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How a robotic dolly became a team player in football drama Marinette

Xavier Dolleans reveals how Motion Impossible’s AGITO dolly became part of the team in Virginie Verrier’s football biopic, Marinette

Before Bend it like Beckham, there was Marinette Pichon. Heralded as the most influential if not the best female football player of our time, she became the first French female player to compete competitively for a team in the United States.

Virginie Verrier’s drama Marinette tells the story of a player who pushed the boundaries, and the film’s production employed Motion Impossible’s AGITO robotic dolly to capture the movement, emotion and chemistry of the football superstars on the pitch.

Through its modularity and lightweight structure, the AGITO could be sustained on a fragile pitch designed for 90-minutes of play over the course of several days. It inspired creativity and collaboration as much as it did on-screen as it did off, with cinematographer Xavier Dolléans, a pilot and camera operator all working together to secure dynamic visuals. It became a valuable team player and has since been regarded by the DoP as the “tool of the future”.

“While much of the film takes place on the football field, Virginie’s vision was in contrast to the typical production of a football game,” says Dolléans. “She didn’t want to be far away from the players and use long lenses; she instead wanted to be close to the action and capture their reactions.”

There were logistical challenges to be considered here. A typical playing pitch can only sustain 90-minutes of game before the grass becomes tarnished – and Dolléans would need to shoot on it for a day at the very least. “When you consider Virginie’s visual requirements, alongside the fragility of the grass and the typical film choices for camera movement, we were limited. Quads are too heavy; tracks are too limiting; Steadicam’s don’t have enough speed and wires are often visible when creating dynamic shots.

“We did many tests before we came across Motion Impossible’s AGITO, which is available from two rental companies in France, including Nova Grip who were open to the idea of using it to shoot narrative,” he continues. “They use it for following models on the runway and artists at music events, so it wasn’t too dissimilar to what we were trying to achieve visually – except, we needed it to be much closer and go a lot faster! After just one day of testing, we were amazed by what it was able to do.”

The AGITO is a lightweight and free-roaming dolly system capable of creating smooth camera movements up to two metres in height. Regarded as the Swiss army knife for filmmakers, it can achieve the same motions as most equipment on the market – from rickshaws, jibs and dollys to sliders and tracking vehicles – all into one compact package. But for Dolléans, it achieved so much more than that: “The AGITO enabled me to capture movement intuitively; it could drive with agility and speed between the players as if it was one. It became part of the team.”

Even behind the camera, the AGITO inspired collaboration. “It’s a two-person job manning the AGITO because you need a pilot and a camera operator,” explains Dolléans. “I was then able to direct the visuals and shots through a radio that was connected to them. This still has less footprint than most other options that require crews of people and days to set-up and get right. When we needed to change something – a tire, for example – I often felt like I was watching a Formula 1 pit stop with how quickly it came together. It’s a tool of the future.”

Marinette’s football sequences were shot on location in France and in the US, where the player spent most of her career. The pitches differ across the pond, with the US using synthetic grass while France has the real thing. “Because the AGITO is a modular dolly system, we were able to change its specifications depending on the terrain. This was one of my favourite parts about it. It’s completely customisable,” concludes Dolléans.