Pascale Ferran has already triumphed at Cannes, winning the Caméra d’Or in 1994 for Coming to Terms with the Dead. With Bird People, the director explores questions of the self, of challenges to our choices, the paths we take, and is not shy of flirting gently with the supernatural. Here she tells us an anecdote from filming.
Pascale Ferran © RR
It was an ordinary filming night in August, scheduled from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. in the morning. We were going to shoot a sequence on the flat roof of a hotel with tame sparrows. We had chosen the location for the images it would give us, but we had a problem with an enormous air vent that was blasting out cooking smells of chips, fried onions and vinegar...
And this was right next to the place where the first shots were going to be filmed.
We'd planned nine shots including one tracking out of a sparrow hopping about. It was beginning to seem almost impossible.
The night started badly. The sparrow in question absolutely refused to do what we wanted him to. We were too close to the air vent, and if it was annoying for us, it was out of the question for him. (And I should add that the he was jet-lagged. By that I mean we'd spent weeks adjusting his body clock so that he'd want to be awake at night and sleep during the day, although sparrows aren't nocturnal birds. This particular sparrow made it crystal clear to me that he was prepared to make an effort, but there were limits.)
We tried a thousand different tricks to protect him, I changed the découpage as quickly as I could, we managed to get a vague bit of a shot that we really needed, and we decided to move on to more serious shooting, further away from the air vent.
But all this had taken time. It was past midnight and we'd only got half a shot of the nine we'd planned. It would start to get light just before 5 a.m. and we had to be done by then.
At this point a drop of rain hit the ground. Then another.
The whole crew looked up, as if in slow motion.
There was no doubt about it. Despite what had been announced on the weather forecast, it was beginning to rain. We were outside, filming at ground level, and if the roof got soaked the whole thing would be a write-off. By some miracle, production had thought of this and had tarpaulins at the ready.
Suddenly, in one collective burst of activity, the whole crew moved. In less than a minute, the camera and the sparrows were under shelter and the roof area covered. The moment the last tarpaulin was down the storm broke properly. It was a torrential summer downpour, but the roof stayed dry. We waited, it rained. Fifteen minutes went by, then half an hour. We were on the brink of disaster. We all knew that it was the last night at this location and we had to be out the next day, so getting the sequence was vital.
But all at once, in the face of impending catastrophe, a sense of calm descended on the whole team. It was raining. We couldn't do anything about it, so what was the point of worrying.
And then, as quickly as it had started, the rain stopped.
Faces lifted towards the sky - it was over.
We took up the tarpaulins. We got everything ready for the travelling shot. We got the sparrow out. The bird trainer lay down on the dolly next to Julien Hirsch and the camera. She called the bird, it approached. It came towards us, the camera reversed, it hopped forward. The shot that had seemed impossible on paper - we'd just got it!
We all cheered and threw our hats in the air.
It was 1.15 a.m. and we had three and a half hours left to get 7 shots.
We finished just as it was beginning to get light.
It was a good night's filming after all.
The next day was due to be less straightforward, but that's another story...
Monday 19th May / Debussy Theatre / 4.30 p.m.