There are few sectors that attract such passions, ambitions and hopes as the movie industry. Who has never fantasized of becoming an actor, a director or a film producer? For most of us it will only remain a dream and for those who dare, it can quickly become a nightmare. But with the expansion of the web and the popularisation of technologies once reserved to professional elite, more and more young people are able to produce, direct and act in films created for the web, at a low cost. Thibaut Oskian, a young French director and one of the creative minds behind the web series “Rapaces/Bird of Prey”, has been capable to exploit this opportunity. Although he studied business and works now in the web marketing department of a computer game company, he kept his passion for cinema and has produced amateur short movies. Today, with Rapaces, he hopes to take it further and transition into a full-time career as a director. Updating the Western genre with a modern twist, Rapaces mixes old and new in an impeccably shot nine minutes short film, not featuring any dialogue. A gun shot, a bird that takes fly and a wounded man lying on the ground, between rocks. Four characters with pistols and no mercy. The scene is set.
How did you start directing?
I wanted to work in the cinema industry since high school and I started to study business at university mainly as a parachute solution. But it has interested me and what I do today to earn a living is closely linked to the audio-visual sector. I trained myself by watching lots of movies and shooting amateur short films. I started quite young, using the family camcorder as often as possible.
What were your references for Rapaces?
Thomas Mansuy [the screenwriter and assistant director] and I were inspired to work in the cinema business watching the films of Sergio Leone, and Leone is of course a major reference when it comes to making Westerns. But we wanted something exaggerated and almost cartoonish, sort of Sergio Leone meets Tex Avery. Because there is no dialogue, we have to push the characters’ facial expressions to the maximum. There is also a darker side to Rapaces, inspired by horror movies.
How did the project started?
It had been a while that we wanted to do a web series, a relatively new phenomenon on the web. Thomas Mansuy and I wanted to shoot something during the summer and we had started on a complicated scenario with lots of dialogues. But we could not finish it on time, so we decided to improvise a Western instead, with a lot of action and no dialogue. I already had many accessories from a previous short film. We wrote the screen play for the pilot episode of Rapaces/Birds of Prey in a few hours, went to scout locations around Paris, rang up several friends and contacts to be casted as actors and in one month we had brought together a team and shot the short film. It worked very well. Given the success and the potential of the story, we decided to develop Rapaces into a 12 episodes series.
Why is there no dialogue at all?
I am often asked this question. When you watch Sergio Leone, where there are few dialogues, what you understand is that cinema is very different from theater, it is an art that can use other things than dialogues to convey a story: the lights, the frame, the music, the look in the actors’ eyes… These are the pure means of the cinema.
In a way, you are going back to the roots of cinema? Films were silent when cinema started…
Exactly, cinema was silent. Charlie Chaplin did not have dialogue. I find cinema is at its purest when there is no dialogue. Of course there are movies with wonderful dialogues and I am not saying it is something negative. But the image itself is a mean of expression that always attracted me and I feel more comfortable with it than with dialogue. The second reason is that it is a challenge to tell a story across 12 episodes with no words. It pushes us to go further in what we do, be more radical, more inventive. The third reason is that it corresponds to our original idea of making something very dense. The following episodes won’t be purely made of action, but it will remain very visual. Lastly, it brings done the barrier of language, making Rapaces accessible to anyone.
How do you finance the production at the moment?
Mainly from the team’s own pocket. We did not reach out to production companies yet or try to monetize it. It is too early, we need to broaden our public, and I want to improve the quality. If everything goes well, we should contact sponsors after the release of the first episode.
What is the budget for an episode?
For the pilot we stretched every penny to its maximum. We had around 150 Euros. Although we already had the accessories, everyone worked for free and we could afford only one day of shooting. With the first episode of the web series, we had a much bigger budget of several hundreds Euros, which is still not much. But the costs involved are adding up in postproduction, because I keep buying plug-ins for the editing software!
Even without a big budget, everything seems super professional. You are working with professional actors, a stuntman, professional music composers…
We tried to make it as professional as possible with the available means. I use a Canon 5D Mark II to shoot, which is a photographic camera cheaper than a real cinema camera but with an amazing quality, especially for the web. It was used to shoot several plans in Iron Man 2 and the entire final episode of Dr House. It is great in low lights and allows playing with the focus. For example on a close-up, you can have the eyes of a character in focus and the rest blurred, which creates a very intimate impression. You can also have several great quality lenses, which is impossible on a camcorder, at least not for this price.
When is the first episode coming out?
At the end of December. It will be around 5 minutes long. The postproduction takes a lot of time because I want a very professional and neat finish. I am fully aware of all the defects and weaknesses these short films have, but I will not stand watching them and tell myself that when I had the opportunity to control everything, when the shooting was over, when there was no pressure, no money issue, no actors involved, I botched something. It would simply be laziness and I refuse that it happens. I will work to really refine it and make it as “cinema” as possible.
Are you a bit of a perfectionist too?
Yes, I want it perfect. I want it technically as close as possible to irreproachable. It is something that usually annoys me in French cinema, films are botched most of the time. I don’t like American blockbusters, but there is an undeniable professionalism. The picture is irreproachable, with more or less talent and personality, but at least it is neat. This will be a professional production too.
Although cheaper technologies and the web have made film directing and producing more accessible, two ingredients remains impossible to buy, yet indispensable: dedication and talent. It is obvious with his good eye for details that Oskian possess both.
Photo: From the Archive of Thibaut Oskian