For most filmmakers, the first film largely goes ignored – if you’re lucky, it might play a few festivals, but will more often than not be swept under the carpet. But every once in a while, a new director like Cédric Le Gallo manages to unexpectedly change the mainstream conversation. Teaming up with successful French comedy director Maxime Govare, the journalist’s first foray into fiction filmmaking transformed from a labour of love, designed to show his passion for his water polo team, into a broad crowd pleasing hit that ushered in a national conversation on homophobia in sport.
The Shiny Shrimps (Les crevettes pailletées) follows Matthias Le Goff (Nicolas Gob), an Olympic champion whose public image needs rehabilitation after making a homophobic comment to a journalist. This leads him to coaching the Shiny Shrimps, a gay water polo team who are aiming to qualify for the Gay Games in Croatia – Matthias initially is reluctant to do more than the bare minimum, but after seeing their struggles in comparison with his own, starts coaching them towards victory. As The Shiny Shrimps (Les crevettes pailletées) heads to Outfest in Los Angeles, before a UK release date on September 7, Gay Essential got a chance to speak to Cedric about why he chose to make a fiction film, and how his team responded when they finally saw it.
He said: “I used to be a reporter for French television, mainly TF1, the main channel in France. One summer I did a short TV series for Canal+, looking behind the scenes of famous movies. When I did that, I realised I really wanted to do fiction – and as a journalist, I realised that my water polo team, who I’ve been involved with for eight years now, would be the perfect subject for a fiction movie. In France, we don’t have a lot of movies with positive gay characters – in France, it’s all about LGBT drama, which doesn’t necessarily mean a positive depiction.
“I saw the movie Pride, which is a drama that happens to be very funny. And I wanted to show my friends to the rest of the world, because they are super funny, and have this positive energy, and this is something rare in cinema – especially French cinema. I wanted to show the rest of the world this love we have together in the water polo team.
“I came with a ten page outline of the story to the producers, it wasn’t an accomplished script then. Some elements were there, like the road trip and the gay games, but it wasn’t a full script. So the producers introduced me to Maxime, who had already made a film about gay characters, although he isn’t gay himself, and at the beginning he didn’t want to do it – but he did really love the script, and he eventually signed on. He gave some really great ideas, we both new we wanted it to be funny and full of emotion.”
“We wanted it to be like an English movie, as English comedies have this feeling of extravagance that isn’t typical in France – French people fear extravagance as they want to be taken seriously. For me, it was very important because there’s a lot of extravagance in my life, and I wanted to show it, and Maxime agreed to do it this way! It was a very complicated film to shoot as there are nine characters always onscreen, and filming sport is always difficult – but filming water polo takes that complication to another level. Two directors wasn’t enough to film the water polo scenes, we could have used a third!”
However, as with many films based on a true story, this may capture the spirit of the team – but a lot of changes had to be made to transform this into a crowd pleasing narrative.
Cedric continued: “In the real team, there are 40 players, so there are much more! There is no direct translation between which characters represent who, each member of the team in the film has characteristics of a number of different players, and I personally can see aspects of myself in many of the characters.”
“We premiered the film during the Festival Alpe d Huez, which is a very big film festival in France, and is the only international comedy film festival in Europe. It’s not exclusively LGBT or mainstream, and we did the closing ceremony, and the team came to see the movie for the very first time. It was in January, so it was a challenge to get it ready for the festival after we finished shooting this time last year – so nobody had actually seen it yet! That day was very special, there were 1,000 people in the audience alongside the actors, directors and my friends on the team. And the team really loved the movie, they laughed and cried, and they were super proud of it.”
The Shiny Shrimps (Les crevettes pailletées) has been a box office hit in France, and has provoked debate on the issue of homophobia in sport.
Cedric said: “It was a huge debate in France. I did the cover of L’Equipe, which is the main sports magazine in France and one of the best selling magazines overall. But it’s a very conservative magazine, read by straight white men, not an LGBT magazine by any means. But they did something brave by publishing a cover showing me and my teammate kissing each other, and some of the readers of the magazine responded negatively, saying they’d never buy the magazine anymore. I think that when this kind of mainstream magazine, officially a sport magazine, talks about homophobia and does this cover, it brings a debate on the table, and I’m proud to have been part of that national phenomenon.
“For me, in simple terms, I love to talk to the community, but I also want to do something where the message reaches everyone. If I do a movie it’s not just for me and my friend – well, that’s a lie, because I thought this movie was just for me and my friends! The goal of cinema to me is to spread a message to everybody, and this film has put the debate on the table. It’s crazy to see our very personal story can be so big and inspire such a discussion. Even if I want cinema to be doing this all the time, I couldn’t have expected it to have arrived at me.”
So with one box office hit under his belt, what does Cedric want to do next?
“I’d like to do more fiction, but I’m still a journalist, and I’m always inspired by what I know. Sometimes it’s my life, sometimes it’s a story in a newspaper – and finding inspiration in fiction in many ways is similar. You can be a documentarian or a filmmaker, but you’re still telling stories to people even if you’re not necessarily using the same tricks. Basically, yes, I’m hoping to make a fiction film again!”