Michel Gondry Keeps It Reel

What sounds crazier than comedian Dave Chappelle throwing a block party in Brooklyn? How about director Michel Gondry filming it?

When Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) saw Mos Def and the reunited Fugees on the bill, he was sold. The resulting film? Block Party.

A documentary seems like a departure for you.

I looked at it as a challenge. When I shoot musicians in videos or actors in movies, my job is to break down that layer between them and the camera. In documentaries, you have to do the same. You just need a certain time and intimacy for the camera to become invisible – you have to run the camera much longer.

Because you were filming reality, not a scripted performance, you couldn’t really control the movie’s plot. When did you find the story?

We were just supposed to shoot the concert in New York. But then we handed out tickets in Dave’s hometown of Cleveland, and I followed him with the camera. At first, nothing happened. We couldn’t find anyone who wanted to come. Then we ran into a school marching band. Dave started to talk to them and they performed a song around him. We asked if they wanted to come and they said yes. When we finally got the OK from the principal and got the shot where the band screams with happiness in response, I thought that the film was really going somewhere.

How did you add your creative stamp?

Editing is crucial, maybe even more creative than the actual shooting. Every time you juxtapose two images, you say something. Editing is how you transmit your message, even if the message is that there is no message. You can make someone look mean or nice with exactly the same footage.

Did you use any CG effects in the documentary?

People rely too heavily on CGI. Digital filmmaking should be used to do more edgy stuff, not to replace techniques that are already functioning well. I like to take a digital effect and push it to do something different.

There must be some visual effects in your upcoming adaptation of Rudy Rucker’s Master of Space and Time.

I’m looking to create a visual sequence of the big bang, not with CGI, but using perhaps the most complex images ever made without a computer. If I do use CGI, it would be combined with images shot in a different way. I also want to design a car where the universe is inside it, and the inside of the car is on the outside.

That sounds like a videogame.

I stopped my son from playing videogames, and he began to develop all kinds of creative skills. It’s human to seek out the quickest reward, but if you get the reward immediately, you don’t go anywhere else. You learn that the delayed reward is more rewarding.

This interview appeared in Wired