4. Hubert Chardot (Interview)

You've worked a lot in the video games business and on several well known titles in particular (such as the first Alone in the Dark games and The Devil Inside…). How did you get this kind of work?

By chance, as with a lot that has happened to me. I don't mean to be pretentious or to show off, but I never had a career plan, only opportunities, luck and meeting the right people. Things that seemed insignificant at the time became important and now seem almost amazing when I look back. The kind of alchemy that's hard to explain. I've worked in journalism (I was the kind of passionate journalist that never backed down, the kind others love…), in movies (programming, exploitation and distribution) and then my last job at 20th Century Fox went up in flames and so I had to start looking for another job. I happened to like writing and a friend of mine, Christian Fraigneux, who worked at Warner Bros (and still does), knew Bruno Bonnell, the head of Infogrammes, and acted as a go-between.

I can still see myself, showing up at the meeting dressed to the nines, with an attaché case in hand, my cheeks red from having shaved twice… The whole works! I was immediately hooked. Once Bruno Bonnell and I had talked (we actually discussed images, movies and interactivity), I was shown around. At Dreamland, I met a bunch of "loonies" and I had this need I didn't yet know about, a passion, a stone to bring to the edifice. It's hard to put into words. It's the kind of job you just know you want. For the first time, I could work in an area that didn't even exist when I was born and on top of that, these people designed adventure games. Bingo! They needed someone to write stories and I was on it in no time. It seemed like Hollywood, the golden door, something that sucked me in and looked like a dream. So I rushed home and started typing away on my Panasonic typewriter that corrected all mistakes. It was this huge thing with a grey keyboard and lots of keys that you'll never need unless you work at a scientific research lab… So classy. And look at the integrated Tipp-Ex ribbon! And the MP3 style screen that held up to six words before the machine typed them automatically… Ain't it cool? I wrote like a man possessed and my wife was totally nonplussed!

"You are what ? Going to work in video games? And what do you know about that?"
"Nothing, but it's going to be great!"

My wife let me go on, God bless her. I wrote the synopsis of "Shadow of the Comet" which did well and from a smart Panasonic typewriter, I moved on to a computer.

The games you've worked on are firmly rooted in horror. We're guessing that your personal preferences go toward that genre, whether it's the cinematic world or the literary one (Lovecraft ?). Would you tell us more about that?

I discovered Lovecraft in a roundabout, almost clandestine way. My grandfather was a writer and taught me to type but he also read me stories that were very fantasy-oriented. My grandmother (who also raised me) didn't always agree. Well, reading stories about Hell to an eight-year old is kind of worrying but I was still interested so I went looking through my grandfather's books. To make a long story short, I discovered "The Hound of the Baskervilles" at nine and back then (I'm fifty now), the only TV channel showed a movie every Sunday afternoon. A treasure for a kid! And lots of short movies with Sherlock Holmes that made me shiver deliciously. When the dog howled at Basil Rathbone, I hid my eyes so I wouldn't let go in my pants. In high school, I kept reading and… lo and behold! I wasn't the only one who liked stuff considered to be unimportant and incompatible. You could like Mozart, The Who and at the same time have an appreciation for Conan Doyle or, even better, Lovecraft. It was my grandfather who, one day, put "Day of the Magicians" between my hands. I was twelve and had finally discovered a part of myself. So I devoured Lovecraft's stories. On my first trip to the States, I had brought some Lovecraft pocket books with me and I exchanged them for photocopies of letters and postcards written by him. I was out of my mind… I've always thought of this writer as an conundrum, a man "out of time". You can hate him for a lot of reasons (which author is completely likeable?) but he's indisputably a master with words. You read just one chapter, close your eyes and there it is. This guy was a catalyst, a visionary. Try to imagine this adolescent raised by two aunts who starts corresponding with people all over the world while trying to maintain a "correct" lifestyle, helps other writers and aims to be, at best, considered as a loser in a society obsessed by wealth ? Do you know a sharper definition of adolescence ? How can you not be hooked by someone as apart from everyone as that ? As for the rest - books, movies and music - if I start talking about who I admire, you'll never go home. Let's just say that "Salem's Lot" and "Carrion Comfort" are great books. THE SHINING and Jacques Tourneur's CURSE OF THE DEMON are other sources of inspiration but my tastes go toward the classical. Just as Bach, Charpentier and others in that vein mix with Led Zeppelin and their sort on my turntable.

If you have seen it, what are your feelings about the movie adaptation of ALONE IN THE DARK knowing that a sequel is on its way?

I haven't seen it but I've read the script. I didn't know they were going to do a sequel but from what I've read here and there about the first, I'll just pray that the release date of the sequel remains unsure.

How did you get in touch with Jean-Marc Vincent with whom you've already collaborated before LADY BLOOD?

Jean-Marc Vincent is a friend and I don't have a lot. We've known each other for twelve years. We met by chance one day and then - I don't recall if the idea was his or mine - we thought that we should try working together. It just happened. And since? No need for us to speak to understand each other - we have our codewords and our private jokes. We have a lot of things in common (Argento, Peckinpah, De Funes…) but also a lot of differences. I like a lot of things that he hates because I have good taste. For instance, I love the silent movies of Jean-Christian Mouchemard, a misunderstood artist who died of pulmonary congestion on his first shoot in 1912, whereas Jean-Marc reveres Zing Tao, a kind of "Hollywood zombie" who made "Little Beer" in 48 (NDLR : Yeah, of course !). But I must say that it's one of our rare artistic differences. Anyway, each time we watch a Black & White movie together, I tie him up and when he makes me watch colour movies, he fills me with tranquilizers. There's a harmonic friendship between us. From time to time, he surprises me. Other times, it's the other way round. It's an ongoing challenge with no winner but that's not our goal. He's going to be so mad when he reads this (actually, he's the one writing: I have a gun to my temple: his finger tightens on the trigger: SAVE ME!!!) but Jean-Marc's a very good director. He has the authority, the vision, he likes stories. He can write and film - I think we're a great team.

LADY BLOOD was brought to us by the producer. Emmanuelle Escourrou wrote the first draft. We met, hit it off and started working together. The idea was to make an action movie that people will want to see in spite of the price of the ticket.

Had you seen BABY BLOOD prior to working on LADY BLOOD ?

Yes sir! I went through a "see everyting" phase as a cinephile and also working as a movie theater manager, distributor, journalist… I'd seen it (but for free) and to be honest, I would be lying if I told you that I left the theater thinking : " Wow, that was great! ". After meeting Emmanuelle Escourrou, I got the DVD, watched it again and thought: " Damn! I can do this! " An authentic, french talking gore movie - how could I refuse that?

How did the writing unfold from Emmanuelle Escourrou's idea? Did you work closely together or separately ?

It was an immense pleasure (and I hope we'll work together again). What was so pleasurable ? It was simple and straightforward. I wish I could lead you on with stories about egos, scenes that were cut or laid claim to… It's good to work as a threesome with writers who have other things to prove than how hard they can hit each other. Not putting ourselves too much forward, I think I can say that we all served the movie well, we had the same goal in mind. That's pretty good and even a great pleasure.

Is writing a video game script very different from writing a movie in the sense that the interactivity is missing? Or do you approach the two the same way ?

It's not just a technical matter but definitely the approach. The difference is objective. How can I put this ? It's like writing a song or a novel or a play or an essay - one has nothing to do with the other. A good novelist may write terrible movie dialogue. Writing has nothing to do with a strict literary discipline. You can evoke feelings but there's nothing without the style, the music of the words. Writing is not meant to be seen, the important thing is to stick close to the idea all the way through. And then everything happens on the set so that the images, the dialogue and the different situations can stand up for themselves.

In my opinion, writing for a video game, whatever the size of the project, equals creating a whole universe wheras in movies, you tell stories. I don't know of any good movie that doesn't have a good script whereas lots of great games have no story. But it's a long topic of discussion and it could get boring…

In writing, anything can be done but in movies, natural limits impose themselves as for what can be put on film or not according to the budget. Did this kind of constraint cause you problems that you had to revise some of your ideas or did you already have a clear vision of what wasn't possible?

No, you never do. If you want an equivalent, the screenwriter is God. In front of the computer screen, at least. Then, it gets harder. It all changes… But that's the way it goes. In the best of cases, the screenwriter says to himself: " I'm like Michaelangelo painting the Sistine Chapel which wasn't made for that. You have to put on coating, create perspevtives around mythological images, show Heaven and Hell… Ok, let's do it. Let's put on the coating. But if the Pope isn't happy with it, he'll hit me on the head with his crook! ". Otherwise, it's: " No luck. I'll just have to live with the hatred and go into therapy later. ". Whatever. I think the best way is knowing that these constraints exist, that you'll have to play around with them, that a well written scene doesn't necessarily work on the screen. That's it. A screenwriter makes the bed where others will lie. May they sleep well ! When you write, that's what you do.

If you had to define LADY BLOOD in terms of influences, without revealing too much of the story, what would they be?

Well… We didn't hold back, that's for sure. Our main influences were visible at the dailies - as for the rest, I hope it will be part of a later interview.

Jean-Marc Vincent told us he's already signed on for another horrific thriller. Since you've worked together previously (LADY BLOOD and his short films), will you also be part of this new adventure?

Yes sir ! But I'm bound by contract not to reveal any more at this point.

Several violent genre movies have been released in France these past few years. Which ones did you like the most and why (Quality writing ? Directing ?) ?

To be frank, I don't like answering this kind of question. It would only be my opinion on whatever movie's "hot" right now. As for "genre movie"? I would say THE GIRL CAN'T HELP IT. Godard's BREATHLESS with the memorable line: " Is this disgusting or what ? " or TRACK OF THE CAT with Mitchum which is a great and unknown movie, or everything that Tod Browning or James Whale have made but now I'm onto my personal favourites. As for " genre movies " ? That term doesn't really mean anything to me, there are just good movies that provoke sensations, emotions… In the French genre, I would have to say LES DIABOLIQUES by H.G. Clouzot. That's a real classy masterpiece - how can you top that ?

I agree with you that the term "genre movie" can mean anything and nothing. In spite of being a specialised website, not to say very specialised, we watch all kinds of movies with no prejudices for the same reasons you evoke: the sensations, the emotions and the simple pleasure of good storytelling...

The thing is that the term "genre movie" can mean anything and end up being nothing when the movie's done. We used to call it B-movies which is an economical term for being faced with a very expensive art. When you're on a tight budget, it means " less money = more imagination " and that's fine with me. The genre movie doesn't exist in and of itself, it's just a classification. Any movie can be classified, except all those really boring ones that are revered by whatever's left of our bourgeois upper class. These movies don't say much but make a lot of noise - red heels like to scratch the floor to affirm their lack of value masked by fox hunters, " The unassociated pursuing the uneatable ". Sorry for quoting Oscar Wilde who wrote "genre" novels and plays. We also have a literary worth which can become our trademark and that's good.

Within these limits, the ideal thing is to provoke emotions. Movies, like video games, are a visual media and purveyors of mythology. CITIZEN KANE, or THE FOG, are "genre movies". They're about us, our fears, about what makes a man complete. This distinction is just a way of communicating and tomorrow, other words will replace it. Let's say for the sake of argument that it does exist. In France, we're afraid of genres and in particular horror, gore, whatever's different from the norm. It's safer to label a movie or a video game, that way you don't have to admit that you were scared to bits while watching or playing but I don't think it's a typically French phenomenon. How many Césars, Oscars, Donatellos, Golden Lions have been given to horror movies, comedies, westerns ? Do the count. Movies that receive awards are not necessarily the ones people go to see. That's part of the game. In this business, who really wins ? One of the most beautiful movies ever made is THE RULES OF THE GAME. It's a genre movie based on light-hearted banter and Renoir himself said that it was a "joyous drama"… What better definition for a so-called genre movie ? Genre is the one we choose so it better be as classy as possible!

Do you have other video game projects or will you be working in movies in the future ?

I'll be working with Jean-Marc on his movies. Video games are like a second life to me. For my third, I'll try to be even better at what I do. To be honest, I'm not the kind to be satisfied with my small ego. The more things I do, the more I realise that ideas are fragile. To go back to your question about the differences in writing movies and video games, all you need is ideas. As for screenwriting, it's the same thing : you must make people want more. It's not easy but the reward is that for about an hour or so, everything falls into place and you feel like god with a little "g". Who would give that up ? Not me!

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Dossier réalisé par
Xavier Desbarats, Eric Dinkian, Marija Nielsen & Christophe Lemonnier
Jean-Marc Vincent, Emmanuelle Escourrou, Philippe Nahon, Hubert Chardot, David Scherer, Luc Schiltz, Caroline Piras & Alterego Films