17th Berlinale Talents | 2019
Mike Samir is an award-winning film director, debuted in 2014 with his feature-length comedy/drama 'HANY'.
Hi Mike thanks for talking to TNC, you all set for the Berlinale?
Hi! Actually no, I’m not - I have flights and a hotel booked, but I still have to buy a walking stick. I had surgery done before Christmas and I really should use a crutch but can’t imagine doing that in Berlin, so I decided to go full Dr House.
Are there any nerves ahead of the festival?
I am a little nervous constantly, so no change there.
What does it mean for you to be part of the 17th edition of Berlinale Talents?
I am obviously happy, but I was also invited to the BAFTA Awards - so a little bit of a double-edged sword. But I was always going to come to Berlin of course.
What do you hope to get from this experience?
Learn and meet people. I am in a rather peculiar position where I have my next film ready to roll, but since it’s my first UK film, I have co-producers lined up all around Europe but I miss the British producer. It’s a strange situation which I am hoping to resolve maybe even with the help of Berlinale Talents.
Can you tell me a little bit about your work, what was it about filmmaking that interested you so much?
I’ve studied at Drama Centre London, which is a fantastic school if you want to be an actor. Tom Hardy, Emilia Clarke or Paul Bettany could vouch for me. But it’s predominantly a theatre-based and there I realised I lack the vision for the black box and I miss the full control the film provides. I couldn’t stand the idea that a performance I put together might or might not work on any given night and there is nothing I can do about it. People call it the beauty of immediacy, I call it a panic attack.
What inspires your work?
This question always rattles me, because I never have a good enough answer. Life. People. Behavioural patterns. Other films. And all those things that go on in my head. Sorry, I did warn you.
"Don’t sit around, go and make a movie."
What was the first film you directed?
In college, I shot a road trip feature based on actual events. The total budget was £800 and the technology was miniDV tapes. At university, I graduated with a short about a lady who cooks cabbage on a daily basis and it stinks and the other tenants uprise. But my first ‘real' film was ‘Hany' - a feature shot in one continuous take. That was before Victoria and Birdman. We scored a nationwide cinema release and several good festival wins. I am really proud of that one. Bigger things happened since, but that one was the first.
Looking back on this film would you do anything differently?
Yes, absolutely. The film would be a little bit more story driven. 'Hany' is a peculiar film, which divided audiences up to the point that I was actually contemplating giving up on being a filmmaker. I think the conscious decision to make a statement film and basically omit a story was a little shortsighted. The film is exactly what it should have been but if I considered audiences a bit more, it’s possible they would find it more accessible.
What are some of the biggest challenges filmmakers might face on a production?
For me, it was always the question of funding. I was never afraid to write, I am not scared of a blank page. I was never afraid to direct, I love working with the actors and I dare say I have a clear vision of what I want. I see the film in my head many times before I actually shoot it. But I guess being confident and clever enough to filter all those voices telling you what to do, what not to do, how to do it and not be swayed by the want to be loved - that’s something I am currently working on.
Have you always had a passion for filmmaking?
I always had a passion for films. But I wanted to be (and pursued careers in) an actor, football player, electric boogie dancer, basketball player, singer songwriter, MMA fighter and an author. Luckily screenwriting and directing are the only things I actually felt I can be really good at.
How important is the collaborative process in filmmaking for you?
I feel like before I was all about collaborating but inside I was arrogant and wanted to do it all by myself. But as everything developed, I now get to work with increasingly incredible people and now it’s kind of the other way around. I’m more confident in what I want because I know I can get it thanks to all those people working alongside me.
How much has your approach to your work changed since you started out?
I used to think Tarkovsky and Bergman are the way and that’s who I would be. But it was a phase and, even though I have just received the Criterion’s Bergman Collection and can’t wait to watch it, I am currently commissioned to write a superhero film so my computer is full of Hulks, Splits and Spidermans, and I'm loving every minute of it. I’d say I am a lot more open minded and there is no genre I wouldn’t watch. Apart from horrors. I write them, we even produced one with Barletta and HBO, but I can’t watch them. I’m scared.
What are you currently working on?
That British film I mentioned before. It’s a political drama about a stand-up comedian whose desire to be loved and respected almost destroys the UK. I am in love with it and I genuinely feel it’s the kind of a movie that needs to be made now, in the current climate. And then there is a super secret TV project, something five production companies have been developing for three years now and we are not far from completion. And then it’s do or die.
And finally, do you have any advice or tips for any up and coming filmmaking?
I don’t yet consider myself to be the one to give advice. But since you asked, haha - don’t make the same mistake I made when I graduated from a prestigious school with a first degree in my pocket - nobody is interested, nobody cares. Don’t sit around, go and make a movie. I made a feature for £800, you could probably do it even cheaper. And yeah, don’t necessarily expect to win the Oscar with it either.