Festival de Cannes 2023

Manu Dacosse, SBC, remembers the filming of "Vincent Must Die", by Stephan Castang

The deadly glare, By François Reumont

[ English ] [ français ]

Selected out of competition at this years Cannes Critics’ Week, Stephan Castang’s first film is a fantastic story in which the protagonist suddenly finds himself confronted with inexplicable violence. To bring this fable to life, which oscillates between a paranoid film and an epidemic film, Manu Dacosse, BSC, teamed up with this highly experienced theater actor. It is Karim Leklou who lends his features to Vincent, bringing both the fragility and the strength that characterize the character with talent. (FR)

Overnight, Vincent is attacked by people for no apparent reason who try to kill him. He tries to continue living a normal life, but as the phenomenon escalates, he must flee and completely change his way of life…

Shot over 40 days between Lyon and St. Nazaire, Vincent Must Die clearly announces its theme in its title. “It was a great meeting with Stephan initiated thanks to the Belgian co-production that introduced us,” says Manu Dacosse. “At that time, I was shooting François Ozon’s film My Crime, and the idea of radical different project appealed to me. I appreciated the short films Stephan had previously directed, and I was reassured by the fact that they were mostly self-produced. Stephan seemed to perfectly master the filmmaking process, which is important, especially when working with someone from the theater.”
Being a big fan of the 70s, the director shares some iconic films from that period with the cinematographer, such as Alan J Pakula’s Klute, photographed by Gordon Willis. “Stephan is a true cinephile. He can talk to you about these kinds of standards as well as much lesser-known Polish films from the 50s ! Personally, I like to create a kind of image library for each scene, for example, by looking for photos on Instagram or film stills on the FilmGrab platform. It’s a very useful tool created by true film image enthusiasts, with whom I have had the opportunity to discuss online. With their search engine, it’s very quick to find inspirations based on keywords. For example, you type ‘1.66,’ and suddenly you have dozens of films shot in that aspect ratio that you had completely forgotten about. For Vincent Must Die, I remember, for example, drawing inspiration from a film with Nicolas Cage where the contrasts in red and blue had greatly inspired me, especially for the sequences that take place in the second part of the film in front of the restaurant. I also remember focusing on certain sequences from the series "Euphoria" (lighting by Marcell Rev) that I was watching at the time.”
Thus, opting for a somewhat American look in anamorphic, the director of photography began his search for the lenses he would choose for the film. “I must admit that I have a real love for anamorphic lenses. In a previous film (You Will Not Have My Hate), I had the opportunity to experiment with the vintage Techno Zeiss series that TSF had just acquired. And I found them to be truly perfect. But they were not available for this film, so they offered me the Techno Cooke lenses, another anamorphic series from the same period (the 80s). The only problem is that a 35mm lens doesn’t exist in this series. To compensate, I mostly shot the film with a 50mm and a 75mm. The wide shots were done with a spherical lens, the 14mm Cooke S4, which has a less distorted image, even after adding some Scope characteristics in post-production. In retrospect, I have to admit that this Cooke anamorphic series is even more beautiful than the Zeiss series. The way they handle skin tones is very natural, very beautiful, with a look that somewhat resembles the G series from Panavision, but softer. Another surprise is that they can even be used wide open without it turning into something completely nasty. They are a bit heavy, but not too much… In any case, they are great for handheld work. We combined them with an Angénieux 25-250 HR zoom lens, which I always use for telephoto shots. This setup was very useful for the highway sequence, mostly shot with mega long focal lengths.
In terms of cameras, I always try to have two camera bodies for all the films I make.In this case, it was 2 Alexa Mini cameras, one configured for handheld shots, and the second one permanently mounted on my own Ronin.

Le Ronin dans la voiture
Le Ronin dans la voiture

This method saves me a lot of time for each setup. Sometimes, it’s also possible to shoot with both cameras simultaneously, with the A Camera locked-off on a tripod and the second one allowing me to capture different angles with a remote-controlled crank head for controlled movements. The Ronin is also a very useful tool when shooting, for example, inside a car. It’s worth noting that in this case, it’s better to shoot with a recent model car because cars from the 70s (like the one Vincent drives in the film) act as a metal cage and can sometimes disrupt the transmission between the head and the remote…
When asked about the originality of this working method, the cinematographer replies : “This device hasn’t fully entered the norms in France or Belgium yet. In Germany or Anglo-Saxon countries, camera teams are perfectly trained in this type of stabilizer, and some even integrate it into their own setups. I think things are evolving because when you see the power of the equipment, you realize the extent of the possibilities in terms of capturing shots. For example, in the final shot on the boat, I installed the 75mm lens on the camera with a doubler, and the shot was taken using the Ronin mounted on a small aerocrane-style arm. It’s completely steady ! While we follow the boat from another vessel… it’s quite amazing !”

Installation de la caméra et du Ronin sur le bateau
Installation de la caméra et du Ronin sur le bateau

Asked about the camera developed by DJI (the Ronin 4D) equiped with a dedicated four-axis stabilizer, Manu Dacosse responds : “Yes, it’s a very exciting setup. I haven’t had the opportunity to test it yet, but it’s true that it could fit into my setup. Already, when you see the quality produced by this brand’s camera drones, you’re often amazed during the grading at what you can get from the onboard ProRes RAW. It’s really quite close to the Alexa.”

Photographically, the opening of the film is quite realistic, although the choice of optics gives the film a John Carpenter-like style from the very first scenes. “Vincent’s workplace, for example, wasn’t the most cinematic set we were offered. It was a fairly ordinary office set, and the character had a similar vibe. His apartment, too, with the staircase set playing a significant role in the altercation scene with the neighbors. It wasn’t easy for me with this particular Lyon apartment. It was a white space that couldn’t be repainted… The production designer then came up with the idea of stretching a large windsurfing sail, which I could backlight to get interesting colors. With this trick, we avoid the trap of plain white and transformed the place into a kind of cave where a geeky bachelor lives.”


As the situation quickly becomes unmanageable in the city, Vincent decides to escape to the countryside… This is the second part of the film where several dramatic turns occur. Manu Dacosse explains, “Just before reaching the countryside, there is the gas station sequence. It’s an important scene in which Vincent has a decisive encounter. Indeed, in France, it’s not easy to find visually interesting gas station. We had found one during location scouting around Lyon, but it fell through a few days before shooting the scene. So we had to quickly find a replacement. The new location was architecturally interesting but very poor in terms of lighting… In these kinds of situations, we say thank goodness for the Astera lights ! With these autonomous and multicolored LED tubes, we quickly dress up the set while being careful not to show them too much. That’s how I shot the scene, with a blue-yellow mix that unexpectedly heightened the location.”

Next, we transition into a much more bucolic film, especially with the setting of the abandoned family house. “To break away from the urban opening of the film, we suddenly decided to use a lot of static shots,” explains Manu Dacosse. “And then there’s also the arrival of sunlight. The natural setting of the house was absolutely perfect. Everything was already in place, including the vintage wallpapers preserved by the owners ! Moreover, I had plenty of windows available to light from. This allowed me to make a change from the look of the first part of the film, where the interiors were mostly illuminated with practicals.”

This second part of the film also marks the arrival of Margaux (Vimala Pons), a waitress whom Vincent meets in the parking lot of a very American-style “Diner.” “Once again, the location scouting team did an excellent job. Besides the Diner set with all its red colors, right across the road, we had a competing Chinese restaurant that was trying to outdo each other with their huge neon signs ! Everything was there… my only regret is missing a beautiful twilight opening sequence due to lack of time.

The relationship between the two characters largely takes place in Vincent’s car. For all these sequences, I immediately suggested to Stephan that we shoot in a studio, since the car is constantly driving at night in the middle of the countryside. There’s no need to use a low-loader when everything is pitch black outside ! So, we ended up in a much more comfortable setup, where we could easily add effects without worrying too much about absolute realism. Another option we considered for a while was shooting against a LED wall, but it was too expensive for us. Also, the quality of the LED panels is often an issue.

Sur l'autoroute dans la fumée
Sur l’autoroute dans la fumée


As the situation deteriorates on a national scale, the two protagonists have no choice but to try to survive amidst the chaos. This is the highway sequence where the film shifts into the apocalyptic genre. “This highway sequence was shot over two days near Saint-Nazaire, with all the constraints you can imagine in terms of weather. It was a bit of a continuity nightmare for me, and when Stephan mentioned using smoke for the sake of the visual style, I immediately went for it ! By flooding the location, we greatly reduced contrast and any potential false hues. This way, I was able to somewhat match a very gray morning with a fully sunny afternoon. Despite our rather limited resources, with only about twenty cars and a hundred extras, the sequence works pretty well.”

Finally, we come to the boat set, the final challenge in terms of filming… “Shooting sequences inside a small sailboat is quite tricky. We had many discussions during the pre-production about these scenes. The production designer initially wanted to cut the boat in half and set it up in a studio. But that option is risky because at 14mm, if you pan a little to the left or right, you’ll quickly end up shooting off the set. In the end, we just cut out retractable sections in a 1m by 2.5m hull, allowing us to set up the shots more easily. The Alexa Mini was reduced to its minimal size by relocating everything that was wireless to a backpack, including the power supply. Sometimes, we simply hung the camera from an elastic attached to the ceiling. In any case, we knew that in such a confined space, we wouldn’t be making crazy camera movements. The important thing was to keep as much space and mobility as possible without bumping into everything…”

(Interview conducted by François Reumont, and translated from French by Anton Mertens, SBC, for the AFC)

Vincent Must Die
Production : Capricci, Bobbi Lux/ Frakas
Director : Stephan Castang
DoP : Manu Dacosse, SBC
Set Design : Samuel Carbonnot
Costumes : Charlotte Richard
Sound : Dirk Bombay
Editing : Meloé Poillevé
Music : John