Straight from the horse's mouth.
Sun, 2 April 2006
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Sammy's note: I should make it clear that this Q&A was not actually done by me. It was passed on to Buttonhole via our supporters at 20th Century Fox. I don't want to try and take credit for someone else's work!.
Born in the sixties in the then-Soviet state of Kazakhstan, Russian director Timur Bekmambetov has enjoyed a long and varied career, including ten years working in advertising. Now in his forties, he's reaching an international audience with his surprise world-wide smash hit Night Watch trilogy, based on the popular books by Sergei Lukyanenko. He's unfazed by the sudden acclaim, brushing off comparisons to Tarantino -"I don't think its right. I mean, I'm not Tarantino"- and claiming not to feel stressed by success -"I don't do pressure. I don't. It's fun". He puts some of his success down to local wisdom from his home-town, Atyrau: "go where the grass is green." It may be a village saying in Khazakstan, but according to Bekmambetov, it's a motto that will serve you equally well in Hollywood. How did you manage to make a movie that looks so good with so little money (an estimated $4,200,000)?
It's my background; I was a director of commercials, so I was able to use different techniques, different styles. Every commercial covers different ground, different
ideas, and it's my profession to direct and to tell stories- for me, it's very organic. Also, it was a good budget for the Russian film industry. It's enough money to do
whatever you want here. I have experience working with an American producer, Roger Corman, who knows a lot of secrets in making movies look bigger than their budget.
Could you reveal one of Roger Corman's secrets to us?
The main secret is that the only important thing for the director or filmmaker to do is to imitate a bigger budget than he has with a creative idea. For example, I directed a movie for Roger, The Arena. He sent the story to me and the budget was $250000. It was a movie about the gladiators in ancient Rome and he said, "Maybe we'll produce it in Moscow?" It had scenes with a coliseum, an amphitheatre, and we decided ok, if we don't have the money to go somewhere in the south, we'll shoot in Moscow, but imitate Germany, because the Roman Empire was huge, it reached even Germany. There is not enough marble and stones in Germany, so ok, it has to be a wooden coliseum. So we decided to build a wooden coliseum. We didn't have enough money to build the whole coliseum, but maybe the Romans in Germany also didn't have the money to build the whole coliseum. So we'll build just half of it! So you just have to have a creative idea.
Is Night Watch an indication of how Russia is changing as a whole?
We didn't have a movie business tradition here, but that helps us to be successful because we haven't had any bad past experiences. We hadn't had the opportunity to show movies here in Russia and now we do. The CGI for Night Watch is an example. There was more than 400 CGI shots in the movie, but we didn't have a big studio with CGI departments in Moscow. So we decided to create our own mass community over the internet to produce the CGI. We're proud people, we created this directly; we decided we couldn't face doing it through studios. Directly it's much cheaper and we had a special relationship with the artists- we could communicate directly. We had more than 150 people working together through the internet. It's a new experience that comes directly out of our limitations.
With the success of the Night Watch trilogy, will you now travel to Hollywood?
I will. I cannot say that it makes me happy personally, but it helps me to discover new horizons and new people. It's just interesting. It isn't my goal to be somewhere in particular, but it's interesting. For sure if I have a Hollywood budget I will try to imitate Spielberg.
Which will be your favourite film in the trilogy?
Right now it's Day Watch for sure, because I'm doing Day Watch now, so I have to fall in love with it. I don't know what will happen with Dusk Watch.
I heard there were changes made to Night Watch for its international releases?
With Night Watch we took out ten, fifteen minutes of the movie because there was a sub-plot which was interesting for a Russian audience because it featured a very famous Russian actor, who is my friend. It was very beautiful and interesting to the Russian audience, but not necessary to the story itself. For the international version we don't need it because nobody knows this actor.
Do you have a favourite international cut?
With Night Watch we're trying to do something special for France, something special for Germany, something special for England, for everywhere. I cannot judge the best because I haven't had the opportunity to watch all the variations of the movie, but I think for Night Watch it was very important to have a good translation. There are a lot of details in the movie that are difficult to translate literally; it has to have some cultural adaptation or it will lose the sympathy of its audience. We didn't plan it to be international. It's a big problem for American movies that all their movies are produced to be global. Everything has to be globalised, the characters have to be understandable in Europe, in China, and it's a big problem for American filmmaking now, for sure. When we made Night Watch, we made it especially for Russian people, especially for the Russian market, we had an idea to explore it, which is why we were successful here. It has its own voice.
Will we be able to see those missing scenes on the DVD?
You can buy the Russian DVD for those scenes. I think it will be included in all versions. We made a commentary for the Russian market, but maybe Fox will decide you will have it. I don't enjoy doing it- how do you comment? I have nothing to say! I was trying to do it, but nothing happened.
Has the Russian cinema audience changed over the past few years?
Yes, it's changed over maybe the last three years, because we didn't have an audience five years ago. Five years ago we had two or three cinemas in Russia. Now we have a thousand screens. It grows at the rate of two or three hundred screens a year. So now we have an audience. Before that we had only a DVD market.
Why were you sought after by so many major studios in the Night Watch bidding war?
I think why they need me is I will do something different. During the last year I had a lot of possibilities to understand studios. I found it's a myth about the bad guys from studios trying to kill your creativity. It's a myth, it doesn't exist; they are trying to use your creativity. They are paying money because they need creative ideas. The problem is your problem, because sometimes you have to control yourself, to make everything logical. I have to be responsible. I spent ten years in advertising making commercials. For me, it's very understandable, this relationship between director and client. In a commercial I feel freedom because somebody has to make a decision what
I have to do, but it's my decision how to do it. I have to achieve a goal, but how is my responsibility.
Some critics have said all you do is imitate US filmmakers.
|There he is, in all his glory. |
It's right… but it's wrong. I heard a lot of this kind of thing in Russia. But I think it's just a wrong understanding of the movie. Night Watch itself is a very Russian movie.
It's impossible to imagine this kind of movie somewhere else. Nobody else can do this. A movie with a depressing ending, a lot of inexplicable storylines, strange characters… It's a Russian reflection of American film culture. It's got our unique style but is a reflection of the genre movie. I like to scare people. I like it. The
American film culture has a huge experience of that and I like it. But I cannot repeat it. I cannot be an American director; I will always be a Russian director.
Which directors do you consider an influence?
Lots of directors. Almost every director I have seen. If I've seen the movie it means it's an influence on my own filmmaking. Every movie has a reflection in Night Watch. Even if it's a bad film itself. The character in Bad Boys II, I really like him- the funny black policeman. For sure, maybe somewhere in Night Watch you will find a reflection of this movie. Fellini, or James Cameron, or the Wachowski Brothers, I like all of them.
How do you try to make a movie appeal to people across the world?
I think I have an idea how to do this. Russians, Americans, French people, we are all the same. You don't have to think about the difference between people. If you try to be yourself, either in the United States or anywhere, I think it's possible. Of course you have to research, you have to understand, but you have to talk about yourself.
What did shooting in Moscow bring to the film?
It's a very cinematic city. It has a style, a simple style. It's not like Paris. It's ready to be discovered. It's a very mythological city. There's no patience with it yet for an international audience. Night Watch is the first step. We will shoot more movies in Moscow and international audiences will discover this new world. Because as I understand, the international audience think that in Night Watch everything was created to be better or more dramatic, but its not, it's the city. They've just never seen it, it's their first time and it looks like The Lord Of The Rings, very ancient. But it's a real city, it exists and all these characters exist.
What do you think of the presentation of Russia in foreign films?
It's funny. I've seen Moscow in The Bourne Identity- there was a scene in Germany. It doesn't look interesting because these directors don't really feel Moscow, there's no
soul. It's like a tourist. All the tourists have the same pictures in Paris. The Eiffel Tower. It's the same here, the same five pictures. We used very simple places, not
"and now, here is Red Square".
Do you have any rules about filmmaking that you try to follow?
I don't have any rules. Everything is possible. If you feel it… What's good about Moscow is, Moscow's very different. If you're in the centre, five miles away it's very different. But you have to live here to understand this difference.
Are there any young Russian filmmakers following in your footsteps?
In Russian we don't have old and young filmmakers, everybody is young here. For everybody it's their first or second movie. It's why its so good here, we have a group of people who have the same experience. There's a good energy. Thirty years ago we had a great film industry and culture and Russian directors were very good. But now we are all the same status. We have one hundred and fifty million Russians and they are very proud to be Russian and see movies about themselves. Stalin produced himself, all the movies in Russia at that time. He chose Eisenstein. He was very smart. Very evil, but then all producers are evil.
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