Filmmaking, inspiration and the power of the underdog
Solène Guichard is a film director and scriptwriter from Langres, France. Her work has featured in the WomenCineMakers magazine, Beyond Conference 2020, BBC iPlayer, and the Queen’s Film Theatre Player. Her films have been screened at Cork International Film Festival, Outfest LA, Belfast Film Festival and she has been awarded funding from Northern Ireland Screen, Future Screens NI and the Arts Council of Northern Ireland for project development. Most recently she completed a Director Shadowing placement on BBC’s Bloodlands.
Last year I worked with Solène on the animation film The Virus and Me, our first project together after many philosophical meetings where we sparked ideas off each other. I wanted to find out more about what makes her tick and how she comes up with such inspired, beautiful moments to sculpt a film from…
Who are you and what's your story?
My name is Solène and I am a filmmaker. I'm French and have been based in Belfast for nearly six years now. For as long as I can remember I've always been attracted to the Arts. I’ve always been interested in music, dancing, painting, and film studies. So anything that was a bit artistic, I tried it. I moved to Belfast to do a work placement for my studies back in France where I was studying Film Studies and Philosophy. So I did a work placement in Belfast for two months and decided to stay to do the Masters at Queens University. And while I did the masters part time, I gained more experience. When I graduated I felt like I had a good reason to keep going and then I started getting funding for a couple of projects, so that's why I am still here!
What inspires you to make film?
Inspiration is something that I always ask myself about. There are different schools of belief. There’s one where you force yourself to sit down and write, but I'm more into the school of thought that you kind of have to trust the process, and you have to trust yourself. And though it sounds a bit cheesy, I trust myself and live life trusting that subjects, people and stories will come to me. And that I will come across subjects, stories and people who I want to talk about in films. My films, in a way, say something about me, or they help me process something about me. But that can also come from anything - from podcasts to videos, films or books. I just keep my eyes and ears open for anything. And as I said, it's about trusting the process and about trusting what's coming to me.
You came to Northern Ireland to study film. How do you find the film industry here?
It is very small but it's getting bigger. Compared to France I would say that it is more friendly and approachable. When I was teaching at Queens University, I was saying to my students that I came from a different country, not knowing anyone. Now, I’ve managed to make my way into creating films. So I think it really shows that people are willing to help new talent. I first came five or six years ago and the industry has grown even bigger since then. It can be a bit intimidating but I think it's a great place to start and I think it was definitely less intimidating than in France.
France is famous for its cinema, inventing genres for all film students around the world to study. What is your favourite genre?
I love drama. But then, I like anything as long as it's a good story. I watch anything from horror to sci-fi to drama to documentaries to experimental. Again, to me, it's about the story. It's not about what I see really. I'm not a fit-in-the-box type of person. It's something that I've struggled with a bit when people ask, ‘oh, you want to be director?’ and I say, yes. Then they ask me what type of director and I guess people expect to hear ‘I want to work in TV’ or ‘I want to work in film’. There are so many different boxes that I feel like people will expect me to fit in. But it's not the way I work as I was telling you. It's about inspiration from the stories I want to tell. It's about the stories I like. And the story and the idea will drive me and guide me. So that's why I don't really have any particular genre. Again, if the story is good I have to watch it.
Kelly, written and directed by Solène
So when you have an idea for a film, what's the process? Where do you start?
There’s a lot of thinking! I actually do a lot, a lot of thinking before I write anything down. Again, it depends on the idea. But sometimes if it's a script, I will just think about the story, think about the idea and think and think over and over again. So that when I come to writing, it will kind of just come out, because I’ve already thought so much about it. Sometimes it's easier to think about an idea than to actually write it. So I would just push the dreadful moment where I have to sit down and start writing and face my thoughts until the very end.
Surrealistic Self, selected as part of BBC NI’s Two Minute Masterpiece
I tried to write treatments and I'm not the best person at that. It's not the best advice but sometimes I like to just write the first draft. Because I've thought so much about it, I feel like I don't need a treatment, it's in my head. It's not golden advice but that's the way I work. And then obviously I ask for feedback and redraft.
You have directed the short film Kelly, animation The Virus and Me and Surrealistic Self among many other projects. Do you have any common themes you like working with?
A lot of my films come from a personal space. It will be influenced by or guided by things that I've heard or came across. But I like to focus on the quiet, the introvert, the awkward, the underdog, the stories that we don't hear often. We focus on the loud, on the big, on people with big personalities. Deep down I want to show that you don't need to be loud to be interesting. You don't need to be the big superhero to have a good story to tell. So this is what all my films are about – they’re about people who are put aside because we don't see them often or people who don't speak up or feel they can't speak up. And I love awkwardness. I think some of my films, especially my fiction films, have an awkward moment. I just love to experiment with it and see what comes up. I give myself space to actually experiment and let the process happen.
The Virus and Me
What are you working on next?
I've got a couple of short films that I need to finish. I'm also working towards a documentary which I want to make into a feature. I think we'll keep the theme hidden for now. But yeah, I think I'm working towards my first feature film and it's very exciting.
Watch Kelly on QFT Player here: https://queensfilmtheatre.com/Whats-On/QFT-Player-Kelly?fbclid=IwAR1mEvuEbVGXhGL6I6_TddVaLDjQCASxWg8z_Z6K63mnGMXO_MdPHy4A2b8
Find out more about Solène’s work here: https://soleneguichardfilms.com/films/