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Michel Gondry on the Gondry-esque Special Effects of The Green Hornet, and the One He Saved for the Sequel

Whimsical French auteur Michel Gondry might seem an odd fit for a superhero movie, but The Green Hornet is surprisingly fleet and funny, thanks to the director’s inventive visuals and the friendship between millionaire playboy Britt Reid (Seth Rogen) and his own personal Q, Kato (Taiwanese pop star Jay Chou). We spoke with Gondry about how Missy Elliott inspired one of the movie's effects, and how he approached Hornet's fight scenes.

All those fight scenes certainly seemed like something new for you. But they still seemed like Michel Gondry scenes. How did you approach them?
I’m used to working in a very limited space, so I always use tricks in my videos to multiply the space, by using mirrors or using a geometrical way to place the camera and get the best of what I have. So I think I have an instinct of expanding limited space.

A classic example of that is the White Stripes video, of course.
By “the White Stripes video” maybe you refer to the one with the drum that multiplies?

Yeah.
That effect came from … initially I had a meeting with Missy Elliott to do her video. She told me, “Michel, I want you to involve a 3-D system for my video that doesn’t require glasses.” I thought it was impossible, but then I came up with this idea to have everything multiplying, and then with natural vision being like physically multiplied and using morph and different techniques to make the transition visible. And I ended up not doing the video, she did it with Hype Williams, but I did it for the Chemical Brothers, so that was another thing that I thought it would be interesting to use to show that there is sort of a space and a time distortion when Kato fights.

Were there new techniques you developed for the movie?
I did develop for the film the difference of speed between the different part of the fights within the same frame, so someone’s going fast and then slow, or sometimes slow and then fast, and the whole scene seems to be coming from the same camera and the camera is moving. I did that because, a lot of time when fighters are fighting like five opponents, you can see everyone waiting for their turn.

Yeah, why wouldn’t they all attack at once?
Yeah, exactly. I was trying to find a technique to achieve that. I wanted to go back to the feeling people may have had seeing something for the first time in slow motion. That must have been really striking, and that must have happened in early twentieth century, probably some operator overcranked the camera and it went too fast and they realized the motion was slower, and I wanted to get back to this feeling with the digital technology. That’s why I manipulated the speed at a different ratio for each character within the same frame.

How did you get the relationship between Britt and Kato right?
Well, for one thing to start with is the script, the screenplay that was written by Seth and [Evan] Goldberg has this relationship as a backbone. So it was there. And then how to make it really alive? Seth likes to improvise a lot and he’s very confident with the verb, the language. Jay, he barely speaks English, so he would be completely lost in the filming but he would compensate with his little bit of coolness all the time. On the other hand, when they tried the costumes on, everything fit Jay perfectly because he’s this handsome boy. And Seth was very embarrassed, very underconfident next to Jay, and I thought this dynamic is exactly what was at the core of their relationship.

How so?
Seth, Britt, is very talkative; he’s sort of charming and a little bit of a douchebag at times. And then on the other hand, Jay, Kato, is much more quiet, but then he’s way cooler and he takes every situation to a higher voltage.

Kato’s gadgets are great. Do you identify with his creative spirit?
I think it’s fair to say that, yes. Silly stuff, like the turntable and the fax machine in the car, and the gun which is within the door. And if you ask me, I would come up with even more. I wanted to have a blue screen in the back of the passenger seat so that Britt can pretend he’s in the office. Kato would make a sharp turn with the car and you see Britt moving in his desk with no reason. I didn’t get to convince them to do that, but I have hope for maybe the sequel.

Photo: Elisabetta Villa/Getty Images