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Q&A with Les Parasites

Monday 11 April 2016, by Abla Kandalaft

Les Parasites saw the light just over a couple of years ago, when friends Bastien Ughetto, Guillaume Desjardins and Jérémie Bernard decided to team up and take part in the 48h film challenge, which they went on to win.
Since then, they’ve brought new members on board, they’ve racked up awards and hundreds of thousands of views on their Youtube page, on which they showcase their short films. We caught up with them in their new premises in Paris last week.

What are your respective backgrounds in film?

Bastien
I started out as an actor. I went to drama school but also used to write and direct on the side. Some friends and myself set up something we called ’Le Film Du Dimanche’ (the Sunday Film); our aim was to make shorts and screen them every Sunday. We made about 80 films, although only one of them I would say was any good. That’s the one I also refer people to. I am now mainly an actor with Les Parasites and occasionally co-direct.

Guillaume
I went to film school, where I met Jérémie. After graduating, I started making institutional films.

Jérémie
After film school, I got work assisting in the technical department of various feature films and TV series.

How did Les Parasites come about?

Guillaume
I bought filming equipment with the money I earnt from those institutional films. Jérémie, Bastien and I got together and thought we might as well put that to good use by taking part in a 48h film challenge. We genuinely did it for fun, not expecting to win anything, aware of just how competitive these challenges are. We ended up winning a directing award. We then thought we could try our hand at the 48h challenge in Lyon and won the award for best film, which egged us on to take part in all the challenges around the country. We won awards at all of them, bar Paris. Challenge winners are invited to take part in the international final in Hollywood so we ended up there, presenting 4 films, which was a world record. In Hollywood, we won a number of awards, including best director and best actor for Bastien.

How is the collective run?

Jérémie
There is no set structure, Les Parasites is just a name we gave our group as we started working together. But we do have to split tasks for each project, which requires us to be very clear with each other, which isn’t always easy, as we’re working with friends.

Guillaume
There has to be a certain hierarchy, and assigned roles, like there is on a film set. We all pitch in and treat it as a collective, but there is always someone leading with an idea or a project. Usually, one of the three of us would come up with a project and the others, mainly actors, or Matt the sound engineer, would pitch in and work with us on the idea. But we’re also open to suggestions. If an actor has an idea, then they’re welcome to suggest it. In our current work [outside of the film challenges], it’s more diffuse, we sometimes have to find actors outside the usual pool of members to portray a specific character.

Do you reach out to other professionals from outside of the collective? Is it standard practice?

Bastien
We like reaching out to actors whose work we are fond of. We tend to either go through contacts or through the agent of an actor we’re looking for. Or through my agent or or other actors’ agents. At the moment, we’re trying to contact [Belgian actor and comedian] Benoît Poelvoorde and, as it happens, one of the Parasites actors, Ernst, shares an agent with him.

Guillaume
Matt sometimes asks a fellow sound engineer for extra help, but we rarely use tech professionals from outside the collective. That’s because we have no budget so we don’t have time to organise lengthy shoots. We’re used to working very fast, as a small, tight-knit team. We don’t, for example, have large-scale lighting installations. We try and use natural daylight as much as possible. We don’t want the technical side of things to become an impediment.

How do you operate on shoots with zero budget? Does everyone chip in?

Jérémie
We are a group of friends, we get on and all want to do this, so we’re all prepared to give our time, and pitch in a little bit of money.

Bastien
Recently, it’s usually been the the project ’leaders’ that pay for food and basic expenses. And in regards to the 48h challenges, we split the reward money equally.

How do you go about finding and securing filming locations? Hiring a space or getting filming permission is often expensive...

Guillaume
We don’t tend to ask for permission, to be honest, we film everything haphazardly. We do take risks. Once, we filmed in a camping site and the owner kicked us out. But that’s the worst thing that could realistically happen, so we take our chances.

Bastien
Otherwise, in terms of indoor locations, we just ask people directly, go door to door and ask if we can use their space.

Guillaume
As we’ve grown, people have been more willing to help us out and let us use various locations. They’re often happy to be featured in the shoot or get a credit.

How did you build your following?

Jérémie
We didn’t have anything, no Facebook page or Youtube page when we started. We decided to simply upload the winning 48h film onto Youtube. That’s how that page came about.

Guillaume
I used the account of the production company that I was working for initially to upload the video. We didn’t have any long-term vision or strategy to create a Youtube page and acquire followers. We really just wanted to make films, because it was fun, because we like telling stories. We thought our films would have no chance in festivals outside of the 48h challenge circuit, as they’re clearly made in constraining conditions. So making them available to watch online seemed like the logical thing to do. It’s only since last November that we realised that we’d started to have quite a following and decided that it was worth quitting the day job and focusing all our energy on the Parasites.

What part did word of mouth play in your increasing popularity?

Bastien
It worked well for us, as we reached 17,000 followers on Youtube in two years. Guillaume knows Doc Seven [Youtube presenter, best known for creating “top 7” videos] and it’s really thanks to him that the page really grew. He presents a show called Salut Internet, in which he promotes little-known youtube pages. We’d created a few teasers to introduce ourselves, which he promoted and, thanks to that, we reached 50,000 followers in one day.

Guillaume
On Youtube, the more followers you have, the more followers you can reach. It’s tough reaching the first 1000 but then, once you do, you can easily reach 2000 and so on.

How do you plan on sustaining the momentum and making it viable in the long-term?

Jérémie
What we’ve learnt is that we need to pe productive, we need to do things. The more we did, the more opportunities we got and doors were opened.

Guillaume
My day job was too time-consuming and I took the gamble of quitting. For a year at least, I intend to focus all my efforts on producing more content. For now, we can see options starting to come our way, web-series, features and so on, which may be lucrative. But we don’t want to commit to one genre, we don’t just want to promote ourselves as just a Youtube page,which might get us a little bit of money or sponsorship but will lock us in a specific format and will limit our opportunities. We have one strategy for Youtube, and that’s producing as many videos as we can. Ideally, you’d have to post one once a week. As that’s too ambitious, we try and make one a month and release teasers and behind-the-scenes footage every week to create a build-up.

Would you say you have a specific genre you like to work with?

Guillaume
We don’t have an editorial line; we want to try different genres. That’s the beauty of the short format, it allows us to play around with so much. The 48h challenge proved to us that we could make a film with very little.

What equipment do you use?

Jérémie
We mostly use daylight and the odd lamp so we don’t need much equipment for lighting. Aside from that, we use a camera, a Sony FS700 and sound equipment. We mostly use hand-held cameras, as it allows for speedy filming, which was essential for the challenges.

How do you devise the stories and write scripts?

Bastien
We tend to have one person in charge of writing dialogue and others proofread. We brainstorm ideas together but once we have a good one, a maximum of 2 or 3 people write the script, otherwise it would take ages for everyone to agree on what to write.

What sort of opportunities have come your way?

Guillaume
All the members have received some interest for other collaborations and paid work. Not all of the opportunities were job opportunities related to our specific skills. We’ve had interest from product placement companies who help you monetise your Youtube videos through advertising but we’ve always turned them down, as it’s not a strategy that’s particularly interesting for us and we’ve come across so many scammers in this field. We’ve had a request by a company that produces camembert to make funny teaser videos. We said no as their offer was quite low. One problem is that companies approach us with the understanding that we are able to make films for very cheap and consequently lower their offer. We’d rather attract feature filmmakers who show interest in our skills.

Are you interested in entering your shorts in festivals?

Bastien
We do send stuff out when we don’t have to make much of an effort to fill out forms. So when the application process is easy or hassle-free, we might send in a film. Crise d’Empathie is currently on the festival circuit. But we don’t tend to focus our efforts on festivals, as we don’t think the films would get picked up by major ones like Clermont-Ferrand [International Short Film Festival].

Guillaume
Although, saying that, a small festival programming their first edition really pushed us to take part, so much so that they filled the forms for us. Our films made up half the ouptut and we were awarded two prizes. As it turns out, a producer from [content production company] Sixtine was there. He saw our films and offered us office space and equipment to encourage and support us to make more films. In exchange, simply credit them as co-producer, so that they can showcase a portfolio of quality shorts.

You can watch The Parasites’ films on their Youtube page. Follow them on Twitter : @Les_Parasites.

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