TNC Interview 2020
Set in 1967, East German students, opponents of the communist regime, are trying to emigrate to West Germany hidden at the back of a food delivery truck. They must remain quiet or they will be discovered and executed for their anti-political activities. Anna's and Yans's sleeping baby on board is a time bomb that can explode at any time, and something unexpected happens.
Hi Patrik thank you for talking to TNC, how are you holding up during the lockdown?
Thank you for asking and interviewing me! Shortly before the lockdown started, I decided that I will spend my lockdown in Plymouth, where my sister lives with her three young kids. I spent about a month there, entertaining the kids and learning, from them, many things like how to play with baby dolls or how to swing on the swing. Apart from that, I watched many films and series which I had struggled to find the time for beforehand. Unfortunately, before long, I had to return to London as there was much work waiting for me. I am in the pre-production of two projects now. The short film is called “Muddy Shoes” which I’ve written, and now directing and producing. As an Executive Producer, I am also preparing a feature-length film that is going to be shot in locations all around the world.
Has this time offered you some new creative inspiration?
The fact that I was able to switch my creative mind off for the couple of weeks helped me to be more creative after the break. Sometimes it’s needed to take a short break to gain some inspiration. The fact that I also had time to watch other films was very beneficial as much of my creativity comes from this. Also, my brain is constantly making stories while I am doing other activities (cooking, exercising, playing with kids or just washing dishes) and when I am not forcing my mind to create.
What has your experience been like at Westminster Film School?
Before transferring my studies to the Westminster Film School, I studied Film in Cardiff at the University of South Wales. This was great but I had many projects in the pipeline and I needed to be based in London. As I was transferring directly into the second year, I didn’t know anyone there. To get to know more Westminster creatives, for a year I worked as Vice-President of the Westminster Film Society beside President Luca Ferrara who was also my classmate on the Film course. This helped me a lot as Luca was the person I could talk to regarding university projects but also personal life. Luca is one of the people I met there and with whom I went on to work with on many projects in the future.
The Westminster Film School operates one of the best-known and highly regarded Film Production courses in the world, with an international reputation for its academic and practical teaching; which was exactly the reason why I wanted to move there. It enabled me to practice the craft, experiment on projects, and also have a chance to do extensive research into film history and psychology of the film. For many university projects, we had industry support from Westminster alumni, some of whom are Oscar-nominated or BAFTA-winning filmmakers, such as Seamus McGarvey or Malcolm Mowbray. Westminster University is a great school where you can meet many very talented people with whom you can cooperate with in the future. Yes, studies there can be challenging sometimes - the required level of the written work is very high but an institution which challenges you is the right choice for anyone serious about personal development.
Quite Crossing has had an incredible festival run so far and has won several awards, what has it meant to you to get this type of recognition for your film?
I am not a person who is obsessed with awards as I believe is not the only measure for evaluating the quality of your work. I respect trophies and certificates, I like them but for example, in my home, I have not displayed them all. They are somewhere in a cupboard. Winning an award is also a subjective thing; with many different critiques and film judges around the world who can either love or hate your film. At every festival, in every competition, there are many very good films, made by very talented filmmakers, that don't win any awards at all. This is the reason why I have always preferred opinions from the public audience more than from the critiques. If your audience loves your film, it’s the most important thing for you – more than any award. On the other hand, I also know that it’s very important to be critically recognized. Award-winning work can reach a wider audience and be presented to more people. For many people, the film awards are “the stamp of quality.” Many people go to watch your film because it received “some” award or because it was nominated for an Oscar. Film awards are also very important for filmmakers as having award-winning work to your name means that it will enhance the chances of working on even bigger projects in the future.
As a filmmaker do you think films like Quiet Crossing will encourage people to truly empathise with people who are risking their life for freedom?
I believe so, and it’s the reason why I am always making films like this. I like to tell the stories which are based on reality and which have an educational value that can help your audience to grow. I believe that Quiet Crossing meets these values and that similar films can help people to experience feelings of those people who are risking their lives to reach desired freedom. It’s also important not just to educate but to simultaneously entertain and if these films are done well (if they are empathetic and accurate), they will encourage its audience to empathize with the themes and the characters and therefore, with the story. Films with educational value should also always carry a strong message of hope.
I always support filmmakers who are trying to observe difficult themes through their audio-visual piece as it’s not a simple thing to do. Filmmakers are learning a lot while making similar films to Quiet Crossing; digging into the difficult stories from the past and, very often, comparing them to the stories of the present.
What was it about Rik Hulme's screenplay that connected with you so much as a director?
At the University of Westminster, we had to pitch for the projects. Many directors wanted to direct or produce the films. Rik Hulme, came up with an idea after reading a book called ´Stasiland´ and was interested in trying to write a short story about the horrible, life changing choices people in Berlin had to make during Communism. His script was the only drama script beside three comedy scripts. I wanted to film this as I was born in Czechoslovakia in 1987. The country at that time was still heavily oppressed by the Communist regime in the same way the people in East Germany were. It was a very personal story for me. Stories like this were all around me during my childhood. At the time, I was very young and could not fully understand the fear felt by the people, including my family, living behind the Iron Curtain. However, when I was growing up I heard many stories of people who tried to escape and it has always been very interesting for me to research the reasons why people are risking their lives to do so. Throughout my life and when at school, I was reading many articles and books and was well educated about this subject, but I wanted to explore it myself through the medium of film. I was always looking for the right story to start to observe this topic more and Rik’s screenplay was very captivating for me. It was the script that I wanted to work on.
How did you and your set designer Emily Roberts approach creating the illusion of a moving truck in Quiet Crossing?
Emily is a very talented Production Designer, and one of the best I have had the honour of working with during my career. Her production design is always very sophisticated but also believable. Together, we had to figure out how to bring the illusion of movement to the static scenery to create the conjecture of a moving car. We were able to create some movement in the set with strings and wires pulling decorations. To enhance the feeling of movement, I also had to choreograph actors so they could deliver performances that were evoking a feeling of a car moving. An important part of this process was also effective work of our camera department. With my Director of Photography, Deen Gomez, and his Camera Operator, Federico Belloli, we wanted to get as much dynamic picture as possible which always follows the action. To achieve this, we decided to use the easy rig. We also never placed our camera on a tripod. A combination of great production design, working with actors, and brilliant camera work helped us to achieve a believable illusion of a moving truck.
Was this the first time you used 16mm film and is this a process you will use again on future projects?
It was my first experience working with 16mm film. Respectively, it was my first time directing a film shot on 16mm film. I always loved the idea of shooting film entirely captured on film. “Sixteen” has a very unique texture and the film grain is adding a strong psychological effect to the story. It’s like adding your story to a different dimension. Yes, shooting film requires even better planning in pre-production and better effectiveness on set – fewer retakes and better performance of your cast and every department, but it’s a worthy effort.
My next film “Muddy Shoes” is a powerful and personal story about an important time in history, told from a unique viewpoint. It is a psychological description that depicts the atrocities that were carried out on defenceless people during WWII. Muddy Shoes will be shot in two different formats; 35mm digital and super 16mm film. Each section will be shot in an equally distinctive format to separate the two different periods as the film’s story is based in 1943 and 2010. I believe that shooting half of the film on film will help my storytelling. It’s also hard to find a good Director of Photography who can shoot both formats well. I spent years looking for a Cinematographer who can deliver great visuals but also be able to tell the story well and capture it in the format of film. I paired with the National Film and Television School cinematography graduate, Adam Singodia. I am also considering using super 16mm for my directional feature film debut.
What was the biggest challenge you faced bringing Quiet Crossing to life?
Apart from the low budget and short pre-production time (we had only 3 weeks to develop the story, find and cast actors, design and build the set and rehearse with actors) we were using an old Arriflex 16SR camera and we were using a vintage filmmaking style. For instance, we didn't use any external monitor, “shooting blind” and making the action in the small set was almost impossible to monitor. Sometimes there wasn’t even space to fit all essential members of the crew to see the action. For many shots, we worked without the Script Supervisor. There was simply no space. We also had only 800ft (2 rolls) of 16mm film stock available. We didn’t have enough material to allow many re-takes so we had to be very organized. To make everything even more difficult, we also only had eight hours of studio time available, which was split into two days. So, in terms of time, the pressure was very high.
Where did your passion for filmmaking come from?
I was a child actor who was on set always hanging out with crew members more than with fellow actors. I was a kid who loved everything about the film set. Sound of people shouting over each other, running to be on time, in front of actors pretending they have everything under control. This fast-paced environment full of creative people was very tempting for me. When I was about five years old my mum took me and my older sister to the cinema to see a family comedy about a dog called Beethoven. Luckily for my future love of the cinema, my mum entered the wrong screening room, where they were showing Dances with Wolves from Kevin Costner. It was screened in the cinema’s biggest screening room and, as I was very little, the projection screen was huge to me. Before my mum realized that we were watching the wrong film, I experienced a very powerful scene where the Indians kill a person with their bows and arrows. The whole cinema (full of adults) was sobbing. I was a little terrified boy who could feel a very wide range of emotions. This was the time when I started to love films! Since then, I started watching many films every week, spending all of my pocket money on VHS rental. There were weeks when I watched 10 different films in different genres, but I never really watched cartoons like my peers.
What would you say has been the most valuable lesson you've taken away from making this film?
Teamwork is very important and effective teamwork delivers great results.
"Always be critical of your work and analyse what is and what is not working."
Do you have any advice or tips to offer any emerging filmmaker?
Do not lose hope, work hard, make contacts, and learn from your own mistakes and then improve. Make your audience (it can be your friends and family) and ask them for the feedback which you can implement into your other work. Always be critical of your work and analyse what is and what is not working. Film as much as possible and show your work. Submit it to the film festivals; films are made to be seen. If you have made it to your first big film set, quickly learn set etiquette, respect authorities and most important BE ENTHUSIASTIC and be seen!
And finally, what do you hope people will take away from Quiet Crossing?
I hope that audiences who watch Quiet Crossing will be captivated by the story and the journey of our characters. I hope that it will make our audience think about the story and make them want to compare it with similar stories that are still happening all around the world. I want our audience to see the world differently than before. I also hope that the film will be reminding people that there are still people struggling worldwide today and remind them that oppressive political regimes still reign. I would like this film to make people aware of the fact that there are still people fighting and trying to escape to save their lives but also the lives of their families.