Interview with Writer/Director Michiel Blanchart of Oscar Shortlisted Short Film "You're Dead Helen"

Jan 24, 2022 at 10:45 pm by nickcharles

Maxime is going through a very emotional point in his life, something that we all will experience sooner or later in our lifetime - the death of a loved one. And, in this case, we get to go along on the full rollercoaster ride of emotion over the course of Maxime's story in a brilliant 24 minute short film, "You're Dead Helen."

This extraordinary film blends several genres seamlessly in it's ultimate story of love. Furthermore, the two leads are exceptional, and the story is cleverly written. For writer/director, Michiel Blanchart of Belgium, this film showcases his passion and love for cinema exceptionally well.

After a highly successful festival run, "You're Dead Helen" has made the Oscar shortlist for Best Live-Action Short Film. Even more, it is slated to be made into a feature length film with Sam Raimi attached as producer.

I recently had the great opportunity to speak with Michiel about his work, and all that went into creating "You're Dead Helen."

Writer/Director, Michiel Blanchart on set of "You're Dead Helen."

First of all, congratulations on making the Oscar shortlist for Best Live-Action Short Film with "You're Dead Helen"! Can you tell us what the initial spark, or inspiration was for this story?

Thank you so much! We are thrilled to be part of the shortlist! I feel so grateful for all the attention that the short is getting. “You’re Dead Helen” is born from my desire to blend genres and the fact that I wanted to tell the end of a love story. This short is not about death, per se, but about saying goodbye to the people you love the most. It’s about separation in the largest sense.

Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you get started in filmmaking? Did writing come first, or were you always set on being a filmmaker?

It’s never been so much about “writing” or “directing” it’s about making a film, and I love all the aspects of it. I don’t really separate the writing part from the filmmaking part. I feel like from the moment I write the first line of a script I’m already directing.

I don’t remember a time where I didn’t want to make films. I started making shorts when I was about 7 years old. My 70 year old neighbor had a camcorder and was nice enough to be my first cinematographer!

Then at 18, I went to cinema school, in Belgium, and that is where I met most of the people I still work with today.

© T’es morte Hélène / Daylight Films & Formosa productions

The way you seamlessly transition through several genres in this film is extraordinary. Was this your intention when you first wrote the story, or did that take shape later?

The blending of genres was part of the concept of the film. I see the movie as a love story that’s also a love letter to cinema. My philosophy was to use in each scene, and in each beat of the story, the cinematic tools best suited for conveying the emotions the characters were going through.

In a way the movie is structured around the main stages of grief. So, the beginning of the movie is about denial which makes for a lot of awkward and funny situations and gives us the “romcom” part of the film, then it’s about anger, so we dive into the horror part to deal with the mean and row emotions, and at the end it’s about acceptance bringing us to the emotional, bitter-sweet conclusion of the story. In the end, it’s all about love.

The two leads are amazing and show real chemistry in this film. How did you find Théophile Mou (Maxime) and Lucile Vignolles (Hélène)? Are there plans to work with either of them again in the future?

They will be pleased to hear your praises!

Théo and Lucile are both close friends of mine and I was thinking of them from the get-go when I started writing. Of course, I didn’t tell them, and I still went through a very thorough casting process. I saw a lot of actors, but in the end, I knew it was them.

How was it working with the cast and crew on this film, and how long did filming take?

I had a blast working with the cast and crew on this film. It was a very intense and demanding shoot. We were mainly shooting at night, in the middle of winter and we had only 8 days to shoot many complex scenes in many different locations. It was a challenge, but I loved every minute of it, and I can’t thank enough all the people that went on this adventure with me.

© T’es morte Hélène / Daylight Films & Formosa productions

Was the script strictly followed, or were things changed along the way due to time, difficulty, or artistic changes?

In terms of shot list and blocking, we sometimes had to adapt, change or abandon a shot, but in terms of the story and the script itself the shooting was more of an additive process. We stayed fairly close to the script (due to the technical constraints of the film) but I was very careful to leave as much space and freedom for the actors to improv and come up with new ideas on set. So, there is more in the film then there was in the script. Spoilers: The “dream” dancing scene in the subway and the final kiss were ideas that came up during the shooting.

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in making "You're Dead Helen"?

Like I said, the most challenging aspect for me was reconciling the very technical aspects of the film and the freedom and spontaneity needed to make the characters believable.

There were a lot of technical challenges on this project: like shooting the subway scene in a motionless tramway train in a museum, or making a “zombie” come out of a hidden hole in the ground. But the most difficult scene for me was the flashback at the end. To me this scene is the heart of the movie, the most emotional one, and unfortunately, we only had a couple of hours to get it right! So I threw away half of the coverage and focused on the faces of the actors and luckily they were amazing!

© T’es morte Hélène / Daylight Films & Formosa productions

In your time making films, is there anything you know now that you wished you knew earlier? Any hard lessons learned?

I learned to listen to collaborators while still putting my personal intuition above the rest. People always say “the best idea wins.” And sure, there is no place for ego on a movie set. With that being said, I learned that there is no “best idea.” The best idea is the one you feel the most sincere about. You can’t lie.

Also, I learned that the movie you’re making gets a mind of its own. You may have a great idea, or shot that you really love, but sometimes the movie rejects it, and you must listen to that.

What equipment was used to shoot "You're Dead Helen", and what software was used for editing and visual effects?

We shot with an Alexa mini I believe. Editing on Avid. I did half of the VFX myself in After Effects and the other half was done by a VFX company “C3N studio.” I don’t remember which software they used.

© T’es morte Hélène / Daylight Films & Formosa productions

What films have inspired and/or influenced you most?

Korean cinema inspires me a lot because of the way they so effortlessly blend tones and genres. Bong Joon-ho being one of the best examples, of course.

Also, Martin Mcdonagh in the way he mixes emotion and humor to create something new and powerful.

And, of course, Sam Raimi and his horror comedies full of heart were obviously a big influence on this particular project.

What do you believe is key to making a great film?

Generosity and sincerity.

© T’es morte Hélène / Daylight Films & Formosa productions

As there are plans for feature-length adaptation of "You're Dead Helen" with Sam Raimi attached as producer, do you already have a framework in mind on how you envision the full story will play out?

I wrote a 12 page treatment at this point, but we are relatively early in the development and there is still a lot of work to do to figure out the script. But there are new ideas for this story that we are very excited about and we know where we are going, I think!

Do you have a dream project, or other stories you have in mind to put to film yet?

I always dreamed of making a Batman movie, but it seems that Matt Reeves already made the Batman film I dreamed of, so….

More seriously, there are so many genres and stories that I want to explore. I’m also working on a post-apocalyptic Syfy drama that I really hope to make one day.

Is there any advice you would give aspiring filmmakers today?

Work hard, be kind, be generous, be sincere.

Listen to everybody and especially to the little voice in your soul.

Many thanks to Michiel for his time answering my questions. You're Dead Helen is currently available on Short Of The Week. Please watch and share!

Nick C Sorbin (Nick Charles) is a former Managing Editor of 9 years for Renderosity's CG Industry News. By day, a mild-mannered Certified Pharmacy Technician working in both home infusion and a hospital ER, contrasting creative outlets as a digital artist, sculptor, musician, singer/songwriter, and Staff Writer for Renderosity Magazine. Read his articles

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