Back in 1997, Full Sail Film student René Besson was looking into the future of digital media, and he liked what he saw. “Digital and film were pretty much in their infancy when I was in school,” he says. “I had a feeling that if I fundamentally understood the discipline and logic of digital culture, that would give me an advantage in anything I wanted to do, [and] I haven’t been proven wrong.”
Since graduating from the Digital Media Degree Program, René has capitalized on this new direction in film, turning his background in digital arts into a lucrative career in independent production. “That’s the edge I got in film,” he explains. “I could see ahead of time that it was becoming a digital sandwich and it all was eventually going to be digital.” René’s involvement with the digital revolution allowed him to get his start in film with relatively little financing.
In 2000, he directed his debut feature, Boxes. The 94-minute digital feature was shot with a total budget of $285, giving hope to independent filmmakers everywhere. Boxes was awarded “Best Experimental Film” at the New York International Independent Film Festival and was picked up by the Independent Film Channel, as the lowest budget film ever to be distributed. The success of Boxes was a good indication of what was in store for René.
Recently forming his own production company, 285 Pictures—a reference to the shockingly tiny budget of his debut film—René works as a producer, production coordinator, director, AD, crew member, and cinematographer for mainstream and independent productions such as Circadian Rhythm, Til Death, and Imaginary Heroes. And even with all the new technology he uses, René’s roles are still loaded with traditional film production responsibilities.
There’s simply no way around meetings, networking at Hollywood parties, location shoots, and time spent doing intensive research. It’s hectic, but buzzing from project to project and staying flexible is what makes René’s successes happen. Case in point: Imaginary Heroes, which started out as a small project, “turned into a thing where I got upgraded and I became an associate producer,” he explains. Written and directed by Dan Harris, a screenwriter for Superman Returns, the film features Sigourney Weaver and Jeff Daniels. “It’s one of those things where I worked on the script, broke it down, went to New York and hired the crew. I ended up post-managing the movie and second unit directing.” The hard work paid off when Sony Picture Classics picked up the film after a screening at the Cannes Film Festival.
For the more recent project, 2007 action film Til Death, René spent four months in New Orleans with actor Jean-Claude Van Damme. “I’m prepping a few movies that I’m potentially going on next year. It’s casting and budgeting, stuff like that.” Learning how to pre-finance and put together independent film deals is René’s current fascination.
During the less frantic times, René studies trends that may provide direction for future projects. “I’m constantly scanning the headlines and doing research into new things that are going on out there.” That constant attention to detail is what keeps René at the forefront of the industry. “You just have to put yourself out there and meet people. You’ve got to keep up on the industry, so when the opportunity comes you’ll be ready.”
René recognized the importance of networking and the drive to succeed, before even entering the film industry. Back in his Full Sail days, René was impressed by an on-campus student success seminar, featuring motion control operator Steve Switaj (Batman and Robin, Alien Resurrection, Species II). The seminar emphasized that students develop their networking skills, and “I remember the next day I felt so invigorated that it pushed me through. It was such a struggle for me, and those success seminars really inspired me.” René kept that seminar in the back of his mind all through Full Sail, and once he arrived in L.A., Steve was the first person he called. “He was one of the first people to give me a job, [and] he became somewhat of a mentor to me.”
René’s insightfulness about the digital future and his ability to network and seek out new projects has helped him build a successful career. He always stresses the importance of being knowledgeable and available, because, “you never know where that next break will come from. It’s a game of bumping into the right people, pitching what you can do, and getting into the right situation for the right reasons,” he adds. René is now concentrating on building ownership of his projects and further developing 285 Productions. “Pretty much, I’ve turned the corner,” and the future is looking bright.