Nicolas Loir is a Director of Photography based out of Paris, France who is Known for his style of natural eclecticism. Nicolas has established himself as one of the premier French cinematographers shooting for clients such as YSL, L'Oréal, Audi, and M83.
How did you begin your cinematography career?
I started my cinematography career shooting music videos. The first promos I shot were directed by Cyrille de Vignemont, and we did at least ten videos together. I often think of those shoots as my best 'school lessons.' With Cyrille, we tested so many different mediums that I can’t even count, from Super 16 to the Weisscam, the ancestor of the Phantom cameras. Those first videos were produced by Wanda Paris, and they put me on my first commercials.
You’re represented in France as well as the United States. How do you think French cinematography differs from American cinematography/filmmaking?
I don’t think that it differs that much. I can't speak about the big film studios in the U.S., but if you compare independent American features and European features, the way to shoot them is not that different.
Camera evolutions (invention of the Cameflex in 1947 for example) and budget limitations on some projects brought French cinematographers to work with lighter equipment, and the French New Wave in the 60’s embraced those evolutions. French cinematography is often reduced to the New Wave, but France has a long history of classic studio work. I would say that French cinematography is a mix between hand-held documentary style shots, as seen in Jean Luc Godard "Breathless," and more classic films like Jean Renoir’s "The Rules of The Game" or Jean Pierre Melville’s "The Samouraï." But, when you know that Melville advised Godard for the editing of Breathless, the circle is complete.
On the technical side, crews in France are often smaller than in the U.S., so we tend to make it work with less people on set. Prep time on European commercials is also longer, but the short prep on the U.S. commercials gives a tempo that is very exciting.
Was winning best cinematography (“Cold Win”) and best music video (“Pursuit”) at Camerimage a turning point in your career?
It was. That’s how I met my American agent (Gregg Dallesandro at Artistry) and was able to get a working visa for the U.S. Having a U.S. work visa enables me to work on different projects. The press that came with Camerimage was also cool.
Favorite all around camera to use and why?
My last feature was shot on a Red Weapon with Panavision anamorphic lenses. My latest commercials were shot with the Alexa or on 35mm, and my last music video was a mix of Super 16 and MiniDv. So no real favorite.
You’ve done work with some great directors such a Fleur & Manu. What is the process like working with them?
Fleur and Manu are very visually driven directors. I remember the treatments of Gessafelstein’s "Pursuit" or M83’s "Wait" videos - a very thick compilation of images. It included grabs from Alejandro Jodorowsky’s "The Holy Mountain," paintings, news report images, art pieces, etc. - a impressive amount of data to digest. No words written, so I would not be influenced by them. Only after seeing those images, they would introduce me to the narrative they had in mind. They are very open minded directors. I love prep time as it’s the moment were you confront ideas and get ready for rumble.
What was the technical process behind Gesaffelstein “Pursuit?” Was it a tough set to shoot compared to your other music videos in the past?
Pursuit was not that complicated on the technical process. Once we settled with our 25mm lens, we would stick to it to have continuity and a single angle of vision.
The struggle was to find different ways of achieving those very long dolly shots. When we couldn't lay down tracks because of a 17th Century fragile wood floor, we would drive a stabilized head on a doorway dolly. When we could lay down tracks, the VFX team at Mathematic Studio would erase 200 feet of tracks in post. The most difficult shot was how to pass the camera through a car. The hardest was to keep our pace on the shoot as we only had two days to achieve all of it. A great production team work from Division Paris driven by producer Jules de Chateleux.
What has been your most challenging project to shoot thus far and why?
I have three in mind. Technically, I would say a commercial for Canal+ for the TV show "Carlos." We had to recreate a car bomb blast in super slow motion backwards. 95% of what you see on screen was shot live and assembled in Flame. We started on a bolt (the 5% made in VFX) on the floor. It starts to jump back up and we follow it backwards. We witness the rewind of a street’s total destruction by a blast and we end just before the explosion.
I was 27 when I shot this, and it was my first big scale commercial. It was a heavy one to achieve on the technical side, lots of math and previz in prep. And to make it harder, we shot one half in a real street and the other half on an outdoor green screen street where we would do the explosions not allowed in the city of Prague. We had to place the motion control at the exact same position.
We shot some of it at night, but the film was set at daytime. We had to light parts of the street with big HMI helium balloons as the amount of light we needed was huge (it was the first phantom cameras, not sensitive at all…). A big work from director Wilfrid Brimo and Wanda Paris Production and Flame VFX job from Mikros Paris.
On the music video side, a promo for Alt-J "Pusher" directed by the late Thomas Rhazi. How do you film a man on a continuous invisible circular movement for 3 minutes while the camera is zooming to end up on a tight close up? To make it harder, we start at day and we end up at night in the story. Each section had to be timed to the second as we were lead by lyrics and each section had invisible cuts to achieve the continuous move. We ended up tracing huge circles on the ground with marks that our camera had to hit extremely precisely while it was on a quad with a stabilized head… again, lots of meetings and an amazing precision driver.
The latest challenging one was the feature "Seuls" (Alone) directed by David Moreau. A fantastic style movie based on a very popular comic in France. It depicts the life of kids who wake up one morning in a totally empty city. We soon discover that that they are not in a safe environment and that they are not alone…The shoot was really physical as the longest time we stayed in one location was 3 days over the 50 days schedule. We shot in a nuclear plant, hotels, streets, tunnels, churches, etc. - one location every day. Physically exaugsthing but a passionate 4 months work pace driven by director David Moreau. I loved it.
You have already had some great accomplishments thus far in your career, is there anything else you looking to achieve?
You make me sound like I’m 80 years old! As I’m in my mid-thirtys, I’m sure that the best is yet to come. I wish to be able to continue to mix feature films, commercials, music videos and short films. I love the idea of jumping from a $2 million commercial to a music video in Jamaica shot on Super 16 with a crew of 5.