MB: I had another film that I was busy preparing, which was also very hard subject matter dealing with teens, and the editor that I was working with on my previous film felt that I would really connect with a cinematographer that she knows. We ended up connecting and he read the script for the other film, which he liked and wanted to do. We ended up connecting so intensely that we decided we didn't want to wait, we just wanted to make something right then. Something more attune to a certain aesthetic that we were both becoming quite obsessed with. Because he was mainly working on high-end commercials and other big budget stuff he had people at his fingertips, in terms of crew and equipment.
I sat down and this story just came out of me in an intense rush. I knew the milieu and I knew that I wanted it to be about teens in edgy circumstances. Also a certain dynamic where the main kid would be a skateboarder on the streets of Berlin. I'd never had something arrive so formed, so quickly. Largely what we wanted to do was juxtapose this extreme beauty and cruelty and bring this almost ecstatically beautiful aesthetic to something that was quite radical.
Bjorn, my cameraman, is also shooting my first feature set to go in Cape town next year. It's a coming-of-age Cape-colored gangster thriller, called Strong Bones. The lead character is a thirteen year old boy, and this film will also have an ecstatic austere beauty juxtaposed with radical, dangerous subject matter. I think of it as ecstatic noir.
tV: What were some of the biggest hurtles you experienced making this film?
MB: Casting was tough. Firstly, Germans seem to be afraid of violence and there's much less of a cinema consciousness in a way, especially in kids. In America, and even in South Africa there are so many big productions coming to shoot there. If you approach people in the street and ask them if they'd like to be in a movie they get excited and are immediately interested to know more, but in Germany I felt like a pervert running around with my camera approaching interesting looking kids.
I'd say that over fifty percent of the agencies I contacted in Berlin read the material and refused to even pass it on to the kids. They basically said there was no way in hell they would let their kids even remotely close to this. But then anytime kids got the script they thought it was brilliant because it was so real for them. They loved it and invariably wanted to be involved. So did the parents, once I'd explain our aesthetic approach. I could understand how on the page it could seem harder.
I did eventually see some agency kids but I couldn't find faces that I liked. I was bringing my cameraman into the castings as well because we were going for something very specific. I knew that for the younger kid I needed someone who could skateboard, so after trying the agencies I took my digital video camera to skate parks all over Berlin and found a bunch of kids who we then brought in for casting. I knew the moment I saw, Phil, that he was the one.
He was really excited about doing the part so I told him I'd need to speak to his parents. The girl, Emily, I did end up finding through and agency, and the older boy I found in a high school. So casting was pretty much the hardest thing.
tV: Did anything happen during the shoot that you didn't expect?
MB: The biggest thing was how we worked with the actors. I came from acting myself and studied at the Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute so I'm into very real, emotional, personal performances, no acting. I tend to spend a lot of time with the actors beforehand getting to know them, their loves, desires, fears, triggers, etc, but most importantly, developing trust.
Half the crew almost walked off the set at one point. I needed a certain reaction from the young boy and it wasn't happening. I did something that got the reaction that I wanted, I didn't hurt him of course, but at that point my main gaffer literally started walking. He had no idea what I'd established with the actors off the set and just assumed I was crossing the line emotionally all the time.
What he didn't see was that right after this happened, the young boy came up to talk to me. In the shot where the older boy is giving him a hard time he'd started crying and pulled his hat down. He was embarrassed that he'd cried in front of all the people. He's a fourteen year old kid and wanted to be cool and everything in front of the girl. When I took him aside to make sure he was okay, he kept saying, “I want to do it again, I want to do it again.” He was totally excited and gung ho but the crew didn't see that.
tV: What are you hoping that the audience will take away from your film?
MB: I think above all, for me it is about inspiring people to
live things as fully as they feel they want to live them, and going as far as they want to go, doing the things that they love. That's why I only believe in doing things that are extreme.
The story is real but there's a fairy-tale ending, but I wanted that because to me it is a thing of beauty that's happened. It's a very heroic act and he's become a man. I do want people to go away with a feeling of love and beauty, although I realize that the harshness resonates.
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