Meeting with Jean-Jacques Gernolle, set designer director on Taxi 1 and 2

Cars, car chases, guns, stunts galore... In twenty years, the Taxi saga has become one of the most popular in France, later joined by the US cars of Fast and Furious. An opportunity to meet the set designer director Jean-Jacques Gernolle.
Meeting with Jean-Jacques Gernolle, set designer director on Taxi 1 and 2
Meeting with Jean-Jacques Gernolle, set designer director on Taxi 1 and 2 - Photo credits: ARP Sélection, TF1 Films Production, Studiocanal, Cofimage 9 and Studio Images 4, EuropaCorp

Jean-Jacques Gernolle, what was the main objective of this first part, signed by Gérard Pirès, which collected more than 6 million tickets for 53 million francs (about 8 M€) in 1998?

Jean-Jacques Gernolle: This project was proposed to me a little by chance because I come from the world of auteur cinema. When I read the script, I said to myself: “this is either the biggest flop of the century or the most brilliant”. But the concept of this B-Series for teenagers was new at the time. The main objective was to find the places. Luc Besson wanted the mythical places of Paris. People don’t know this, but Taxi was written for the capital. The authorisations were complicated to obtain and the project stopped. The producer submitted the idea from the province.

I was seduced by the light and the multitude of incredible places in Marseille. So Luke rewrote the script. The City of Marseille gave the green light because it was a city still unknown to the cinema. And that’s how the film became Marseilles. The scoop of this story is that at the release of the film, Luc trumpeted everywhere that he had written it for Marseille when in fact it was out of spite and by default. I was only able to talk about it in 2018 as part of the 20-year saga.

How did your work on this action film featuring the 406 come about?

Hand in hand with Rémy Julienne and the stuntmen because we make elements that are supposed to be invisible and we work entirely on the cars. We were lucky on Taxi 1 and 2 to have a partner like Peugeot. They lent us several vehicles that we prepared and repainted. The 406 has become mythical. The brand increased its sales after the release of the movie, it was fun. We customized it into a race car.

At least four of them were used: a 406, clean inside and out, for all the scenes where Samy Naceri enters and leaves; another to be filmed outside with smoked windows, dedicated to race and rally drivers; a third one equipped with spotlights on the roof; and a last one intended for traveling. Gérard Pirès had very precise ideas. He is a specialist, he has done a lot of advertising on cars and all his friends are former race drivers.

What have been your greatest challenges?

Turn into busy avenues and main arteries. We filmed in the Panier, made up of microbus streets, and on the Corniche, an emblematic place. It was complicated because these are very popular places for the people of Marseille and tourists. We also chose the Port and the Ballon des Ours, a beautiful little port that gives the impression of being in Greece. There was also Ventabren.

It’s at the end of the film, when the bad Germans get stuck on one end of the bridge. At the time, the TGV was under construction in Marseille and the large Ventabren bridge was also under construction. The SNCF and the manufacturers had to be convinced that there would be no major impact. We used digital, but it was very complicated. When the car jumps, it lands on the end of the bridge under construction. Between the two, we created a hole so that the Germans in Mercedes could find themselves on this end of the bridge 30 metres high, isolated from everything. A totally pumped special effect on Speed, with Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock.

What about your greatest interventions?

Re-create the apartment where Sammy lived. We had to understand this character, clever, cunning, taxi man a little bit I don’t care, who wears a jersey of the football team and who has a fiancée (Marion Cotillard). It is both a caricature of the Marseille native and outside the real world; a quasi comic book character. We found a compromise for its interior: a neutral loft, a bit trendy, a bit abandoned. The filming took place in Paris, in a small dead-end street in the 11th arrondissement. It was an old little factory that was left empty. We have refurbished and repainted everything to make a loft in Marseille. The other major intervention was also the police station, which was at the same time original, cinematographic and realistic. We have chosen the former premises of Le Monde in Ivry-sur-Seine.

Two years later, Jean-Jacques Gernolle, you were back for Gérard Krawczyk’s Taxi 2, which sold 10.3 million tickets in France for €10.7 million. What was the challenge in this new adventure located in Paris?

I knew Gerard Krawczyk. I’d worked with him before. The specifications were a little different. This part was more of a comedy, a little more crazy, with Japanese bad guys, secret agents, ninjas. Besson is a big star in Asia and wanted to broaden the target to the general public and internationally. Thanks to the success of the first one, Mitsubishi spontaneously proposed to become the bad guys. In Taxi 2, the car flies; it becomes a small ultralight with wings. The entire interior of the dashboard became that of an airplane. at the time, special effects were designed on the set. Today, we would do everything digitally on a green background.

Have the mythical places envisioned at the time materialized?

Yes. We were able to shoot at the foot of the Eiffel Tower, during a chase with the bad guys coming out of the metro, on the Maréchaux, in the 16th arrondissement with the tank, and under the famous Bir-Hakeim Bridge which had a stack of cop cars. In this scene, the car drives over the bridge, pursued by about 30 police cars. With Rémy Julienne, we noticed that the sidewalks were very high and the car had to make a U-turn. So we made new slopes, which we skated, as if they were stone and asphalt, so that the car could get on them. It took a week to make everything, the bridge was 400 metres long, for a day’s shooting and a sequence of a few minutes.

What are your projects, Jean-Jacques Gernolle?

Nothing in Paris (laughs). I work in the Martigues studios in the south, 30 km from Marseille. I make sets that the studios are going to use for the small screen. A large two-story prison, a morgue, a visiting room, all the settings found in French TV series and crime movies were built.

Article written by Nathalie Dassa.

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Monday, June 3, 2019

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