Olivier Pairoux: I just follow and fulfil my dreamsWritten by Eva Csölleová, Vítek Formánek
During Zlín Film Festival we met by pure accident a man whose face was in film journal that very morning. Olivier Pairoux, Belgian director, about who we have never heard before, who screened here his new film SpaceBoy. He was so friendly and enthusiastic that we swapped tickets and went to watch his movie. We liked it very much and found it so interesting that we asked him for interview. He and his mate Eusebio Larea were a dream to work with.
You studied at IAD (what does that mean) in directorial section. So, you wanted to be director from early days and just followed your dream? What was the reason, you wanted to tell stories or liked life through the lenses?
I’m very lucky cause I knew at a very early age what I wanted to do. I’ve always loved movie. Around ten, I was spending much of my free time watching a lot of them. I was a big fan of horrors movies for example. Then in my teen years, I discovered though Woody Allen and David Lynch a more independent aspect in film making. It was a reveal.
My dad had a home camera and I was spending time playing with it. Using two VCR’s to edit some short (and very stupid) stories. I loved taking pictures as well and was totally into learning music. I could say I felt quickly that an art expression would be my field. But I was still wondering which one.
At the age of 18, I started a cinema school (IAD means Institute of Arts of Diffusion if I translate it roughly) and it felt just right.
So yeah, I could say that I’ve followed my dream. Even if I was awake the whole way and enjoy every step of the journey.
You work in Belgian TV channels and now are script writer, writer, director. Is it what you learnt while working there or is it the reason why they chose you to work with them since you are multitalented artist?
I’ve always been very humble towards cinema and I wanted to take time to be ready.
I think television gives a lot of opportunity. You shoot all the time. You shoot various stuff. You work with actors, comedians, singers, TV host, … and you learn how to deal with people in front of your camera. You work also with all kind of people behind the camera: DOP, sound engineer, composers, editors, … and that allow you to find talents and learn how to work with people behind the camera.
That’s for example where I started to work with Eusebio Larrea, the co-writter of SpaceBoy.
For many reasons, my work on television helped me to improve. I could build my own experience; I could try different things (artistic or technical) and also, I could assemble an amazing and talented crew.
And that was my plan all along. I knew TV was part of the path and I needed to be patient before jumping into cinema. Cause when you give your life to make a movie, then you get one chance to show your guts, you don’t want to blow it up. You don’t want to miss. I just wanted to be ready and not fail.
You can find some examples of my TV work here: Pairoux Olivier
You created Plug RTL channel in 2004. What is it?
RTL Belgium is the biggest private TV company in Belgium. Prior 2004, they had two successful channels, but the problem was that the young audience were not really interested in them. On that precise target (let’s say between 16 and 34 years old), something was missing.
I was 27 years old and they contacted me to imagine and design with three other “young people from RTL” a new channel for that audience. The third channel of the group. We called it PLUG TV.
The challenge was huge. Our little team of four, unexperienced but very motivated, spent few months coming up with everything a channel need (name, logo, style, type of programs, marketing, …). In the group, as the only director, I was in charge of the complete look and feel.
It was a nice period because RTL was trusting us and was leaving us doing whatever we wanted. That kind of freedom is rare, and we took it as a real opportunity to try things. Not everything was good, but we were learning a lot.
Is working in TV and doing music video clips what earns money for you which helps you to finance your projects so you are independent and free creating them?
Working in television really helped me survived, I’m not gonna lie. You can’t expect your first movie to pay all your bills. At my level, it takes just too much time for what you’re going to get at the end. In Belgium, music video is not the best way to become rich either.
The budgets are not huge cause we all know that the music industry has changed as well. MTV is dead (or almost dead) for a reason. To be honest, I’m not even really sure that music video still interests a lot of people. And it’s quite logical.
Back then, music was only supported visually by television. And I loved it! I was a huge fan of MTV (that made me discovered some of the greatest directors like Michel Gondry or Spike Jonze). But now you have internet. You have social media. You have all kind of ways to promote your music. A music video can be part of it … but an artist could have a fine career without them as well.
Take any cute singer. Make him show his muscles on a free Tik Tok video and you will have more viewers that his last music video that costed one million dollars. So why bother?
Your films are financed by Kwassa Films. Is it your production company or some friendly and supportive company in Belgium?
Kwassa Films belong to Annabella Nezri who produced SpaceBoy. I know Annabella for a while now and when I was looking for a producer, she showed interest. We talked a lot and discovered that we had the same references, the same taste in movies … and I think that a good connection between a producer and a director is one of the most important things in the whole process.
We started with a short movie “PUZZLE” (you can see the trailer on my video page as well). A good way to start working together and finding out (with no surprise) that we were a good team. I feel very fortunate to work with her and we are already working on the next one.
SpaceBoy is your debut film which you co-written with Eusebio Larrea with who you established Plug RTL. Are you creative team, working together on all projects, or it was just coincidence, that he wrote the script?
Eusebio is part of my professional life since the launch of PLUG in 2004. We connected; we went through everything together. We grew up professionally together. He even became the godfather of my first kid. So yeah, he’s even family now.
He knew that my goal was to write and direct a movie. And I couldn’t imagine doing it without him. So, I came up with the idea of SpaceBoy and we worked together on the writing. But not only. He was there all the time! The process of film making is so hard … the chance to have a shoulder on which to cry or rest is priceless.
That movie is inspired Joe Kittinger stratospheric jump in 1960. Why did it impress you so much and are you in connection with ESA and asked them for help while shooting this? How did they like the movie?
Around 2008, I saw a music video of Boards of Canada using Kittinger’s footage. It was two o’clock in the morning. I was a bit wasted. And I thought: shit, is this real? I can’t lie, that was my first impression!
It was magnificent. It was magical. Seeing that guy free falling from almost 32 kilometres high … in a period (1960) when space adventures were just a crazy dream … I was all over the place. Kittinger was so bold to do that. And I’ve always admired courage. Especially when it’s done with intelligence.
Years later … when the movie was made … we sent it to ESA. We wanted to know their thoughts and they loved it! They came back to us very enthusiastic cause their goal is also to share the passion of space with the young audience. They want the kids to dream big. They want the kids to think that they could become scientist and be part of it. And a movie can help. After Top Gun, everybody wanted to be a jet pilot, didn´t they?
Now, ESA is partner of the movie and we hope to build something together. Our kids need to know that sciences are cool! That it can be the starting points of amazing adventures.
Is Space Boy only about following our dreams and pushing the limits or also about relationship between kids and parents who sometimes don´t understand each other?
First of all, about the theme. Jim-main hero- needs to learn that pursuing his dreams can have limits. That you can’t push them no matter what. That nuance is really important cause life is more complex than that. Life brings us stuff
we need to deal with: love, death, parenting, … So yes, we can try to pursue our dreams, but we also need to adapt. Sometimes life don’t give us another choice but most of the time, we need to find the right balance.
The relationship between the kids shows that. Jim is too free; Emma -his mate-is in a prison. Jim needs to find some limits; Emma needs to push hers. It’s really specific between them.
With the parents, I show something else. I show how they deal with grief. In Jim’s house, the father deals secretly with all the problems. He protects his son at all cost from that. The result is that a lot of things are unsaid. In Emma’s house, it’s the opposite. The mother will remind her daughter all the time that she is sick. But that’s also her way to protect her.
The relationship between the parents and the kids shows that parenting is hard. No matter how hard you try, kids will always get hurt in a way or another. But that’s part of the process. They are not mean parents or stupid parents or incompetent parents … they are just parents. They try to do their best. And like Jim understood at the end, you sometimes need to take a distance to see that.
Did you send a copy of movie to Joe Kittinger and was it your fulfilled dream to make it so you know what is it like to reach the sky, so to speak?
We’ve already tried. Not easy but we haven’t given up yet. But yes, that would be amazing to show the movie to Joe Kittinger. I would be so thrilled and honoured.
Let’s see what future brings. Who knows?
Your next feature film is called Vigilante. Is it also for kids or you don´t dwell on making films for children only and want to move into adults´ world?
Exactly! SpaceBoy was a great experience but now, I want to do something very different.
Vigilante is a “film noir” genre. It has a detective narrative with very deep and powerful scenes. The subject is really dark and will definitely not be for kids.
Finally, I can write some swearing!
Thank you very much.
Photo, many thanks, to Olivier Pairoux archive, authors