Sophie Lorain and Alexis Durand-Brault: A relationship rooted in creativity
When Sophie Lorain directed Un homme mort in 2006, she hired Alexis Durand-Brault as director of photography. Nine years later, it was Alexis’ turn to direct Sophie (who had become his life partner in the meantime) in Au secours de Béatrice. Since then, their relationship has been marked by an all-consuming passion for television and film as they tackle project after project as screenwriters, directors, or producers, including C’est le cœur qui meurt en dernier, Portrait-robot, Sortez-moi de moi, Mégantic, and Désobéir: le choix de Chantal Daigle–with many more to come!
How did you first meet??
Sophie: I met Alexis at the suggestion of a producer who was convinced that we would make a good professional team without ever explaining why. He was quite insistent. I was familiar with Alexis’ work and really liked his cinematography in Elles étaient cinq, so I agreed to meet him. When I happened to lose my director of photography a few days later, I thought of Alexis straight away.
Alexis: Later on, Sophie began directing La Galère and I directed the second part. Every year for four years, we each directed half the series. Then Sophie worked with Catherine Léger on the film script for La Petite Reine, which I directed. Some time after that, we dove into Au secours de Béatrice and things just took off from there.
Each of you has directed the other. Do you have to handle each other with kid gloves?
Alexis: Not really, but we are aware of each other’s sensitivities and when things aren’t going very well for the other person. Sophie has my full support. When I have doubts, I know she will listen attentively and not hesitate to react honestly. We always say what we think. Perhaps too much!
Sophie: It gets confrontational between us at times. We never confront other people. I wouldn’t interfere in someone else’s creativity. But the two of us? Definitely. A great deal. That said, it’s all about wanting to do the best with what you have. No one is trying to belittle someone else’s work–the goal is to strengthen and improve. We need to be able to express disagreement in a way that allows others to listen and react.
Filmsets have an established hierarchy. How do you handle things as partners?
Sophie: The hierarchy exists, so it just gets applied according to our roles in the production.
Alexis: It’s easy. When you have something in mind and your partner is an actor, they know that decisions have to be made and you are going to do your best. That doesn’t mean you don’t consult with them, but they understand that the director has the last word. When I was Sophie’s director of photography, she had the last word. That said, there is always uncertainty and sometimes that changes the hierarchy. Decisions have to be made, but I really enjoy having someone like Sophie beside me who I can consult, is a good listener, knows my strengths and weaknesses, recognizes when I’m being lazy, and understands my personal obsessions.
In addition to your personal relationship, you also have a deep understanding of each other’s respective crafts.
Sophie: Exactly. As well as a profound respect for one another—or else the hierarchy you mentioned could not exist. As an actor, I don’t impose my view of things on the directors I work with. That’s not the purpose of the exercise. I am a tool that serves to express something. But if I have an idea, I won’t keep it to myself anymore than the other actors on set.
When you became a couple, were you apprehensive about continuing to work together creatively?
Alexis: No, because we would never have become a couple if we hadn’t shared in the creative process.
Sophie: Creativity is what brings us together.
Alexis: It’s very hard to find someone with the same passions. And since we have our own homes, we never argue about the dishwasher. It’s always about a line in a script, an editing or casting decision, a music selection.
Sophie: It’s important to me to share space with someone who thinks along the same creative lines. It’s extremely rare to know that at any step in the creative process, you can seek out the perspective of someone you trust.
Can you put into words your shared vision of the profession?
Alexis: We try to create films and series that are intelligent yet accessible. I’m a very distracted viewer and I easily get bored watching a film or television program. I admire people who can make intelligent content that is still popular. I would hate to make a good film that wins prizes but nobody actually goes to see it. We aim to please the general public without being superficial.
Sophie: Or ugly. We try to make unique projects where form and substance go hand in hand.
How do you complement one another?
Sophie: We don’t see things the same way, and we have different tastes. Alexis is an incredible technician. He understands everything technical and has an incredible sense of how it all fits together. As a director of photography, he knows exactly how to position the camera and how it operates from A to Z. He’s also very imaginative–he has a keen mind and he’s great at improvising as he goes along.
Alexis: Do I have to talk about you after this?
Sophie: Yes! And it better be just as good! (laughter)
Alexis: Sophie is much more meticulous than I am. She has an enormous capacity for dealing with paperwork and can reread the same text a thousand times to dissect it down to the last comma. I am more instinctive. I can tell you that a passage is weak, whereas she can tell you exactly why it doesn’t work. Sophie also has more courage than me when we have to confront other people in the industry, which can be quite daunting. She likes pretty things, which I really appreciate—she likes little things that I don’t even notice.
Alexis, has Sophie’s acting experience given you a better understanding of the craft?
Alexis: Oh yes! Sophie is the easiest actor to direct. She always arrives focused and prepared. She is also extremely generous with other actors. Because of her, I’ve learned that scenes involving crying are not necessarily painful for actors. And if an actor is trying to find themselves, you need to give them space rather than trying to fill the void. That’s something that Sophie showed me. She has also helped me to better support a script, to bring out the full meaning. All of that helps me grow.
Sophie, when you act on a set directed by Alexis, do you comment on the work of the other performers?
Sophie: Yes, but very discreetly. If something isn’t working, I’ll point it out. It’s not in anyone’s interest—myself, Alexis, or the other actor—to get it wrong. I want everyone to shine. You need to remember that an enormous number of things take place on a filmset. If Alexis is not aware of something, I would be stupid to not let him know.
How much space does work take up in your daily lives?
Alexis: I don’t see this job as work–it’s creativity. For me, work is attending a budget meeting and discovering we’re a million dollars short and something has to be cut. At the opposite extreme, discussing the script, casting roles, and making artistic decisions are almost always enjoyable. If Sophie and I disagree about something, we’ll fiercely defend our point of view throughout an entire meal. We’re like a couple of old French authors from the 1950s.