Overcoming Barriers through Film: In Conversation with Thibault Marsaudon
By: Darida Rose
Overcome is a short film about a young man with autism who finds refuge from the outside world with his love for basketball. The film has a run-time of about 22 minutes and it is directed by Thibault Marsaudon.
This is Marsaudon’s first film, and the emerging artist grants Phoenix Journal a chance to hear his journey prior to and in the making of Overcome.
Darida Rose, Phoenix Journal (PJ): Having basketball as the centrepiece to John’s passion is an interesting choice. Why basketball?
Thibault Marsaudon (TM): Basketball is a sport requiring to play with teammates, in a very loud environment with a lot of lights and physical contacts. That’s everything an autistic person would usually avoid, which makes it the perfect sport for a short film about overcoming difficulties and handicap.
It was also a good reason for creating protective parents for John without going into the “overprotective parents” cliché.
(PJ): Are there any basketball films that have inspired you as an emerging filmmaker?
(TM): Not really since basketball wasn’t the main subject for this short film. I watched a few movies such as Coach Carter, Hoosier or even Space Jam to see how they filmed basketball scenes, but my main inspiration were Children of Men and Son of Saul as I was looking for a good way to represent the isolation, the solitude of the main character. I loved the way they used long shots and a very narrow depth of field to show the isolation and the self-centered focus from these characters.
I wanted to give a “bubble” sensation with the images, and my Director of Photography, Jon Mercer, suggested a lot of the shots in the short and he did an amazing work.
(PJ): Can you please take us through the process of what goes on prior to the finalizing of the screenplay? How much research was done on Autism and were there any particular real-life stories that inspired this story to be told by you?
(TM): I was diagnosed with ADHD at 17 years old and with Asperger’s syndrome when I was ~2. A lot of moments in my life when I felt abnormal or crazy were suddenly explained. It wasn’t easier to live with it, but easier to deal with it, to make it a force instead of a weakness. That was my base for writing Overcome’s screenplay.
I then made a lot of research about autism, especially the stronger sides of the spectrum, to create a more accurate character.
The difficulty was to write him without making things too complicated to shoot. I talked with people with autism, using my own experiences too, to create John’s character.
I also made researches on how autism is treated in the United States, more specifically in New-York City since it’s very different from France, where I’m from, or Switzerland, where I live.
(PJ): Can you take us through the technicalities of shooting a sports film? What were some of the technical challenges that you didn’t think of perhaps when shooting basketball?
(TM): The biggest challenge we faced was to shoot basketball scenes with the constraint of the long shots we had during the whole short. The actors took some practice with a coach, to make sure they were prepared for the shooting and to make sure they’d play as their characters would play.
We also needed the other players to be very good at basketball, since we had some shots in which we had to see the ball going in the basket, we couldn’t cheat as much as other movies.
The technical challenge I didn’t think of was choreography. I had ideas of the movements I wanted, but I should have taken more time to practice with the actors and the camera team to have a smoother shooting.
(PJ): Are there any nuances that as a filmmaker you felt like you had to absorb and really dig through to get your message out when dealing with a sensitive topic such as disability?
(TM): As a filmmaker, I wanted to make sure to give a good representation of autism seen from the inside, and give this message of hope for every person with a disability so I dig through my own autism to use it as reference material, which wasn’t a pleasant experience, making it more present in my life to experience what my main character had to experience in the film.
(PJ): Take us through the process of working with the actors…were there any specific methods or research or film history you referenced when working with the topic on hand and its performance by the actors?
(TM): First, I’d like to thank all the actors who played in Overcome. They were really good, and very patient with the young filmmaker I was.
The way I worked with them was to make them understand their characters, their story, let them work with that and make small corrections when needed. Fortunately, most of them knew or dealt with autistic people before so it was easy.
I spent more time with Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick, who played John, to tell him how his character’s autistic mind worked, why he would or wouldn’t react a certain way.
(PJ): What advice do you have for young independent filmmakers such as yourself looking to get their first work out there and noticed?
(TM): Work hard on your project, don’t look away from the difficulties. You’ll find a great team to work with if they feel your passion.
And always keep an underdog mentality.
(PJ): This is a bonus for basketball fans—-Alonzo Mourning poster was legendary. Any notes on that?
(TM): It was the only good quality basketball poster we found at the prop house! The fun fact is that the Coach’s character is named Alonzo, even if we don’t hear it in the film, in reference to Alonzo Mourning. So, when the production designer came back with this poster, we had to take it.
Plus, after winning a NBA championship despite a kidney transplantation, I think Alonzo Mourning is a good example of overcoming a difficulty.