Virginie Besson-Silla Tells Us About the 'Lucy' Surprise, 'Fifth Element' Sequel, and Her Darling 'Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart'

Virginie Besson-Silla Tells Us About the 'Lucy' Surprise, 'Fifth Element' Sequel, and Her Darling 'Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart'

Oct 09, 2014

Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock HeartThere are a handful of very well-known filmmaking couples in Hollywood. Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh. Christopher Nolan and Emma Thomas, and Zack and Deborah Snyder. However, there's one unsung team that most people may not realize is a husband-and-wife dynamic duo: Luc Besson and Virginie Besson-Silla.

Not only has Virginie produced several of Luc's directorial projects, most recently The Family and Lucy, but she's also one of the key players at EuropaCorp, the highly influential French production company that isn't afraid to take risks on filmmakers with some out-there visions.

One of those risks happens to be Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart, a delightful, romantic, quirky animated movie with an amazing soundtrack that's now available on Blu-ray and DVD. It's about a boy who can never fall in love lest it break the clock he has for a heart that keeps him alive. And as you can guess from that description, it's a smart, strange, unique animated movie that's closer in spirit to Coraline than something like Rise of the Guardians.

We talked to Virginie Besson-Silla about why she turned this cool but risky movie (based on a concept album by the French band Dionysos) into her own pet project at EuropaCorp, what it was like to have Lucy be such a smash success, and the inevitable question of how likely Luc Besson is to ever actually make a sequel to The Fifth Element. You and Luc Besson are perhaps one of the most unsung producing power couples in Hollywood. How did you two meet?

Virginie Besson-Silla: I've been together with Luc for 15 years. We have three children, which I'd say is our best production. Before being together, we had worked together for two or three years, so I think that's why it's easy for us to work together. We have first a working relationship and we are always really careful to never mix the two together. When we're home, there's no work. And when we work, we work. I'm a producer and he's the director and we're very respectful of each other's work. And if the work is good, I think it's because we've always had that respect.

Luc's been in this business longer than I have, and actually when we were working together I wasn't producing yet, and he offered me the chance to produce my first movie inside the company. So we started the company, at the time it wasn't even called EuropaCorp. It was called Leeloo Productions, and it was Luc, this other person who would take more care of the day-to-day and accounting. Then we changed the name and more and more people got into the company and it's become what it is. It seems like EuropaCorp backs a lot of films and filmmakers that wouldn't find support without a company like yours. You embrace personalities and styles of films that would be overlooked otherwise.

Besson-Silla: The company produces bigger films, like Taken or Transporter, which are, in a way, more commercial. The company is able to produce that type of film in order to make something that's maybe more risky, like Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart or recently the Tommy Lee Jones film The Homesman. I think it's because the company's head is Luc Besson and the number one thing is that he's an artist and the business side comes after. When projects come in, that's the way we want to look at them. It's not will they be profitable or not. We look at them with our heart, and if it's possible, we make the project. Is Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart your baby as a producer?

Besson-Silla: Yes. It's been my baby for six or seven years now. It was actually a coincidence. Luc was doing a TV show. I don't remember what movie he was promoting, but I was watching him on TV with our children, who were quite young, and saw Mathias Malzieu, the director who is also a rock star in France and a writer. He was on too promoting The Boy with the Cuckoo-Clock Heart, which he'd done as a graphic novel and an album. And I was fascinated by the way he moved and performed on the show. And when he talked about the book and the music, I just really loved it.

So when Luc came home, he brought back the book. I read it in two days and then we met the director and I really fell in love with the project. Luc was very supportive and he was able to guide us, because this was my first time producing an animation and this was Mathias' first time directing ever. So Luc was the godfather in the back for whenever we had a question or to help with the structure of the script. And since then I've just been fighting for the movie with Mathias Malzieu and his codirector, Stephane Berla.

So yeah, it's my baby. And it's such a special movie. It's so poetic and romantic. It's not straightforward. And since animation costs so much money, people look at you like, "Are you sure this is what you want to do?" but I really felt it was worth fighting for. When making the movie, did you have to consider international audiences that tend to think animated movies are strictly for kids?

Besson-Silla: Honestly it was a challenge even in France. In France and any country in the world, everyone watches Disney movies. They all watch the same big movies as here. So it was a real challenge. With a movie like Jack, which did not have a small budget, it was hard to make sure that everyone on board was going to push the movie as much as possible.

The thing is, like any film you're going to do, you never know if it's going to be a hit or not. It's a little bit like a lottery. Doing a movie like this, you're not putting all the luck on your side, but you never know. I'm sure when Tim Burton produced the Nightmare Before Christmas everyone was like, "Are you sure this is what you want to do?" But over time, everyone has grown to love it.

He opened a genre to a wider audience because he was strong enough to take the risk. I think that's what making movies is all about. It's taking risks. And whether it's a huge box office success or not, hopefully some audience will see it and have a major moment with the movie. Since nothing is a guarantee, was the smash success of Lucy a total blindside for you guys? Did you see the numbers Monday and say, "Wow, look what we just did to Hercules?"

Besson-Silla: Oh yes, of course. It wasn't Monday morning. It was on Thursday. Just from the early screenings, we were all in shock. And it's been like this in the U.S. and every country it's been released in. With maybe a few exceptions, it's opened to be the number one movie everywhere, which was a total shock.

You obviously always hope a movie is going to be a success, but not all the movies I've produced have been a success, especially to that extent. So before it comes out, you look at it knowing it's a really weird movie. It starts out as action, but then it goes somewhere completely different. It takes you to another dimension and makes you think about life about what was there at the beginning and so many things, how can we be sure an audience is going to relate to and understand that? Even from the preview screenings we had done, we had no idea.

I think people liked that it was different from a lot of things they had seen recently. I also think the marketing team at Universal did an amazing job. There's other movies we've made that I love, but they're not well marketed or it's not the right time. It depends on so many things, and on Lucy all the stars were aligned. So we're enjoying it, but it was a total surprise. Have you already noticed a change in the industry that's more interested and supportive of female-led movies like Lucy?

Besson-Silla: I don't think it's a change because Lucy was so unique. But for sure, when Luc had a hit with The Fifth Element we received tons of scripts that were in that vein. The same thing happened after Nikkita. After Taken we saw so many different forms of Taken. So I'm sure it inspires people to do things in that same vein, but it also opens doors for others. People start to think maybe they can do something a bit more green or purple or whatever new door has been opened. Since fans are still clamoring for it these days, what are the realistic chances of a Fifth Element sequel?

Besson-Silla: I'm not the best person to ask because I'm not the author of The Fifth Element, but I will say that The Fifth Element was, what, 1997? So I think if there was to be a sequel, it might have happened by now so I wouldn't count on it. Then again, the question should be asked of Luc Besson. But... it's not in our future projects, no. What are you future projects?

Besson-Silla: Lucy is still being released in certain countries. China hasn't released it yet, so I'm still involved with that. And I'm still looking after my little Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart, which I hope will be released in more countries. I have different ideas in development, but it's good to sit back and just enjoy a little bit of what happened with Lucy. That doesn't happen often.

Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart is available now on Blu-ray and DVD.





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