Interview - Director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck Asks Us To 'Never Look Away'
- Written by Matthew Toomey
Never Look Away is an absorbing drama that looks at the interaction between art and society. I recently had the chance to speak to German writer-director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck about his film…
Matt: You directed my favourite release of 2006, The Lives of Others, which won the Oscar for best foreign language film. I’ve always been curious to know with that category – did you get to keep the Oscar?
Florian: Of course. Normally, the director does get to keep the Oscar but I’ve heard this story about when Asghar Farhadi won for A Separation, a government delegation was waiting at the airport in Tehran who took it on behalf of the country. Luckily, Germany doesn’t have a similar policy so I got to keep mine.
Matt: Let’s talk about Never Look Away which is spread across a broad time period covering Germany pre-WWI and post-WWII. How easy was it to re-create that period of history from a visual perspective?
Florian: You sound like a producer because that was a huge challenge. We had to show Germany in all its glory before it was bombed and that involved a lot of building sets and digital cobbling together based on shots from Prague and Vienna that had a similar look to Dresden. We then had to show the aftermath which was a world in ruins. We found a place in Poland where they wanted to demolish a city and they ran out of money half way through. We then had the challenging of adapting it and making it look like a bombed out Germany in 1945.
Matt: Wow. That’s almost good fortune to have a location like that?
Florian: It was crazy. I thought we were going to have to build massive models and I was already working with model makers to create that but they never quite looked real. A runner on our set then told us about a place he’d heard about in Poland. We went there and it was amazing. It only took about a month for a team to make it looked charred and bombed.
Matt: Where did the inspiration come from to tell this particular story?
Florian: It came from a meeting I had with a journalist who said he’d just taken a year off to write a biography of the great Germany painter Gerhard Richter. He’s an incredible artist who is mainly famous for selling pictures that go for $40 million a piece. I asked why he wanted to write the biography given that so much has already been written about Richter and he told me that he’d found out something new about Richter’s life.
There was a famous photo painting which is based on picture from Richter’s old family album where he is a little child in 1933 or something and is being held by a beautiful young woman who he said was his aunt. She was later murdered by the Nazis because she was schizophrenic and they didn’t want that genetic material for the new “master race”. He created the painting as a monument to her but the journalist found, and Richter didn’t know this, was that the Richter’s father-in-law was actually one of the Secret Service doctors in charge of the Nazi genetics program.
I thought it was a really interesting starting point for a fictional story about an artist developing his sensibilities living under the same roof as the man who caused his greatest trauma. It appealed to me as a psychological, artistic mystery.
Matt: Aside from telling a good story, the film also provides a lesson when it comes to the many styles of art, particularly social realism, and its value in the world. Have you always been an art lover or was it something you had to learn a lot about before writing the film?
Florian: Art has always been part of my life. My mother worked as an art consultant for many companies for a number of years. She tried to teach a love of art to my brother and I. It was difficult in the beginning because I was young and it was hard for a child to appreciate little scribbles on a canvas. Over time, I understood that to appreciate art, you have to open up all your senses in an almost supernatural exercise and at the same time, you had to be open to the stories that came with these works of art. I grew to appreciate contemporary art as a very free and radical form of storytelling.
Matt: When making a film about an artist, it can be really difficult to capture their inner psyche and what makes them so talented. There are some great scenes here where we watch Kurt draw and paint as he tries to find his own unique style. How did you approach those?
Florian: The scene you’re talking about where he finally finds his true style was perhaps the hardest scene that I’ve ever had to shoot in my life. You’re just telling it in images. If you get one image wrong, the flow of images won’t be compelling any more. You almost have to be a perfectionist to work in film because if you don’t get it just right, it’ll collapse like a building.
We had many great artists who worked with us. Andreas Schön did many of the central paintings for us and he was Gerhard Richter’s assistant for many years. He knew the methodology. I was also lucky, and this was just a stroke a luck, that my lead actor Tom Schilling is actually a very talented draughtsman himself. He wanted to be an artist until he was discovered as an actor.
We used him to paint for several of the sequences and re-enrolled in an art school at Hamburg University. He’s such a precise person so he even took a course in how to stretch canvases because he wanted it to be as real as possible when he did it and that makes the film evens stronger.
Matt: The music in the film is quite subtle and I believe you were working with composer Max Richter for the first time. Can you tell us what you were looking for in that regard?
Florian: Thank you for asking that. To me, Max Richter is the greatest composer of my generation. I think that in a few years, he will have become a household name. In a way, he is the epitome of an artist who wants his music to reach you on every level. It’s not enough to reach your ears. He wants to reach the whole body. He used pianos with strings 20 feet long to create these super dark, deep notes that will make your whole body vibrate. That allows him to stay very subtle in the music so that you’re not listening to a bombastic score but you’re still really feeling it.
Matt: What are you working on at the moment? What will we see from you next?
12 years ago, I bought the rights to a wonderful novel called Everything Matters from a novelist from Maine which is about a child who is born with the exact knowledge of when his life is going to end. It’s about how he approaches life knowing exactly what day he is going to die. It gets very deep and I’ve been thinking for a decade about how to adapt it and I now have a very good idea about how it can be brought into film form without losing its power.
Interview - Director Wayne Blair Orchestrates A 'Top End Wedding'
- Written by Matthew Toomey
There are high hopes for Top End Wedding, the latest film from director Wayne Blair (The Sapphires). I recently had the chance to talk to Wayne about the movie…
Matt: Every director starts out with high hopes and expectations, but did you ever believe The Sapphires would be as successful as it was – both with critics and at the local box-office?
Wayne: No, not at all. You make a film and you want your mum to like it and you want the immediate people around you to respond to it but yeah, everything else that comes after that is great. That film did well. You feel blessed.
Matt: You’ve been a busy man over the last few years but this is your first Australian feature film since The Sapphires. How did the project come about?
Wayne: I have an association with Goldpost Pictures who were the producers of The Sapphires. Kylie Du Fresne contacted me about this script that Miranda Tapsell and Josh Tyler had written. I went “this is good” but I said no at first. Six months later, they’d done a re-write and it was a different time period for me and I thought I’d give it a shot. They got the money and it all went from there. I didn’t have any hand in the original writing but I came on board as the director about a year and a half ago.
Matt: Balancing up the tones of this film must have been a challenge. You have moments out outlandish comedy and then other moments which are quite dramatic and poignant (particularly at the end). How did you approach that?
Wayne: The heart of the film lies in the last 30 to 40 minutes. In the moments leading up to that, you sort of work it out on set. The biggest thing is in the edit suite where you need to “go for it” as you try to glue these moments together. Chris Plummer did a great job. There were some funny moments that we had to cut as part of the balancing act.
Matt: Romantic comedies can often be a clichéd genre and it’s made more difficult by the fact that everyone has a different sense of humour. How do you know what’s working and what’s not working as you go through the shooting process?
Wayne: It’s a hard one. You’ll feel it if you’re smiling on set while shooting a scene. There are also times when you can recognise when the actors have gone to another level during the dramatic moments. It’s right there in front of you.
However, what you think is really good doesn’t always work when you get to the edit suite. Something might have been really funny on the set but when you see it on screen, it doesn’t work as well. You also get the opposite where something you were iffy about on the set looks really strong during the editing process.
Matt: Miranda Tapsell co-wrote the screenplay and gives a great lead performance but how did come across British actor Gwilym Lee to play her fiancé?
Wayne: Our casting director Kirsty McGregor and I went to seemingly every actor in Australia and we found some great talent but we thought about looking overseas to get a few more options. Gwilym just so happened to be one of the people who auditioned and when we saw his test, we felt there was something there. A month later, Miranda was going over to London with her fiancé for a trip and Kirsty suggested that she do a “chemistry test” with Gwilym while she was over there.
Once we saw the two of them together in that test, we were like “that’s the guy” and Miranda felt the same way. We proceeded to cast him and so if it wasn’t for Miranda’s world trip with her fiancé, we would never have got him. We also knew he was in Bohemian Rhapsody but we didn’t realise how big that film would go on to be. That aside, he was just really, really strong.
Matt: We don’t see a lot of Australian films shot in the Northern Territory. What was your process for deciding on the locations to best depict this story?
Wayne: It was a little bit to do with how great these locations were. We went to Kakadu and a few other places where we were guided by the traditional owners. The cinematographer, the locations person and myself then made the decision as to what worked best. We shot a lot around Jabiru, Katherine and Darwin. We made the film in 30 days across 6 different locations and so it was quite ambitious. As an example, the scenes in Kakadu were all shot in 1 day in an area called Hawk Dreaming. You had to be on the front foot and really prepared.
Matt: The film had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in the United States. What was that experience like and how was the movie perceived by American audiences?
Wayne: It was a fantastic experience. We had 6 screenings at Sundance with about 3,500 Americans there to see our film. A whole bunch of people went over including Miranda, Gwilym, the producers, the cinematographer and we all had a little celebration over there. Americans really got the humour which was great because you make a film for people to see.
'Green Book' Surprises & Takes Top Prize At 2019 Oscars
- Written by Matthew Toomey
It’s the grand final for movie fans and the 91st Academy Awards offered up a few interesting surprises. As predicted in last week’s e-newsletter (and also on ABC radio this morning), Green Book stunned many by taking the top prize for best picture. Many tipped Roma to win but it looks to have fallen foul of the preferential ballot.
The bigger surprise of the night was seeing Olivia Coleman win best actress in a stunning turn of events over “sure thing” Glenn Close who looked on track to break her Oscar duck and win at her 7th attempt. Close is now the biggest living acting loser in history and it was a clearly surprised Coleman who got to stand on stage and deliver a heartfelt speech.
Every one of the 8 best picture nominees got to take home a statuette in some form. The critically maligned Bohemian Rhapsody won 4 awards (including best actor for Rami Malek) while Roma, Green Book and Black Panther all won 3. It was nice to see the love shared around.
I only managed 14 out of 24 in terms of predictions but as always, I went for a few upsets that didn’t all come off.
I outlined my Oscars bets last week and I was an excited as anyone to see Green Book take the prize for best picture since I wagered $100 on the film at $8.50 back in November. That leaves me in the black for the 4th straight year and here’s my latest tally…
1996 – profit of $750 – won on Susan Sarandon
1997 – profit of $300 (cumulative profit $1,050) – won on Frances McDormand
1998 – loss of $250 (cumulative profit $800)
1999 – loss of $250 (cumulative profit $550)
2000 – profit of $620 (cumulative profit $1,170) – won on Kevin Spacey and Michael Caine
2001 – loss of $190 (cumulative profit $980) – won on director Steven Soderbergh
2002 – profit of $480 (cumulative profit $1,460) – won on Halle Berry
2003 – profit of $275 (cumulative profit $1,735) – won on Catherine Zeta-Jones and Adrian Brody
2004 – profit of $150 (cumulative profit $1,875) – won on Sean Penn
2005 – profit of $214 (cumulative profit $2,089) – won on Hilary Swank
2006 – profit of $350 (cumulative profit $2,439) – won on Reese Witherspoon
2007 – profit of $1,463 (cumulative profit $3,912) – won on Eddie Murphy at Globes, Alan Arkin & West Bank Story at Oscars
2008 – profit of $268 (cumulative profit of $4,280) – won on Tilda Swinton and the Coen brothers
2009 – profit of $253 (cumulative profit of $4,533) – won on Mickey Rourke & Kate Winslet at Globes, Kate Winslet at Oscars
2010 – loss of $830 (cumulative profit of $3,703)
2011 – profit of $30 (cumulative profit of $3,733) – won on Social Network at Globes, Tom Hooper & King’s Speech at Oscars
2012 – loss of $640 (cumulative profit of $3,093) – won on Jean Dujardin at Oscars
2013 – loss of $850 (cumulative profit of $2,243) – won on Ang Lee at Oscars
2014 – loss of $72 (cumulative profit of $2,171) – won on Matthew McConaughey at Globes and Oscars
2015 – loss of $50 (cumulative profit of $2,121) – won on Eddie Redmayne at Oscars
2016 – profit of $1,325 (cumulative profit of $3,446) – won on Mark Rylance and Spotlight at Oscars
2017 – profit of $870 (cumulative profit of $4,316) – won on Damien Chazelle, Casey Affleck, Emma Stone and Mahershala Ali at Oscars
2018 – profit of $330 (cumulative profit of $4,646) – won on Frances McDormand and Three Billboards at Globes and Frances McDormand at Oscars
2019 – profit of $1,022 (cumulative profit of $5,668) – won on Rami Malek and Green Book at Globes and Green Book at Oscars
It’s been a good run!
Congratulations to Sarah Case who won my 19th Annual Pick the Oscars competition. It was a tough year and she finished with 4 out of 6 and a fairly close answer when it came to the tie-breaker question. 51-year-old Julia Roberts presented the best picture Oscar and Sarah guessed the age of 50. An honourable mention goes to Katie Read who also managed 4 out of 6. The toughest category to get right this year was Green Book.
So that wraps up another Oscars. It clocked in at a nice running time and while there were a few odd presenter pairings and some unnecessarily long speeches, the telecast was solid. Until next year!
Interview - Charlie Cox's Late Call Up For 'King of Thieves'
- Written by Matthew Toomey
36-year-old Charlie Cox had the chance to work with some of Britain's best actors in the crime flick King of Thieves. I recently spoke to him about the experience...
Matt: Whether they’re based on actual events or purely a work of fiction, heist films been a staple of cinema for decades. Why do you think audiences enjoy them so much?
Charlie: I think they lend themselves to a two hour drama and it can be an easy structure in the way you set up a premise, introduce some characters who are a bit different and a bit quirky, and then watch them either succeed or fail in their chosen pursuit.
Matt: And how did you become involved with King of Thieves? What drew you into the project?
Charlie: I got a call on a Friday asking me to get on a plane and they needed me by Monday. Someone must have pulled out and I was lucky enough to be available.
Matt: So were you shooting on the Monday or just rehearsing?
Charlie: Rehearsing. I got off my overnight flight from America and I went straight into rehearsal with Michael Caine.
Matt: Well, let’s talk about the cast. Many actors would love the chance to work alongside Michael Caine, Jim Broadbent, Tom Courtenay, Michael Gambon and Ray Winstone and you get to do that in a single film. What was the experience like?
Charlie: It’s hard to find the words to describe it. These are some of my heroes from growing up, especially as a British actor. Just to meet these guys is a dream come true let alone being able to work with them and hear some of their anecdotes from working in the profession. It was mind blowing.
Matt: So are they quite open with you? Can you ask a lot of questions or do you get more out of it from just watching them act?
Charlie: They’re very nice and you can ask whatever you want but you just don’t want to be annoying. For me, I just wanted to soak up the experience. I also had a job to do and I wanted to trust what I was bringing to the film.
Matt: We all know he’s playing a character but when you put someone as likeable as Michael Caine in the lead role, you sort of feel yourself rooting for him and hoping he gets away with it. Is it right for me to think that way?
Charlie: I think so. You’re right that Michael has such a likeable presence on screen but that’s true of a lot of these heist films. You find yourself aligning with characters that you wouldn’t necessarily do in real life. We kind of like underdogs and people beating the system and people getting something for nothing. That doesn’t always mean we want that to happen in reality but it’s fun in the movie world.
Matt: One of the most interesting elements for me was how easy these characters thought they were going to get away with it despite all the CCTV and such. Were there parts of this story that surprised you when you first heard of it?
Charlie: Oh man, there’s so much of it that’s astonishing. I remember it being in the news and the press when it happened. I was astounded then but the audacity and the bravo to pulling something like this off. When they were caught and found, Scotland Yard described them as “analogue criminals in a digital world.” They were out of their depth with their lack of understanding about surveillance and tapping phones. They did pull off a miraculous heist and they caught people off guard by doing it in an old-fashioned away but they were always going to leave clues.
Matt: Your character is an interesting one and without giving too much away, I can’t figure out if he’s based on a real-life person or not. Do you form a view on that as part of your research and intel?
Charlie: He is based on a real person but he’s the one guy who was never caught and no one knows where he is. We don’t know too much about him including his age and how he got involved. The pieces of information we have come from police transcripts. The writer and director looked at what we had and tried to put together a character that made sense and was valuable to the story as well.
We knew Basil wasn’t his real name but when we were filming it, there was an understanding that he was called Basil because he was posh person like the cartoon character Basil Brush. When the film had almost finished being edited, someone suggested he might have been called that because it’s the acronym for “best alarm specialist in London”.
Matt: Did you get a chance to speak to any of the real-life people involved with perpetuating the crime or perhaps those investigating it?
Charlie: I did not but I think I’m right in saying that some of the actors did.
Matt: What are you working on at the moment? What will we see from your next?
Charlie: I’m doing a play in London on West End and it’s from writer Harold Pinter who is a well-known British playwright. It’s called Betrayal and it stars Zawe Ashton and Tom Hiddleston. We’re rehearsing that at the moment.