Download: 2023 Oscar Nominee 'Fire of Love:’ How Editors and Co-Writers Erin Casper and Jocelyne Chaput Crafted the Krafft Love Story
In a joint conversation with Awards Daily, editors Erin Casper and Jocelyne Chaput, who co-wrote Fire of Love, alongside director Sara Dosa and producer Shane Boris, discuss the making of the Oscar-nominated documentary. Casper and Chaput poured over hundreds of photos and dozens of hours of archival footage to weave together the story of Maurice and Katia Krafft, two groundbreaking scientists who broke open the field of volcanology with their intrepid excursions to document active volcanoes.
With their work, the Kraffts helped us better understand the lava-spewing beasts and, as a result, the world around us. With Fire of Love, we are given a rare and awe-inspiring opportunity to travel with the Kraffts and see those images up close as they are captured. But the documentary shows us so much more than just stunning volcanoes; we see the Kraffts—brilliant, funny, vivacious, and in love. Devoted to a passion that takes them to the ends of the earth. And to each other.
Read more from Casper and Chaput and the making of Fire of Love below:
Awards Daily: How did you come to the project?
Erin Casper: I’ve been fortunate to collaborate with director Sara Dosa over the last ten years, starting with The Last Season, and this is our third feature together. I love the way Sara sees the world and the magically real way she weaves together seemingly unexpected themes in the stories she is drawn to. Our dialogue as collaborators has undoubtedly reshaped my relationship with nature and this planet we call home and opened up my virgo-esque proclivities to be more of a dreamer. As long as I am lucky to work with Sara, I will.
Jocelyne Chaput: I have been a fan of Sara’s work since The Last Season and had the great luck meeting her at a wedding in 2018. Two years later, she remembered me when she was looking for an editor to work on a funding demo for Fire of Love. That collaboration went well, and the team decided it would make sense to have two editors for the full edit. Needless to say, that one wedding was a game-changer for my career! Thank you Marissa and Phong!
AD: How much did you all know about the Kraffts and the field of Volcanology before working on Fire of Love?
EC: I stumbled into the world of the Kraffts by sheer luck when Sara and I were working together on her last feature, The Seer and The Unseen. We made a decision very late in the process to “blow up” the universally loved cold open we had and instead create an opening about the mythical creation of Iceland, which is a volcanic island situated near the Arctic circle. We needed footage that didn’t look present-day, and that led us down a path of discovering footage of a major volcanic eruption in Iceland that the Kraffts shot in the 1970s. The way Katia and Maurice wielded their camera gave me an immediate thrill of feeling transported to another geologic era as if I was witnessing the birth of our planet. They have been my introduction to the greater world of volcanology, and they have been the greatest teachers in what it means to make meaning with the one short life we are given.
JC: When I was little my uncle Lucien gave us one of their books (the 3rd edition of Volcans et tremblements de terre, published in 1984). I remember gazing at the splendid assortment of colorful images, especially the photos of Katia and Maurice standing before various volcanic phenomena. They cemented for me the notion that the world is full of wonder and that it is possible to be a grown-up who spends their days with lava. I’m pretty sure my older brother absorbed everything cover-to-cover, as he now studies volcanoes. I have the book with me now, its aforementioned popularity evidenced by the tape holding its spine together.
AD: What was it like combing through the Kraffts’ images and videos for the first time and getting a feel for them as individuals? What feelings, images, and ideas did that evoke?
Casper and Chaput: Encountering these images for the first time was—in order of appearance— thrilling, baffling, and a tad intimidating. The footage was remarkable but came to us completely silent on hundreds of digitized reels. The shots are short and precise in order to preserve their precious film stock. But they’re strewn across years of reels, out of order, and had been locked away for decades. [We would] find sections of the same shot spread across different reels. There was the odd shot that seemed lost to time, as we only found the outs. Speaking of outs, some reels seemed to consist entirely of sweepings from the cutting room floor, carefully spliced back together and preserved. The most glaring limitation is that, though we set out to tell a love story about Katia and Maurice, there were very few shots of the two of them in this mountain of geologic imagery. Mystery emerged early on as an important theme.
AD: How much footage did you have access to? What were the time constraints/parameters of the project?
Casper and Chaput: We had full access to Katia and Maurice’s archive of 16mm footage and most of Katia’s photos and slides. The wonderful archivists at Image Est were longtime stewards of the archive, and they scanned all of the film reels— there were hundreds— over the course of five months or so. Nancy Marcotte, our Archival Producer, uncovered about 30 to 40 hours of television and radio interviews and appearances stretching from the late 60s when Katia and Maurice were students all the way up to the final days before their passing in 1991. Well before the edit took place, we made the decision as a team that it would be best to start editing before we had all of the materials in. There was enough material to start watching and making selects, but we were still flying blind for several months. Receiving new footage and interviews as we were editing made the process a continuously exciting discovery. Overall, we edited the film over just seven months, and we were receiving footage up until the day of the picture lock.
AD: The images of the volcanoes that the Kraffts captured are so visually striking. How did you manage to stay true to the images while also modernizing them and putting them on screen?
Casper and Chaput: As mediums, 35mm still photography and 16mm footage really do stand the test of time. The 4:3 aspect ratio is less common today, but we didn’t want to stretch or crop the images to conform to a more modern standard. It was more important to remain faithful to what the Kraffts truly filmed, knowing that it would hold up. Content-wise, volcanoes from the 70s look like volcanoes today. The only elements in the Krafft footage that betrayed the time period were the science equipment and fashion choices, which demanded to be celebrated. As for the television appearances that the Kraffts made, those look dated but were invaluable sources of character development. Weaving these materials into a film that feels present and modern came down to two areas: story approach and sound. The most consequential decision was to stay in the world of the archive and not jump ahead to our 2021 vantage point. By doing so, we are moving more in lockstep with the Kraffts, their relationship, and their evolution as volcanologists. The other factor that keeps us more in the present tense is the sonic dimension. While the footage didn’t have any sync sound, we realized early on that building out the soundscapes would bring the archive to life. It’s one thing to see an eruption, but to feel the low-end vibrations of said eruption immediately transports us there and gets heart rates up.
AD: What can you tell me more about the audio and all that went into that aspect of the editing? I love that it feels like the Kraffts are in the room with us, speaking to the audience.
Casper and Chaput: That’s so gratifying to hear! One of our main goals in constructing the film was to create a feeling of being there for the audience and to feel that the Kraffts were present. We felt that a rich sonic palette held the keys to unlocking the proximity to the images and the Kraffts. The irony is that none of the 16mm footage arrived with sync sound, as we mentioned. What seemed like a huge limitation at first became a dream blank slate for us to craft the emotional undercurrent of the narrative. That said, we still had our work cut out for us, so we poured ourselves into building the entire soundscape from scratch as we edited. Every decision stemmed from the desire to situate the audience in Katia and Maurice’s perspective—they were our constant guides, and we leaned into their writings and interviews, as well as those from their friends, family, and colleagues, for clues on how to accurately express their experience sonically. This led us down many fun research rabbit holes, where we sourced accurate sound effects down to the smallest details—whether it was for Maurice’s pinball machine or the correct engine rumbles of their ill-fated Renault R4 the Kraffts took to Iceland— so it would breathe life into the silent images. We also gave ourselves latitude to work figuratively as well, particularly in how we depicted volcanoes and how that aligned with Katia and Maurice’s various analogies and descriptions of their myriad personalities.
AD: I’ve read that you all wanted to find a balance between making Fire of Love feel modern but also true to the period when the Kraffts were working. I believe the word used was “retro-futuristic,” can you tell me more?
Casper and Chaput: Ah yes, retro-futuristic was a guiding philosophy, especially for music. As with 16mm, music that is well-recorded ages like fine wine and is right at home in the future. We should step back and talk about geologic time for a hot minute. We thought a lot about this deeper measure of time because it’s the scale that the Kraffts dedicated their lives to understanding. They were more likely to be thinking along the lines of eons, rather than decades. As such, the Kraffts are our temporal neighbors in a slice that stretches far into the past and future. In other words, a song from the 60s might as well have been recorded today. At the same time, they constantly grappled with the limitations of their mortal coils and all the sociological change and upheaval that happens faster than geology can blink. It made sense to blend these two perspectives on time, to fold decades together while also exploring the factors that made their time on Earth unique next to ours.
AD: Fire of Love tells you from the start that the Kraffts died during one of their excursions. Did you struggle with how or when to visually represent their passing?
Casper and Chaput: This was one of the key questions our team wrestled with from the very beginning, and we continually weighed the pros and cons in our discussions with Sara. It simply came down to feeling it out. Our first cut withheld their passing until the end, and we found it lacking stakes and clarity on where the story was going. We changed the opening after that to include that “tomorrow will be their last day,” which immediately cast a different feeling to the rest of the film, where it sets the “ticking clock,” so to speak. The acknowledgment also takes away the potential distraction of wondering where the film is going and allows the audience instead to focus not on Katia and Maurice died, but on how they lived.
AD: Is there anything about the making of Fire of Love that I haven’t asked you about that you’d like to add?
Casper and Chaput: We’d love to add that the making of this film was a true labor of love and deeply collaborative. First and foremost, we are incredibly thankful to our director Sara Dosa for envisioning the world of this film and not only entrusting us with it but also working side-by-side with us for months to bring it to life. We also want to shout out our wonderful producers Shane Boris and Ina Fichman, as well as our incredible sound team who took our work to the next artistic level: Re-recording mixer Gavin Fernandes and sound designer Patrice LeBlanc.
Fire of Love is streaming on Hulu and Disney+.