Nabbing access to a haute couture designer’s business and private life over a two-year span is an incredibly tall order for a first-time filmmaker, but Matt Tyrnauer has done just that for Valentino: The Last Emperor. He spoke with realscreen about working with a fashion diva, and how his independent documentary came to be a big box office draw.
Tyrnauer first met his subjects, fashion designer Valentino Garavani and his longtime business and romantic partner Giancarlo Giammetti, through his day job as a special correspondent for Vanity Fair. Inspired by their partnership, Tyrnauer knew he needed to bring their love story to the cinemas, and described it as a real leap into the fire.
The skills he’d honed working at Vanity Fair came in handy. ‘A lot of my skills I developed as a magazine journalist were somewhat similar in that you’re information gathering,’ he says. ‘We had 270 hours of footage over a two-year period. It’s basically thousands of pieces of information, all in the wrong order and you need to figure out how to make a story out of that.’
Knowing he was a rookie to the film industry, Tyrnauer enlisted an experienced editor, Bob Eisenheardt, to ensure there was a sure hand in the editing room to help guide the movie.
‘I didn’t want to make a fashion film,’ he says. ‘I was completely captivated by the survival factor. The man is a creative genius but how did he survive for 50 years? The relationship with Giancarlo Giammetti shows you how this very rare career came to be.’
The fashion partners allowed Tyrnauer incredible access to their lives, which included Valentino’s studio, rare for an haute couture designer.
‘We had very privileged access to Valentino’s private studio, which is very unusual,’ says Tyrnauer. ‘Most couture designers don’t allow anybody into their private studio. It’s their place of creativity, and also what they’re developing is on the walls of their studio so it’s a very secret place.’
Although both Giancarlo and Valentino were open to giving Tyrnauer access, that doesn’t mean the film was an easy ride. A lot of patience was needed to deal with the designer. As it was said in the film, Valentino is the ultimate fashion diva. ‘He loves drama and we were on the receiving end of plenty,’ says the director. ‘We just toughed it out and no matter how bad it seemed he kept showing up. He couldn’t resist us.’
Nonetheless, Valentino hated the final version of the film when he saw it and he unsuccessfully tried to get Tyrnauer to change it. ‘It was in Toronto that he finally became convinced that this film would enhance his reputation by showing him for who he was, with flaws and not become some sort of superhero of dress designing,’ says Tyrnauer.
Although the film was originally targeted for fashion audiences, a broader audience really turned out in droves to watch the film, which has now grossed over US$1,545,000. Tyrnauer attributes this solely to good word of mouth.
Currently, the writer-turned-director has no specific plans for any upcoming films, but does know he’ll return to directing in the future.