They say that practice makes perfect. And getting to the top of whatever you are good at can be an arduous process of many years of dedication and discipline. Every four years we witness the Olympic games and all kinds of sports. A congregation of the best and most successful athletes in a single city, competing to achieve new goals, break records, and get recognized by the entire world and their peers. As any other discipline, every athlete carries the burden of time. Why time? Because depending on the sports you practice, you may be effective only for a few years at the most. All in all, every single athlete will tell you that practicing a particular sport every single day, waking up to do it over and over again, is one of the most satisfying things anyone could experience. It is a true beauty, where the natural shape and strength of the body conspires with the difficulty and tenacity of a sport, and brings out the best in men and women. François Rousseau shares his short film “The Beauty of Sports”, where he shows crisp images and sequences of several athletes in ‘their zone’. This film was shot in liaison with French sports publication, L’Équipe, and shot with the versatile Leica SL with CW Sonderoptic lenses.
Please describe the project you were commissioned to do. Who was the client? What were the objectives?
Four years ago the French Institute of Sport (INSEP) commissioned me a book (NAISSANCE DES CHAMPIONS) and a movie (LE TEMPS DES ATHLETES) about French athletes training for the Olympic Games London 2012. The book was published but the movie remained confidential. At the same time, a producer, Arnaud Lemaire, saw a trailer of this project. He kept my work in mind during 4 years and presented the project to Chanel in relation to the perfume ALLURE HOMME SPORT COLOGNE. The objective was to produce 12 short films sponsored by ALLURE HOMME SPORT for the digital platform of the french newspaper, L’Équipe.
Two majors events happened this summer 2016: The Euro and Olympics games. It was a moment of visibility.
What was your creative approach when tasked to document all of the athletes, understanding they all practice different sports and thus, they are subject to different circumstances?
My biggest worry was to work with available light! I knew this work signified to be immersed in ‘the zone’. Discreet. To be as close as possible to the athletes and their gestures. To capture their concentration, their suffering without them seeing me. At the same time, my challenge was to isolate the athletes in a more cinematic light.
The film has an exquisite rendering in terms of color, optics, and cinematic techniques. Can you describe the process behind shooting this video in regards to the equipment used, cameras, lenses, lighting, and post-processing?
The shoot was very dynamic and energetic! I was supposed to be ready for all situations. It is why it was so easy to work with the Leica SL. It is small, practical and with an amazing image quality. I recorded files on Atomos SHOGUN. I used various Leica lenses as well. Most of all, I used four Summilux-C (30mm, 40mm, 50mm and 100mm) and M lenses: (Noctilux 0.95 and Summilux 21mm. The first 4K test with these lenses was completely stunning!! I worked with LED new generation lightings: ALADIN, FILEX Q1000.
We did a regular post production process as if we had Raw files. We had many possibilities for color grading with .MOV from ATOMOS.
One Leica SL was used on shoulders and the second one was supported by a stabilizer RONIN or DRONE.
How do you perceive the Leica SL’s performance for this type of project? For instance, its precise autofocus, etc?
The precise autofocus was perfect when I was filming action like Divers and Runners. With the Leica SL I can produce motion pictures with simplicity, unencumbered by unnecessary accessories. It is very easy to control white balance when doing color. It’s also very easy to control color temperature. I love the B&W profile generated by the SL. Most of the B&W in this project was not post produced but generated directly from the SL!
There are several shots that seem to be done with the help of a drone, how was this used?
We use the SL body with a Summilux 21mm on a drone. It was wonderful to see the first images, so sharp! Of course it is beautiful to be elevated with another point of view, but my specific challenge with the drone was to create unreal travelings, like the lake sequence. It was the end of winter and very early in the morning. We had the chance to film these athletes with a wonderful fog at sunrise…magical!
The music of the film enhances the story of the grit, perseverance and extreme sportsmanship of these athletes. It even offers tension and release to specific moments of the film; was this intended and how was it conceived?
We commissioned an original score. AUFGANG is a French based group of electro-acoustic music. They are amazing studio musicians but most of all they are incredible on stage in live performances. They understood quickly the energy and rhythm we were expecting! They composed the 12 movements with my requests and the 12 selected words illustrated in each film: Velocity, Rhythm, Precision, Vision, Harmony… but without images! It means they composed before the editing. André Atangana, my partner in my Parisian studio did an amazing editing and art direction in under 35 hours!
Clearly, to achieve this type of content, there is much needed in terms of preproduction, planning, etc. For young filmmakers, what 3 things would you suggest to them?
1- To know very well your subject! I started to photograph athletes and sports 20 years ago, I did many projects before INSEP. I knew what to look for. My camera knew what to capture.
2- You have to work with a very well organized production director!! Planning was difficult. There are 100 athletes and coaches in my movie… We film in many locations, so a serious organisation is definitely needed!
3- Never give up…
Are there any specific plans for the distribution of this film? Will it be used for other media outlets or purposes?
It was first a digital project but when Chanel saw the 12 films they decided to a show “LA BEAUTE DU SPORT” also this summer on TV L’EQUIPE 21! There are other projects but it’s a bit early to talk…
Lastly, is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers about the film itself, or your personal work?
The elaboration of such a project took me a year. This is a first step on motion picture while keeping my freedom as a photographer. I am ready for the new project which will be even more complex!
Thank you François!