Interview with ‘Les aventures de Tranh et Nowak’ Godefroy Ryckewaert

Photography by Simon Dubreucq

Photography by Simon Dubreucq

Hello Fighting Spirit Film Festival supporters,

Today we bring you an interview with Godefroy Ryckewaert, the director of of Les aventures de Tranh et Nowak. Les aventures de Tranh et Nowak featured in the 2018 Fighting Spirit Film Festival and had won both Best Action Choreography and Genevieve Doang won Best Actress. It’s one of my favourite short films and if you haven’t watch it yet, we urge you to do so.

Describe yourself in three films?

The Mask, Avatar, Kungfu Panda

What three films do you recommend people watch?

Avatar, Million Dollar Baby and Kung Fu Panda. It's funny to see that what I recommend is what describes me. I guess we love the films that have something in common with who we are.

What was the last film you watched that you enjoyed?

I recently went to see GREEN BOOK. I loved the film. Simple but so well written and interpreted. It was also nice to see Viggo being a character we are not used to.

Which directors inspire you?

James Cameron and Christopher Nolan.

How did you get into directing?

When I started martial arts (wushu) at the age of 16, I met some guys that became my friends. They were big fans of Jackie Chan, Jet Li and so on, and they were making their own videos from time to time. So I naturally started to make videos with them. But I really took this seriously years later. I practised wushu for more than 10 years and then became a stuntman. After a couple of years of a stunt career, I thought I liked to direct so i bought myself a DSLR, some more equipment and learned as I practised.

How would you describe your directing style?

That's a hard question because my style changes everyday, noticing my mistakes and understanding more what I like to make. I think I'm a person who is sensitive to movement. I like moving things and I like to move while filming them. But I also like to keep things simple and let what's on screen talk by itself. It feels like a continuous mission to always try to make things clear and simple but also beautiful and impactful.

What is your philosophy of filmmaking?

Be happy making it and respect the people you work with. I think it's very important to remember that a film is not made only thanks to the director. It's also important to keep in mind to have fun. It's kind of hard when modern society's philosophy is productivism to not forget to enjoy the making of a film.

Do you have any projects you have coming up, that you can talk about?

I have a few personal projects I'm working on. There is a cartoonish series I wrote and directed called "NUTS". The first episodes are not available right now but you can see the trailer on YouTube. We are doing our best to present it to TV Channels as soon as possible. I'm also starting the writing of a feature film with a friend of mine. It's just the foundation but it's a fun process. And I'm also preparing a series of videos that will consist in making very short high quality fight scenes.

Who are actors that you want to work with in the future?

Leonardo Dicaprio, Jim Carrey and Joaquin Phoenix

Where do you see yourself in ten years?

I see myself directing huge action scenes with huge budgets, with all my friends ! haha

What advice would you give people who want to get involved in directing?

I'd advice to find the right people to work with and to not be afraid. You get better by making mistakes and practising. Respect people and people will respect you. When you talk behind people's back or when you don't treat people well, it will be noticed sooner or later.

How did you get into stunt work?

When I was 23, i came back from 5 years of living in China. I wanted to go back and first earned money in France by working in a gym as cleaning operative. Unfortunately the conditions to go back to China were not appropriate so I chose to spend that on a great french stunt school called Campus Univers Cascades. I then became a stuntman, worked in amusement parks and also did a world tour for DreamWorks on the live arena "How To Train Your Dragon" show.

What is your favourite stunt you’ve ever done?

I don't think I have a favourite stunt. I enjoy a lot stage fighting. I'm originally found of fight choreography and not really falling in stairs or being smashed by a car. That's what I like in wushu, it's beautiful but powerful at the same time. Same with choreography, it's like a dance but it's all about punching and kicking.

What’s the best part about stunt work?

I think it's the same best part about filmmaking : meeting new people and continuously making new projects. The situations always change. It's never boring. And if it is, you know it will change soon. haha

What’s the most challenging part about stunts?

I think that in order to be a good stuntman you need to be versatile. It's a constant search of new things to learn while being always in shape for whenever people call. Keeping that discipline is hard. It's a very big investment. As for being a stuntman on set, the most challenging part is to always be ready. You never really know when you'll go do your stunt and schedules are always changing. Staying warm and ready to go is very tiring.

What advice would you give people who are interested in becoming a stunt coordinator?

Because you first need to be a stuntman, I'd tell them not to be afraid to go train their stunt skills with other professional stuntmen. Sometimes you stay hidden only because you believe you don't deserve to be with people who are better than you at something. It's very wrong cause then you never really learn. With patience, one day they'll have the knowledge and experience to launch themselves. They also need to already have a certain network. Once you become a stunt coordinator or choreographer, there is a big risk that other coordinators won't call you again cause you are now competition for them.

What drew you to Les aventures de Tranh et Nowak?

My friend, Quentin d'Hainault, who plays the agent Nowak is also the one who wrote the story. I knew him already cause he was training wushu like me. But then, thanks to his wife, I learned that he was an actor. And he learned that I was a director. That's how it all started. It made sense to us to make something together to brought two passions together: martial arts and films.

What are the inspirations for Les aventures de Tranh et Nowak?

We wanted to make something comedic like the french films OSS 117, with absurd situations and integrate action scenes like in Rush Hour. As for the directing itself, I didn't really try to get inspirations from anything. Of course I'm influenced by the movies I've watched and liked but I didn't think "oh ok I'm going to do something similar to that film".

Could you talk about your experience on working on Les aventures de Tranh et Nowak?

It was actually my first short-film with some kind of proper crew. My team was composed with actors, stuntmen, choreographers, sound engineer, director of photography, extra, etc .. so it was a big learning experience. What I shot before that was all guerilla style. It was a bit stressful in that sense and also because we didn't really have much time. But it was also very fun because I met a lot of new people and had the chance to do it with very good friends with the same passion. I can only thank them again to have joined me in that "adventure".

How did you keep a balance of comedy and action in your film?

I knew the film was a short one so I thought having an action scene at the beginning and one at the end would be enough. The audience is right away thrown into the feel of the movie and then not long after, has the final big fight. Having only narration in the middle would be a long enough pause for the audience to rest from the action. But now that I watch again the film, I think I'd shorten the final fight.

Do you have any advice for filming action sequences?

I think my main advice is "Make sure we understand what is going on". Lots of action movies use shaky camera movements or hectic cuts to hide actors who can't do stage fighting or to hide the fact that they can't film action, or even maybe just because the editor doesn't know how to edit action. If people can't understand the choreography and can't figure out space, then it's bad. It would be like filming a dialogue where you can't understand what the actors are saying. It wouldn't make any sense. So I'd advice to keep wide shots and takes that are long enough to understand what the actors and stuntmen are doing. When I started filming fights, I first analysed what I liked in certain films, wondering what camera movement or angle, according to the choreography, made me like the shot. Then I tried to replicate that. The more I filmed the more I understood what I liked the most and the more I was making my own style. My second advice, if you have time and/or budget is to make a previz. Pre-shoot the fight in a gym or anywhere with your actors and stuntmen the way you want it to be in your film when you get on the real set. It's a very good way to be prepared, to see what works and what doesn't before you get on set with all your crew, lighting, sound, costumes, etc...

Do you have advice on bringing out the comedic elements in film?

It's a hard question and I'm not sure I'm the best to answer that question. Comedy is hard and it's even harder because we all have a different sensitivity about it. But my main advice would be to try to get a good rhythm. Try to be surprising and when the joke is done, then cut right away. Don’t wait too long, otherwise it's losing its strength and it becomes heavy.

Did you stick to script or did some improvisation for the comedy?

Both. I like to stick to the script cause I can well prepare my shot list. But I'm also very open to improvisation because I know that's where lots of actors get more sense of freedom. We actually had to improvise one thing in the film : during the final fight, there is one guard that gets shot in the back and asks Schnitzel if he can go home. That stuntman actually got injured and couldn't continue fighting. I didn't want him to just stay on the ground during the whole shoot of that scene, so we came up with that idea in order for him to really go home and rest.

What was the best part of filming Les aventures de Tranh et Nowak?

As I said before, I think it was the whole experience of filming with a bigger crew, even if still small, and to make that with lots of good friends. I also got to meet new people who are now close friends as well. I was very lucky to be surrounded with skillful and respectful people who wanted to just make the film as good as possible.

What was the most challenging part of filming Les aventures de Tranh et Nowak?

For me, since it was my first real experience, it was filming the dialogue and have something that felt not boring for the audience. I already knew how to film action even if I would surely film it differently now, but I was just a beginner in terms of telling a story. Having to direct actors was also a challenging part and I think it's the most difficult part of directing. I was a bit intimidated at that time. haha

What was the biggest lesson you learned when filming Les aventures de Tranh et Nowak?

I'm not sure it was only one lesson. It was a lot of lessons about everything: making fight scenes with more people, filming dialogues, editing and telling a whole story, dealing with an almost non existent budget, directing actors and choreographers, handling extras, etc... I learned about everything.

How did you want audiences to feel when watching the film?

I wanted them to be excited by the action and to have a fun time following those two agents story. Although we didn't have much money but I hoped the audience enjoyed that film as much as a big budget action comedy feature film.

How has your experience been with Fighting Spirit Film Festival?

I'm so grateful that you accepted and rewarded our film. Unfortunately I couldn't go to the festival itself but you all seem like wonderful people and I would have loved to be there. I'm very honoured to receive those prizes in a US festival that is about action. I hope more of my films will be received by you festival in the future.

We hope you enjoyed the interview. A big thank you to Godefroy Ryckewaert for doing the interview.