Archive for the ‘Interviews’ Category

 

“All my life I have been fighting to get films on screen and now it’s more and more complicated.”
Kees Kasander on why it’s important to keep makeup artists happy and your location manager drunk.
 

Make no mistake: film production may involve numbers and budgeting but Kees Kasander is just as passionate about his vocation as the next art director. His Netherlands-based production house, Kasander Film, has released nearly 80 titles since 1981. Andrea Arnold’s 2009 Fish Tank won the Jury Prize in Cannes the same year and the 2010 BAFTA for Best British Film.

Speaking at a Goldsmiths University event “Producing in 50 Questions” in London on Wednesday, he delivered a string of no-bullshit sound bites and pearls of personal wisdom that provided a delighted audience with an insight into the idiosyncrasies of both master and craft.

Kees Kasander likes diligence. He likes music, editing, and working with the same team. He doesn’t like the sound guys. (“Maybe it’s because they think with their ears.”) He avoids spending time on set. The cutting room, on the other hand, he spends as much time in as possible: “I like to sit and see if it comes together, and maybe I can be useful. Every film is too long, that’s the first problem. Every director wants to put more into a film than the audience wants.”

So he enjoys problem solving? “No, it’s part of the job. It’s a stupid job, to be honest, film producer. If the film is good it’s because of the director, if it’s bad it’s my fault.” When asked how he likes to spend time off from this stupid job, he prompts a question of his own: “What is time off? Why should I take time off from something I enjoy?”

FilmsThree decades of allegedly continuous work notwithstanding, experience is not what Kasander values most: he even calls it “a dodgy business”. He has fired people when they insisted they had done things differently on a previous set. In Kasander’s eyes neither film school nor a five year stint as assistant are a guarantee of success; after all 99% of scripts never make it onto the screen.

As if to dispel any feelings of gloom or outrage his abrupt honesty might have caused, he meekly offers: “We made some films that were not very good, but interesting. You have to pick the right one, the one to your taste.” Kasander’s personal taste (and against a certain consensus in the business) favours writer-directors: “It seems it works better because it’s so personal.”

From a producer’s point of view, however, there is much more excitement to be found in the non-fiction arena of documentaries. Kasander draws no division between documentary and film, contending all a film needs to qualify as such is an interesting director and an interesting idea. In fact with documentaries “you are making a film while you are making a film. You have to use your brain: [fiction] film is more like bookkeeping.”

His passion for this particular art form is clear: “Documentaries are like one big contingency. You have so much money left, how are you going to use it? You start it and you don’t know how it’s going to end.”

One might surmise his partiality lies in a certain artistic licence that, ironically, is harder to exercise in the production of fiction. With the wild variety of constraints imposed by individual countries, one simply cannot make a film to be distributed around the world. In India, kissing is forbidden on screen. In Japan it’s pubic hair. “Silly idea, not even Japanese, it’s American. I can’t be bothered with that sort of nonsense.”

As an example of the challenges that can arise from cultural differences and filming abroad, he quotes a film crew that shortened a 10-week stay in Japan by a whole nine weeks because “they just didn’t know how things worked”. Hence the necessity of skillful management when it comes to leading crew members: “You don’t have a location contract, you have a location manager, so if he goes missing you suddenly have no location. You have to keep giving him alcohol.”

The location manager is not the only person Kasander covertly collaborates with. When something is wrong “the first person an actor will complain to is the makeup person, they never come to me, so I have to have a good relationship with everyone. It’s almost like football in a way. You have 11 people on the pitch. If they all do their job, it’s a dream job. If not it’s a nightmare.”

He acknowledges that very often “different people are shooting different films” and mostly with the best of intentions: “Everyone wants to make the best possible film. You just have to make sure they’re fighting for the right reason.”

It naturally follows that he should favour small teams. “I had 10 people once and I was working for those 10 people. Instead of making the best possible film I was working for an office.” An independent-minded man, Kasander professes that “the first thing I’ve learned is to control my own budget and control my own schedule.”

Controlling one’s budget seems the crucial element here: “You have to make sure there are many partners, otherwise they control your film and before you know it you are working for them. It’s the hardest thing, staying independent. Even if you are 32 years in the business they can still tell you what to do. And you need to be 100% financed before you get any money [to start shooting].”

In CannesSo when does the budgeting start? “When you read a script, you start financing a film I believe. I need to know by the end of it how I’m going to do it. Sometimes you read a script and you think it’s fantastic but I don’t know where to get the money.”

Other than issues related to budgeting, which nominally are the core aspect of a producer’s calling, in this day and age distribution presents a much bigger challenge. “The most problematic part of filmmaking is getting it out to the audience.” Festivals might remain the best remedy to anonymity but even in Cannes “you get a lot of attention but not a lot of sales. Everyone wants to talk to you, it’s nice.”

If such a remark is anything to go by, Kasander places a bigger stake in the audience’s verdict than his peers’. This is where the World Wide Web steps in. “How will you find out if a film is good? On the internet, I think. I don’t think it’s from Time Out anymore. There’s a different relationship now with audiences.”

Internet distribution may still be in its early days “but in five years’ time all my films will end up being distributed on the internet rather than in a cinema – we are thinking of putting our films for free on the internet because then at least people can see them – unless I’m making Batman 5 because that will always be released in the cinema.”

Does he bear a grudge against houses that favour blockbusters over independent productions? “If I were a cinema owner I would play Skyfall because there’s money in it, so I understand.” And there is an upside to the public taking distribution into its own hands: “I’m very famous in China because of The Pillow Book. They sold more than a million copies. Illegal copies.”

On the equivalent success of Fish Tank in Britain, he muses: “You never know who your audience is before you start. Was it the right film at the right time? Nobody knows.”

Kasander’s appraisal of his favoured directors – along with the Goldsmiths audience appraisal of Kasander – seem to suggest that the answer is to be found, quite simply, in talent, perseverance, and a flair for damn good filmmaking.
 

To attend the Masterclass of Editor Nicolas Chauderge, editor of Fish Tank, on Monday 10 December reserve your free ticket here. For information about more weekly events at Goldsmiths visit the university’s website.

“By virtue of suspense of disbelief we hope the audience is not distracted to such a degree that the object of viewing a film becomes a game of ‘spot that location’.”

Michael Harm boasts a remarkable collection of film and television productions in his portfolio as location manager. He’s worked with Woody Allen on more than one occasion, was present for two instalments of the colossal Harry Potter franchise, oversaw Brad Pitt’s zombie followers in Glasgow last September – and his current project (all will be revealed!) is certain to draw much attention to itself upon release.

To say the role of a location manager is complex is more than just a slight euphemism. Michael talks about some of the challenges he faced on the particularly large set of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, in the particularly popular location that is Greenwich Old Royal Naval College, whose characteristic domes have featured in just short of 50 films and series to date including The King’s Speech, The Duchess, and both of Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes.

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Can you explain the role of a location manager?

The power of the moving image as a narrative medium, whether captured on 35mm film for cinema or digitally for television, is that unlike theatre, it places the audience at the focus of the action, and takes them to the locations where the drama unfolds, whether in the front room of a detached suburban house, on the high altar of a Gothic cathedral, at sea, underwater or in space. Most adults will know that it is not really space, but there are some that do not know that it is not really the Gulf of Aqaba in Lawrence of Arabia but Spain; it is not the Normandy beaches in Saving Private Ryan but County Wexford’s Curracloe Beach in Ireland.

In a film, the scenery and settings in which the actors speak their lines and play their parts are ‘acting’ also; they make a contribution to the storytelling process because more often than not, the scenery and buildings are not, in reality, what they are pretending to be in the film.

There are creative reasons for this as well practical and financial. No221B Baker Street today is almost impossible to use as a location for Sherlock Holmes not only because it does not quite look how people expect it to appear but also it is situated on one of the busiest traffic routes in that part of London. For security reasons, you cannot film in Heathrow Airport or the Bank of England. For cost reasons you cannot transport actors and a film crew to the summit of Mount Kilamanjaro. In all these cases, you have to find a substitute that not only credibly depicts the original but also enhances the audiences’ visual experience.

The job of the Locations Manager, therefore, is twofold: it is to find the right scenery, settings and buildings to meet the requirements of the director, production designer and producer. Then once these locations have been approved and selected, it is to manage the process of making them available for use by the production.

What kind of artistic challenges does it present using a popular, widely recognisable filming location?

It is up to the designer and art department to create with set dressing and, with more budget available, set building, a world that uses the existing buildings cleverly and creatively in such a way that we don’t recognise them as having been used before. There is the added advantage of the now widely used visual effects. What that department requires in the end frame is a Green (or Blue) field in which they can key in another image – this being another filmed piece digitally created from photographs or drawn images – either real art or computer graphically created.

At Greenwich this is a useful option as the buildings are so unique and recognisable. Even though the Christopher Wren style of architecture is by design Georgian (which we can find in a plethora of existing buildings in London: the Bank of England, Mansion House, The Portrait Gallery, Tate Britain etc) the layout of Greenwich buildings, the distinctive columns by the Painted Hall and the Chapel all lend it to be recognised… unless we add, by means of Blue Screen Visual Effects (or some clever set build pieces) a different world every time.

I would lie if I said I didn’t recognise Greenwich in each of the aforementioned films, but, by virtue of the ‘suspense of disbelief’ each and every film tries to create, we hope the audience is not distracted to such a degree that the object of viewing a film becomes a game of ‘spot that location’.

The Old Royal Naval College is home to the University of Greenwich; were you expecting any particular incidents in such surroundings?

When working on any picture the producer [and publicity] are very keen to keep the project under wraps and have full control of how and when any information is released to the press. The more well known the artists involved, the greater the interest for press photographers. It is a bit of a cat and mouse game to try to keep the paps off the set. As we have paid for the location with a location fee, we try to get exclusive rights for shooting in any medium for that period: this makes any other company or person in breach of copyright when they do record images on the day we are working there. For the production company, students and others using the site are a big concern as mobile phone pictures or videos are easily uploaded onto the internet. Once these images get out, there is no stopping them from being copied and spread out.

As [Pirates of the Caribbean] was such a complicated sequence with 40 carriages and 70 horses, and up to 350 crew and 500 extras on the set at any one time, we had a health and safety obligation to close off the area in which we filmed. A film this size and with this fame attracts huge interest. This is absolutely normal and we are very much used to this. We find that the vast majority of the public understand why you cannot give them the freedom to walk around our sets and shoot images of the stars.

It was a huge challenge to be able to communicate all the diversions to visitors trying to find their way around a very large film set. However there were no incidents to speak of and we can say pulled it off without a glitch. We can generally measure a successful shoot by the simple token that we can ever return and show our faces again!

Find a complete list of Michael’s work and filmography on IMDb

Leave a comment below if you would like to invite Michael to give us a more in-depth interview!

“Personally, I’m not as interested about filmmaking as I am about being nosey.”

Olly Lambert is a London-based, Grierson Award-nominated documentary filmmaker, also Journalist of the Year as awarded by the Foreign Press Association in 2007. His latest film, My Child The Rioter, aired on BBC2 on 31st January 2012.

The following interview took place in January 2011. His insight and advice are just as pertinent and useful now as then.

His top tip? Setting yourself a 10 minute window each morning browsing through broadsheets spotting stories that make great documentary material. (I’ve dutifully practised every day and the fun hasn’t worn off, though I have learned to become more selective: a student arrested during a bulldozer getaway after hurling a puppy at a bunch of Hell’s Angels might be the best headline of the decade, but it stops there.)

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Walking down the corridors at Uncle studios in Soho’s Livonia Street, I feel nearly as nervous as when I first approached documentary filmmaker Olly Lambert to ask him for an interview. But as I finally locate his editing suite, I’m greeted by a multitude of screens and a director who smiles as warmly as after the Q&A where he noticed my “loitering with intent”. Any remaining apprehensions are dispelled as he leads the way towards a comfortable set of sofas slightly removed from the hustle and bustle of the desks, and offers me a cup of tea and a very affable “How can I help?”

The edits he has overseen as series director are the final cuts for Series 3 of The Family, which aired on Channel 4 throughout November and December [2010]. The seven-part documentary follows the story of the Adesinas, a Nigerian family living in Hackney, through a system of fixed cameras – the rig – installed in their home for a period of eight weeks. I marvel at the logistics involved:  28 cameras, 40 microphones, resulting in 4000 hours of raw footage. And The Family is not the only documentary to be currently produced following that format: “Virtually every editing suite in this building is a rig show.” Cameras are being installed in hotels, modelling agencies, A&E departments – and curiously, in a house full of dwarves doing a pantomime. Still, despite the creative nature of the projects being commissioned, he doesn’t think the rig is the “silver bullet”.

He explains that while this system affords an omnipotent, multiple-angle view over a scene that may capture moments a cameraman couldn’t, he’s wary of the paradox between director and subject:

“I find it allows people to perform in a slightly unnatural way, that wouldn’t happen if there were a cameraman present. It’s definitely double-edged. I think what will happen in a year or two is the rig will become just one more weapon in an armoury of how to film documentaries. In a strange way it’s been one of the most unrewarding experiences ever as a director.”

If he has any misgivings about his latest project, it’s because he’s got his own armoury of accredited films to run it against. Since his 2001 directorial debut Four Weeks to Find A Girlfriend which saw him nominated for a Grierson Award, he’s been commissioned to direct documentary after documentary, scooping up another nomination in the process for Sky1’s Ross Kemp: Middle East. A surprising path, it may seem, for someone who originally studied English with the intention of becoming a theatre director. “There were no plans for it. I got a job as a runner at a company called Middlemarch and thought, I absolutely loved it, I’ll go for this.” He worked his way up from being a runner, researcher, and assistant producer, and has been working as a freelance director ever since. Is he surprised at the turn his career has taken? “Personally I’m not as interested about filmmaking as I am about being nosey,” he candidly asserts. “Filmmaking is a tremendous passport into people’s lives, it gives you access to the world in a way you wouldn’t normally have.”

True to his professed curiosity, his films focus exclusively on human subjects, from traffic wardens in London to tea-selling boys in Gaza. He doesn’t feel, he muses, that he’s found his voice as a documentary-maker, and instead defines himself only as interested in ordinary people in extraordinary situations. His passion for the mundane colliding with the terrifyingly unfamiliar is such that in 2003, while filming in Kuwait for Channel 4’s science department, he abandoned the commissioned project to focus instead on the humanitarian disaster taking place, resulting in the critically-acclaimed Festival favourite Battle Hospital – a “much, much more interesting story” than the restrictive subject of medicinal practice in war zones. “Luckily, being in the desert, I didn’t have an executive producer breathing down my neck,” he confides. “But the story is kind of, you know, the king. Without a story, you haven’t got a documentary.” He quotes playwright Tom Stoppard’s son, who told him over a drink one day: “If a story’s good, you can shoot it on toilet paper.”

And what does he make of aspiring filmmakers’ current trend of using online platforms such as YouTube to publish their work? “It’s kind of a huge positive, that anyone can make a film for under a thousand pounds. The sooner you make your mistakes the better. But that’s a red herring because films are not made with gadgets and buttons, they’re made with ideas and relationships.” He ponders ways of standing out when so many hopefuls are walking around with cameras and competition is fiercer than ever. The way he did it, he offers, with a hint of unapologetic brazenness, was to pester directors on a daily basis for an opportunity to work alongside them. “And also,” he stresses, “you’ve got to start fine-tuning your antennae for what is a good story. There’s a handful of people I keep an eye on, thinking, ‘They’re gonna make it,’ and the way they mark themselves out is they’re the people who are thinking all the time, ‘Where’s the story, where’s the story?’”

So what’s the next story for him?

“What I’m dying to do next is go completely the other way and do something that has far less managerial roles, far less expectation. We’re all a bit knocked today because we found out the third episode only got 700 000 viewers, which is tiny for a 9 o’clock Channel 4 slot.” He gloomily surmises the reason behind poor ratings might be the show is up against I’m A Celebrity: Get Me Out Of Here.

But if he seems disheartened by audiences’ attitude, he certainly won’t be losing interest in the people who compose them anytime soon. “You’re only a good director if you are extremely human and sensitive to people’s stories, to what the difference is between what they might present and the reality underneath. It’s the most important part of the job, I think, to be human.”

For more information about Olly’s films or to contact him visit www.ollylambert.com