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A Conversation With Sebastian Schipper (VICTORIA)

Victoria has a lot going for it. The first appeal is how it was shot —all in one take. But once the movie takes off, you get lost in the score and spending over two profound hours with the titular character, played by Laia Costa, in a masterful performance. The camera really loves Costa and it’s a guarantee that you will fall in love with the way she radiates on screen.

Victoria is over two hours and the one take isn’t a gimmick, it helps push the narrative and really makes the third act even more heart pounding because the camera doesn’t stop rolling and it’s pure chaos everywhere. Think of all the discipline required from everyone in front of and behind the camera to be where they need to be at the right moment, and say what they need to say at the right time.

Most of you know Victoria isn’t the first film to shoot an entire movie in one take, but it is the film that has done it the best so far.

Recently we spoke with co-writer and director Sebastian Schipper about the mayhem of shooting a movie in one take, the beautiful score, and the terrific lead, who we’re certain is going to be a star.

Hammer to Nail: Hey Sebastian, how are you doing?

Sebastian Schipper: I’m feeling good.

HTN: Thanks for taking the time to talk to me. I’m fairly certain Victoria is going to be my favorite film of the year, so I’m super stoked to talk to you. I can probably talk to you for a long time, but we dont have much, so let’s go ahead and jump into this.

For me, there are three big rewards watching this film. I’m going to go into cinematography first. You acted in The 11th Hour, which was shot by Victoria‘s cinematographer, Sturla [Brandth Grøvlen].

SS: Yes.

HTN: What about his style of shooting made you confident that he could pull off shooting a movie over 2 hours in one shot?

SS: Actually, to be honest, it was crazy because I have, I met Sturla on that set, and as crazy at this time, maybe pretentious it might sound, I ask him before I’ve seen anything he shot. I just saw him on said and the way he was, and the way he handled the camera, and the way his personality was, and I mean, maybe I saw 1 or 2, I glimpse at the camera. Like, I looked over the shoulder of Anders, the director. I’m sure I saw that, but since that was his first feature, it wasn’t really that much based on this is the greatest cinematographer, and oh, I got the best 3 ones that I can think of for the job, and he made the race.

It was actually a little bit like also how I picked Laia Costa for being Victoria. Somebody asked me, “She’s never played a lead in her life before,” and to be honest, I didn’t really, I didn’t know that either because I looked at her material and I thought the material that she already done by then was so strong that I thought those were lead parts, and of course, I’m asking myself, “Was I dumb? You know, was I just a little naïve and then had a big bunch of luck?”

First of all, yes. Absolutely, but also, I think since I also produced this and I knew this is going to be a very, very crazy specific ride into unchartered territory, I was very much may be more than at other times a project, in touch with my instinct and intuition, and something like that. I think maybe way more than on other projects, I just trusted that because also I didn’t have…I wasn’t monitored. I was not, I didn’t have to answer to a producer. I did not have to explain and justify, and maybe I just also subconsciously super enjoyed that.

HTN: Its clear you have an eye for talent. You also answered another question I was going to ask, about Laia, but you’ve already answered it, so that’s great. You took a leap of faith and went with your gut, and it worked out splendidly.

SS: Yes.

HTN: sticking with the cinematography, before you guys started shooting, how did you map out who the camera would be focusing on during moments where there is multiple characters speaking at once? There’s a lot going on with every character, but the camera knows where to point to and who to point to at the right time all the way throughout the film.

SS: Yeah, honestly, that’s also the product of a process, you know, because even though it seems, and that’s also how it is, that the camera is within the flow of the moment and the situation, it is, we…Sturla and I created rules, or even probably more like logics with how it should work. The first one was, the camera cannot anticipate [what would happen next].

Sturla cannot know because I think that something that subconsciously goes maybe straight to your spine that may be the camera, the way it moves, it tells you maybe more than any other aspect of the film, this is happening right now. This is really, this is evolving and unfolding in front of your eyes because even the camera does not know what will happen next. That is something that my complete consciously while you are watching the film, but another thing we had to, that we didn’t know right away from the beginning was like that it had to dance.

It couldn’t lose Laia, it couldn’t lose Victoria, so it always had to gently go back to Victoria and always keep her in the picture, or go to her POV and then go back to her, and at the moment we did not do that, or the moment the camera was in the flow reacting, Sturla and I always called it like a wall photographer. You know, like a guy with a camera in the situation, and he just keeps on going, but we did all of that and lost Laia, at moments film fell flat. It didn’t work. A lot of the stuff that comes across as it should, like really natural and however obviously logically, how else could you have done it, a lot of that stuff we had to find out while we worked on it.

HTN: That’s pretty cool man. Sturla does a great job keeping the camera invisible and making us, the viewer, feel part of the group. I imagine one of the most challenging parts of shooting was keeping the camera and the crew behind the camera out of the shot. What was the process, as you were shooting in real time, to make sure that didn’t happen as much as he possibly could?

SS: We just, the crew was just super small. I mean, at times it was Sturla and me. He had a camera assistant at times when he couldn’t focus himself, and there was me, then there was a guy booming for sound, and that was it, and maybe the first AD at moments, but when we were big scenes, that’s when the actual crew were onset was numerous, you know? But, there were moments, like for example when Blinker gets his panic attack, it was only Sturla and me. It was the actors, Sturla, and me. You know they were mic’d. A lot of times during the film, there were, the sound was boomed, but there were times when that wasn’t possible and that was one of them.

Now, it’s a little war story, but it actually did happen that there was a drunk Russian couple, you know, it was I don’t know, 6:30 in the morning, and they had a great night. We shot on…the film that, you know, we shot on Sunday and they thought there’s a dude having a hard time and they wanted to help him, and I jumped out of the car and started yelling at them. Then the dude got angry with me, you know, you don’t want to yell at a Russian dude that has been partying, and then I was like really sweet as sugar and said, “No, sorry man. We’re shooting a film.”

Then he wanted to talk to me about what kind of film this is we are shooting and it was crazy, but it was … thank God by that time, the actors were so stone cold, that they just kept on acting. They heard … I’m sure by that time, you know, I’m sure they heard the directors voice in the background having some kind of argument, and they just kept on going, and that’s crazy. I know. It’s kind of a cute story now, but it was really … it was very crazy at times, yes, very much so.

HTH: Yeah, that’s a great story. Something that I find fascinating is it’s set in Berlin


HTH: It’s set in Berlin, but the language mostly used is English, so I’m curious what made you want to go that route versus having Victoria being a German versus a foreigner?

SS: Yeah, that’s…the best answer I can give you comes in, you know, first is it helps us write. It was the right thing to do. Of course, directing, your questioning that and that why is that? I think, I don’t know. It’s a mixture of there are a lot of people from all over the world in Berlin. It’s kind of a refugee camp for people that are kind of…they want to live in a big city, but all the big cities in the world they become so expensive, and non-approachable, so Berlin has this pretty good run for this last 10 years and there are a lot of people going there. A lot of people and within the same time of the last 10 years, or I don’t know the last 20 years, 15 years, the world has become a place that’s not very friendly to young people.

For generations, and generations, and generations, always been like our kids are going to have a better life than we have. You know, that’s what the parents always said, and that’s gone. That’s totally evaporated. I think today’s world is a pretty harsh place for young people and their dreams, and to live their life with decency, or hopes, or all the good stuff, you know?

HN: Yeah.

SS: It felt right to me. It felt right to me. It’s very authentic. That’s a big part of Berlin that people speak English to each other, and also like this aspect because there is also, you know when you travel, everybody knows like this traveling in Europe. Everybody’s done it at one point in their lives. Also, Europeans you know, and then you run into other people from other countries and you speak this kind of English. I mean, everybody speaks English. They can. That’s the language everybody agrees on, so I like that, and I like the openness. I like the solidarity of young people. I sometimes have the feeling that the preset, the factory preset of people and the solidarity is on a high 8, like 1…if you’re on a scale from 1 to 10, I think from the factory, we come with a higher set solidarity setting, you know?

I think sometimes that goes down when you go up, you know, when everybody jumps you are, you’re just being naïve, and you’ve got to straighten up and be a grown-up, and that comes along a lot of times with, you got to take care of yourself. Don’t invite people to sleep on your sofa, blah, blah, blah. All of that. I think it’s wrong. I think we are the best when we share. It’s a very hippie thing to say, but also the project, Victoria approves it. There was a very flat hierarchy within the project. You can pin on it, it’s a whole, this whole idea of solidarity, of doing something together, and not just everybody being a big star, and trying to prove how great they are. That’s a big thought that’s imprinted on this project, and it’s also within the story, but it’s also was behind the camera it was like that.

HTN: That’s amazing. You already answered my question about Laia. She’s another big reward of the film. She’s a lethal weapon, so amazingthe camera is really hungry for her. I hope this film makes her career explode because she’s a natural.

Something else about the film that captured me, that I really love and I want to get and talk to you about is the score, provided by Nils Frahm.

SS: Yes. Yes.

HTN: How did you find him and what made you want to recruit him for this score?

SS: Actually, he was being proposed to me, or introduced to me and not even person, but just his music. There’s this guy I’ve known for a long time, and he always does the English subtitles for my films and actually, but he is more like an entrepreneur. He’s a writer, and he’s an agent for certain musicians, and he’s just a great guy. He was one of the very first super fans of the film because I sent it to him because we wanted to show it to festival, and he flipped out. He totally loved the movie and he said, “Dude, I know exactly [the] guy that should do the music for this film,” and normally that’s like somebody saying, “Oh, I know exactly what girl you should meet. Oh, I know exactly what guy you should meet.” Whatever, you know.

We all know that never works out. That’s always a very nice girl, or very nice guy, or whatever. A very nice person, but that never leads to a relationship. “Oh, you’ve got to meet my friend. She’s so wonderful. You guys are made for each other.” That’s how I reacted to it, you know, like, “Dude, I know exactly what music you should use,” and it was Nils Frahm. It was really, I listen to his music and then I called him back and I said, “Man, you were 100% right. I cannot grasp that you just threw this great music at me.” I met Nils, and to be honest, I also talked to 1 or 2 other musicians, but Nils lives like, it’s a four minute car ride from my place to his place, and so there was…it was clear very, very fast that we would…there was, we never really wrote emails. We never talked on the phone. He would just text and say, “Come on over man,” and then I drove over at night and we had some wine and we really enjoyed that. You know, a little, like not email, not telephone kind of thing, but I was sitting in his little home recording studio and we would have wine and listen to music. It was great.

HTN: That’s amazing. I don’t want to give any spoilers away for the readers, but there is a scene in the movie where you’re using the songThem and they are all dancing and having a good time. That scene, I can’t get it out of my head because it made me feel good about life and just … it just made me like super happy, and it was just a beautiful moment. That’s why I was I had to ask about this composer. Well, it looks like I am about to run out of time, so I’m going to ask one more question. It’s going back to the shooting. Why did you want to shoot this in one take?

SS: Because I was amazed how little connection there is between the idea, and I actually had this kind of like a daydream, or like my thoughts wondering off about how it would be to rob a bank, and of course, I knew I’m not a criminal. I can’t do that. Actually, there were guys, there was one guy I was talking to yesterday said, “You should do that.” I said, “Dude, I can’t rob a bank,” and he said, “Yeah, but let’s think about it. You never did anything, even if they catch you, you won’t go to jail for too long. You will use that time to write the script and it will make a great story.”

No, but I’m still not going to do it. I don’t have the balls for it probably. That’s just the best answer that I can give. No, but I was….and then I thought, “Well, yeah, I’m not a criminal. I’m not a wanted man, or even a one-time criminal,” and then I thought that I’m a filmmaker so I can make a film about it. It was really…I was amazed how sobering that thought was. That like, from, “Oh, man a bank,” to, “Oh dude, like really? A film about a bank, why?” I was just looking at all the work and all…I don’t mind a whole big pile of work if it leads to something great, but for some reason I was really amazed by the gap of between something super exciting and something that I wasn’t really…you know, I wasn’t…I don’t know that didn’t appeal very extremely to me, and then that’s probably when the thought took off, and I asked myself, “Why is that?”

Why is that? Why, if I would be…if I would be the driver of the most boring bank robbery in the last 10 years in New Jersey, it would still be one of the most exciting things I would have done in my entire [life], and why is…how can I get a grab onto that in a film? Not making the film about the biggest amount of gold ever been stolen, or most people kidnapped, or biggest story ever blah, blah, blah, you know? But, how could I grab? How could I get my hand onto this excitement that I would have sitting in this car in a super small, in front of a super small New Jersey bank. That’s probably, that’s when it took off.

HTN: That’s awesome man. Congratulations. I’m really looking forward to where this film takes you because it’s really powerful. Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to me and good luck at all the festivals and the release.

SS: Thank you very much for your time, man. It was great talking to you.

– Chase Whale (@ChaseWhale)


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