Jean-Marc Vallée was planning what ‘could have been his biggest’ film

Longtime Vallée collaborator Martin Pinsonnault talks about the late Quebecois filmmaker's next major project and how he maintained ties to Montreal.

Before his sudden death last month, Quebecois filmmaker Jean-Marc Vallée had just finished writing a script on a Universal Pictures film about Yoko Ono and John Lennon for which he planned to do post-production in Montreal, says his longtime collaborator Martin Pinsonnault.

The Montreal sound designer — who worked with Vallée on everything from the Oscar-winning drama Dallas Buyers Club, to the Emmy-winning HBO series Big Little Lies and the smash Canadian film C.R.A.Z.Y. — tells Playback Daily the writer-director-producer was passionate about the upcoming project. He’d penned it over two years, doing reams of research and adopting “a very serious writing schedule every day,” and finished writing it in November with plans to start filming this coming February or March.

“He was close to doing this really huge film that probably could have been his biggest,” says Pinsonnault, noting he doesn’t know what will happen with the project. Representatives for Vallée’s production company Crazyrose say “there is no information to share yet” about the film’s future.

“I know that the story was really touching him. He was really devoted to that love story, and had the rights with the music. It’s Yoko Ono that reached out directly to him after seeing (Vallée’s film) Café de Flore and she said ‘I’d like him to do it.’”

Montreal was home base for editing for Vallée, who died in his cabin outside Quebec City on Dec. 25 at age 58. A coroner’s preliminary report could not establish an exact cause for the death but stated it was not caused by the intervention of another party, a voluntary act, or a known disease, according to a news release issued by his family on Dec. 31.

“It took us all by surprise, and particularly a person like him that we thought was invincible in a way, so it’s even harder,” says Pinsonnault, whose first project with Vallée was his feature-length debut in 1995, the Genie-nominated Liste noire.

As Pinsonnault tells it, Vallée wrote into his contract for every project that editing and other post-production had to be done in Montreal with local collaborators, including Marc Cote of REAL by FAKE post-production and VFX house. He did so even for major Hollywood productions and was planning to do the same on the Ono/Lennon film.

“To my knowledge, there’s not a lot of directors that were able to keep part of the post-production [in Montreal],” says Pinsonnault, noting fellow Quebec filmmaker Denis Villeneuve did post in Montreal for some projects but wasn’t able to do for the “big things.”

“For Canada it was huge.”

Music and sound design was an integral part of Vallée’s oeuvre, which also includes the HBO series Sharp Objects and the films The Young VictoriaCafé de FloreDemolition and Wild.

Pinsonnault says Vallée wrote the music he wanted to use on films into his scripts so he could ensure it flowed with the storytelling and meshed with the editing process. “He wanted to do like [Martin] Scorsese was doing” on films including Casino and Goodfellas, he notes.

C.R.A.Z.Y. (Cirrus Communications), his 2005 coming-of-age drama about a young gay man in Quebec, was a prime example of his love of music with a soundtrack including David Bowie, Pink Floyd and the Rolling Stones. The film won numerous honours, including 11 Genie Awards, and was a box-office hit.

“It kind of raised the bar for everybody,” says Pinsonnault.

Pinsonnault says Vallée carved out a niche for simplicity. He worked with small crews and simple lighting, had a “less is more” attitude and tried “to erase himself from the story” and just be a witness to the actors’ performances to give them freedom and space. It made him a bit of a “rebel” in L.A. as he pushed actors to their limits to capture the feeling of the story.

“He was setting his own look, which was not Hollywood, and I think Hollywood liked that,” Pinsonnault says. “They liked it because it kind of questioned them. Matthew [McConaughey] and Nicole [Kidman] and all these people that collaborated very closely, they were brought in very personal and very heavy situations in terms of acting.”

Vallée’s work helped paved the way for other Canadian directors, Pinsonnault says, noting Villeneuve would sometimes reach out to Vallée for advice.

“There were a few directors that were really touched by how Jean-Marc passionately was doing films, and he inspired all these people,” he says. “He made us believe in a way that all this was possible, and that it wasn’t that complicated.”

Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images