On Directing vs. Drumming
Alain Chabat and Gael García Bernal in The Science of Sleep
In this section, Michel Gondry talks about his Directors Series DVD,
Dave Chappelle's Block Party, and his passion for the drums.
Fennessy: When I was in college, we did layouts with -- we cut things out and stuck them on wax and then put them on paper. And that's how they're doing layout in the movie [Stephane works at a calendar company]. Did you do that kind of layout?
Gondry: So, you cut out shapes?
Fennessy: Yeah, when we did the campus newspaper, we were doing that
old-style layout, which is in the movie. And now...it's all on computers.
Gondry: Any computer has a program to do composition...but at the time it wasn't like that. When I was doing Stephane's job...I would guard this huge prehistoric machine. At the time, it wasn't prehistoric -- I mean, it was in '82-'84 -- so it was optical at the most, certainly not digital. They had a computer in the middle of the part I worked in -- 1983 -- but they just used it to store customer information. So, everything was done like that in the back room with sticking little numbers on things...
Fennessy: And you still have nightmares where your hands are getting bigger!
Tyler: Do you know when you'll have time to do another Directors Series DVD?
Gondry: I'd like to do another one... It was the best thing that happened to me --
to put out this DVD -- because after that people think of me as a creator. Whereas before, they said, 'Oh yeah, he's a video director, so he just likes the visuals, but doesn't care for the story.' But when people from the movie business looked at that -- who are a little bit close-minded -- they started to open to me. They would
say, 'Oh, you can do good videos, actually; he did some good ones, so maybe he's
not so bad.' It helped a lot with Eternal Sunshine. So, I'm really pleased with the way that turned out, with the book, and all the menus -- everything was exactly the way I wanted it -- and it was very nice. I wish it was always the case, that everything was like that. We've sold 200,000-300,000 copies... [For the next one] I already have 15-20 videos, and I'm doing a subject on my auntie this summer, who has been a school teacher all her life in the countryside in a little town, and on my son, which is to be called 'Paul Gondry is My Son.' It's going to be about his painting.
Fennessy: Does he have any work in The Science of Sleep?
Gondry: No, he was at school all day, he couldn't... Later, we will work together, but he's doing his painting now, and it's really brilliant, so I want to show him at work.
Mel Stuart's 1973 concert film with Jesse Jackson, Isaac Hayes, and Richard Pryor
Tyler: Do you think you might do a short film -- collaborate on a single project --
with Spike Jonze or Chris Cunningham? You could all work on one project.
Gondry: We did some stuff together. We did kind of an "exquise" little film. We were hanging in a hotel room with one of...those cameras...[indistinguishable]. So he was starting a story and then I would carry on, and then he would carry on after me, and we didn't know what was going on, because we just saw the last frame. [pause] I don't know, maybe. Or maybe we're too close. I think he's more willing than me to collaborate... I fear too much to lose my individuality. I think my personality is maybe not so strong, so I really want to establish myself -- and maybe [I'm] selfish.
[I think Gondry was talking about Jonze, but this part was hard to make out.]
Fennessy: We're bouncing around here, but I guess it's hard not to... When you were making Dave Chappelle's Block Party, were you thinking about Wattstax?
Gondry: Well, we mentioned it, but...it's not the same context. I don't think
I have to...pretend I'm doing a movie about an African-American rebellion.
More, everything we have to do our own way, so I strongly recommended we
stop thinking of that. I watched it, and it was great, but I didn't try to emulate it.
Fennessy: Yeah, the tone is completely different. It's a little similar [structurally], but I read an interview where you said you made the film right after the election, there was a lot of anger, and you wanted to sort of get away from that.
Gondry: Actually, we made it before; the election happened during the editing, and we were all...nausea. [laughs] So we didn't want to put too much political context because it was too -- the best way was just to show the humanity of the people that were in the movie -- more than...the anger. Everybody was happy to be there anyway.
[The film features Dave Chappelle, his favorite hip-hop artists, some
regular Brooklyn folks, and even a few fans bused in from Ohio.]
Fennessy: How did that come together? Did Dave Chappelle approach you or...?
Gondry: Well, we were joking around. We were doing some festival together, and
he said he...called Spike Jonze, and then because he wasn't available, he asked
me. So, I wasn't sure if it was serious or a joke, so I said to him I wanted to do a documentary with Chris Rock, and since he wasn't available, I'll ask you. [laughs]
But we had the same agent, and when he saw my DVD, he was a fan and when I
saw his DVD [Chappelle's Show], I was a fan. So as much as we are different, we have a lot in common, which is a creative process. As well, he was in a good place. He wanted to give back to the people who helped him...and now he was becoming a big star, he wanted to give back. I liked that gesture, so I wanted to be a part of it.
Dave Chappelle, Richard Pryor T-shirt under his jacket,
with Ohio's Central State University Marching Band
Fennessy: There are a lot of drummers in the film. Did you have a rapport
with them? Even Mos Def has that scene where he's drumming -- that's a great scene -- and Dave Chappelle is telling the "Your Mama" jokes. And Questlove from the
Roots and Chappelle [who also drums] seem to have this great rapport...
Gondry: In the "Making of" on the DVD that's out now,
you can see me drumming with them. We did a mini-tour.
Fennessy: It came here.
Gondry: I wasn't with them when they came here; I was there for the East Coast.
In Charlotte, we did a gig and it was Erykah Badu's birthday, and she asked me
to come and play...and I played 20 minutes. It was my big dream -- I was [living
out] my dream in some way -- because I've been playing drums for years in bands, but they were always like new wave or very stiff, and I always wanted to play more like funk music. And with her, she has a great bass player and a backbeat...
Fennessy: And you're on the Kanye [West] album, which I just read.
I didn't know that. I was really impressed -- that's a great song.
[He appears on "Gold Digger" off Late Registration.]
Gondry: It's a great showcase, but I have to admit, I played over a song
that he had recorded, and they looped me. I'm there, but it's not like I supported
the song. But yeah, I will do any drummer job for anyone. It's really nice to be
a drummer -- as long as you don't have to carry the drums around.
Fennessy: Would you drum for the White Stripes if Meg was ill? [laughs]
Gondry: I don't know -- she's irreplaceable. I would rather play the triangle.
In Stephane's dreams, he's a cat suit-wearing drummer
Next: On New Projects and Old Favorites
The Science of Sleep continues at the Egyptian Theatre (801 E Pine).
For more information, please click here or call 206-781-5755. Photos
courtesy Rogue Pictures and © Warner Independent Pictures.