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Julien Trauman on Survival-Thriller Short ‘At Dawn’

France’s Julien Trauman has never been afraid to play with genre, and in his latest short, the MyFrenchFilmFestival participant “At Dawn,” he employs aspects of psychological thriller, survival, coming-of-age and fantasy filmmaking.

“At Dawn” kicks off the night before when a group of teens, one about to leave town, are imbibing heavily around a beach-side campfire. Aurore, Simon and Adrien break from the pack and decide to “borrow” a small motorboat moored on the beach. The three take the party to the water where they finish off the booze before eventually passing out, only to wake up the next morning out of gas, nearly naked and the coastline nowhere in sight.

The three initially find comfort in one another before the adverse circumstances pit them against each other in a days-long struggle for survival.

“At Dawn” is part coming-of-age and part psychological thriller and a bit of other genres. What genres do you like to play with and do you want to stick with the thriller on future projects?

I am, above all, drawn to dramas but I really enjoy bringing elements from other genres into the story. As you said, “At Dawn” is part coming-of-age and part-psychological thriller, it also has fantastic elements and it resembles a survival film. I think it gives me a lot of freedom to play around with the codes without ever having to fall into a specific genre. For instance, having just a few fantastic elements is a great way to express what’s going on inside a character, and this is something I would like to keep on developing in my future projects. Anaïs Bertrand, the producer of the film, has really encouraged me to strengthen this dimension, to always be on the edge of several genres and this perfectly fits the editorial line of her company, Insolence Productions.

The logistics of filming the entire project on a raft must have been a real struggle. What were the biggest technical difficulties you faced while filming “At Dawn?”

Shooting at sea was a huge challenge. As soon as we started talking with sailors and port authorities, we realized that adaptability was key to the success of the film. There were far too many elements we could not control (the weather, the tides, the currents, traffic at sea, etc) and trying to go against nature would necessarily fail. We had prepared alternative schedules, shot lists, even alternative scenes in order to be ready for every possible situation. And while shooting at sea requires adaptability, it leaves very little space for improvisation. That was true for the actors as well who were very limited in their movements on the dinghy. On the bright side, being at sea and not in a studio helped them get into character in an instant. And in the end we got really lucky with the conditions and were able to shoot what we wanted.

Can you talk about some of your cinematic influences? Which works did you go to for inspiration on At Dawn?

My biggest inspiration was “Gerry” by Gus van Sant. It has a similar starting point, with characters we know very little about lost in the middle of nowhere, it is beautifully shot, and it is a very immersive film. In a similar way I really wanted the audience to be as close as possible to the characters, feel almost claustrophobic while being stranded in the middle of the immensity.

CREDIT: Julien Trauman

Can you talk about the writing process with Sebastian Echegorri?

Sebastian and I met at the Vancouver Film School, where we graduated seven years ago. We have continued working together since then and developed a very close work relationship. It really is a constant back and forth process, from the original idea all the way to the dialogs. Sebastian was also on set during the shoot, which I think is very important, as he is as close to the story as I am.

This is your third solo short, but you’ve worked on a number of films. What did you take from those experiences that helped you in your own work?

“At Dawn” was my first produced short film. The other two I did in film school. I have worked as an editor and as a first AD and I think it has significantly shaped the way I make films. To me, making a film is a collaboration, and directing a film is mainly about decision making. Great ideas can come from everywhere: the producer, the writer, the actors, any one really, and the most important thing for a director is to set the course while being opened to new ideas.

What do you think is up next for you? Have you got plans for a possible feature?

I am currently developing a feature film with Sebastian and produced by Anaïs. It has a lot of similarities with “At Dawn”. It’s also a survival film with very strong psychological and fantastic elements but this time the story takes place in the Great North, close to the Arctic Circle.

CREDIT: Julien Trauman

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