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Camille Marotte: “Film Takes Us To The Places We’re Yet To Explore”

Production Company
Los Angeles, USA
The recently-signed Great Guns director tells LBB’s Adam Bennett how fine art inspires his modern filmmaking, and why music can often be the greatest hidden challenge for directors

Sitting down for a conversation with the director Camille Marotte - recently signed to Great Guns - is like preparing for a masterclass lesson in visual arts. Camille’s love of imagery can be traced back to his teenage years, scouring marketplaces for the best cameras and learning the tricks of the trade from his father, who worked as a projectionist. 

Today, the director blends his visual passion with an understanding of technology which consistently sets his work apart. Whether it be leaning into stunning VFX or enlisting the help of drones to provide lighting, Camille’s body of work so far has lent him a unique and idiosynchratic reputation. It’s perhaps best described by Great Guns’ own Laura Gregory, who posits that the filmmaker is “minting his own style, like an NFT on acid”. 

And yet despite his penchant for high-tech filmic wizardry, Camille has never been one for gimmicks. In fact, he’ll happily explain how his early inspirations can be ascribed to his time at art school learning about the grandmasters of 18th century paintings. 

To get into the brain of the singular director, and reflect on his work to date, LBB’s Adam Bennett spoke to Camille… 

LBB> To start at the beginning, what kind of a kid were you growing up and at what point did you realise you wanted to pursue a career in film?

Camille> Well, as a kid I was passionate about video games and building my own computers at an early age, most likely influenced by my dad working as a projectionist for a small cinema in Paris next to the Arc de Triomphe. I can remember the smell and sound of the celluloid through the projector, and wanting to buy a Super8 camera at a flea market when I was around 12.

LBB> From your Instagram, I get the impression that you enjoy playing with light. Is it fair to say that you find light a useful creative tool, and why is that if so?

Camille> Even though I love motion, I really enjoy the strengths of a still picture. I’m fascinated by the composition and colour contrast, and I try to post good and impactful stills. A good light can turn a very boring scene into a painting. I can only remember a few things from my time at art school but one is the "Le Sacre de Napoléon" from Jacques-Louis David, where the light and contrasts are equally strong and beautiful.

LBB> A number of your projects feature fight scenes. What are the challenges in putting together a fight scene, and do you find them to be a useful creative tool?

Camille> I like the dynamism of fight scenes - I actually shot the ones in BMW’s Prime Impulse myself and it was fun to be so close to the boxers with the camera. Some scenes are actually POV where the boxer is trying to hit the lens and at one point he touched the mattebox and I felt the punch! Fortunately, nothing broke down and it was all good fun. The fight scenes in Asus’ Another Level were different. They lent more on choreography and VFX, and were shot on a steadycam. But they look great - less "rough", but more elegant. 

Above: BMW’s ‘Prime Impulse’ campaign - viscerally shot by Camille - came through the agency Interone China.

Above: The smooth style of the fight scenes in Asus’ ‘Another Level’ campaign is owed to Camille’s use of steadycam. 

LBB> You’ve also got a lot of experience in motion design. Are there any ways in which that’s affected the director you are today?

Camille> Yes, I was a motion designer for several years. My very first real artistic love was actually 3D at around 17 years old, and I wanted to model 3D spaceships. I then later went through different phases like concept art, speed painting, photography, motion design, and finally filmmaking. As a result of all that experience, it's great to be able to talk with some knowledge to each of the different people involved in the creation of the film - at least they can't fool me too much! Plus, I feel I can bring better, more valuable references to the table myself.

LBB> As a filmmaker, how would you describe your relationship with technology?

Camille> Well, I considered myself as something of a geek ever since I built my first computer at the age of 14. I managed to put my first website online in late 1998 using only Microsoft Word (although the design wasn't so great, I was at least proud of using a milky way background). Today, I'm always in love when trying new lenses, new cameras, and I was really lucky to be able to shoot my last Asus spot with the ALEXA 65. I felt like it was Christmas! More broadly, I'm always a very early adopter with tech - especially when it comes to monitors and all the screens with great definition and accurate colours.

LBB> You’ve previously mentioned that “music can often make up more than 50% of the work”. How would you describe your relationship with music, and in what ways does it inspire you to create images?

Camille> Music can often be a challenging phase of production for me. I frequently operate the camera, usually re-edit, and sometimes even fully colour grade my director's cuts. I can even add some VFX (as I did on the Voices spot for Ellle) but there is one field about which I have no knowledge: Music. 

Usually the music budget has also been a little bit forgotten, and we don't usually have enough left for composers to do a really great job. When the client wants to go in one direction and you want to go in another there isn't usually budget and time to try both, so as a director you often end up trying to figure out yourself what to for for your director's cut, as bad music can really destroy all your work on the images. Ultimately, you need to make friends with talented musicians, or simply become one yourself! 

LBB> Why is it important for you to be part of the colour-grading process in your work? 

Camille> I've been colour grading my still photos ever since the day I started doing photography, and now 99% of the time I colour grade my director's cuts. Most of the time the agency or client found my grade to be ‘too dark’, which I can understand. When you want to sell your product you want bright pictures I guess! But what I am striving for is impactful cinematography. 

On any given project I like to have input from the DOP, especially when I really like his reel and I feel he can bring me to new places I haven’t yet explored.

LBB> I read an anecdote from you about accidentally landing (in a helicopter) in someone’s garden in Cape Town first thing in the morning! Do those kind of adventures give you any kind of creative inspiration, and does travel play any role in your creative process?

Camille> Haha, that was indeed a nice morning! We were shooting aerial shots above a forest in Cape Town with strong winds, and the pilot felt we would crash if we continued to try landing on the next shooting locations. So, he landed us together with the DOP on a nearby field. 

We then discovered that the field was surrounded by electric gates and the DOP was quite literally shocked when trying to climb above them. After a while, we were finally greeted by the owner of the land on a quad bike and two huge dogs who were just waiting for his word to attack us! By the time I had breakfast, I’d nearly died on three separate occasions before 9am. 

I have a lot of other shooting anecdotes (some are less risky), but what gives me the biggest buzz is when a team of grownups is trying to figure out all the best ways to achieve a shot that hasn't been done before. When shooting car chases scenes (on the BMW) for example, and when we lit a whole forest using only a drone (on Oppo Mysterious Light), that's when you see the whole team is excited and dedicated to create a shot, it's indeed a cool creative process.

Above: This beautifully-shot spot for computer electronics brand Oppo was lit using just a drone.

LBB> Finally, it’s been a challenging few years (for many reasons!). Throughout it all, how have you been keeping creatively inspired and motivated?

Camille> I've been lucky in that I’ve been able to travel and shoot in Argentina, Prague, and Cape Town, but what I have missed the most is pack my suitcase once a month and travel for two to three weeks at a time. I was always on the go before the pandemic, discovering new countries and new places. My hope now is that we will still have some good opportunities to travel in the near future as I think it's one of the best way to open your brain. 

As for how I've been keeping creatively inspired, I’ve been renovating a house for the past one and half years and have only just moved in. Such a simultaneously creative and disruptive process can only be inspiring for a filmmaker!