could act and not an actor who could sing. So I make a specific research in all the boys' choir in France and I was a bit desperate just three months before the shooting because I hadn't found the young guy. Fortunately, I went to Lyon. It was one of the last choirs I was visiting and I met him, Jean-Baptiste Maunier and he was the soprano leader of the choir and really he had the three things I needed: a wonderful voice, he was handsome and a very, very good sense to act. So I've been very, very lucky to find him because he's now really a superstar in France but he is one of the keys of the success.
Q: Is the film more of a comedy or a drama?
CB: Oh, there is an expression in France to say that. We say dramatic comedy. I'm sorry, but that's exactly the saying in France because of course I think it's not only a drama because there are a lot of signs of comedy. Characters are sometimes really close to comedy, you know, in their behavior. I mean, the headmaster is a character of comedy because he sometimes is so stupid that he's funny. So it's not realistic really, so I think it's not really a drama. But it's not, obviously, just a comedy. I like to say dramatic comedy is a good expression for that. We could add also dramatic musical comedy.
Q: How did you get to make this your feature film debut?
CB: I think I was a little bit known in the movie industry in France because I produced. I have a known famous family. My parents are known and so I had not so much difficulty to have the key to enduring the decision room. But once you are in the decision room of the studio, you are not anymore the son of X or the son of others. You had to prove what you are. When you came from a famous family, it just gives you the key to enter in the room, but after, you have to prove yourself what you are. So I remember with the script, it was very difficult at the beginning because things, the distributors and production majors thought it was a very old fashioned movie, not very suitable for teenagers and so on. In terms of marketing, they were very afraid about the music and of course they were right to be afraid because really it was not in the good sense of marketing, sure. Obviously. But I'm sure that sometimes if you work very hard and if you feel very [close to] your subject, you can have something that is totally unexpected. And it is unexpected in France and it was. During the shooting, I'd never seen a journalist covering and never I saw even a local radio. Nothing. And then after six months later when the film had been released, now it's like a blockbuster because the film has made more than nine million admissions in France. It's much more than Harry Potter, it's much more than Lord of the Rings and now the film is considered a blockbuster. But before, remember that just six months ago it was considered a very small, low budget movie.
Q: What will you make for your next film?
CB: I think I will follow with the musical style, but I will try to follow also with the same kind of projects because every time that a first time director has made a blockbuster with his first movie, a low budget movie, he wants for the second movie to direct a $40 million budget, it's always a flop. So I will be very careful to think clearly about it and I want to follow with music and cinema. I love the mixing of those arts. But I will be very careful about the story and the script that we work out.
Q: Now that you've told your autobiographical story, can you make up a story for the second one?
CB: Oh, I think so, yes. And I haven't told everything about my autobiography. There are other surprises to come.
Q: Would you like to use any of the same actors?
CB: I think so, yes. Gerard Jugnot, you know, who plays the supervisor, Clement Mathieu, he was really best known for comedy. He's not known out of France, but in France he's a huge star for comedy. The equivalent may be Steve Martin. But two years ago, I asked him if he was ready to make a curve in more dramatic moods, and he said, "Okay, why not? It's a risk but I want to take the risk" and now he's considered a great actor. Just before the movie, he was considered a very funny guy, but now he's considered a great actor. He says, "Oh, I like this."
Q: Would you like to make American films?
CB: I would like to make an American one, yes, because I see more propositions here in Hollywood but just for the moment, it's not right because you know the film has been selected by France for the Oscars and the film is distributed here by Miramax so I have a lot of connections with agencies and I receive a couple of scripts. Not a couple, much scripts but it's much of the same thing. It's with kids and with music. I don't feel it's a very good idea to make a movie that hundreds of American directors could do. I would like to because I am very fascinated by of course, like a lot of France is, by the Hollywood system and things like that and your actors and your scriptwriters but I will wait with a lot of patience to receive a script that really fits me.
Q: Does France also talk about the musical making a comeback?
CB: No, no, no. The musicals in America are much stronger in tradition than in France. You have such a wonderful tradition of musicals. In France it is not the case. Musical has always been marginal, very secondary. So I'm not so sure that in France there is an increase in interest for such movies. I don't think so. So I think it's great because I'm the only one to be so interested, so I have my own territory.
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