Magazine article American Cinematographer

Directing a Film of the Greatest Sporting Event on Earth

Magazine article American Cinematographer

Directing a Film of the Greatest Sporting Event on Earth

Article excerpt

An interview with Jean-Claude Labrecque, Director of the Official Film of the XXI Olympiad, who, inspite of the awesome responsibility, welcomes this one-of-a-kind challenge

QUESTION: Can you tell me a bit about your background, leading up to your present assignment?

LABRECQUE: I started as a still photographer in Quebec - taking pictures of weddings, babies crying and all that. But I learned to make films through the National Film Board of Canada. I started there as an assistant cameraman and, in 1965, with Jacques Bobet as producer, I directed, photographed and edited a film about a bicycle race, "60 CYCLES". After that I shot a feature. From the beginning I wanted to become a director, but in the meantime, I worked as Director of Photography and editor. I like to work on every level of the cinema.

QUESTION: How did you happen to be assigned to direct the Official Film for the Montreal Olympics?

LABRECQUE: When Jacques Bobet was named as the producer, I told him that I would be interested in working on the film. Since he has known me for about 12 years, he offered me the chance to direct it. At first I was a little bit afraid to take the responsibility, but I realized that it would be an important event in Montreal and I didn't want to miss it.

QUESTION: What did you do by way of preparation for the assignment?

LABRECQUE: I screened several of the Olympic Games films, starting with the one made in Berlin by Leni Riefenstahl. I also saw the one from Tokyo and the one from Mexico City, but I was especially impressed by "VISIONS OF EIGHT", which Michael Samuelson made in Munich for Wolper. I found that one to be fantastic, because it was the first to change the point of view and the way of making an Olympic film.

QUESTION: How did you arrive at the basic concept for your film of the Montreal Olympics?

LABRECQUE: After seeing all those other films, I found it difficult to write a script, because everything about the Montreal Olympics was already scheduled - like a railroad train that arrives on time and departs on time. But I finally decided to make the film in such a way that, at the end of the two hours, you will have met some people and grown to like them. With that in mind, I asked three other directors (Jean Beaudin, Marcel Carriere and Georges Dufaux) to concentrate on certain individual athletes and follow them very, very closely - outside the competition, as well as in the sporting events. For example, we are doing a sequence on Bruce Jenner. At the beginning of the film we will feel his nervousness, watch him working with the coach, realize his problems, so that by the time he is shown in the Decathlon sporting events, we will know him very well. The same is true of Nelli Kim, Nadia Comaneci and the others. We are following six athletes in all. The leitmotif of the film is the Marathon, and I asked the composer to write a theme especially for the Marathon. At the beginning we will see the Opening Ceremony. Then the first gun that we hear will be the starting gun for the Marathon. All the way through the film we will keep cutting back to the Marathon, until, at the end, we will see the Marathon runners comming back into the stadium. That's the general idea.

QUESTION: At the time of this interview, there are four more days of the Olympics left to go. Are you getting what you want so far?

LABRECQUE: I have seen most of the rushes and they are fantastic - very different. Dufaux and Carriere have shot a lot of footage outside the Stadium - out in the waiting room before the competition. The athletes are nervous and you can feel this atmosphere. We pushed very, very hard for permission to shoot these sequences.

QUESTION: How did you decide in advance which athletes to concentrate on?

LABRECQUE: I spent a year and a half doing research on the athletes I thought might be coming to Montreal. I had seen Nelli Kim two years before in Israel and Comaneci a year before, and I felt that they both had very great potential. …

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