Far Out Meets: Fernand-Philippe Morin-Vargas, the director of 'Workplace'

At Far Out Magazine we believe in cinema’s ability to heal.

At a time when millions of people continue to adapt their daily lives amid strict social distancing measures and cinemas around the world continue to keep their doors closed, we want to shine a light on filmmakers on a personal level. Turning our attention to the work created by independent artists, we have launched our new weekly series ‘The Far Out Film Club’. The project will focus on one filmmaker during each episode and will premiere on both Far Out Magazine’s Facebook page and YouTube channel every Wednesday.

As we enter series two, the Far Out Film club welcomes Fernand-Philippe Morin-Vargas, a Canadian screenwriter and director based in Montreal who created his short film Workplace in 2016. The film, following the life of three office employees who work on their computers until a disturbing presence invades their space, is a reflection of Morin-Vargas’ views on a world that was altering around him.

“After film school, I started working as a sound recordist on different kind of sets and, among them, corporate videos,” he explained to Far Out. “I discovered something that was the extreme opposite of my upbringing in the countryside. Some of those offices felt to me like little worlds of their own, kind of like bubbles where life had different codes of living. I thought I had something to work with, but no story.”

He added: “Then, someday, I texted a friend to go grab a drink and he just texted back to me: ‘Hey, a wasp just got inside the office and everybody is freaking out’. As soon as I read that text, I felt this could become a short film.”

Inspired by the work of Ettore Scola, Roy Andersson and more, Morin-Varga is a director with a clear vision of what he wants to create, a distinctive theme that he looks to explore in a wonderfully unique approach. “I’ve realised lately that I pretty much always write about the effect work has on people,” he says. “I’m mostly interested in characters for whom work and personal life is a whole or who has a conflicted relationship towards their job. I also tend to write about anxious characters, maybe because I’m an anxious person. And whatever theme, subject or situation I work on, I approach it as a comedy.”

Here, as part of the Far Out Film Club, we are premiering a screening of Morin-Vargas’ short film which is available through our Facebook and YouTube channels.

You can read a full interview with Fernand-Philippe Morin-Vargas below and, at 20:00 GMT, watch the premiere of his film.

#FarOutFilmClub welcomes 'Workplace', it tells the story of three office employees working on their computers until a disturbing presence invades their space and distracts them…

Posted by Far Out Magazine on Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Fernand-Philippe Morin-Vargas Interview:

Far Out: Given the current circumstances, and the struggles that the film industry is facing, how difficult is it to be an independent director right now?

Morin-Vargas: “Everybody is challenged right now, but I think we may have it easier than many people. Shootings are still going on here, maybe not as much, but people still work. Most of the filmmakers I know have been developing projects and writing. Whatever happens, you have to adapt and stay busy.”

Similarly, on a personal level as both a film viewer and creator, how important is cinema as a form of release at the moment?

“Whether it’s a film or a novel or any type of art, if you feel it’s good for your soul, go for it.”

We’re focusing on your project ‘Workplace‘, could you explain where this idea came from?

“After film school, I started working as a sound recordist on different kind of sets and, among them, corporate videos. I discovered something that was the extreme opposite of my upbringing in the countryside. Some of those offices felt to me like little worlds of their own, kind of like bubbles where life had different codes of living. I thought I had something to work with, but no story.

“Then, someday, I texted a friend to go grab a drink and he just texted back to me: ‘Hey, a wasp just got inside the office and everybody is freaking out’. As soon as I read that text, I felt this could become a short film.”

Detail, if you could, how the scenario of this project was formed, how did you develop your ideas and did the end product match your initial expectations?

“I started writing with the idea that in that office, work acts as a sedative to the characters. When these people are not working or if they are distracted, they don’t know how to react, interact and they can’t control their emotions. From the beginning, there was very little dialogue, and quickly it was decided that there would be none. I wrote the first version in about a week and wasn’t sure what to think of it. I laid it aside.

“Then, a couple of months later, I applied the script to a writing workshop organised by the SODEC (Société de développement des entreprises culturelles, which is the main institution that finances film production in Québec) and it was chosen. We were seven young screenwriters with seven mentors in round-table discussions. It was a fun process, and I learned a lot there. Without that workshop, I’m not sure Workplace would have been made.”

Did you encounter any unexpected difficulties in its creation?

“There are always some challenges, but the cast and the crew were very generous, so we were able to have a shoot without big complications.”

What, in your opinion, is the most important quality of a film director?

“To me, everything starts with listening. Listening to anyone and anything that is going on around you, learn from it and then use it.”

We’ve reached a point in cinema, much like that of the music industry, when the phrase “we’ve seen it all before” becomes a topical debate.

How do you stay original? How do you find ways to produce something unique in a market that has so many creatives? Or is being unique even that important?

“I don’t create thinking: ‘I want to be unique’. I simply try to create material based on subjects or emotions that are close to me and, while being aware of the work of others, focus on how I see life.”

What/who are some of your major cinematic influences?

‘I’m a huge fan of Ruben Östlund. I also love Maren Ade’s Toni Erdmann, Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite and the Coen Brothers, among many others.”

Do you think those influences are prevalent in your work?

“I will let others be the judge of that! For Workplace, I mostly inspired myself from the movie Le bal directed by Ettore Scola and by the films of Roy Andersson.”

Given your inspiration, could you run us through your process? What distinctive themes are you looking to create, if any?

“I’ve realised lately that I pretty much always write about the effect work has on people. I’m mostly interested in characters for whom work and personal life is a whole or who has a conflicted relationship towards their job. I also tend to write about anxious characters, maybe because I’m an anxious person. And whatever theme, subject or situation I work on, I approach it as a comedy.”

How have you developed your own distinct aesthetic within your work? Is it a conscious decision?

“It’s conscious, and it’s different for each project. For Workplace, the choice, and at the same time the challenge, was to create malaise and comedy without the use of dialogue and, sometimes, without any interaction between characters. So directing almost became choreographing. I felt every movement had to be precise to show the uneasiness of the characters.”

Generally speaking, what attracts you to a certain subject or field?

“I honestly don’t know, but whatever subject of field, I always try to find comedy in dramatic situations.”

Moving on to the subject of independent cinema, I’m keen to know your thoughts on its current standing. How important is independent film today? What does it mean to you? 

“I would say it’s quite important because the vast majority of the movies I watch are independent. I think it’s where artists can explore the medium and have fun with it.”

I look at streaming services and the impact companies such as Netflix are enjoying in the world of mainstream cinema, do you think this platform could provide an alternative route for independent filmmakers and shorts?

“Yes of course. I believe they are already doing that. They finance big-budget films with renown directors and/or actors but also smaller more local projects. I’m particularly interested in how they can transform the coproduction side of the industry.”

Finally, do you have any ideas in terms of which sphere of cinema you may be exploring next?

“I have two projects I’m working on, but as it’s quite early in the process so I will keep them for myself for now. But I will gladly come back to talk to you about them further in the process!”

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