From writer/director Quentin Dupieux (Rubber), the low-budget comedy Wrong follows Dolph Springer (Jack Plotnick) after he wakes up one morning to find that he has lost his dog, Paul. Desperate to reunite with his best friend and to set things right, Dolph embarks on an awkwardly funny journey that is often bizarre and absurd, but always oddly entertaining.
During this recent exclusive phone interview with Collider, filmmaker Quentin Dupieux talked about what led him to become a filmmaker, finding the links between random elements, how his main goal as a writer is to entertain himself, why he wanted to address themes of love through the relationship between a man and his dog, maintaining the perfect balance between comedy and anxiety, and why he likes to be his own cinematographer. He also talked about when the idea for Wrong Cops (about a group of bad cops looking to dispose of a body that one of them accidentally shot) evolved, his French-language film Réalité, the super silly film he is working on writing next, and how surprised and happy he is about the reaction he got to Rubber. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
QUENTIN DUPIEUX: I’ve been obsessed with making movies since I was 15. I watched a lot of movies when I was young, and I decided that I wanted to do that because I was a passionate kid about watching movies. And so, then I started shooting some random stuff, trying to reproduce some pieces of my favorite movies. And then, around age 18, I decided to start writing my own stuff. I wrote some bad short films and shot them. I tried to make them better and better. I slowly learned how to make movies, and I think I’m still learning.
As a writer, you seem to like taking a series of random elements and linking them together, in some way. Do you intentionally try to find that link, or does it just happen organically, as you’re writing?
DUPIEUX: Both, actually. It’s like a dream. When you’re dreaming, you make some very strange connections between some random stuff and random people. Sometimes you dream about someone you met 15 years ago, and you don’t know why that person comes into your dream so many years later. I’m just trying to find some secret places in the human brain because I think movies tend to be too rational sometimes. Everything is supposed to make sense. Everything is supposed to be logical, and I really think that life isn’t logical and life isn’t always meaningful. I’m just trying to go into that zone without being too random, and just trying to create some new logic that feels like dreams.
Do you intentionally set out to make comedies, or do those comedic moments just come out of the more absurd things that happen in the stories that you tell?
DUPIEUX: Yeah, the main goal when I’m writing is to entertain myself. It’s supposed to be funny, but then a funny idea can be turned into something else. It depends on the way you shoot it. It’s something I don’t really control. The main goal is to make a funny movie, but then I let my mind go. I get lost sometimes in the writing, trying to find some special zones. That’s the excitement of making a movie like Wrong. When you watch an audience watching it, you realize that nobody laughs at the same time. Some people enjoy a beat, and then another group of people are laughing at a sight gag, and then someone laughs where nobody laughs before. It’s not timed like a comedy. You’re not supposed to laugh at every joke. You decide. I’m a small filmmaker, making my small, low-budget movies, but I’m super lucky to know that everybody reacts differently to my movies. That’s interesting.
What is it about the relationship between people and dogs that you find fascinating?
DUPIEUX: To me, the dog thing was a good way to talk about love without using a girl and a guy. The same movie, replacing a dog with a woman, suddenly it’s too down-to-earth and it’s probably too sad. Suddenly, it’s super deep because it’s connected to something super scary. If you lost the love of your life, that’s a nightmare. We know that the relationship between a dog and a man could be super intense, but it’s still a dog. It makes the love story more of a fun welcome. You can laugh about this guy because it’s no big deal. After all, it’s just a dog.
DUPIEUX: That’s my science. I’m walking on this very thin line where I have to be careful to control this world. If it’s just funny, silly and absurd, suddenly you don’t feel anything and you’re just waiting for the gag and the jokes. That’s what happens with most comedies. If you watch 10 minutes and there’s no joke, then you’re disappointed because you’re expecting jokes. The same goes for emotional movies. You have to feel something. If you don’t feel anything for 10 minutes, you get bored. To me, the movie is more funny if, at the same time, you can think a little bit or dream a little bit. Suddenly, everything is stronger. So, it’s a very precise balance. When I’m editing the movie, I have to keep that balance working and try to keep the audience focused and satisfied.
At what point, during the making of Wrong, did you come up with the idea for Wrong Cops?
DUPIEUX: It came on the day where I shot the scene with the nasty cop (played by Mark Burnham). I just loved that guy. He did a very good casting session, and I just loved him. When he came onto the shoot, I saw something special about him. I just loved the guy and the character he was playing. First, I wrote another thing for him in Wrong. He was just supposed to be there, at the beginning, but I enjoyed the character so much that I decided to write a new scene for him. Ten minutes before the ending, you see him again, at a bus station. But then, I realized that the character was something exciting for me, and something new. So, I decided on the set that my next movie should be about this guy.
What advantages does being your own cinematographer give you? When it comes to things like framing and lighting, do you just go on instinct?
DUPIEUX: Yeah. That is the best way for me to be creative. I love to be stuck with technical problems like, “Oh, the lighting sucks. It’s 12 o’clock and everything looks bad. Let’s try to find a good camera angle to make this frame look good.” That’s my method. Instead of trying to create lighting from scratch and spend time with a D.P. and with some artificial lighting, I love to figure it out. I never think about it, before being on the set. When I’m on the set, I take five minutes to find the best angle for a scene, and then we just shoot it and it looks exactly what you see on screen because I don’t touch it afterwards. That’s my thing. I love to be stuck.
DUPIEUX: Yes, of course, I’m surprised and I’m super happy to know that my movie pleased some other people. But at the same time, because I took a huge risk doing this movie with this idea. Usually, when you think about something like that, you dream for 10 minutes, and then you throw it in the trash. You say, “Oh, okay, we’re not going to make a movie about a tire.” But, I think I’ve been courageous and brave to do it. In a way, yes, I’m surprised, but when we premiered the movie in Cannes, I knew that, even if we were in the smallest section of Cannes, this movie would probably be the most fresh and entertaining movie, at the moment.
Do you have any idea what you’re going to shoot next? Are you already working on your next project?
DUPIEUX: I shot Wrong Cops, and then I shot another film called Réalité. So, I have two movies in my computer that I need to edit. And I’m already thinking about the next one, and I have a very strong idea about it.
Will it have a similar tone and feel as your other films, or will it be very different?
DUPIEUX: I always try to be different. Wrong Cops is really different. It’s a different world. There are no layers. It’s right in your face. It’s nasty with bad language. It’s really different from Wrong. And the one I shot after that, Réalité, is really super poetic, dreamy, well-constructed and smart. And then, the one I want to write is super silly. I always want to surprise myself.
Wrong opens in theaters on March 29th and is currently available on VOD. You can check for cities and showtimes at www.drafthousefilms.com/film/wrong#watch.