It’s been nearly a decade since the Lithuanian scifi sci-fi thriller Vanishing Waves cleaned up at Fantastic Fest basically winning all of the awards, except Best Actor in the Fantastic Features competition. The duo responsible for Waves Kristina Buozyte and Bruno Samper have returned to the fest after a 10 year absence with their follow up, the YA sci-fi dystopian coming of age story Vesper, starring Raffiella Chapman.
Vesper is a world where the “haves” live in the opulent Citadels and the “have-nots” live in abject poverty in rustic villages struggling to make it in their day to day. Vesper is a young girl who cares for her Quadriplegic father whose consciousness also resides in a flying drone. Vesper dreams of one day living in the Citadel and one day she rescues a young woman who might be able to make her dream a reality.
Vesper is an excellent foray into YA that was visually and metaphorically lush with ideas. I caught the film this year at Fantastic Fest where I got to chat with French writer and co-director Bruno Samper who let me in on the six year development process of Vesper and some of the themes and symbolism embedded in the lush feature that is now streaming on Amazon.
I was a huge fan of Vanishing Waves, and I was happy to see you’re back with Vesper, both films are in the sci-fi realm. What attracts you about that particular genre?
I mean, sci-fi is always a great way to speak about the present, in a very metaphorical way and it affords us the possibility to go to dig into some problems of today. Also on the other hand, it’s a very visual genre and it really gives you the possibility to be very creative and it gives the possibility to use all of the tools in the toolbox. So that’s why we can really be creative in the sound design, the production design and in the costume design, there is really a possibility to be creative in many ways, in fact with sci-fi. So that’s why we like this genre.
What sort of inspired that choice and to do the film in English and going in a much more family friendly direction than Waves?
So we did the film in English because, first of all, Kristina, she’s Lithuanian, I’m French. I don’t speak Lithuanian, she doesn’t speak French, so we work in English together and we communicate in English. Our co-writer Brian Clark was American, so yes we spoke together in English. So it was natural for us to work in that way. Also we want to do the movie in the most universal way possible and English is a really universal language, you know, to release the movie in as many countries as possible. So yes, the idea to film in English came from that.
We wanted to do a fairytale. I mean, it wasn’t necessarily the idea to make a young adult movie at the beginning, but we wanted to make a fairy tale. I wanted to use this form because it’s in the same way we worked in English, to be as universal as possible and to touch people from each culture, each generation, at their heart. I mean, Vanishing Waves was great, but we don’t want to redo the same things, and we want a challenge and we want to be universal.
Speaking of the world of Vesper I have to ask what went into the world building here because it’s simply exquisite and also ambitious. From the character designs to the technology. How much time do you spend fleshing out the world around our characters, while creating the narrative and how deep did you go here into Vesper’s world?
I mean, we got the first idea of Vesper like six years ago. Let’s say we fleshed out this world for six years. We didn’t work of course, in the linear way, like intensely and full time for six years. But, it takes the time to mature the world building, the logic, to collect references, to start to build the mood book, to help you to communicate with concept artists. We were trying to visualize this world, so we were working with a leading concept artist, Aurélien Ronceray, and was trying to make a concept up for each scene to be very precise in the vision and this concept was communicated with the DP, the costume designer and the production designer.
I mean, when we were writing the story, we were already thinking about the visuals, it’s a really intricate process. Thanks to Brian our co-writer, because he put that in a simple way, because it was very important for us to make a fairy tale. So we needed to have a very simple very clear storyline, but with a lot of complexity inside the scenes and with the different layers of symbolism in the meanings we put inside, that doesn’t appear at the beginning. We see this movie like a seed, you know, there is a kind of movie, like a flower, you know, you watch the movie and it’s already open. You breathe, you smell the perfume, you see the color, it’s already developed, and when it’s finished it’s finished. Then there are movies like seeds and they are not obvious at the beginning, but they can maybe grow inside you after watching the movie, and it’s what I was trying to do with Vesper.
We were asking a lot of questions about whether we create this story in a dystopia? But we wanted to use the setting, but we at the heart is Vesper. Because of the dystopia, her light became more shiny, more bright, more strong, because of the dystopian world around her. We wanted to speak about hope and to never give up hope and then that setting would make the desire for hope even stronger.
The name Vesper, in a film where everything is so meticulously crafted, what’s behind her name?
Vesper, the reference is an evening prayer, you know? The movie, it’s like that melancholic evening prayer at the end of the day, because the world is like the evening of humanity, the evening of our civilization and could be a new dawn, after this night.
That’s rather beautiful really, I have to ask you about dreams, it’s a thematic thread through both Waves and Vesper, what do you think dreams tell us about ourselves?
Dreams are essential in the ways that they shape the world. It’s literally not new what I’m saying, but, dreams shape the world. I mean, it was the message of Sandman, of Neil Gaiman the dreamer shaping the world. But I mean, it’s the truth it’s a big responsibility, about what dreams we give to the young generation, because what we give will shape the world of tomorrow. It’s very tricky, in fact, there was a lot of questions about the dystopia because, we have already seen a lot of dystopias already and we’re conscious about dystopian movies and books, and what they have begun to create in new generations who project themselves in the dystopia world.
I saw the drone at Fantastic Fest and was floored to learn it was a practical creation and not a CGI construct.
From the beginning, yeah, we wanted to have a real flying drone. I mean, it was also a personal challenge .It was a bit of BB8, kind of thing, you know,, really a practical, something that would look CGI, but its practical. On YouTube, you can see a few videos of guys who manage to shape drones in a very strange way. You know, like you have the Millenium Falcon drone, you have a Superman drone. So yeah, we say, maybe it could be possible to make the design we have in our head as a drone. It was possible, but it was really tricky. In fact, it took us six months, because you can’t fight against the laws of aerodynamics, you know, (laughs). You need to go with it.
So you need to calculate the weight, the power, the battery, because you need a lot of power, so you need a big battery, but the battery is heavy. For the shell of the drone we worked carbon fibers to make it light as possible. Next we needed the air to circulate from bottom to top so we really didn’t to have the top open so we designed this grid on the top that we printed in 3d, and we weren’t sure that it would be enough, and there wouldn’t be enough space for the air to circulate. So like two weeks before the shooting, in fact, we weren’t sure that the drone could fly. When we finally tested it and it was flying and it was really an emotional moment. In fact we literally cried.
Finally the ending makes you think there might be more world out there for Vesper to explore. Are you hoping to do a sequel?
I mean, to be honest, it wasn’t the idea at the beginning to make a sequel. I really wanted to create an arc to close in on itself. I mean, it’s the story of a young girl trying to escape from a life, from reality and she dreams about the Citadel, but this Citadel, it’s a dream, it’s a fantasy. It’s not necessarily something concrete. We all want to escape from reality, to a better world. The Citadel represents that. The arc of Vesper is coming of age and to learn the hard way.
If she wants a better world, she needs to use her skills and talent and dream to reshape the world where she is here and now and not elsewhere. So literally at the end it’s what’s happened. She turns her back to the Citadel, she turns her back to the dream.