An interview w/DSGNLAB director Nathalie Cusson
Nathalie Cusson is not only a highly awarded and recognized creative director but also the curator of the ever so pleasing and evocative Sunday Afternoon.
Captivating from the start while observing the flirtatious dance of the sheets falling to the floor – I found myself desiring an opportunity to dig in to such an afternoon.
LR: So, Nathalie, were you experiencing a Sunday Afternoon such as this and thought “Aha!” what a great film idea?
NC: No, ah ha! Actually, a friend suggested it and I thought, what a great idea. But I had some doubts about it.
My biggest worries were how can I do this:
a) without showing an ounce of flesh?
b) without being crass?
These two things represented a challenge and that’s what got me excited as a director.
LR: No flesh and not crass – a feat you so elegantly achieved! What inspired you to move toward directing live action?
NC: I am an (advertising and editorial) Art Director by trade. In my work, I had to commission film work. Each time, it seemed a very natural process and I thought: “I can do this, and I can have fun doing this.”
Turns out that moving things are a thousand times more interesting, but a thousand times more complicated too!
LR: A modern day Mozart, Amon Tobin Horsefish weaves soundscapes that really set the tone of the action. What inspired you to determine this composition?
NC: Horsefish is a great match because of the variations in textures, sounds and its overall lasciviousness. I wanted a track with some bite, while very soft at the same time.
LR: Supple and sweet the way the action fits with the music. Can you tell me how your approach for live action is either similar or different than how you would approach design or art direction?
NC: For me, the creative process for working in film is not very different than for design or art direction. I get a mandate (self-determined or from a client) and I “marinate” it a little while. Walking down the street, going for a run, experiencing everyday life while carrying this mandate in my mind, will help enrich, develop or even find the idea. I keep notebooks everywhere (in the car, by my bed, etc..) and jot down everything that could be helpful. When I feel that I have enough material, I put it down on paper in the form of sketches, bits of text, or rough storyboards.
LR: At what age did you start creating?
NC: I had a first exhibit in my living room at age 8 and then another official one at age 10 showing my paintings. A local newspaper ran an article about the second one!
Interesting fact: one of my paintings was stolen!
LR: Art theft is one of the biggest enterprises in the world. Your piece could be hidden somewhere with the hijacked Rembrandt or Van Gogh’s! Did you study art or are you completely self-taught?
NC: From a very young age (7-8) I studied drawing and painting. I remember an orientation session in High School where the guide was scratching her head because she did not know which direction to send me in. Being an artist or even a commercial artist (designer) was not an option. But I pursued with a College degree in Fine Arts and then went to university to complete a bachelor degree in Graphic Communications. Since design has been changing over the years, I had to keep studying, learning Computer Graphics and the various softwares along the way.
When I decided to make the leap to film-making, I went to study in Maine (US) at Maine Media Workshop and College and took an accelerated program in film-making. It turned out to be an excellent kick-start, learning the technical aspect (direction of photography, lighting) as well as soft skills, such as actor direction and visual storytelling.
LR: The aesthetic has a fine art genius that conveys the bedrock of your discovery. Sheets, feathers, milk, smoke! Tell me more about the elements you chose and some of the troubleshooting that came up for you in getting the perfect shot.
NC: Indeed! Each element was very different in weight and therefore, traveled through the air differently every time. The sheets were behaving pretty well. The feathers were clumping. The balloons were filled with water so the movement was exactly what I was looking for, like body flesh bouncing. But we had a few explosions under the warm spots! The milk was particularly difficult. We had to use a lot of it. It seems to go everywhere except in the direction we wanted. We ended up forcing the movement by pouring it into a big bowl and letting it spill out.
All this was shot at very high speed (to get the extreme slow motion) so every take took a while to process before we could see what it looked like. Then there was the excitement of the reveal. The shoot was filled with OOOOOOooohs and AAAAAaaaahs.
LR: Ohh! Those rascally feathers and that hard milk, at least the sheets and balloons behaved favorably. How connected are the elements to one another – are they deep in love or is this more of an afternoon delight or maybe both?
NC: Ah! That’s for the viewer to interpret that part! I see it as an afternoon delight, could be a roll in the hay, could be a long loving relationship. One thing is for sure, they are pretty relaxed in the afternoon sun!
LR: Relaxing is key to being present – whether it’s an afternoon delight, a roll in the hay or a long term loving relationship. The way a lot of people are connecting nowadays is through online dating. Have you ever explored this way of connecting?
NC: Oh my. Yes, I did, for a very short while. One of my advertising clients was an internet dating site, so I had to try to experience it. But the experience turned out to be disappointing. It ate up all of my time (checking every five minutes, just in case love would strike!) and all I got were impersonal messages in which I could tell that the person had cut and pasted the same words to dozens of other people. What may have seemed an efficient idea turned out uninspiring and impersonal. However, I know a lot of people who have connected that way and I am happy for them. That method was not for me, but it can work for many.
LR: If only the men knew that they were writing to such a creative, thoughtful and beautiful woman with more depth than a displayed image! What’s your love story?
NC: My love story is ridiculously romantic. I went to Club Med in Turks & Caicos. I had gone with a girlfriend and we were both sarcastic about the couples forming before our eyes. Suddenly, one evening, I saw this man in the crowd and he saw me. (Later, he told me that everything around him quieted and slowed down when our eyes met, a very cinematic vision!) Turns out he was from France and I lived in Toronto. We both went back to our respective homes but then started to write and then we reconnected shortly after. I went to visit him in France and he asked if I would come and live with him. Like a fool, I said yes, packed and went. My friends were scared: “Maybe he is a maniac”. But then they were reassured when they came to the wedding a year later. After spending years in Toulouse (France) and Toronto (Canada) we now live in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
LR: A beautiful love story that seems to match up to your essence and playfulness. Your intuition must be strong, I’m so glad he wasn’t a maniac! Where will you be taking your viewers next and what will be the title of your next film?
NC: I have another idea in the same style, about our relation to art as artists and as people who are looking at it. It’s about how we spill and expose a little bit of ourselves when we show our creation. Can’t tell you much more, without revealing the punch!
LR: Thank you for sharing your creative brilliance with us, Nathalie Cusson. I will patiently await in anticipation for the unveiling of your next blossoming.
Lindsie Reitz is an editorial artist covering a wide range of topics that showcase creatives in all forms of media.
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See more of Nathalie’s work