French Director Michel Hazanavicius has dreamed of making a silent film for the better part of a decade. In part because his idols, the ‘great mythical directors,’ including Alfred Hitchcock and John Ford, operated in this way, but also because of the many challenges silent films force upon their director. ”It makes you tell the story in a very special way,” says Hazanavicius. ”In this genre everything is in the image, in the organization of the signals you’re sending to the audience. I thought it would be a magnificent challenge and that if I could manage it, it would be very rewarding.”
Before even beginning to confront the challenges of making a silent film, Hazanavicius needed someone to share his enthusiasm for reviving a genre that many thought to be dead – not an easy task in the era of Avatar and other 3D movies opening almost weekly. But Hazanavicius found an ally in producer Thomas Langmann who told the director to find a story to tell and he would help him get it made. Hazanavicius’ story combined with Langmann’s faith has landed both men Oscar® nominations. The Artist racked up 10 nominations, second only to Hugo‘s 11, and heading into this weekend’s Academy Awards®, The Artist is the odds on favorite to win Best Picture. But as Hazanavicius told The Seven Sees, his hopes for the movie included more than awards and recognition.
The lead actor in the movie, Juan Dujardin, had previously worked with Hazanavicius, so when the director approached him about starring in a silent movie, Dujardin thought it was a joke. ”I didn’t believe him,” says Dujardin. ”You never know if Michel is serious! Then one day, he handed the screenplay to me, slightly feverish: ‘Read this, but don’t laugh. do you think it’s possible? What do you think of it? Would you be ready to do it?’”
Dujardin wasn’t the only one taken back by Hazanavicius’sidea. Actress Berenice Bejo, who also happens to be the director’s wife, thought he had lost his mind.
After welcoming his lead actor and actress aboard, Hazanavicius rounded out his cast with John Goodman, James Cromwell and Penelope Ann Miller, all seasoned actors used to receiving scripts filled with dialogue. It should come as no surprise then that when Cromwell and Miller first ‘read’ the script for The Artist, it was a unique experience for both.
Unique as it may seem, Hazanavicius earned an Oscar® nomination for his script and, in the process of realizing his dream of making a silent film, he has turned it into a fairytale. In addition to its 10 nominations, The Artist has been winning over skeptics young and old over the past few months, which according to Bejo, has a lot to do with the movie’s innocent love story.