Highlights from a SXSW Conversation with Olivier Assayas

The director of Personal Shopper sits down with the director of Boyhood to talk filmmaking.
By  · Published on March 14th, 2018

The director of Personal Shopper sits down with the director of Boyhood to talk filmmaking.

Probably best known in recent years for films like Personal Shopper and Clouds of Sils Maria, Olivier Assayas is a French writer and director. He’s found critical acclaim with films such as Summer Hours, Something in the Air and his TV miniseries Carlos.

During SXSW, the festival hosted a conversation with Assayas moderated by Richard Linklater,  director of Boyhood and Before Sunset. Throughout the conversation, they discussed a wide range of subjects pertaining to filmmaking, including working within genres and being part of a collective team. Below are some of the highlights of Assayas’ conversation with Linklater and his reflections on his career.

Politics and Film 

Near the beginning of the conversation, Linklater asked Assayas about the role of politics in film. Mentioning his interest in Guy Debord, Assayas went on to explain how Debord incorporated politics into film theory. “When you were a would-be in artist in those years, you had to make sense of your approach,” he said, “It was not good enough to say ‘hey I like movies, I would like to make movies. I’m a cinephile.’”

Filmmaking as a Collective Experience

For Assayas, rather than looking forward to running the whole show, he believes being part of the collective is one of the greatest parts of working on a film. “Every movie I’ve made, I don’t want to be like the boss of business which sometimes you could feel when you’re directing a film,” he said. “I want to be just part of the collective that is basically just enjoying itself, doing something that has to do with their ideal…”

Assayas as a Film Writer

Mid-way through the conversation, Linklater mentioned Assayas’ past as a film critic, which he spent about 5 years doing, but Assayas clarified and explained how his job as a film writer helped him to become a filmmaker. “I’ve never been a film critic. I’ve been a film writer,” he explained. “And I’ve been making short films before that, and I’ve been writing screenplays. And yes I did write a bit about movies, but it was because it was like film school for me.”

The Power of Silent Films

During the conversation, Assayas brought up his great appreciation for silent films, claiming to be obsessed with the magic of them, and explained how they have influenced his own work. “I’ve always questioned why silent films, even the least ambitious, they still have something magical about them,” he said. “Well, it’s very simple. Most of those were filming things for the first time so there’s a sort of virginity, something that can’t be repeated.” Applying that to his own filmmaking, Assayas says he understands that a film needs “To make it worth it, it has to capture something of the magic.”

Genre Filmmaking

Linklater brought up the subject of genre filmmaking, mentioning that Assayas isn’t afraid to really dig into genre. As a response, Assayas said, “The filmmakers who made the strongest impression on when I was a young man, I don’t know, David Cronenberg, John Carpenter, Wes Craven. Those movies, they were so powerful and they were done with no money and it as young filmmakers who were doing things in a completely different way, and I’ve always had the sense that genre filmmaking, somehow reaches fervor inside us than classical psychology or whatever, because you react physically to genre. I always think that indie filmmaking misses that dimension of connecting the body of the audience.”

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