Friday, September 30, 2011


I've been recently fascinated with what would be considered "painterly" in cinema. It has, in fact, become one of my stock questions whenever I converse with a film historian or someone who has a deep embedded knowledge of film. Thomas Elsasesser distinguished between filmic projects where the director and art director collaborate to achieve either a historical drama (via the verisimilitude of historical paintings) and those films that express separate qualities about painting that are "more difficult to locate but [which] may actually have a deeper resonance."

"If we're talking about 'painterly', you really have to make a distinction," Elsaesser qualified. "Are you talking about 'painterly' in the 19th Century sense? Or are you talking about Modern art or painting? So I would make a big difference there. Both you can find in film."

When I posed the same question to Jonathan Rosenbaum for our published conversation in Film International (Vol. 9, No. 3), he responded: "It has an awful lot to do with the way certain people conceptualize and think about film. An obvious example of a painterly filmmaker is Chantal Akerman. She thinks in terms of painters. When I've talked to her before about her films, she'll talk about some of the Belgian Surrealists. Where I would say how much I liked Paul Delvaux, she would say, 'Yes, but his lighting is better than mine.' I remember she said that, which I thought was interesting. Of course, the painterly in film happens especially in experimental forms of cinema, such as the films of Michael Snow. In his own way, Snow is painterly though obviously he's also related to sculpture. Probably even more to sculpture than to painting."

Lech Majewski's sumptuous The Mill and the Cross probably falls within the historical grouping outlined by Elsaesser as it springs directly from Pieter Bruegel the Elder's 1564 painting "The Way to Calvary"; yet, in its cinematic devices,
The Mill and the Cross achieves the quality of beauty delineated by Elsaesser that is effected by the dialogue a viewer establishes with a painting (or, in this case, a film). "The beauty is not something that your eye slides off after a couple of seconds because you think you recognize it," Elsaesser proposed, "but more the fact that the longer you look, the more the painting becomes something else. You know?" This quality of a painting "becoming something else" by way of cinema is undeniably evident in Majewski's The Mill and the Cross.

After a lauded tour on the festival circuit—including an appearance at the 54th edition of the San Francisco International Film Festival (SFIFF54) in their World Cinema Spotlight "Painting with Light" (which highlighted the cinematic contemplation of painting)—Majewski's
The Mill and the Cross opens theatrically this weekend.

As Graham Leggat wrote in his SFIFF54 program notes for the film: "A miracle of technology in the service of the artistic imagination, Lech Majewski's brilliant film transports its viewers into the living, breathing world of Pieter Bruegel's dense frieze of Christ's passion, 'The Way to Calvary'. And live and breathe it does. Though carefully organized along symbolic axes, Bruegel's 1564 painting sets the drama of the crucifixion within a rustic Flanders scene teeming with everyday life. ('About suffering they were never wrong, the Old Masters,' wrote W.H. Auden. 'How well they understood / Its human position; how it takes place / While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along.') Likewise Majewski—using computer-generated blue-screen compositing, new 3-D technology, just-so location shooting in Poland, Austria and New Zealand and a massive backdrop he painted by hand—tells the story of the painting largely through closely observed secular rituals of 16th-century Flemish daily life, in all its earth-toned grubbiness, with occasional scenes revealing Bruegel's artistic choices and the politics of the day. Windmilling, calf-hauling, bread-peddling, villagers dancing and children horsing around take up the better part of the narrative, while cameos by Rutger Hauer (as Bruegel), Michael York (as his patron and friend) and Charlotte Rampling (as a limpid Virgin Mary) give historical context and symbolic depth. But the narrative is not the point—the extraordinary imagery is. The painting literally comes to life in this spellbinding film, its wondrous scenes entering the viewer like a dream enters a sleeping body."

The Bay Area critical response during SFIFF54 was likewise affirming. At SF360, Max Goldberg noted that Majewski managed the problem of plotting a painting in time by organizing his scenes cyclically. Goldberg offered: "In regularly returning to the same actions—young children roughhousing, a man making heavy advances on a woman, a fool playing his flute—Majewski cleverly replicates the way our attention circulates looking at such a dense canvas. This enveloping aspect is further developed with the high-tech imagining systems that allow Majewski to situate his actors within Brueghel's own visual field. Meanwhile, the subversive aspects of the painting—the positioning of the mill grinder at a perch usually reserved for God; the placement of everyday bawdiness just next door to the Crucifixion, here imagined as taking place at the hands of Spanish inquisitors—come into focus through the narrative's slow build. By the time the camera tracks out from Brueghel's framed masterpiece, we're nearly surprised to find all that adventure emanating from a single canvas—only one of many in the gallery at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna."

At the
San Francisco Bay Guardian, Matt Sussman observed: "Majeswki both re-stages Bruegel's painting—which draws parallels between its depiction of Christ en route to his crucifixion and the persecution of Flemish citizens by the Spanish inquisition's militia—in stunning tableaux vivant that combine bluescreen technology and stage backdrops, and gives back stories to a dozen or so of its 500 figures. Periodically, Bruegel himself (Rutger Hauer) addresses the camera mid-sketch to dolefully explain the allegorical nature of his work, but these pedantic asides speak less forcefully than Majeswki's beautifully lighted vignettes of the small joys and many hardships that comprised everyday life in the 16th century. Beguiling yet wholly absorbing, this portrait of a portrait is like nothing else at the festival."

Vinyl Is Heavy, Ryland Walker Knight—though finding The Mill and The Cross "somewhat confounding, especially from the 2nd row"—nonetheless appreciated its wide and deep palette and noted that the film's "ideas, though rooted in the narrative structure of the painting, feel yet more modern in how arrayed (not inter-related) they are."

And at
Variety, San Francisco's own Dennis Harvey raved: "Neither conventional costume drama nor abstract objet d'art, this visually ravishing, surprisingly beguiling gamble won't fit any standard arthouse niche. Still it could prove the Polish helmer's belated international breakthrough, especially if marketed as a unique, immersive museum-meets-cinema experience a la Alexander Sokurov's Russian Ark."

At MUBI, Dave Hudson has gathered the critical commentary outside of the Bay Area.

Lech Majewski was born August 30, 1953 in Katowice, Poland, studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, and is a film and theater director, writer, poet, and painter. In the 1970s he studied at the National Film School in Łódź, notably as a student of Wojciech Has, who taught Majewski directing. In the early '80s, after completing
The Knight and as martial law was declared in Poland, Majewski emigrated to England and then to the United States, where he lived for most of the late Communist era. Today, Majewski is a dual U.S. / Polish citizen. He is a member of the American and European film academies and the Polish International PEN. In 2006, the Museum of Modern Art in New York City hosted a complete retrospective of Majewski's work. This was their first ever full retrospective of a Polish filmmaker, and one of their only ever mid-career retrospectives. For that program, Majewski created the film eventually called Glass Lips, though initially it was known as Blood of a Poet.

The following comments are taken from his public introduction and subsequent Q&A to the film's SFIFF54 screening. Photos courtesy of Kino-Lorber.


A few words before the film. First of all, I would like to say that this is a work that took us three years to complete because we introduced some unbelievable and difficult tasks, technically speaking. I very much wanted to enter Pieter Bruegel's world. I respect him. I love his paintings. He was a great teacher for me in terms of his philosophy and the way he narrates his paintings.

Therefore, we did a lot of preparatory work. We started with costumes first of all. There are no textiles today like the textiles he painted in his paintings so basically we had to make these costumes, and then check the textures in front of the camera to determine which textiles would behave in a similar way as in the Bruegel painting. We had to hand-paint those costumes and hire seamstresses to hem them for us. The costumes alone took nine months of pre-production.

Then, obviously, when we started to look for the landscape that would be most appropriate to shoot the entire movie, we realized that there is no landscape like that; it doesn't exist at all. So we got a very good reproduction from the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna that houses this painting "The Way to Calvary" by Pieter Bruegel. There are 500 figures in this painting. With the computer we started to analyze the perspective in the painting and found there were seven different perspectives in this singular painting. Obviously, Bruegel was foreseeing cubism 400 years before.

We were completely lost as to how we were going to shoot the nature because in his paintings he uses at the same time a point of view that is coming from the left, from the right, above and from below. We realized we couldn't have a landscape like that, but what we could do was to cut these multiple perspective into single ones and look around for similarities in the real landscape. Then in post-production we could piece it together.

There were also various things that were helping us. For example, an article was published in a Polish newspaper about a little village whose citizens were ancestors of Flemish immigrants from the 16th century. They speak a fossilized Flemish. This language that they speak doesn't exist anymore. Linguists have recorded them and the majority of them are 80+. So when you hear the sing-songs and the voices, keep in mind it is a non-existent language, a medieval French.

I went to New Zealand at one point during post-production and discovered that over the southern island there was a fantastic cloud formation. In fact, the Maori call this southern island the "Island of the Long Clouds". I quickly hired a DP and we shot these clouds because they were so reminiscent of Bruegel's clouds.

The film was assembled by weaving a digital tapestry. We had a lot of young people sitting in front of their computers spending their whole lives, like abbots in a monastery painting illuminated manuscripts.

The author of the original art essay that analyzes this film is the fantastic and brilliant writer Michael Francis Gibson, an American living in Paris and art historian who writes for the
Herald Tribune. He wrote the original analysis of the painting in a 300-page essay entitled "The Mill and the Cross, Peter Bruegels 'Way to Calvary' ", [in French, Noêsis, 1996 and in English, Acatos, Lausanne, 2001], hence the title of my film. Michael Gibson researched vanished customs (for example, you see the treatment of the bread, how the people touch the bread to their forehead or the young woman who puts a loaf of bread on her naked belly. It has some symbolic meaning. Pregnancy = the bread, which is the flesh.

On the Hidden Language of Symbols

Michael Francis Gibson gave me his book because he thought I had a "Bruegelian soul", as he wrote in his review of my other movie
Angelus (2000). The movie was showing in Paris and he saw it. He wrote a very good review and sent me his book.

I felt his book would make a great film because of his writing. The book was lucid and beautifully written. It's a brilliant guide through the labyrinth of allegories and symbols. The way he writes, it's a masterpiece. I'm a painter so the history of art is one of my favorite subjects. I read a lot of books about it. Also, I am a great lover of old masters, particularly the proto-Renaissance and the Renaissance. So I have read such subjects in other books and rarely have I encountered this kind of fantastic, beautiful and lucid analysis. It's very difficult to write about paintings. Michael Francis Gibson was born to do that.

When we met for lunch in Paris, it surprised him when I suggested making a feature film from his analysis. He thought I was mad. He thought a documentary would be the most we could get out of it. He imagined standing in front of the painting and pointing to various symbols, explaining them. But then he scratched his head and said, "Well, the impossible is the realm of gentlemen. Let's do it."

We selected a few characters from the painting and proceeded to discuss these people, as if they were alive. Where were they going? What were they doing? There were various interesting idiosyncrasies about the behavior of people in those times because it was quite different to our's. Symbols were very important to these people. Today I think we are losing a lot of this hidden language of symbols. We have become inundated with shallow images gliding by. Maybe it's because we're moving too fast? Maybe it's because the images we look at are moving fast in front of our eyes? We rarely focus on anything. In those times they didn't have television and cars.

I remind you that when you listen to music from the past, you will always discover the rhythm of a horse ride in the music. It's a rhythm given by the horse-drawn carriage. The screeching and banging of today's music is more like a train crashing or cars roaring by. It's natural that we digest the sounds and the images that are in our lives. In those times people spent a lot of time looking at paintings. They had the time and they could read the hidden language of symbols.

For example, if Titian is painting a woman dressed in blue and she leans against a tree and in front of her is a basket filled with grapes and an apple, for a contemporary viewer that's a sense that she's picnicking, reclining, and resting on a beautiful day; but, for the observer of those times, they realized that this image was the shortest metaphor for Christianity. The apple represents original sin and the grapes produce the wine—the blood of Christ—which washed away original sin. The tree she's leaning against becomes the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, as well as the tree upon which the fruit of her life will hang, crucified.

There is a painting in Washington D.C. by the Dutch painter Pieter de Hooch of a woman reading a letter. Her back is turned to the viewer who cannot see what is written on the letter. Only a corner of the letter is visible above her shoulder. There is a painting on the wall next to her. The painting is partially obscured because in those times people hung curtains over paintings so that they wouldn't become too familiar. When you become too familiar with something, you stop seeing it. So you would have to slide the curtain to take a look at the painting and, when done, you would close the curtain. In this painting the curtain is open a little bit and you can see a big storm, a huge wave. Thus, you imagine that the letter is very traumatic for the woman. You get the emotion from the image of the sea. There's a playing card on the ground and it's the ace of hearts.

If in a painting you see a chandelier and it has a candle in it, people from that time knew that the chandelier represented the Virgin Mary and the candle Jesus Christ. Whether the candle is lit or not determines which period we're talking about. If it's lit, it expresses the transmutation of matter into spirit; the wax into the fire.

There are various meanings to the symbols. If the dog is next to his master's legs, it means he's faithful. If a subject is holding something in his left hand, it means he's higher up in the social hierarchy. Basically everything is a symbol. If there is an uneaten fruit on the windowsill, it means that the woman in the painting is not pregnant yet, despite the fact that her dress is bulging as if she is pregnant.

The Mill and the Cross, for example, women of Flanders used to wash the threshold of the house. It was a common thing to do. Several times they washed the threshold and smeared it with different herbs for different seasons and for different times of the day. Oddly enough, those thresholds were worn out not by people stepping on them—that was forbidden—they were worn out from being washed.

On the Symbolism of the Mill

There are various symbols of the mill. Number one, Bruegel's placement of the mill on a rock is completely surrealistic and unlike anything you would imagine from a painter who realistically paints his observations. For starters, this is Flanders and Flanders is flat. It doesn't have any rock outcroppings, not even hills. But Bruegel, like any respected painter of the time, traveled to Italy and he crossed the Alps. When he saw the Alps, he knelt down and his sketchbook filled up with hundreds of sketches. When he came back to Flanders, the rocks began popping up in his paintings. Apart from everything, the rocks and the nature at that time had an anthropomorphic character, which meant that nature served as a metaphor for the human body. So the rock on which the mill rests is the body, usually the body of Jesus Christ. The cracks in the rock represent the wounds of the crucified Christ. So if you have Leonardo's painting of the Madonna among the rocks, that's what it means. Putting the rock in the painting was Biblical. It's in the gospels. You have St. Peter, Pétros, "the rock", who builds the church upon the rock. Basically, that's what Bruegel is showing.

The shape of the mill and the fact that it has the cross in its blades or sails, the wings of the mill, obviously represents the Church. Therefore, the miller and his mill is completely surreal; it makes no financial sense. It's nonsense. How will he get the grain in there? How will he sell his flour? Perched on that rock, he will obviously get good wind; but, that's about it. Thus, the miller is not meant to be real; the miller is the Creator.

On Going Inside the World of the Painting,
Into the Mill

The painting invites you into the terrain of the imagination. Once we received the fantastic reproduction from the Kunsthistorisches Museum—which was very accurate—we could show it on a big screen and zoom into the details. One of the things that I noticed were the two windows carved in the face of the rock. I instantly saw shafts of light penetrating these windows and illuminating this enormous kind of cathedral inside this mountain. For that reason, we needed machinery that was pre-modern. This miller is the Creator, right? He cranks up the mechanism that allows the sky to move.

Obviously, we wanted to relay the size of the mill's interior; but, most of it was done through sound. Visually, there's a little bit of trickery. We managed to shoot several interiors of existing mills—one in the Czech Republic, the other in Poland, and one in Austria—as well as the big machinery in the salt mines in Poland close to Krakow. The salt mines are from the mid 1400s. Salt used to be more expensive than gold. Whoever had salt had money and power, unbelievably so. Now we can buy a kilo of salt for one buck and you cannot buy the same amount of gold for one buck. So the interior of the mill is a combination. Most of it exists in the reality of the salt mines and the rest of it—like the extension of the staircases—was engineered patiently in 3-D by the minute work of many young people. Throughout the film, 99% of what you see is a combination or reality, pieces of Bruegel and nature, and the construction through 3-D.

All of the images you see were built up by layers upon layers upon layers. People were shot separately against the blue screen. The landscape was shot separately. For example, when Rutger Hauer touches the spider web, it was a situation where at first we shot Rutger with a stick and he asked, "Where do I look?" I told him, "Well, look at the end of the stick." He said, "Then I'll be cross-eyed." I told him, "We'll fix it in post. Don't worry."

Then we had three young gentlemen working on the spider web. One was working on the construction of the spider web. The computer had produced a perfect spider web and we looked at it and thought, "This is not a spider web. This is some German construction. Spiders don't behave like that." We Googled images of hundreds of spider webs and tried to get into the mind of the spider; but, we got nowhere because those spiders are high on drugs or something. They start to do a perfect web and soon thereafter they destroy it by going into various zigzagging ways as if they were thinking about something else, as if they were thinking, "I'm not going to do this spider web. I'm going to do its opposite." We had to figure out what would be the spider's algorithm of mistake; but, we couldn't find it. So we had to destroy the spider web by hand.

Then the other guy was doing the dew drops on the spider web, which was easy because the dew drops behaved politely with gravity. Gravity determined the size of the drop. Then we had the problem of the spider itself. The third young man was creating the spider. He asked me, "With which leg should the spider take its first step?" I couldn't figure that out. So he and I caught several spiders, filmed them, and in slow motion it turned out that spiders of the same species move differently. On one hand we had this top technology and on the other hand it felt like we were in the Middle Ages weirdly rediscovering the world and how it would translate into this 3-D creation. In order to create a tree moving, we had to go out and watch a tree and figure out how it moves. During this process, these young people grew to respect the Creator. That's a perfect animation, really.

On the Tension Between Stillness and Movement

Contrary to the popular idea about cinema, and life, I believe that the most important action is not that which moves but that which stands still. I think that people who are caught in the most important moments of their lives, in dramatic moments or moments of bliss, don't move. They stand still. Initially, I thought that throughout the entire movie I would have the people standing still for one hour and a half and just have the camera move around them. That was the initial idea. But then, you know, as with all good ideas, I had to give in and add movement. Sorry for that.

On the Business Side of the Production

Our Swedish co-producer hired an English production manager who measured what it would cost to make this film in England. It came to £33,000,000. But we did it in Poland for a fraction of that amount.

Initially, I thought that the movie would only be shown in five museums. The Louvre subscribed to this movie, the National Gallery in Washington, D.C., MoMA in New York (because I had a big retrospective there three years ago), the Prado in Madrid, Spain, and the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna (because they house the painting); but, the film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January and there it was sold to 32 countries for theatrical distribution. I was totally surprised that people would want to see this film in theaters. Kino-Lorber is distributing the film in the United States and Canada.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

LOVE (2011)—The Evening Class Interview With Gunner Wright

Another international premiere at the 15th edition of Montreal's Fantasia Film Festival currently on festival track is William Eubank's ambitious indie sci-fi drama Love (2011), produced by the alternative rock band Angels & Airwaves and poised to screen at Austin's Fantastic Fest. Slated as the opening night feature in Fantasia's Camera Lucida spotlight on "genre cinema in its utmost extreme, surprising and iconoclastic form"—Love is clearly a labor of.

Graphing the gradual madness born from the loss of human contact and the necessity of love for the furtherance of the human spirit, if not the prolongation of the human race,
Love is structured as a parallel narrative that conjures up the messenger's recitation from The Book of Job (1:15): "I alone have escaped to tell thee." The film's prologue introduces Lt. Lee Briggs (Bradley Horn) witnessing the death of his Union regiment in a violent Civil War skirmish evocatively lensed in speed ramp slow-mo. Then—as Dennis Harvey phrases it in his favorable review for Variety—the narrative "lunges nearly two centuries forward and 220 miles outward" where the routine mission of lone astronaut Lee James Miller (Gunner Wright) goes seriously awry when he loses contact with Houston HQ as the Earth self-destructs in nuclear war. It's Miller's story that makes up most of the film and Gunner Wright's performance that nearly single-handedly carries it (other than the occasional hallucinatory cameo).

"Lead thesp Wright, shouldering nearly a one-man-show burden, is gamely athletic, all-American and somewhat of a blank slate, like Kubrick's astronauts," Harvey writes, "until some unfettered personality begins to seep out." At
Twitch, Kurt Halfyard agrees: "Gunner Wright is very convincing in his reaction to first loss of control, then boredom, then loneliness and despair."

I caught up with Gunner Wright during Fantasia at The Irish Embassy, bought him a drink, and sat down to discuss his involvement with Eubank's respectful contribution to a lineage of thinking man's science fiction that harkens back to Stanley Kubrick's
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Andrei Tarkovsky's Solaris (1972), and its more contemporary compatriot Duncan Jones' Moon (2009).

* * *

Michael Guillén: Gunner, you worked on Love for four years. For an actor, that's a considerable investment of time. How did you react when you finally saw the film projected?

Gunner Wright: I first saw Love with an audience when it premiered at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. Although I had seen some remnants, bits and pieces, with Will, the Santa Barbara premiere was the first time I watched my performance. I was trying to watch the film for all the things we were trying to communicate and get out there, but I was being my own worst critic and looking at areas in my performance that I didn't believe—"You were real here. You were pushing it to get that emotion here"—but, that was just me from racing motorcycles for years fine tuning technique. For the most part, watching the audience get excited about the film was just special. Santa Barbara was amazing because there was so much support. It's close to L.A. and we had a lot of Hollywood there at the premiere giving us thumbs-up.

Guillén: Granted, you would be your own worst critic; but, I was impressed with the continuity of your performance. The progression of your character within such a complex narrative was noteworthy.

Wright: Thanks so much.

Guillén: As Love is a film whose narrative was built up over a long period of time, how did you adjust to that process as an actor? Were you given a general arc to your character at the beginning of filming to hold onto throughout? How did you compensate for the many adjustments made to the script over the years?

Wright: For me, it's like asking the question: "How come kids—if you aimed a camera at my nephew or niece, let's say, when they're playing astronauts or playing Batman—deliver some of the best performances I've ever seen?" The answer: because they're
in it. My nephew Jet is four and when we play Batman and Robin, I'll watch him in awe because he's in it. This aspect of filmmaking really goes back to so many moments. I could almost play you back the movie and comment, "Okay, now this scene here is being filmed at 4:00 in the morning and it's basically Will and I and we have no producers to tell us, 'Hurry up, guys.' " We're just playing like two kids in a sandbox exploring dialogue, doing some improv with random ideas that had come to him or me. In some ways you're wondering, "When is this movie going to end?" but in other areas you realize you're never going to get that opportunity again to have that much time to just play.

These moments weren't set-ups. It wasn't like Will was saying, "Instead of you being here, you go over there." It was more about getting into an emotion. A lot of those scenes had ADR or voiceover in post so I didn't really have anybody to feed off of during filming. I had a handful of moments with the actresses but most of the time I was just looking at boards, trying to pretend that I'm introducing myself to my first love. Will would feed me imaginary lines. Again, it came down to two kids with capes on.

Guillén: I appreciate that having the time to develop Love was probably a once-in-a-lifetime acting experience for you; but—now that it's finally done—do you think it's going to be a difficult movie to sell?

Wright: I do. There's a couple of great aspects to
Love that are our saving grace and one of them is that one of the producers happens to be a rock star with a great fan base who love him and his projects and you see that.

Guillén: In his Variety review, Dennis Harvey noted that "marketing hook."

Wright: We were in Seattle at the E&P with 500 kids five hours before one of our shows at the Seattle International signing autographs. Ewan McGregor and all these big stars were there—my heroes, my counterparts—but because of Tom DeLonge and because of the band, Will and I and Tom and the guitar player were signing autographs for a film. It's a kind of weird aspect to the film.

Guillén: But an effective melding of art forms.

Wright: It is. The film itself is artistic. It's an arthouse film. A lot of the questions at tonight's Q&A concerned the ending. You take a young director like Will who's a great fan of Stanley Kubrick and a poetic rock and roll star like Tom and you put them together in a room and they're not necessarily going to make
Iron Man 3. They might love Iron Man 3 but with their own film they want to push the envelope. They want to stretch that rubber band, so to speak.

Like I said, as an actor the toughest thing was being a lead for the first time, trying to carry a film, and learning how you do that as you go. I had to trust Will. He was my only partner in this thing. And then to place my performance in that abstract canvas. Listen, I love popcorn action shoot-'em-ups come June, July and August and what we were making with
Love was foreign to me. I had to internalize a lot of the ending for myself. Where did Captain Lee Miller go? Was it heaven? Did he find a euphoria of true love? To where it's not really fair to necessarily say he went here, he went there: it's open to everyone's interpretation. And that was kind of new for me. I don't see too many films like that. It was a big risk for everybody involved.

Guillén: Most films are formulaic and manipulative. They make the audience go to a certain place. I don't believe that Kubrick wanted 2001 to be understood; he wanted it to be felt. In that respect, Will's homage to Kubrick successfully restrains itself. As Kurt Halfyard mentioned in his review at Twitch, Will doesn't embarrass himself by trying to match one of the greatest films of all time. He finds his own measure of expression.

Wright: There were a handful of films that Will suggested I watch before the meat and potatoes of the space station production. One of them was, of course,
2001: A Space Odyssey and I had watched it just before he brought it up. I got on a Kubrick kick because, honestly, I was ignorant of film history. It's sad to say but true. So I watched Spartacus and a couple of other Kubrick films and I got it. I got more of a sense of why Will liked Kubrick to begin with, along with understanding other filmmakers and other actors.

I thought about what it was like to be pigeonholed in a box. I watched Cast Away and what Tom Hanks did with that character. But then you have to make it your own. That was a big issue. How insane do you take this guy? He's an astronaut. He's trained for all kinds of emergencies. You ask yourself, "What would I do if I were flying a 747 and the engine went out?" If you talk to pilots, you realize that they've been conditioned over and over and over, such that their motor skills take over in an emergency. There had to be a little bit of that with Captain Lee Miller. "Okay, I don't know what's going on but I know what I can control. And it's this button and this procedure." To where he might go off his rocker to a degree but he will still come back when his motor skills go into effect and press air and oxygen and lights are on.

Guillén: This is the first performance of yours I've seen. The adage "the camera loves you" applies to you.

Wright: I appreciate that.

Guillén: Give me a sense of your training. You came out of Florida?

Wright: I raced motorcycles. My dad's in the motorcycle business and—through his business with Honda Motorcycles—the whole family got uprooted from Florida to L.A. I thought I was going to be a professional racer for the longest time and I had roads to choose and things I wanted to do that with racing, unfortunately, the more professional you are as an athlete, your world becomes two-dimensional. But because of motorcycling and other endeavors, but mainly motorcycling, everyone in Hollywood's infatuated with two wheels—that Brando, Steve McQueen, machismo kind of thing—and it's still there, even more so than when we moved to L.A. 16 years ago. So because I was a motorcycle guy, I made a lot of friends in Hollywood who wanted to hang with me and talk about bikes. But I wanted to talk about what it was like to be on a set. I had friends who were stunt doubling for actors. So I was brought into Hollywood organically and in the great way of not knowing anything about it. Not knowing if I wanted to do stunts or if I wanted to be an actor.

I met people, specifically David Barrett and his family who were huge in Hollywood. Dave's dad was Burt Reynolds' stunt double. Burt taught Dave how to swim. David was a motorcycle racer first, then did stunts in second unit, and now he's a great big producer in Hollywood. David gave me an opportunity to get on set to do some extra work and stand-in work. I had no idea what I was doing, but I really fell in love with that process. My first starts were years of extra work and stand-in work part-time here and there. Today I tell tons of actors or people in L.A. who want to get involved in acting, "You know, it sounds menial but you learn so much by being an extra." We're all extras at some point, even the stars. You're in focus and I'm in the background getting a drink? That's extra work. You're not saying anything. You're basically crossing camera. But that's how you learn the foundation, at least for me. It set the tone.

I learned a lot of physical technique on the set of
Love. There are no classes in Hollywood that teach you marks, for the most part. I took some on-camera training here and there. I had a great on-camera coach named Charles Carroll for a couple of years. Charles is great. He's a working actor, which I love. I trusted him because of that. He's working for Spielberg, and you'll see him as a judge or a lawyer, he's a big presence, and he's working, which I like.

I did a play called
The Play Ground in L.A.. It was a challenging role. Very difficult. The director was a young guy out of New York City and his mentor had been Peter Flint, a great coach out of New York City, who came on his own dime to spend three weeks working with all of the cast. What helped in that theatrical experience is that The Play Ground was blocked like a feature film. It was gritty. I played a long-haired greasy pimp. It wasn't Hamlet. It was raw. And Peter was brilliant. He stripped me apart day after day. So, I did get a little bit of that formal training.

Guillén: How did you stumble into this project?

Wright: In a weird way I have to go back, again, to the blessings of being brought up around motorcycles. I had met Will. There was a Lifestyle pilot being shot of two motorcyclists leaving L.A. and driving up to Mendocino north of San Francisco. It was almost like a travel show with two guys on bikes going to five-star wineries and great restaurants along the way. Will's friend was putting this project together. He was the D.P., one of the shooters. It was one of those projects that never really saw the light of day, so to speak, but we had a great time. I basically rode the motorcycle, read my script on camera and hung out.

Will and I bonded enough that—when he was courted through Tom DeLonge about this project—they were thinking, "What should we do?" Angels & Airwaves had a song called "Love Like Rockets" that's about an astronaut who gets left in space. Will liked that aspect of the potential story. The more he started mulling around: "Well, who should I get to play this astronaut?", he remembered me. I got a call from Will in August 2007 saying, "Hey man, I want to talk to you about something. I don't want to talk about it over the phone. Come meet for coffee." He showed me some basic storyboards and rough sketches and—as soon as I heard the word "astronaut"—I went to eight years old in 30 seconds. I said, "Sign me up, Daddy!"

Guillén: Can you speak a bit to your specific process of creating the character of astronaut Lee Miller?

Wright: It was so far-reaching. As I said, when Will asked me about this project and mentioned, "Hey, how do you feel about playing an astronaut?", the two things that I wanted to do as a kid growing up was either race motorcycles or be an astronaut. I'm from Florida and Cape Canaveral was always just around the corner. As he was building the space station, I was trying to wrap my head around being an astronaut and doing that role justice as far as what astronauts do. All we had really were books. I'd sit on the floor and look at old photos and go through stories and try to figure out, "What would this character do on a day-to-day basis?" Other films, I would play around and watch and pick some things that I could pick apart; but, the process for creating the character in Love was abstract.

Will didn't want this character to be too
Cast Away, which—as I mentioned earlier—I did watch early on. I had to think about how insane was this guy going to be? How crazy was he going to be? But I kept going back to the fact that—though he might not be a Navy S.E.A.L.; he might not be a special forces operative—but, he's someone who's trained to handle a lot of different circumstances and he has a job to do to survive. He's a survivalist. And yet he's by himself for years, which—hence the title of the film—we all want contact. We all want some form of communication. That's why he breaks down when he can't see his brother's video anymore. That was his only human connection. Now all he has left are Polaroids of girls because, c'mon, this guy had at least a couple of girlfriends on Earth. [Grins.] So that was kind of the process. It was very organic. His character wasn't ever set. We really did explore and discover, sometimes even on the day.

I have to give Will tons of props as a filmmaker and as a friend, but the thing I kept thinking about when I watched the film with the audience earlier tonight that hit me as an actor was that the biggest aspect between a filmmaker and an actor together is trust. I was watching certain scenes that we started to shoot in September 2007. At that time I knew Will briefly, but I didn't
know Will. You have to understand, I was in short shorts, which I didn't want to be in. I had this whole idea in my mind that I'd be wearing these cool spacesuits and he handed me these shorts and said, "Here you go, bro." It was a challenge enough to be carrying a film in my first leading man role, but to trust Will when I was in such a vulnerable situation as a first-time actor in those situations took a lot of trust. Will and I developed over the course of those four years mutual respect, mutual trust, even as friends. And tonight as I was watching the film, I noticed towards the end certain scenes where Will said, "You say what you want, man, because I know exactly where this is going to go." So I gave him everything I had. I wasn't going to second guess him. I knew his vision and I was in.

Guillén: Did you know, however, when you agreed to this project that it would be such a prolonged effort? Yet you remained committed enough to sandwich your participation in between whatever else you had to do to pay bills?

Wright: Absolutely. All of us did. Will would have to go off to do some DP work. Sometimes we'd have to reschedule things because at the last minute a very key person for that day had to go shoot something to earn a living. It was very cowboys and Indians style, you know? Just roll camera and shoot when you can. But I was committed, yeah.

After the first year, the project kept building momentum because the few money men that were seeing more dailies and hearing more buzz, the fans hearing more or finding behind-the-scenes photos on
Facebook or Twitter or the A&A website, you kept feeling the energy and the excitement of what could be. Not what it was going to be but what it could be. We wanted it to be what everyone was hoping it would be because we were all doing it out of the honesty and the innocence of what we loved to do. I love acting. I don't want to direct. I don't want to produce. I don't want to write. I just want to act. If some of those other things come together, that's fine, but I love acting. I'll never grasp it. I'll never own the craft.

Guillén: Why would you say that? You do own your craft. You show that in this film.

Wright: And I appreciate that—that really means so much to me—but there are so many actors I could watch for days that resonate for me. Paul Newman. Clint Eastwood. Guys that time and time again prove themselves. It goes back to the sport of motorcycle racing for me. The most consistent driver wins the championship, not necessarily the fastest guy or the guy who wins the most races. It's the consistency and longevity of one's career that's so romantic to me.

To parlay that into golf, you can have two or three great holes and you go, "I
got it. I just parred. I got it." And then the very next hole you shake it, it hits the house, and you think, "What did I just do?" There's moments when you're on set and you feel like you're an Oscar®-contending actor. "Yup! Got it!" And the very next take for me personally, I go, "Man, what in the hell am I doing?" You feel like you just lost all of that magic and skill that you had during the last take or the last scene.

Guillén: Aside from the spirit of play—which you've been describing quite affectionately in our conversation—what have you gained from this experience that has given you a professional edge or personal growth?

Wright: Two things. One, instinct. Instinct as an actor. So many times there are certain things that I will do that, again, stem from racing motorcycles. You start off analyzing the track, analyzing your moves, looking to see obstacles, and it's the same as trying to look at a scene for the day, and trying to visualize it in your mind. But sometimes the best scenes are when you throw that all away. You always hear that story, you know, where you learn the scene and its objective so that you can lose yourself and find something that you didn't expect to find. That instinct is something that
Love helped me gain and grasp. But also, again, it's a technical aspect. The minute camera focus on your close-up. Finding the emotion and the scene's objective but making sure you're in focus and that you're hitting your marks, things that sound so elementary.

I just watched this great
YouTube of Christopher Reeve in a scene of Richard Donner's Superman. It's a close-up but the behind the scene camera's wide so you get the marks where his feet are going to hit. It's take after take of him going after Gene Hackman and, I kid you not, he is nailing his marks with every single take—his toes are on the tape!—and I know how hard that is. People don't understand that he's either counting or he's so programmed that he's walking and his steps are perfect, but, he's in that scene. Picture four years of Love, mainly being the central character on set day in and day out, fast forward and you've done a handful of big films, smaller roles per se but you're playing Dwight Eisenhower and Leonardo di Caprio's right beside you and there's Clint Eastwood in the Paramount lot and the camera goes tight: being on set is an experience you can't buy and you can't replace it.

Guillén: Let's shift to these alternate performances. Clearly you secured these roles not on the laurels of this project?

Wright: That's right. It was kind of weird because—as I was struggling and in this world of
Love—I was blessed to get small roles. I got a chance to play a secret service agent opposite Jonathan Pryce as President in G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra (2009). It was a small two-day role that gave me the chance to experience some great moments with a guy like Jonathan Pryce. In The Losers from Warner Brothers I'm a jet pilot and it's me and Idris Elba and a few cast and crew working for Joel Silver. Working with Idris was amazing. Watching his process. Because I want to be a leading man. I want to do some action. I want to push myself in that world. So to get a chance to carry a film like Love is, in some ways, to be a paid fly on the wall. The Losers did what it did but what Garrett Warren, who's an amazing second unit stunts coordinator, was doing on set at least while I was there blew my mind. He was doing Avatar at the same time.

Guillén: I, too, romanticize the longevity of a career. And one of my favorite ways to approach movies, since I watch so many of them, is to take note of the early performances of actors when they're, as you say, paying their dues and learning their chops in small career-building performances. I project that somewhere down the line, perhaps because of your motorcycle skills, you'll do a Steve McQueen role; a remake of Le Mans (1971) perhaps?

Wright: I want it
soooooo bad!

Guillén: [Laughs.]

Wright: I'm a great fan of Steve McQueen. It's funny. I was in London years ago and I found this Steve McQueen book in a bookstore at Heathrow coming back to L.A. I was so broke at that time. That was an early lesson in my acting career. I got involved in acting and immediately I got a hosting job on a Lifestyle motorcycle show so I was at least getting paid and I thought, "Here we go. This is
easy." Until production went belly-up and I didn't get checks for a couple of months and I'm grabbing my guitar and I'm on Venice Beach Strand playing five days a week making $20 a day. I didn't want to call my dad and say, "Hey Dad, can you loan me $500" because he was like, "You're leaving what to be an actor?" It was the principle of course at that time. Anyway, I'm in London, I find this book, and I read this book on Steve McQueen. I had heard about him. I had liked him because he was a motorcycle guy. But when I read his story, that's when I started to research his catalogue.

Guillén: More appropriately, however, I could see you doing a Paul Newman biopic. Would you do that?

Wright: In a heartbeat. But I don't know if I could do him justice. A friend of mine in L.A. recently gave me a box set of McQueen films and a box set of Paul Newman films. I watched Cool Hand Luke...

Guillén: One of my favorite Newman films.

Wright: ...and I watched three or four more of his films including
The Towering Inferno, which I love because it's got McQueen and Newman and you can see the nuances between the two. It seems like Newman loves dialogue, his performances are dialogue-driven, whereas McQueen hardly needs any dialogue. He's a presence. It's comforting who he is or at least who he appears to be.

Whoever plays Paul Newman, if that film ever comes to the surface, is the same person that I hope will give Steve McQueen credit. Out of anybody if you're considering who to cast in a biopic, James Franco did James Dean so much justice. James Dean wasn't easy to do. So you hope that someone like him can do a Newman or McQueen the same way.

Guillén: As you develop into an actor who handles leading roles, who would you want to be your leading lady? There's got to be at least one.

Wright: There's
more than one. I'll throw in Raquel Welch just because I want to throw in Raquel Welch. There's so many, you know. Currently, I think Olivia Wilde. Her onscreen presence is striking. Natalie Portman is a feminine gem. I try not to be all male chauvinistic but it's somewhat like looking at a gallery of wonderful art or a museum exhibit of 30 motorcycles and each one has their own distinct beauty.

Guillén: Finally, returning to Love, can you give me a sense of how the film will roll out?

Wright: Right now Fathom Events has it in close to 500 theaters on August 10. It's live so it's 9:30 East Coast, 6:30 West Coast. You can log onto the Fathom Events website and buy the tickets on line. A couple of kids already approached me, saying, "Hey, we're going to see it in Boston."

Guillén: These are some of the fans that are following you around?

Wright: Yeah, these kids drove from New York City. It's amazing. And that again is Tom. That's not me or Will. It's the band's fans wanting to support the film and see it succeed, which is so rare for an indie film. But the August 10 event is amazing because I looked at the markets and they're all major. Chicago alone has 30 theaters. Almost every major city involved are going to have five or six theaters involved.

Guillén: What will your participation be in that event?

Wright: I don't know for certain. On the way flying here Will said the event will be three hours and will include the movie, a Q&A, and then the band at one of those venues is going to put on a psuedo-concert, an acoustic performance or something to give the fans a treat. Because it's live for that one night, every single viewer's going to see the film with a little bit something special at the end. I'm excited. I was talking to one of the other filmmakers this weekend who had heard remnants about this event, though not in detail. It's such a unique event. It could screen for more days, depending on what markets sell out down the road; but, for the fans,
this is it. They have one night. This is the time. You don't have a chance to say, "Awww, I'll see it on Saturday or I'll see it at a matinee."

Guillén: There's no doubt in my mind that the value added at such cinema events is what is helping keep film culture alive. So to finish up here, Gunner, congratulations on your lead performance in Love. I wish the film well. Thank you for taking the time to talk with me today.

Wright: Hey listen, thank
you, man. You're a film connoisseur yourself who's clearly been around a lot of movies, a lot of actors, and it's clear you love it. That's what I like most: just sitting around, having a drink, shooting the shit and talking about our favorite pics.

Love - William Eubank - Trailer n°1 (HD) by 6ne_Web

Monday, September 26, 2011

URBAN EXPLORER (2011)—The Evening Class Interview With Director Andy Fetscher & Writer / Producer Oliver Thau

Andy Fetscher's German thriller Urban Explorer (2011) [official site] boasted its North American premiere at the 15th edition of Montreal's Fantasia Film Festival, where festival publicist Jean Grégoire arranged for me to meet with Fetscher and his writer-producer Oliver Thau at The Irish Embassy Pub. As Urban Explorer advances to its U.S. premiere at Austin's Fantastic Fest, now seemed a perfect opportunity to transcribe the Fantasia conversation.

Eljan Tomek writes in his mini biography for IMDb: "Andy Fetscher is a German-Romanian director, writer and cinematographer. In his teenage years he shot his first movies as PR stunts for a satirical magazine that he published with friends, though they were censored for containing graphic violence, sex, and crude language. At the age of 19 he worked as a freelance photographer and journalist for a picture agency in Germany. From 2001 to 2007 he studied cinematography and directing at the Ludwigsburg Film Academy, where he began to make a name for himself with a number of short movies such as
Peste la Bucharesti (2004) and Kingdom of the Youth (2005). In most of his pictures, in addition to directing, Andy has taken on multiple production roles including camera work, editing, and sound design. He graduated film school with his first full length horror feature Bucharest Flesh which has been invited to numerous festivals, including Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival and Germany's highly acclaimed Hofer Filmtage. The Berlin-style horror thriller Urban Explorer is his first co-production with America."

My Fantasia experience of
Urban Explorer was heightened for being in the company of Variety film critic Robert Koehler. This afforded the chance to gain a firsthand sense of Koehler's critical practice and how he times his films and notates impressions. His subsequent review for Variety proved favorable: "Fetscher avoids the temptation to push the situation into an exercise in torture porn—an option he easily could have gone for—while nevertheless ratcheting up the horror. Indeed, his one-man-band combination of direction, lensing and editing proves crucial, displaying a balance of craft and patience in building layers of suspense under a horrific setting that goes beyond any urban explorer's worst nightmare."

At, Scott Weinberg gave high marks to Urban Explorer's "intangible components like tone, style, and intensity" but expressed irritation with what he perceived to be a lazy script that failed to flesh out its characterizations.

Myself, I found
Urban Explorer a satisfying thriller. Grating, tense, nailbiting, Urban Explorer skillfully employs Berlin's underground tunnels to achieve a claustrophobic mise en scène. The central villainy of Klaus Stiglmeier is a horror to behold.

[This conversation is not for the spoiler-wary.]

* * *

Michael Guillén: Andy, Urban Explorer is your second feature?

Andy Fetscher: It's my first movie after film school where my graduate thesis film was a long-feature horror movie Bucharest Flesh. My professors and the headmaster of the school were against it, but even so I did it, which earned me some enemies. On the other hand it gave me the chance to meet Oliver Thau and the others who produced
Urban Explorer, which has helped me get my foot in the door of genre movies.

Guillén: You've always wanted to make genre films?

Fetscher: Not exactly. I have two selves living within my chest that I've tried to combine in my films.
Urban Explorer is a genre piece with a commercial approach, of course; but, if you watch my student film Bucharest Flesh, it's more an arthouse horror love fairy tale; but, the bottom line is to entertain audiences and I love creeping out audiences with horror. Once you combine horror with arthouse elements or explore political issues the film achieves a higher level.

Guillén: What some call "elevated genre"?

Fetscher: Yes, I'm interested in both.

Guillén: Oliver, where arthouse cinema might receive some government backing as an effort to promote a national cinema, would the same financial backing be available for genre? Within Germany, specifically, are there national subsidies for genre filmmaking?

Oliver Thau: Absolutely not. For art house, yes, but for genre, no. Definitely we get no funding in Germany if we want to make this kind of movie, unless you cast one of the two best-known German actors and they have powerful connections. Otherwise you get no support if you're a genre filmmaker. Since we knew that, we didn't even try to get money through those channels, which involves investing a lot of time filling out paper work, often for nothing. We decided to look elsewhere for funding.

Guillén: What motivated you and your production company Papermoon Film to become involved in producing Urban Explorer in the first place?

Thau: We wanted to make a genre film and were talking to talent and Andy came recommended to us through the head of his school. I watched
Bucharest Flesh and then Andy and I met to talk about what we could possibly do. The idea for Urban Explorer developed from scratch. But Papermoon Film doesn't only produce genre films. We produce other kinds of films. We don't want to be put into a box as a production company who only makes genre films. We like to make them because—as we said earlier—they're commercial; but, we like making other films as well, and if those films receive national funding, we'll take the funding.

Fetscher: Within Germany there are certain filmic approaches or narrative plots that nearly guarantee you will receive government money.

Guillén: Which is what interests me. What kinds of films would Germany be willing to subsidize in order to internationally promote a national image of Germany? What is the "master plot" in Germany these days?

Fetscher: It's difficult to answer your question without a sense of irony because, of course, some of the movies that get funded by the government are great movies. They're usually post-WWII dramas or at least serious dramas.

Thau: Yes, serious. Usually, your main character is revealed to have cancer, loses his family, and loses his job.

Fetscher: Or you have little African children seeking orientation within Germany and looking for a family. It's easy to get money for a story like that. Papermoon Film and myself are both interested in a lot of different kinds of stories but we don't want to fall into that pattern. We basically want to make good pictures and if we can get government subsidies for that, good; but, it's not the main reason we make movies.

Thau: Though it's difficult otherwise to make movies in Germany. You have to keep in mind that 90% of German films are government-supported movies and they don't have to care if a movie is commercial or not. If it's well-received, okay. If it's not well-received, you don't lose anything as a filmmaker because the money for the film has come from the government. We, on the other hand, vie for private equity. We have to take care that the film will do well commercially because, otherwise, it becomes our problem and we won't be able to make movies again.

Guillén: So, again, this is where genre necessarily comes into play in insuring that a film reaches past its national boundaries to achieve an international reception since the tropes of genre traffic well and communicate globally.

Thau: Absolutely.

Fetscher: That makes me think of something funny. I know arthouse directors who feel offended or insulted if you really understand their movies. They want their films to be so arthouse that you cannot decipher the films.

Guillén: They want them to be impenetrable?

Fetscher: Yes.

Guillén: And isn't that silly? [Laughs.]

Fetscher: It's so much silly, yeah.

Guillén: So how do you Oliver, as the producer, convince international investors to take a chance with genre?

Thau: First, we talk with national companies: DVD companies for example who have specific markets that support this kind of genre film. A film gets attached in advance to a DVD company, which is what happened with Andy's first film
Bucharest Flesh and that company also wanted to be involved with Urban Explorer but they ran out of money so we lost their financing and had to turn elsewhere. Having been a buyer for a distribution company, I said, "Let's go international." The whole structure of Urban Explorer was intentionally international. The approach was international. We had an international team. We wanted to shoot in English. We didn't want to shoot in German, which would limit the possibility of selling the film world-wide. Then we went to people we knew in Los Angeles to help us seek out the right partner to solicit international funding. For Urban Explorer, the money came from outside into Germany.

Guillén: Speaking of distribution, I'm aware you have distribution in Germany this Fall. But do you have U.S. distribution yet? Urban Explorer seems a perfect candidate for Lionsgate. Have you approached them?

Thau: That's not our job. From the beginning the film was in the hands of a world sales company. That was a requirement for us. We needed someone to sell the picture. So they're in talks with a couple of companies but we don't make these decisions. I know they've sold the film to Anchor Bay in Britain and to the biggest distribution firm in Germany.

Fetscher: We wanted to wait to premiere at Fantasia because, in my opinion, it is the most important genre festival in North America. Genre comes from America in a way so we wanted to wait for this festival and then find the right distribution partner for the U.S.

Guillén: Let's speak about your Fantasia experience. How did you find your Fantasia premiere and your audience? You admitted when you took the stage to address your audience that you were trembling?

Fetscher: I'm always trembling! That lies in the nature of directing. When you show movies to a public, you have to tremble in a way. It's moreorless normal. But I loved showing
Urban Explorer at Fantasia because their audience doesn't conceal their emotions. They shout and applaud if they like something. Their enthusiasm added a special flair to our premiere and provided me a special experience because, of course, I love watching the audience watching my movie.

Guillén: Let's discuss your sound design. The dripping of the water and the scraping of metal on concrete effectively rattled my nerves and added incredible intensity to the film.

Fetscher: I'm really into sound. Some people don't believe it because I'm doing the cinematography as well, but sound is as important to me as the visuals. I've done the sound design for all my films, except for
Bucharest Flesh where I hired someone professional. With Urban Explorer I started working on the sound design from the first day I began editing. I love it. I love creating an atmosphere with a small cluster of sounds and getting to the right emotion by leaving behind every unnecessary sound. For the sound at the end of the film, we had a great team from Germany who helped with the mixing, and I had a wonderful supervising sound editor Nigel Holland, and a great foley artist Joo Fürst. I had so much fun working with them on the sound and on the music as well because in horror films sound design and music meld together. The film's composer Steven Schwalbe is a good friend of mine. I tend to work with him and will work with him on my next project as well.

Guillén: As the cinematographer, did you use synchronized sound or was sound added in post-production, or a combination of both?

Fetscher: Most of the sound design is post-production. Some of it is on set.

Guillén: For me non-synchronic sound is an art house touch.

Fetscher: That might be true, yes, because in a way you use sound to make a film more unrealistic, weird or film-like.

Guillén: I presume you filmed in HD?

Fetscher: Yes.

Guillén: So, again, I presume you had a small crew? How many people worked with you on set, that is to say in these confined off-limit environments?

Fetscher: We had a crew of about five to eight people. The environments were tiny and sometimes we had to literally run away from authorities or policemen so the smaller the team was, the easier it was to get away.

Guillén: During your Q&A, you talked about being arrested. Can you repeat that story?

Fetscher: I badly needed a P.O.V. shot from down on the subway tracks with the train approaching, but we didn't have the allowance on this particular day to shoot on the subway tracks so I snuck down with my assistant director Peter Fuchs. It was okay at first because nobody saw us, not even the passengers on the platform, but then we had a flashlight to light the scene and the flashlight beam dazzled the engine driver who stopped the subway car in the middle of the tunnel. We tried to hide. We heard the police on the platform so we couldn't go back that way. We thought about running all the way through the tunnel to the next station but that would have cost us too much time so we tried our luck with the platform but the police caught us. They arrested us and my assistant director and I had to spend one night in custody so we lost one day of shooting.

Guillén: Will there not be any legal repercussions with German authorities identifying locations deemed off-limits that you used guerrilla-style in your film?

Fetscher: Maybe in Germany but hopefully not here. [Laughs.] The beginning of the movie is about finding the "Fahrerbunker", which still exists but is sealed off now. Some of the paintings in the film are real. When I go back to Germany, some people might point at me. Making a movie, especially a genre movie that's about entertaining people, or a movie like this one that is specifically about Nazi sites from WWII—something Germans don't like to talk about—involved bribing hands to gain access. In those instances where the authorities charged too much, we shot guerrilla-style at night.

Guillén: You've indicated you're not a professional urban explorer, but you're obviously into urban exploring? Just as you said that—after watching Wake In Fright—you'll never let someone buy you a beer again, you can imagine that I will never go urban exploring after watching Urban Explorer. You realize this? You're not worried that your film will piss off these sport extremists?

Fetscher: I don't think so. After seeing Bucharest Flesh, a lot of people among my festival audiences told me they never wanted to go to Romania—which is where I come from and where Bucharest Flesh takes place—but that was not my intention. I had wanted to show the beauty of Romania and this time I wanted to show the beauty of urban exploration and I think you can see it, past all the dark details in the narrative. If you go urban exploring beneath Berlin you'll see bats clinging to the high ceilings, underground lakes and flooded tunnels, and it's all really beautiful. The rot can be beautiful. That's something I think urban explorers generally appreciate. We collaborated with some urban explorers. They saw parts of the movie and I believe they appreciated it. In a way it's romantic.

Guillén: There's a romantic truth to urban decay, yes. It's a reminder of the organic momentums inherent in urban design. Cities, histories, rise and fall and—wandering among the detritus of a previous incarnation of a city—the urban explorer is reminded that even cities are vulnerable and fragile. Did you encounter any actual urban explorers while you were filming?

Fetscher: No. We met a lot of homeless people. One of them had an air pistol and tried to shoot my assistant director. One night we bumped into an underground latex fetish party. I wasn't prepared for that and didn't know what it was. We found these professionally-installed electric cables running through the tunnels, which we thought was strange but we followed them because we thought we might be able to use them, and suddenly we came into a huge hall that was filled with these fetishists. We had this moment of dead silence where we were staring at them and they were staring at us. They weren't really happy to see us down there. There was a fire breather among them who tried to burn my camera assistant and my camera. I stood in front of my camera assistant to stop him, which was dangerous. But then Klaus showed up as Armin the villain and that same day he had stolen an electric power drill from the art department. He went up to the fire breather and threatened to drill him in the head. The fire breather ran away. So, in that case, Armin saved our lives.

Guillén: [Laughs.] Let's talk about your choice to have a multi-ethnic cast. Again, I presume this was part of the strategy to reach an international audience?

Fetscher: Of course. I liked the fact that so many different cultures were combined in one group of tourists, that they came from so many different countries. Having different languages on set gave me a particular thrill as a director working with the actors.

Guillén: Which leads me to a theme I've been investigating in genre: its transnational appeal.

Fetscher: The code of fear is not limited to any one culture; it's multicultural. You know how in Japanese horror they're into the long dark hair of women in a weird way? Maybe we don't exactly understand it but it's still creepy to us as well.

Guillén: Your decision to make the Nazi horror a real horror—in contrast to a supernatural horror of ghostly supermen coming back to harm people—was a wise, effective choice.

Fetscher: When people were talking about
The Descent, they would agree it was a great horror film but some people expressed disappointment. They would have preferred if Neil Marshall had left out the crawlers, these metaphysical creatures, and stayed grounded in reality. For me this was important to stay close to reality and have the darkness of the villain be cynical.

Guillén: You've certainly created an iconic villain in Armin (Klaus Stiglmeier). For me he was a blend between Lee Marvin after way too many drinks and Klaus Kinski. How did you find him?

Fetscher: Actually, Klaus Stiglmeier has been working as a hard-core on-stage comedian in Bavaria for a long time now. In the '80s he used to play a role in a series called
Paternostra From Sacramento where he was a priest who would insult his congregation with lacivious language. Not only was he a priest but he was a part-time ski instructor. One of his well-known quotes from that show is: "Some men are polygamous. Some men are monogamous. I'm a ski instructor."

Guillén: [Chuckles.] His turn as Armin is going to be great international exposure for him. I'm not sure if he would consider this lucky or not, but he could probably be cast in this kind of role for the rest of his career.

Fetscher: The character of Armin is like Freddy Krueger for me and I truly hope that Klaus gains what he deserves for this performance. A lot of German actors didn't dare to play the role but Klaus was eager to do it.

Guillén: His teeth—which Mitch Davis described as "40-foot wide teeth"—will go down in infamy. I understand he actually bit a make-up assistant during the shoot?

Fetscher: It was a very long day for Klaus Stiglmeier who is actually very much like his character in the film. He spent time in the early '80s fighting Soviet soldiers in Afghanistan, which made it even more intense to work with him. It's where he learned the mujahideen practices of torture, including the "shirt" torture performed on the character of Denis. You wouldn't dare ask him any questions about that experience.

As for the story about his biting the make-up girl, she was from Western Germany and had never experienced the East-West Germany problem so she was joking about it and Klaus warned her not to joke about the army. She persisted and he bit her. The make-up department was quite angry with me. I didn't see him biting her but I could see the bite marks. We wanted to make him look nicer but we couldn't afford it and—after this incident—there was no make-up on him.

Guillén: Let's talk about the lesbian flourish.

Fetscher: [Laughs.] That had to do with giving the audience what the audience wants, which is a good thing on the one hand but on the other hand I feel that the beginning of the movie is very much about distracting the audience by certain possibilities of danger: by referencing the Nazis, and the zombie legends, the guys with the dogs, and by positioning this love story between two girls where you're not really sure how it's going to end. They kiss in front of a sinister Nazi mural in the bunker. It's pretty much about distracting the audience.

Guillén: An elegant foreshadowing that worked for me was the earrings you had them wear. The Korean girl was wearing dangly ones and the French girl was wearing these blue-green earrings. I don't know why but as I was watching the movie I thought, "Those earrings are going to be important. I'm going to pay attention to those earrings." Sure enough, when the earring shows up on the floor, it signals a significant ellipse in the narrative.

Fetscher: Very good! You are a pro!

Guillén: All in all, I very much enjoyed your entire cast. First of all I appreciated that I didn't recognize any of them. I often feel it's a danger to cast well-known actors because they pull me out of the situation. Nick Eversman was perfectly sympathetic as the young male lead Denis.

Thau: He's becoming well-known in Europe.

Guillén: Is he? That's understandable: he has a natural presence on film.

Fetscher: Nick is currently in a TV movie called Missing, which was filmed in Prague and is already receiving much attention. Nick is going to be
someone soon. That's, of course, good for us.

Guillén: So when you're casting these young actors, what is it? What is the quality you're looking for to represent the young teenagers that you hope audiences will relate to?

Fetscher: In a way I have to fall in love with all of them.

Guillén: That's what it is, isn't it? The audience has to fall in love with them and care about them so that—when you torture them the way you do—the audience feels for them.

Fetscher: For me as a director it's very important to be sure that there's a similar language, even though I have difficulty with English at times. There needs to be a similar language for my actors on set. With
Urban Explorer, there was immediately a good language for me with Nathalie Kelley, Nick Eversman, the French actress Catherine de Léan....

Guillén: Who I fell in love with instantly, by the way, I hope you use her again in one of your movies.

Fetscher: ...and Brenda Koo. Early on in the casting I told them, "This shoot is going to be a nightmare for all of you. There won't be any toilet facilities around, no wardrobe rooms, no bathrobes, no warm or clean water. You're going to actually have to go down into these places and it's not going to be funny." This young cast were the ones who said, "Yes, let's go on the ride!" So I was sure they were the right ones.

Guillén: It did, indeed, sound like a nightmarish shoot for all parties concerned, even yourself. During the Q&A, Montreal actress Catherine de Léan confirmed the eels in the water were real and that they bit. Could you repeat your story about what it was like shooting in the water?

Fetscher: We had at least five actors in the water so we had to use waders. We had five new waders for the actors and one secondhand pair for me. It turned out my waders were full of holes so that after a minute in the water they became full of water. I couldn't move to get out of the water. My crew had to use knives and scissors to cut me out of the waders and the water gushed out like blood. It was very funny. Everyone laughed, right?

Guillén: I've been taught that any good genre film relies on a certain amount of thievery. You've already admitted that Urban Explorer has borrowed elements from Neil Marshall's The Descent, or at least that audiences perceive that. I perceived it in the sequence where Lucia (Nathalie Kelley) is crawling up through that tiny space to the surface. Was that a direct borrowing?

Fetscher: Yes.

Guillén: Did other films come to mind as you were crafting your own?

Fetscher: I don't think you can avoid being influenced by all the movies you've seen during your childhood, especially horror movies because they're about fear, which the brain captures. A good horror movie never lets you go. These strong images, especially the ones you see as a young child, stick with you. I remember being six years old and being forced by my brother to watch the movie
Alien. In the scene where the android is being destroyed with the fire extinguisher and his white blood is spraying out, a switch toggled in my brain. The fear, which remained fear, turned into fascination as well and I remember taking the remote and watching that scene over and over again in slow-mo. My brother, who was watching me do this, became frightened by my behavior. [Laughs.] You can never let a moment like that go. It follows you. I'm not sure if you can see any semblance of Alien in Urban Explorer—I wouldn't have been able to control that—but, of course, what I've seen in my past is there. Then again, almost every horror movie is about people descending into darkness. The descent is always there but I wouldn't be able to tell you which specific movies are there because I became interested in making movies from watching arthouse movies from Russia, which weren't really horror movies. They were difficult to understand.

Guillén: Can you speak then to what it is about fear or terror that is beautiful?

Fetscher: Whenever I'm asked that, I quote the ancient Greeks and their theory of catharsis. Fear and compassion clean your soul, especially for young people going to the cinema and watching horror movies. I love to watch them watching the movies. With love couples, the girl is squeezing the arm of her boyfriend and he is jerking out of his seat. It's like a roller coaster for them. After they leave the cinema, they feel shaken but they feel better, they feel cleaned. Horror movies help you better appreciate the value of life.

10/03/11 UPDATE: Urban Explorer will have its West Coast premiere at Hollywood's Screamfest on Tuesday, October 18th at 10:00PM, Chinese 6 Theater–Level 3, Hollywood & Highland, 6801 Hollywood Boulevard, Hollywood, CA 90028.