Romain Gavras, director of the spectacular “Athena”, returns to the video behind the scenes and the making of the famous introductory sequence shot. A demonstration of “old-fashioned” production, without the use of digital effects and without turning off the camera.
Secrets of making a masterful sequence shot
The new film by Romain Gavras, Athenaopens with a stunning sequence shot more than ten minutes. A masterful introduction to this ultra-spectacular film, which includes other equally complex and impressive sequence shots. In a video released by netflix (below), Romain Gavras comments on this introduction and reveals its intention, as well as manufacturing secrets.
As he explains from the outset, the director begins with a “classic” rear tracking shot centered on the character of Abdel (Dali Benssalah). The camera stays on him until it turns to his younger brother Karim (Sami Slimane), who is going to start the riot by throwing a Molotov cocktail in front of the police station. From there, it’s the conflagration. For Romain Gavras, it was important to link the two brothers in the same plane, since then the planes will cut to pass from one to the other. The intention here is to present the antagonism between the two brothers, as well as to present almost all of the set and unique location of the film : the city Athena.
So we follow Karim into the police station, then into the police van which takes him to the housing estate. Still in the same sequence shot, he then crosses the city on foot, meets and interacts with different people, then positions himself at the edge of the central slab, with its battlements which give it the appearance of a fortified castle. The burning question is: how does the camera go from the outside of the truck inside, comes out, follows Karim and ends up flying away?
Camera, scooter and drone
As Romain Gavras indicated in our interview, it was essential to rehearse a lot and to submit to a “military” organization to succeed in putting this sequence ofAthena. A sequence which also required maximum involvement of the actors, in particular Sami Slimane who must remain in his character throughout the sequence and on the two kilometers traveled between the police station and the slab.
There are the actors, and there is the team behind the camera. And this one, rather than using 3D, green screens or “invisible” connections, filmed the entire sequence on the spot. To go from inside to outside the moving van (at 5’51 in the movie), the camera is transmitted by an operator in the van to another operator positioned on a scooter. To return to the van (at 6’37), reverse maneuver for the camera which passes from the scooter to the hands of the cameraman in the van. This one will then follow Karim during his crossing of the city. This is where complex manipulation comes in (from 10’26 in the movie).
As the director explains, to allow the camera to take flight, it was necessary to detach the IMAX camera from the steadicam which follows Karim laterally, to carry it for the time clip it to a drone, drone carried by operators. Once the camera is securely fastened to the drone, its propellers are launched and the sequence shot can “fly away” and move away from Karim. The result is spectacular, and exemplary fluidity.