World of Shorts has asked three internationally successful film directors about their first feature experiences – read their random thoughts below about the difficulties and the joys of their first big project, and the challenges faced along the way.
Maya Vitkova, whose first feature Viktoria has been selected for a great number of film festivals, including Sundance, in 2014.
The first step to your debut feature: if you’re thinking too much, you’d never get to make it. There are so many questions – will you make it; will it be a good film if you do; will it premiere at a major festival; will the critics grant it good reviews; will the audience appreciate it; how long its festival life will be; how would your national premiere go; will the national Oscar committee send it to the Academy; will you manage to sell it, etc.
You don’t even imagine how many more questions you’d need to answer before the film has even been completed… Yes,
I made it, with the help of dedicated crew; this is my film – good or bad, it’s coming from the heart – so judge my heart; it premiered in competition at the Sundance Film Festival as the first Bulgarian feature ever there with good reviews by the Hollywood reporter, IndieWire, Screen International and others; I still get at least a message a day from somewhere in the world by someone who saw the film; VIKTORIA played at 60 festivals, it’s on the festival circuit from January 2014 and I’m confirming festivals for October 2015; the national Oscar committee sent another film made by a committee member (gross!), to the Academy, etc.
But you know what – I’m a female writer-director and producer, there are not many who can do what I’ve done, the way I did it (and not that humble for sure), so just go for it and make it!
Gábor Reisz, whose first (and graduation) feature For Some Inexplicable Reason became a festival darling and box office phenomenon in Hungary, with over 60,000 admissions.
Small crew, little budget, flexible shooting. These helped me a lot, believe it or not; I had already experienced with my short films that sometimes, extensive preparations mean pressure. I wasn’t prepared for that with my first feature – but I didn’t even have a choice, since the budget we had was equivalent with the budget of a short film. The hardest part was that the making of the film took a very long time – a year and a half from the first shooting day to the picture-lock. Motivating the crew at every stage of the process proved a challenge. Although they all loved working on the film, they had to take other jobs to make money.
In my opinion, it doesn’t matter if a filmmaker is making a short film, documentary or feature: the ultimate goal is to make a difference, an effect which can be compared to that of the famous film from the early days of motion picture, the one with the train arriving, made 120 years ago.
Making feature films in Hungary is a tricky issue too: to me, the greatest challenge is to lure the audience back in the cinema. Last year was a particularly good one: several different arthouse films were very successful, and our own film did really well too. We put a lot of effort in the marketing, although this word is quite far from what we are actually doing. We formed a band of the crew members: this is how we made the soundtrack for the film. People are grateful that we are trying to communicate with them on several different levels. If nothing else, playing music together can have an excellent team building effect!
All in all, we had some incredible encounters, a lot of love was born – this is how we created this film.
Micah Magee, whose first feature Petting Zoo was screened in the Panorama selection of the Berlinale 2015
I think making a first film is like standing before a big membrane – the film is there before you on the other side, you can feel it, taste it, you know it exists, but you have to somehow put your hand through and pull very hard to get it into the living world. When it comes through it is ugly and nothing like you expected, nothing like what you thought you saw, but if you let it be that other thing then it is just itself and for that reason beautiful again and you can get to like it, become friends and be surprised by the things it tells you.
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