In the run up to the Atlanta Film Festival, Kristjan gave an in depth interview about his career and The right Juice.
Q. How did you get started in the film business?
A. I grew up on and around film sets. My mother was an Art Director working in commercials and she’d often bring me to the studio when she was building a set. I remember when I was 4 or 5 years old, I’d hang out with the carpenters and help paint and fetch and carry. Later, after finishing school, I got a few jobs as a runner on commercials shoots. This was in London. There I got the idea that I wanted to be a 1st AD. I loved the way the British Assistant Directors ran their sets. So calm, but with so much control. It inspired me.
Q. So you didn’t set out to become a director?
A. No, not from the beginning. I really wanted to be an AD. I moved to Amsterdam when I was 21 and started working. Started as a runner and worked my way through all sorts of on-set jobs until I got into Assistant Directing after about 10 years. But that didn’t really work out too well. Turns out I’m not a great AD! I didn’t have the patience and I was way too interested in the content of what we where making. As an AD you really have to be able to maintain a distance to the script and the story and the performances. You’re there to help the director create their vision, not to your own. After a couple of years I had to admit to myself that what I really wanted to do was direct. That was a scary realization, that the goal I had been working towards for 10 years was kind of off target. Of course when I did start directing, my Grandmother said she knew all along that I would end up doing that. Turns out that when I was 10 years old I had told her I was going to be a famous director. I’d just forgotten that for 20 years!
Q. Presumably you didn’t jump from being a runner to being an Assistant Director in one go. What was the career path up to becoming an AD?
A. Really varied. I was so eager to learn everything about filmmaking. I assisted in the lighting department, I did dolly gripping, 2nd ADing, Production Management, and I spent two great years working at a Special Effects house. That was before 3D was used widely, so we where building physical rigs to get stuff done. Mostly for commercials, so things like a mechanical animatronic dancing box of rice, or wire rigs to have clothes ghost around a house (for a washing powder commercial). I just loved the whole process of making films and wanted to learn as much as I possibly could.
Q. How was it when you decided to start directing? Was that a hard transition?
A. It was odd, in a way. Basically I just told everyone ‘I’m a director.’ Of course the next question was always ‘Well what have you made?’ and the answer was of course ‘Nothing, yet!’ So then I had to start creating projects. I got a job as a Creative Producer at a small production house specialized in animation. That was great as I started to learn about post-production, editing, compositing and all the computer stuff, which I had no experience with previously. My first real directing project was a documentary about the Masaai in Tanzania called ‘Doubting Thomas’. That was an amazing experience. I loved the whole process of crafting a story, a narrative. Editing DT made me realize that I wanted to focus on narrative fiction. And I met my editor, Sonja, who I still work with today. She edited The Right Juice.
Q. You didn’t go to film school?
A. No. When I was starting out, wanting to become an AD I figured the best place to learn was on set. Later when I started directing I just felt to old to spend four years at school. In a way I regret that, as I missed out on a lot of great foundation learning. Things like film analysis and film theory. But on the other hand I brought many years of practical hands on experience to my filmmaking, which was invaluable. I think nowadays
Q. So without going to film school, how did you learn the art and craft of filmmaking?
A. Shorts. Lots and lots of shorts. In 2007 the 48 Hour Film Project came to Amsterdam and I jumped at the chance and entered. That was my first short. We had a team of 4 people, total. We wrote it and shot it and acted in it ourselves and it was completely wonderful. And the film went on to win Best Film in the competition. That was all the encouragement I needed. I loved the pressure cooker situation the 48HFP puts you in. Completely intuitive filmmaking condensed into just 48 hours. After that I came back to the 48 many more times, in various cities, including London and Melbourne. I also sat on the jury for the completion a bunch of times, which was an amazing learning experience too. Watching films as the jury is very intense, and you really study the film. Then you hash it out with your fellow jurors, and get great insights and learn even more. I have made shorts outside of the 48 too, but I guess you could say the 48 Hour Film Project was my film school.
Q. And now you’ve made your first feature film. You live in Amsterdam, so why did you end up shooting the movie in Portugal?
A. I grew up in Portugal. My grandparents moved there in 1962, so that’s really where my roots are. My mum still lives there. I had tried the regular route to try and get into the features game here in the Netherlands. It’s a cultural subsidy based system. After being rejected a bunch of times for funding I figured I should just go the Indie DIY route. So then I wasn’t constrained by geography, and I asked myself where I would most like to shoot. The answer was easy. In the Algarve, back in Portugal. The landscape and the people and the light there is so inspiring, and with family and friends there, I figured I could make it work. So I approached BJ, my mum and David a friend of the family and put it to them. Let’s make a movie. After the initial flabbergasted looks, they warmed to the idea and we started brainstorming ideas for the story. This was in October of 2010.
Q. Tell me about the cast? How did you find your actors?
A. The first lead we cast was Beau McClellan, who plays the bad guy. Beau is an incredibly talented artist, specialized in high end lighting projects and a long time friend of the family. He approached me during the writing and said he’d love to be involved and maybe play a part in the film. I think he was expecting a small part, but the more I thought about it the more I realized he would be perfect for one role of the main antagonist. That scared him at first, I think, but when he got his head round it, and studied the script, he took the plunge. He had never acted before. But to his credit, he took it seriously, took some acting classes and studied hard for the part. There was a lot of trust involved. He basically said he trusted me to guide his performance. During shooting Mark Killeen, who plays the lead, worked hard with Beau and really helped him gain confidence
Mark Killeen and Ellie Chidzey were suggested by their agent, Wendy Scozzaro. She read the script, loved it and put forward these two great actors. I went to London to meet them, and Wendy had nailed it. I loved them both for their roles immediately, so it wasn’t a hard decision. Ellie brought a softness and vulnerability to the role of our hero’s wife that lifted the character way beyond what David (the scriptwriter) and I had managed to write and Mark was a joy to work with and really carries the film. He is a big man, both physically and spiritually, but also manages to tap into his inner 4 year old. And his former experience as a motocross rider came in good stead when handling the Piaggio Ape at speed!
Lúcia Moniz was always my dream actress for the role of Nesta. She plays the role of a dolphin trainer who helps our hero out. We sent her the script, and then waited with bated breath. And she came back to us and said yes. An added bonus was that she had already played a dolphin trainer in a TV show the previous year, at Zoomarine which is where we shot too. So she had already done all the training and prep and just needed a couple of days refresher. So yes, no stand-in with the doplhins, that’s all Lúcia herself.
Lúcia suggested an actor she knew for the role of Manel. Manel is the main Algarvian character in the film, a motorcycle mechanic who befriends our hero and becomes his best friend. Miguel Damião is a very talented stage and screen performer, who usually gets cast in serious, dark roles. To be honest I was a little doubtful after the casting, because Manel is much more of a comedic character, but boy where those doubts wrong. Miguels sense of irony, comic timing and openness just brought the character to life and he and Mark work so well together on screen.
Q. How did you finance the film?
Sponsoring, deferred contracts, personal investment and crowdfunding. Our main strategy was to not spend money. We got an amazing amount of stuff sponsored. All our locations were sponsored, as where all our hotel accommodations at the Vila Vita, Colina and the Holiday Inn. We also got the loan of a fleet of production and picture vehicles sponsored by a leasing company, Leaseplan, and the local Intermarché franchises sponsored the food. My favorite rental house in Amsterdam (GoldenEye) gave us a massive discount on filming equipment and a Lisbon lighting company, Cinelight provided lights and grip equipment. MacGyver Amsterdam provided all the post-production facilities. All that lowered our operational costs to such a degree that we could pay the crew a percentage of their regular fees up front, with a deferred contract for the back end.
But the main way we financed the film was love. Sounds a bit soppy, I know, but it takes a monumental amount of love, dedication and passion to make a feature film. I can’t thank the producers, sponsors, donors cast and crew enough.
Q. Your film will have its world premiere at the Atlanta Film Festival. What made you choose this particular festival?
A. I wanted to showcase the film in the US, and I was looking at festivals that focus on independent films. The ATLFF has been championing high quality indies throughout its long history, and Atlanta is such an interesting film city. I’m really happy to be screening there. The timing is fantastic. We just completed post- production this year, so to be at a prestigious festival early in the season is amazing. I’m really looking forward to it.
Q. Will you be attending the festival?
A. Absolutely. Wouldn’t miss it. I’ll be introducing the film, and there will be a Q&A after. My 1st Assistant Director, Karen Radzikowski will be there too, and join me for the Q&A. I’m really happy she’s coming up, so I won’t be on my lonesome! I’ll also be sitting on a panel discussion ‘From shorts to first feature’, and I’ll be on the jury for the music video competition.
Q. Next steps. What does the future hold?
A. More movies I hope! In the near future I’ll be focusing on getting The Right Juice into more festivals and into distribution. I’m developing a number of scripts, but nothing concrete yet. Basically on the look out for scripts and producers. I’d love to do a project in the US!