AN INTERVIEW WITH REMY COUTURE
Interview by Marc Lamothe
Translated by Ariel Esteban Cayer
Rémy Couture is a make-up and FX artist. He has worked on Hollywood productions such as The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (Rob Cohen, 2008), Death Race (Paul W.S. Anderson, 2008), The Punisher: War Zone (Lexi Alexander, 2008), Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (Shawn Levy, 2009), Humains (Jacques-Olivier Molon & Pierre-Olivier Thevenin, 2009), Screamers: The Hunting (Sheldon Wilson, 2009) and The Hollowing: Reborn (Joe Nimziki, 2009). More recently, he has contributed his talents to Marie Josée Sévigny’s web series La Mélodie de la terreur and Patrick Senécal, Olivier Sabino and Podz’s La Reine Rouge.
In 2009, he was arrested and charged with publishing obscene material under section 163 of the Criminal Code and will undergo jury trial. The charges stem from the online accessibility of photos and two short films of his project Inner Depravity, despite the fact that a warning for graphic material with a verification of age graces the home page. All of this legal delirium and media circus culminated in Frédérick Maheux’s documentary Art/Crime, who had its world premiere at Fantasia in 2011. Numerous artists such as Richard Desjardins, Simon-Olivier Fecteau, Robert Morin, Julien Poulin, Patrick Senécal and Éric Tessier have expressed their support for the cause. Beyond this highly mediated case, we wanted to come back to the heart of Rémy’s art and understand his artistic career.
A meeting with a social being who portrays a sociopathic character.
As a teenager, did you already want to work in the world of horror cinema or was it art that interested you more?
Actually, I have no background in art or film. In everyday life, I work in the field of digital printing. That said, I’ve been drawing since childhood. At 16, I discovered airbrushing. My hobby quickly transformed in a lucrative and relatively efficient activity. I can’t count how many perfecto leather jackets I’ve painted. I did a lot of motorcycle helmets, goalie helmets, all kinds of things. I would often be asked to draw Eddie, Iron Maiden’s mascot, or Metallica album covers. Personally, my favorite character of the metal mythology remains Vic Rattlehead, the skeletal mascot of Megadeth.
What films turned you on to make-up?
When I was very young, I adored Michael Jackson’s Thriller video so much, it made me watch my first “making-of” featurette. It spiked my curiosity. My first shock was Clive Barker’s Hellraiser. I respect the film for its serious tone, devoid of humor; Pinhead does not deliver any one-liners. It deals overtly with mutilations, body piercings, sadomasochism and fetishism. I adore the Cenobites! Their long leather outfits, the way they enter a scene, the chains and hooks and, of course, the make-up. Pinhead’s mask intrigued me to no end. I experimented with various materials such as latex and silicone. I quickly discovered that Q-Tips covered in aluminum paint looked like nails. I was already solving the mask’s weight issue. The rest came together intuitively. Chatterer remains my favorite Cenobite. I love his mouth so much. Cannibal Holocaust also left a strong impression on me.
That said, the film that had the hugest impact on my artistic process was Nacho Cerdà’s Aftermath. A friend strongly recommended it to me. I saw the film on the big screen, at Cinéma du Parc. I couldn’t get over it. The things that the filmmaker puts on screen are so bold. It pushes boundaries and transgresses taboos. The film doesn’t have any dialogue. It confronts and is not an easy watch. It was very disturbing but made me understand how to cinematically represent -and even provoke – fear.
Do you remember your first make-up effects?
It was in 2005. I had the idea of airbrushing my girlfriend to make her look like a corpse. I put the picture online and starting getting all kinds of emails. I kept experimenting with the first series of photos for the Inner Depravity project. The idea of photographing my make-up creations in front of a white basement wall or a neutral background didn’t interest me. If I was going to do make-up, why not showcase them in realistic and sinister environments. It might sound innocent, but that was the initial idea for Inner Depravity. My quest for materials led me to Sial in Laval. It’s amazing; they sell all the necessary products for molds, special effects and make-up. They gave me tons of advice and step-by-step tips. After another photo series for Inner Depravity, I decided to follow it with video. I wanted to go from the static mode of the photograph to the technical movements of cinema. With Inner Depravity, I sought to showcase my work graphically, in an experimental and provocative way. The absence of dialogue and plot focuses the attention on the make-up and special effects themselves. I made my first video in 2006 with a tiny team. We had a laugh during the shoot. Meanwhile, the pictures on the net attracted between 15,000 and 30,000 visitors each month.
What make-up artists and special effects creators inspired you at first?
Honestly, when I was younger, I didn’t pay attention to the names on film credits. I can’t say I was a fan of any particular one. Actually, I was inspired by everything around me. My passion led me to TEXA FX, where Olivier Xavier taught me. After two weeks, he referred me to Adrien Morot of Maestro Studio. I showed him my portfolio and he immediately hired me as freelance effects artist. My hobby suddenly took a turn. I was thrown into The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor. At the end of the film, Jet Li’s body transforms and bloats until it explodes. I worked on that. I followed that with Death Race and Punisher: War Zone, where I had the opportunity to be on-set make-up artist. My schooling was really those first films with Adrien and his team.
Realism seems to be at the forefront of your approach.
The idea of realism is very important. What interests me is the deception (trompe-l’oeil). I love the moment when the eye fails to distinguish between what is real and what is not. I’ve always been a provocateur. Provocation seems more effective in a realistic mode, and for me it represents a constant technical challenge. Realism also reflects the seriousness of the subject matter. I’ve always preferred films that choose this tone. Horror must really be scary.
Can you bear the sight of blood and injuries in real, everyday, life?
Absolutely! My research always leads me to medical books. I’ve seen all kinds of injuries. I have a high tolerance.
Talk to us about your more recent productions.
Recently, I contributed special effects for a few short films. I’m pretty proud of the results. Syl Disjonk’s head for the film Ethereal Chrysalis is probably one of my best. I’m less crazy about the scene where the head detaches from the body, though. The silicone was too thick, and I wish it had been more elastic. I also made a scalp for the film A Little Off the Top.
I also worked on La Reine Rouge, the web series from Patric Senécal, Olivier Sabino and Podz. I had the “opportunity” of “defacing” Passe-Partout*. There’s a scene in which the character of Marie Eykel has her face thrown against a brick wall. Really strange to work with childhood icons. I have a lot of personal projects. I have a lot of photo ideas. I’m pretty proud of my Fetus series.
You regularly contribute to the production of Québec short films. What do you look for in a project?
I like challenges. At the same time, I’m always scared of trying a special effect for the first time. I need to break the script in every detail and single out the special effects, estimate costs, plan the effects and the materials, have a realistic schedule and an appropriate budget.
I still prefer the atmosphere and freedom of small independent productions. In American productions, you do not talk to the director and your work is limited to what is asked of you. On Québec shorts, guys like me are more involved, we talk to the director, are allowed to give advice, ideas, and the atmosphere on set is far friendlier and open to the involvement of the team. I love the atmosphere on short film sets.
In 2009, you were arrested and now face three charges of corruption of morals and production of obscene material. The story made the rounds in the media – who are very favorable – and is well documented in Frédérick Maheux’s documentary Art / Crime. Since the release of the film, what exactly has happened? Where are you in your legal process?
My trial was supposed to begin last October, but I had to change lawyers at the last second. There had been a breach of confidence between us. I am now represented by Mrs Véronique Robert and Mstr Robert Doré. We managed to push back the trial. We should, in fact, know the date by the end of the month. I think I have a good team and good expert witnesses, as well as good arguments. I trust the jury to come to a fair decision.
You put together the operation Supportremy to raise money to help you pay for your legal fees and lawyers. How is your fundraising going?
I need to raise some 30,000$ because even if I’m found innocent, my attorneys and other legal fees won’t be reimbursed. Because I do not have this kind of money, I had to create the Supportremy foundation and the website supportremy.com. I’m pleased with the results. Every donation is important. We are finding all sorts of ways to fund my expenses. I don’t have a choice, because not everyone is comfortable with donations over the internet. I organized a fundraising night for Halloween at the Petit Medley. I sold quite a few ART IS NOT A CRIME T-shirts and CORRUPT ME underwear. The public, media and artistic community’s support has really surprised me and reassured me in my case.
Sorry for this question, but have you considered the worst case scenario for your trial?
You have no choice. I’ve thought about it a lot and I’m at peace regarding all of that. Without being pessimistic, I’ve resigned myself to this possibility because I’ve had to make preliminary arrangements. I have to think about my girlfriend, my family, my home…The maximum penalty is two years. At worst, I’ll get a sentence and will be released after serving one third of my time. We’re talking a few weeks, at most. At best, I’ll be able to serve my sentence in the community. Either way it’ll send a weird message to the International scene concerning the place of art and the artist in Canada.
You’ve recently uploaded a short film, Bloody Blow, a poetic and fantasized portrait of your troubles with justice. Can you talk about it?
I co-directed the film with Joseph Elfassi, who also served as director of photography. Rick Genest a.ka. Rico Zombie a.k.a. Zombie Boy accepted to play the main role. It’s a fantastical version of my arrest. Zombie Boy symbolizes the horror on the bench of the accused. The switching of suitcases represents the false representation of the police officers, dressed as civilians, who arrested me. The brains in the film are creation and the heart, art and the artist. The blogger Gab Roy play the police officer. I edited the film together in 3 nights. I like the gloomy backdrop. We’re working on a modified version to submit to film festivals.
I’m working on another film, which will be more humorous and satirical than that one, with the Justiciers Masqués. We co-wrote it and should shoot in mid-May.
Have you ever had to make special effects and make-up effects on non-gore productions?
No, not yet. I’d love to work on ageing effects. It certainly would allow me to work on a larger number of productions. It’s my next challenge. In any case, as the years progressed, I realized I wasn’t particularly attracted to monsters and aliens. I still prefer the zombies, mutants, and more broadly, the degradation of the human body. Ageing is part of this process of focusing on human beings.
Aside from legal delirium, what are your next projects?
I’d like to take a vacation. I’m looking forward to being able to relax and put all of it behind me. I’m looking forward to watching tons of comedies. I need to laugh. It always surprises people, but I do not watch many horror films, on a day to day basis. I just finished the last season of Les Invincibles. I really liked that. I also discovered 1981. Well written and very funny. I can’t wait to see the sequel.
* Passe-Partout is a Quebec cult children’s series that defined over two generations of kids with both its original run in 1977 and the succeeding 20 years of reruns and sequels.