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"INSIDE AMERICA is a portrait of six High School kids in Brownsville, Texas, ‘a sort of fictional documentary, somewhere between Larry Clarke`s angry view of America’s next generation and Ulrich Seidl caustic take on the world we live in’ (Screendaily)."
LR - Is this your first film in SxSW? Do you have any other festival experience? Do you plan to attend the festival screenings?
BE – It’s my first time in SXSW. I do have festival experience, glad to say "Inside America" took me to Toronto, Pusan, Sarajevo, Saarbr\'fccken (Germany) and many other festivals worldwide already. Of course, I am going to attend the festival screenings; my favorite part actually, to see new films, get inspired and discuss films with other filmmakers.
CS - "Inside America" is my first film here in SXSW. We are very happy that the film got selected and this is going to be our US premiere. Previously I went to a lot of other festivals but every time it’s exciting again as you don’t know how the audience is going to react. Also festivals are always a great place to meet new people and get to see films that unfortunately won’t have a theatrical release.
LR - Could you give me a little look into your background, and what led you to the desire to want to make film?
BE - I started writing scripts when I was a kid. Just for fun. A friend of mine had a High 8 Video cam and we would make short movies, trying to become more and more professional. I later on studies film directing at the University of Music and Performing Arts in Vienna. While studying I started working as a director for Austrian film productions including pilots for series, corporate movies and documentaries for television. "Inside America" was my first feature film for cinema.
My mom was very strict and would not want me to watch TV too much when I was a kid. Usually, she would just let me watch 15 minutes of a movie, later on only 30 minutes. She always made me so mad and I remember, always walking to my room and thinking about how the story of the movie would go on or end. Sometimes I would just make up my own story or write a script. Years later, I told my Mom that she might have been the reason for me becoming a filmmaker. But what really led to the desire to want to make film, I guess, I\rquote ll never really know. I love to tell stories. I love to have pictures and scenes in my head and to see them become real. And I love teamwork.
CS - After high school I didn’t really know what to do so I started studying Publishing. Pretty soon I realized that it wasn’t the right thing for me to do but didn’t have any other plan. In summer I was looking for a summer job and through a friend I got a job as script & continuity at a low budget production. I still remember the moment when I decided film is what I really want to do in life. It was after a week, we were working long hours somewhere in a cornfield. There was no catering, a shuttle to a town nearby for the toilets and it was over a hundred degrees all the time. My whole body hurt as I wasn’t used to that kind of work and even my ears were sunburnt. Unbelievable but true that moment I felt so happy to be part of creating something, working in such a big team with great people and experience this unusual lifestyle. As a consequence I applied for film school and luckily got selected to study film production.
LR - Growing up, you were no doubt asked the eternal question “When I grow up I want to be a …”
BE - ...a famous actress!" Then one day my sister gave me a stage play by Shakespeare and told me that if I wanna become an actress, I’ll have to learn all the lines by heart. I started learning the lines but soon discovered that it was the most boring thing to do. I decided to become an astronaut then.
CS - I wanted to become the owner of a flower shop, I loved flowers as a kid and I guess I always wanted to be a business woman.
LR - How did this whole project come together?
BE - When I was 17, I made a student exchange year in the US and ended up in Brownsville, Texas. After a year I came back home with a big suitcase of unbelievable experiences and stories to tell. I always wanted to make a movie about it but it never was the right time. I was busy with studying film directing and building up my career. Once in a while I returned to Brownsville, again, coming home with even more stories to tell. Then, one day I remember, I was sitting in a Cafe with producer Constanze Schumann. We were talking about all kinds of things. I don’t know how I came up with it but I started telling her about my journeys Brownsville and all the stories from there. She was stunned and excited and told me to make a movie out of it. She would produce it right away. That was the beginning.
CS - We would always argue where we met, I claim we were sitting in Barbara’s kitchen and having lunch, but the rest is true. I always loved the US and was so fascinated by Barbara’s stories. It’s rare that you hear a story that catches your attention right away so when it’s happening you can’t think twice but just do it.
LR - What was the biggest challenge in the production of the movie, be it the script, principal photography or post-production stage?
BE -The hardest part was principal photography. We didn’t have a big budget. Almost all was spent for the flights and accommodation of the Austrian crew, and equipment. Oh, and the crew was not more than five people, which made it pretty hard to get everything done in time. We had flight tickets back to Austria on a particular day and knew we could not spend one more day of shooting, even if we didn’t finish. Then also, we couldn’t pay the actors and it happened more than once that some actors wouldn’t show up or changed their mind. It was a seven-week-shooting with hardly any sleep and no day off. Everyday was packed with problems that had to be solved. It wouldn’t have been possible to finish everything without the passion, belief and will to give and do more than usual, of each and everyone in my team.
CS - As hard as the shooting was it was ways more fun than the post-production. We had a lot of unexpected technical problems and we ended up editing for a whole year. It was hard and partly frustrated when you know you have such great material from the shooting but you can’t move forward because somebody deletes already edited scenes and you have to start all over again.
LR - Please tell me about the technical side of the film; your relation to the film’s cinematographer, what the film was shot on and why it was decided to be photographed this way.
BE - Cinematographer Christian Haake and I worked together for the first time. I didn’t really know him before but had seen one particular film of him and thought his way of photography is special and perfect for my movie. So, I called him up and asked if he was interested. What made him join in was the fact that I wanted to make a filmic mix of documentary and fiction, to keep the stories and characters very close to reality but at the same time including a fictitious story line. Also, I wanted to improvise a lot with my actors, giving Christian lots of freedom in capturing the moment. Christian loved my ideas and found it challenging. We talked a lot about the look of the movie and about the traits of documentary camera style. We would watch tons of films by Larry Clark, Gus van Sant, Alejandro Gonzales and others for inspiration. We decided not to shoot on film for budget reasons and tested lots of HD cameras. Finally, we decided on the HVX 200 Panasonic because it was small and not too heavy if handheld. We shot with adapter and 35mm lenses to give the pictures more depth and therefore a more cinematic look. Christian installed the camera in a way, so he could pull the focus himself. Most scenes were shot on the 50 mm lense, which we found most suitable for our the scenes.
CS - Christian and I attended the same class at film school and had already worked together a couple of times. He was my DOP on a short film with which we won several prizes including Palm Springs. The story behind it was a very simple one but Christian’s hand camera gave the film such a dramatic feeling that left the audience stunned. I knew from the beginning that Christian would be the right one to work with on this project. As Barbara already said after a couple of tests we decided on the Panasonic. As small as the camera is by itself as large and heavy it is when you include the P&S adapter and the lenses which made Christian gain a lot of muscles. Plus he is pretty tall but our actors were pretty short so he had to bend his knees nearly all the time too. Considering all this and pulling the focus by himself it’s incredible what fantastic pictures he created.
LR - Who would you say your biggest inspirations are in the film world? Did you have any direct inspirations from filmmakers for this project in particular?
BE - Christian Haake and I discussed a lot the look of the film. A lot of inspiration was given by the work of German D.O.P. Franz Lustig, who we corresponded with in terms of HD cameras, lights etc. Also, I discussed the script with Award winning director Michael Haneke who actually loved the stories and characters in the script.
CS - One thing in film school is that you automatically get a lot of feedback from teachers, good or not. In general I would say inspiration is everywhere. I can get inspired by a Hollywood blockbuster but also by a no-bugdet prodution. It’s just about the creativity a filmmaker shows.
LR - How far do you think you would want to go in this industry? Do you see yourself working on larger stories for a larger budget under the studio system, or do you feel that you would like to continue down the independent film path?
BE - Larger budget always sounds great. I think, I wanna stick to the stories and projects that I belief in. If this doesn’t fit into a big studio system, I’ll have to find another system or way, be it the independent filmpath. I do want to keep living from it but also don’t want to be forced to do things I don’t believe in.
CS – I’m an European producer so our system is a little bit different than in the US. Specially in Austria films are considered as art which gives you ways more freedom in a creative aspect, you don’t have to consider the box office result as much as you have to in the US. Independent from that every projects has different needs and therefore needs a different budget; right now I’m producing what you can consider an independent documentary but am also involved into a project that has a big budget.
LR - If you weren’t in this profession, what other line of work do think you would be involved with?
BE – I’d be a psychiatrist with focus on the human brain or a Criminal profiler or a war photographer or maybe a journalist for GEO.
CS - Film production is not only my profession but also my passion. If I had to change I would probably switch to Sales but would never stop working in the film industry.
LR - How important do you think the critical/media response is to film these days, be it a large production, independent film or festival title?
BE - At least in Europe, media response to a film is the main seller for it, no matter if the film is a large or independent production. In the U.S. I have the feeling that the choice of famous actors or directors along with a big PR budget are major selling points. Therefore, I think low budget productions in the U.S. depend more on media response and awards at festivals.
CS - Media nowadays is very important specially because journalists and bloggers can create a buzz that helps getting attention. Still if just critics think you have done a good job but the audience doesn’t share this opinion your movie will fail in theatres. So the best that can happen to you is a good word-by-mouth in reality and in the web.
LR - If your film could play in any movie theatre in the world, which one would you choose?
BE - The One Dollar Movies in Brownsville, Texas.
LR - What would you say to someone on the street to see your film instead of the latest blockbuster playing at the local megaplex?
BE - You can see the latest blockbuster any time any day. But you now have this one and only chance, to now go and see and experience something totally different that will change your mind for all time.
CS - If you want to experience something special and different and want to learn about another way of life in the US, go and see "Inside America".
LR - What would you say or do to someone who is talking during or conversing/texting on their cell phone while you’re watching a movie?
BE -“Be quiet or leave.” - Simple as that.
CS - I hate people doing that. After me telling him or her to stop and nothing happening I would start throwing popcorn, which I did one time.
LR - What do you love the most about this business of making movies?
BE - I love teamwork. I love good stories. And I am a very passionate person when it comes to bring an idea into being. Also, all these decisions that have to be made and all the elements you have to put together to create a film satisfy my urge of being creative.
CS - I love the fact that you create something out of an idea plus that my work is different every day.
LR - No doubt there are a lot of aspiring filmmakers at film festivals who are out there curious about making a film of their own. Do you have any advice that you could provide for those looking to get a start?
BE - Being from Europe, I believe that I have it much easier with our funding system than an independent filmmaker from the U.S. Still, I think it’s all about contacts, selling your idea and believing in it. It’s never easy but if one stays focused, he has a good chance to make it and even live from it. People who just wanna become rich and famous should rather do something else. There are easier ways for that.
CS - Find a topic you are familiar with, specially when you start doing your first film. You have to know what you are talking about to be convincing. Plus if you hear a no from somebody try to find a way to turn it into a yes. If you really believe into your projects don’t get anybody stopping you.
LR - And finally, what is your all time favourite motion picture, and why?
BE - It changes monthly, weekly or even daily. I could never answer that question because it would mean that I was stuck in my profession. It’s always movies that are new, brave, and different that inspire me and make me think “Wow”.
CS - I have a couple as it depends on my mood but I love Darren Aronofsky movies specially "The Wrestler" and "Y Tu Mama Tambien" from Alfonso Cuaron.
Article by: Jason Whyte
posted:02 Jun 2011
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