Canadian-born Mathieu Ratthe found his love of filmmaking at the tender age of ten. Having started with short films, Ratthe finally makes his feature film debut on The Gracefield Incident, a sci-fi film that meshes elements from both inside and outside the box, creating an indie film worth seeing. The film will get a nationwide limited theatrical release as well as availability on VOD and Digital HD on July 21.
World Film Geek had the chance to speak with Ratthe about the film and his experiences in filmmaking.
First of all Mathieu, thank you so much for talking about The Gracefield Incident.
Thank you. Did you get a chance to watch the film?
I actually did and I have to say I really liked it. It was definitely a film that was a bit outside of the box, but in a good way.
I’m so glad to hear that.
Before we delve into the film, can you describe how you got into filmmaking?
Oh that’s a great question! It’s funny because the day the film is coming out [July 21] will actually be the 25th anniversary of when I shot my first film. I shot my first film at ten years old. It was a 27mm short film. But yeah, 25 years in the making for this film.
I actually got involved with my older brother, who was shooting a movie with his friend a few months beforehand. And they are five, six years older than me. His friend had a camera and I was watching them at ten years old. I was thinking, “Wow! That looks like so much fun.” So I went up to my brother’s friend and I told him I had written a short film and asked if we could shoot it. He said, “Yeah, let’s do it.” Since that day, we’ve been working together for 25 years and he’s in fact my DP on Gracefield. [Yan Savard is the cinematographer and frequent collaborator]/
And it’s great because you don’t pick your passion. Your passion picks you. I don’t believe in luck, but once I picked up that camera, I realized that I really liked doing this and I’m going to keep pushing it. I mean, I should have found a job [laughs] but filmmaking is my life and I really enjoy it.
So let’s talk about The Gracefield Incident. This film seemed to have a bit of an influence from films such as Cloverfield and other recent sci-fi films. How did you come up with the idea for the film?
The idea was a few years ago, I saw a meteorite up above and we were coming out from a bar. It was me and a friend of mine, we saw this meteorite coming down and this is about five hours north of Montreal, where I’m originally from. We actually tried to find it, but we never found it. But as we were searching for it, we wondered, “What are we going to find?” It might be a rock, it might not be a rock. What could it be? So, this idea always stuck in my mind. What would it be?
At the time, I was developing another motion picture, an action thriller. We had a big budget planned but I also realized that I was a first-time filmmaker. Who would give me 20 million dollars to make a movie, which is the reality of the business. I said to myself if I’m going to make one feature film, I have to give it everything I’ve got. So, that’s where Gracefield came about. I shot the film in thirteen days and it was really quick so that’s why we used the “camera angle” technique, or “found footage”, which is a term I really don’t like using. So that’s how we came up with the idea of the prosthetic eye to bring that angle to play.
It can get pretty cliched when it comes to the genre, so I try to avoid it as much as I could.
I know you had the lead role but the supporting cast all had a natural feel and yet displayed different characteristics. What was it like working with this supporting cast?
The supporting cast were actually just being themselves. I cast them myself and they are actually as depicted in real life. And what happened was, the three girls [Kimberly Laferriere, Laurence Dauphinais, and Juliette Gosselin] were cast at the same time. There was a casting director in Montreal and I was actually late for their auditions but when I came in, the casting director told me that the three girls were laughing straight for fifteen minutes non-stop. And that’s really rare because you go into an audition and you can get extremely nervous. I called in all three at the same time and they had so much fun and I knew that was it. It’s exactly how you put it. I needed a natural feel to the film. I didn’t want them to act too much and what you saw on screen, that’s exactly how they were with me off-screen.
There’s one really funny one, the kid Trey, played by Alexandre Nachi. He came in and he messed up his audition. He did a really bad audition, it didn’t work out. But when he got out of the audition, he was a completely different person. He was laughing and being goofy. I went to him and asked him, “Why didn’t you show me this at the audition?” And he ended up getting the role on the way out [laughs]. He had f**ked it up but it was like after, it was like yeah, he got it. I asked him, “Can you do this again?” and he asked “Be myself?” and I was like “Yeah,” so that was it.
They were great because they weren’t acting through a camera, but acting through a lens. They couldn’t look at me because I was working the camera. So I was reading the lines behind the camera and they would sometimes look at me and I would tell them to look at the lens. It was tough for them at times, but it was fun.
Interestingly enough, I thought the film had another theme and that is loss and the fear of losing. For me, this brings a sense of realism into a genre known more for its fantastic elements. What led you to add that level to the film?
You know, I think for that type of film, the first thing you want to do is build up the suspense. Scare the crap out of people. That’s what the audience expects when you go see this film. But for me, the idea is also to touch people. You want them to emote, to feel emotion. That’s why I was trying to add a twist to the story. Let’s see if I can bring this on because usually when you are out of the theater, especially in this genre, you are scared. But, you don’t feel anything. You don’t really give a s**t about the characters as well, so it was the idea to bring this in. I ended up changing the ending three times because it just didn’t seem to work. So we decided to go full-on and that’s where I brought emotion on in that scene.
And that’s what I like about this film because as you somewhat put it, people may or will eventually get tired of the same ol’ “linear storyline” and you as well as other indie filmmakers bring in some small twists and turns that drive the film to be above average.
You’re right because even I get tired of it. I’m a guy who sees movies non-stop and it doesn’t matter if it’s a cartoon, a horror film, drama, one that will make me cry like a baby. I just like movies. I’m that audience and I’m tired of the same old storylines. So that’s why I decided to make this different. And that was the goal.
Finally, will you be developing any new feature films?
Oh yeah for sure. I’m already developing my next film. This one will be a bigger commercial film. This one will be a drama. It’s different but I am attracted to good stories. I have a few in the oven right now and this one will be first. Pretty soon, I will go back into suspense, but not “found footage”. I really hate that term, but this one will be a pure suspense which is already written. I’ve been developing it for fourteen years. Hopefully, someone will give me a chance, but I’m definitely going in that direction.
The Gracefield Incident comes to theaters on July 21 and I will recommend this to anyone who likes sci-fi and pardon the term, “found footage”, but want something different. Thank you Mathieu again for talking about the film and I wish you a Happy 25th Anniversary on your career!
Thank you so much and keep in touch!!!
A Special Thank You goes to Katrina Wan PR and Mathieu Ratthe for making this interview possible. For more information of Mathieu, check out his official Twitter page and look for your local showtimes to see The Gracefield Incident.