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Meet Joachim Gautier

Today we’d like to introduce you to Joachim Gautier.

So, before we jump into specific questions, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
I am 29 and I am from Paris, France. I have been living in Los Angeles for four years now. I first came to L.A. to study producing at the American Film Institute. I have been producing shorts and commercials since I graduated. I have been wanting to work in film since I am a teenager. When my father bought our first DVD player, he bought hundreds of films that he remembered enjoying watching when he grew up. I discovered that movies were not just about Disney and Star Wars. And it became my passion. The fact Paris still has a lot of small movie theatres showing independent and foreign films helped a lot too.

I realized there was a way to work in cinema. I already had a certain idea what made a good film, a good story, and good visuals. But I did not feel creatively confident enough to a be a writer or a director; I was not techie enough to be a cinematographer or an editor; neither was I handy enough to be a production designer. But I thought to be a producer or work in distribution would be something that I could do. Unfortunately, there was no undergraduate program in film production or distribution in France, only Master’s degrees. I therefore went to business school, thinking I could learn the basics of being a producer/distributor and managing a business. But like for many other people who studied economics, I felt the teaching there was too general, and meant more for people wanting to work in accounting or marketing, whatever the company was.

It still gave me the opportunity to intern at various film distribution companies at the end of each year, but also to live abroad for the first time during a student exchange program, where I spent a year in Amsterdam. Although it was not that geographically and culturally far from France, I experienced for the first time what it was to live outside of your comfort zone, and how much you learn by living in a different environment with people who grew up in another place than you.

When I was about to graduate from business school, the only thing I wanted was the chance to go live abroad again. I ended up moving to New York for almost a year where I interned at the French Embassy’s cultural services. I was at the audiovisual department, which promoted French cinema in the U.S. This is when I heard about the top film schools in the country, including AFI. But I was not ready yet to go back to school, after just finishing studying business for five years.

After New York, I moved to Brazil. After several trips over there and meeting several Brazilians I became very close with, I believed this was the next place for me to be. I moved to São Paulo, where I had family and where most of the Brazilian film industry was based. I ended up meeting with the French CEO of a small distribution company, which distributed foreign independent films in Brazil. He gave me the chance to intern there for a couple of months. But to work in independent distribution, especially in Brazil, can be extremely hard. And to witness its difficulties, especially as a foreigner, made me realize I was not ready yet to work in film.

This is when I decided to apply at the American Film Institute’s producing program in LA, that I remembered from my year in New York. I was accepted, and I had two of the best years of my life, living in a very different city from the ones I have been so far, and learning by doing, spending most of the time working on short films and being on set, than just seating in class, the actual experience rather than just the theory.

From the first days of the first year, I had to choose my team among the various other disciplines, and within a couple of weeks make my first film. Although overwhelmed at first, having never been on a set before, or worked in production, and with team members taught to be ambitious, I learnt a lot. And I ended up meeting some of the people I am still working with on shorts and other projects since I graduated.

I do not see myself doing anything else than producing now. I enjoy being part of almost every step of the process of making a film, often by the director’s side and creatively involved, while keeping a certain perspective over the project, and making my best to support everyone in the team. However, although I enjoy a lot the freedom of working freelance, I am now looking for a full-time job at a production company, starting as an assistant, in order to get some insight about the film industry and what it is like to work on bigger projects, with established producers and creative executives. I also would like to make enough money and develop my network in order to finance feature projects that I would be producing on my own in the future!

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Like for everyone willing to work in film, it was not a smooth road, and it still is not. Until I studied at AFI, I was not certain where to start. I have been wanting to be part of the film industry since I am 17, but I did not know how to get there. No one in my family or among my friends worked in the entertainment industry. I chose business school after high school because there was no producing or distribution college programs I could apply to in France. Then I interned at various film distribution companies, without ever truly envisioning a long term career there. This lead me from France to New York, then Brazil, before finally ending in L.A. at AFI. Now that I graduated, I know producing is my true calling.

We’d love to hear more about your work and what you are currently focused on. What else should we know?
I produce films, at the moment smaller projects, shorts and commercials, but hopefully soon features. I am involved in all the different aspects of making a movie: from pre-production, preparing the film shoot; to production, the shoot itself; post-production, the film’s finalization; and its promotion and release.

So far it has been the director who reached out to me with a project idea in mind. We then gather the principal team, the cinematographer, production designer, editor, and sometimes writer, when the director does not write himself/herself the script. We then look for the rest of the crew, the costume designer, makeup artist, sound mixer/boom operator, script supervisor… while the other team members look for their own crew in their own departments.

We look for locations, I reach out to the owners. I then reach out to the city film offices in order to get the required permits. It sometimes involved reaching out to police and fire departments, in order to have representatives on set. The director, sometimes assisted by a casting director that we reached out to, look for the actors. If there is no casting director, I am usually the one reaching to the talents’ representatives, the agent or the manager. If the actor is represented by a union, which is the case a lot of the time, I reach out to them in order to make a contract. I am in touch with the different art and camera vendors that the cinematographer and production designer need to rent equipment and elements from. I also make sure we have all the necessary transportation, trucks, vans, in order to transport it. This all happens within the few weeks and days prior to the shoot. Until then, I also give my opinion on the script and the casting choices. Hopefully, everyone is happy with it by the time the shoot starts, usually locked a couple of weeks in advance, to make sure of everyone’s availability.

Once on set, I make sure the shoot goes as smooth as planned, and that everyone is happy. This is kind of the definition of a producer, to be a problem’s solver and support everyone in the team to make sure they get what they need, in the time, financial and moral limits of what we can do. I finally make sure that the crew and cast have signed their contracts and that all payments were made.

Once the shoot is over, I watched the first cut that the editor then the director worked on, and give my notes. Same thing goes with the music, and sometimes, if I get along really well with the director and the rest of the team, which happened on my AFI thesis, White River Tales, I go to the post-production sound and colouring sessions as well. Once the film is finished, I share my thoughts regarding the promotional materials, like the poster and the trailer. So far the films I made have only been to film festivals, and did not have a theatrical release or TV broadcast yet. But soon. I apply, and once we got selected, I make sure they receive all the promotion materials, and the director and/or I usually go, sometimes accompanied with another team member and/or a cast member.

The projects I have worked on were mostly self-funded. Either with the director’s or the principal team’s money, out of pocket or fundraised among relatives. Only once, a director I worked with reached out to non-profit organizations in order to shoot a PSA regarding a topic he cared about, homeless veterans in the U.S. We were given a budget and shot a commercial called Lost in the City for the Disabled American Veterans.

My three main strengths are organization, commitment and storytelling. Once I agreed to do something, I will do the best I can, despite the little resources I may have, until it is done. I am ready, like most people working on films, to work over twelve hours a day to make sure everything goes as planned. I am good at picturing potential problems and keeping track of everything I have to do to make sure it does not happen, with sometimes many meetings, phone calls and e-mails to take care of each day.

I also know what makes a good film, having the sensibility to know what are the creative elements to assemble to make the film the director and I agreed on. So far I did not have any creative differences with any of them, as what matters the most when choosing a project, is the person you choose to work with, rather than the script itself, which will eventually change anyway along the way. And you need to get along with your creative partner during this entire time, with may take up to a year, if not more, without taking account the time where the film is released, which represents several other years. I hope to keep making good films with people that I enjoy working with!

What moment in your career do you look back most fondly on?
The two best moments of my career so far were when I saw the finished version of two films I had the hardest time making, the short White River Tales and the PSA Lost in the City. I think you can measure how proud a moment is based on how difficult a goal was to achieve and how much you overcame. These were the most difficult projects I have worked on. It seems the better the film might be in the end, the more amount of difficulties you will find on your way. It is almost like bad luck keeps hitting you when you make films.

I had the chance to get along extremely well with my team on White River Tales. But no matter how organized and careful we were, I kept dealing with problems during the few weeks and days before the shoot, and even during the shoot itself. Between the amount of filming locations I had to deal with, each one coming with its own difficulties, including one we lost the day right before our first day of shoot; the production design elements required to shoot a period piece short, taking place in the 80’s, including period accurate cars, and one we lost the day right before we needed it; the rain which kept poring, during one of the most rainy seasons L.A. ever had, while we had many scenes outside, where it was supposed to be sunny… But we did it, and it is so far my favourite film that I have made, because how much I was involved in it and how much I got along with my director, cinematographer and production designer. It screened at very good festivals, like SeriesFest in Colorado, San Jose International Short Film Festival in California, and Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival in Estonia, where we had a great time.

The other toughest shoot I worked on was a PSA for the Disable American Veterans. It was difficult because how much the director wanted to achieve versus how much we receive as a budget from the DAV. Being a non-profit organization, they could not give us much. And what the director had in mind cost at least four times more. Resources were very limited, and him, the cinematographer and I went above and beyond to pull it off, reaching out to many contacts, vendors, locations, asking for favours. We had some tensions within the team, in communicating and agreeing on what was doable and best for the PSA. The shoot itself was hard, and I ended up doing the job of five people by myself, just like I did in pre-production. But the result was worth the pain, and this is a PSA we are proud of. And I hope to make more of these in the future.

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