May the Best Story Win!

Director Jean-Christophe Roger discusses the making of the charming new animated feature, Allez Raconte (Tell Me a Story).

Although most of the international press has been writing about Sylvain Chomet’s upcoming new movie The Illusionist, many have missed the boat on another great animated French feature coming to theaters this year. Based on a hit comic-book series and TV show by Lewis Trondheim and Jos’ Parrondo, Allez Raconte (Tell Me a Story) is about one father’s experiences on a big TV storytelling competition, where he has to match wits against a group of competitive fathers. The film, which is directed by Jean-Christophe Roger and produced by Didier Brunner, is set to unspool at this month’s Annecy Festival.

Roger, who also directed the TV series based on the property, tells us that he had always been a fan of Trondheim and Parrondo’s work. ‘The show was really well received by both kids and parents in France,’ says the director. ‘That’s why when Didier Brunner offered me the chance to direct the movie, I accepted right away. I had already directed eight TV series and needed a break. Allez Raconte was a way to let my imagination and creativity flow.’

Allez Raconte

Roger began work on the project in the beginning of 2008, dividing the animation work between Angoul’me-based studio 2 Minutes and Luxemburg’s Melusine Productions. A team of 20 helped create the diverse animation style, which blends Flash (perfect for the graphic book style) and After Effects, as well as some CG for the dinosaur sequence of the movie. ‘My goal was to mix different designs and elements’such as photos, paintings and carvings’and incorporate a nice mix of animation techniques,’ notes Roger. ‘I also really liked the idea of working with such talented comic writers.’

This clever mix of styles and techniques lends itself quite well to the storyline as the movie deals with a group of fathers who compete to tell the wildest, most incredible tall tales. In addition, the young audience for these tales interacts with the narrators, offering their own suggestions to the stories and interfering with the flow of the stories constantly.

As is often the case with such ambitious undertakings, the movie provided the creative team with the usual share of challenges and stressful situations. ‘Everything was a challenge,’ says Roger. ‘The team was dispatched in different towns and countries and I had to coordinate everyone at a distance. But my biggest challenge was the plot of the film itself, which constantly switches from the main story about the competition to the different worlds of the other stories, each one with a specific design and atmosphere. I had to keep surprising the audience while keeping a steady pace from beginning to end!’

Roger, who has an impressive list of credits on his resume (including American TV shows and movies such as TaleSpin, DuckTales and Winnie the Pooh and Christmas Too), tells us that drawing is more than a passion to him’it’s second nature. ‘As a kid, I loved playing in imaginary worlds,’ he recalls. ‘As I also like to work with a team, it was kind of natural to start working in the animation world in 1984. I started as an animator, became a story boarder and I am now a director. Cartoons have the great power to inspire kids to dream. Being an animation director is a personal dream, but also a way to inspire children to achieve their own dreams one day.’

Counting Wallace & Gromit, Lupin III, Howl’s Moving Castle, My Neighbor Totoro and Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride as some of his all-time favorites, Roger says he also loves the characters from The Jungle Book and Winnie the Pooh (which he had the chance to animate while working at the Disney Studios in Paris). He is also quite proud of the achievements of his fellow countrymen in recent years. ‘In France, we know how to create unique films with really original graphics,’ he points out. ‘The creativity is high and there are many talented artists. For example, Didier Brunner and Les Armateurs, for whom I worked for the last 15 years, produced films which wander off the beaten tracks, such as Kirikou, The Triplets of Belleville and last year’s The Secret of Kells.’

After working for almost two and half years on the 3 million euro-budgeted Allez Raconte, Roger says he’s quite happy to deliver a family movie that can enjoyed by the kids and grown-ups alike. ‘Many people thought it would be impossible to adapt this original graphic style for a feature film,’ he admits. ‘The other difficulty was that too many shorter stories were told in this project. But I really believed in it and thought that this complexity allowed a lot of room for creativity. Frankly, I am very proud of the result and wish to thank everyone who worked on it and supported me.’ Now, let’s all cue the awards season music.

Gebeka Films will release Les Armateurs’ Allez Raconte in French theaters this fall. For more info, visit. www.allezraconte-lefilm.com.