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Martin Villeneuve:
How I made an impossible film
“Filmmaker Martin Villeneuve talks about Mars et Avril, the Canadian sci-fi spectacular he made with virtually no money. In a charming talk, he explains the various ways he overcame financial and logistical constraints to produce his unique and inventive vision of the future. In his film Mars et Avril, Martin Villeneuve brings his sci-fi romance graphic novel to glorious life.” – TED

Martin Villeneuve made Quebec’s first science fiction film, Mars et Avril. On February 27, 2013, he gave a TED Talk about it at TED2013 in Long Beach, California.

Listen to the talk here or watch the video below

This is the first time that a speaker from Québec has beensked to give a talk at this prestigious event, following in the footsteps of numerous personalities such as former United States President Bill Clinton, Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee, novelist Isabel Allende, singer Peter Gabriel and U2’s Bono. Held annually, the TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) conference is devoted to spreading ideas. The talks deal with a wide variety of subjects in the fields of science, the arts, politics and architecture, to name but a few. Since the creation of the official website, a billion Internet users were offered the presentations of hundreds of speakers.

Martin Villeneuve's TED Talk: "How I made an impossible film" - © TED2013

Prior to his talk, the opening sequence of the film was shown, as well as a three minutes overview of the steps leading from the green screen to the final images (see the clips below).

Martin Villeneuve’s talk, “How I made an impossible film,” was released on TED.com on June 7, 2013, and a month later was added to TED’s prestigious movie magic list, featuring famed directors such as James Cameron and J.J. Abrams! The talk has been viewed more than a million times across all platforms and subtitled in 25 languages. Since then, Mars et Avril is being referred to as the “Impossible Film”, has been sold to the U.S. and is now available on U.S. iTunes. The film is also available on iTunes in Canada, in France and in the UK, and other major digital platforms will follow, starting in January 2014.

The Opening Sequence

The opening of the film "Mars et Avril" is based on German astronomer Johannes Kepler's cosmological model from the 17th century, Harmonices Mundi -Courtesy of Mars et Avril inc. © 2013

Making of VFX

An overview of the steps leading from the green screen to the final image - Courtesy of Mars Et Avril inc. & Vision Globale © 2013


“The musician who plays otherworldly music on one-of-a-kind instruments, the genius who designs the instruments inspired by a woman's body, and the photographer they both love. An old-fashioned love triangle is at the heart of Mars et Avril, a bold and dreamy sci-fi story set in a future Montreal where the Champ-de-Mars subway line takes you right out to Mars. While many sci-fi films have budgets exceeding $100 million, this incredible arthouse version was made for just $2 million thanks to the bold creativity of filmmaker Martin Villeneuve.” – TED


Martin Villeneuve at TED2013

Article by Kate Torgovnick on the Official TED Blog

Martin Villeneuve’s Mars et Avril is a luscious sci-fi film, set in Montreal 50 years in future, where the subway line takes you straight to Mars. It’s a dreamy love story in which the acting is top-notch, the shots are stunning and the visual effects unreal. And Villeneuve made it all for $2.3 million. To put that in perspective, Star Wars Episode III was shot for an estimated $133 million.

“I made a film that was impossible to make, only I didn’t know it was impossible,” says Villeneuve in Session 6 of TED2013. “This is the kind of movie I wanted to make ever since I was a kid, reading comic books.” So how did he make the movie? Well, it took seven years. “When you don’t have money, you must take time,” Villeneuve says. “The more problems we had, the better the film got.”

Constraint #1: “How do you get someone who is too busy to star in a movie?”

Villeneuve says that constraints boost creativity. The first constraint he faced: He wanted Canadian superstar Robert Lepage to be in the movie, but Lepage only had a few days available for filming. The solution: he turned Lepage’s character into a hologram. He gave another actor a mask of greenscreen material, and had him stand in for Lepage in scenes. The greenscreen was then replaced with Lepage’s face and voice, meaning he could play the part.

Constraint #2: “How do you pay for something that you can’t afford?”

Villeneuve needed seven not-yet-made musical instruments, inspired by women’s bodies, for the movie. Only he had no budget for them. So he got someone else to pay for it – he sold the hypothetical instruments to Cirque du Soleil and got to use them in the movie for free. And he presented an artist friend with a dream project, in creating these wildly imaginative props.

Constraint #3: How do you get top-notch visual effects?

Villeneuve’s answer: you ask the best people in the field if they’ll do it. Even though his budget was tiny, Villeneuve approached his effects heroes, offering them the opportunity to dream rather than money. “If people tell you it’s impossible, it’s an even better reason to want to do it,” says Villeneuve. “People have a tendency to see the problems rather than the final result. If you treat the problems as possibilities, life will start to dance with you in the most amazing ways.”