Interview: Drazen Kuljanin

Sweden-based Independent filmmaker Drazen Kuljanin is the director of ‘How to Stop a Wedding’, which was recently shown at the CCA in Glasgow as part of the World of Film International Festival. Despite being Kuljanin’s debut feature film, ‘How to Stop a Wedding’ has received wide critical acclaim, including an award at the Warsaw International Film Festival in 2014. Unusually, the whole feature was shot in five hours on a train between Malmö and Stockholm. Cat Acheson caught up with the man himself in Saramago Café to talk about this novel approach to filmmaking, with plenty of reflections on life and love along the way.

C: So, obviously you took a big risk in deciding to shoot an entire film in five hours on a moving train. What made you want to take on such a challenge?

D: Well, it actually goes way back. I always felt like making movies was such a consuming process and I always kind of knew it didn’t have to be. I was at this friend’s short film shoot one day a few years ago, and he was shooting for like 14 hours, and then only had one minute to finish the film, and I was like, “this can’t be right, there must be some other way to do this”. So after that I started making films on my own with no crew, just me and a camera and actors. We wouldn’t have to discuss stuff with a cinematographer, we didn’t think about, you know, a costume department, it was just [a case of] pushing a button to record these things from my actors.

In that way it was really easy for me to get things done, but I also like to get actors to do this with me for free, because it’s like, “sure, I have one hour, I can do this”. They don’t have to do it for a week or something like that.

That’s how it started, so I kind of took that with me when I was going to do this feature film, like, “let’s do this really, really fast”, because it’s really expensive making a feature film. Everyone was talking about how I shouldn’t do it, and I was like, “well if I do this in five hours it will be easy to get people to do it with me, like, crazy easy.” [The people I approached said] “oh, this is a really exciting project, we wanna do it”, and I had my crew in five minutes. So in a way it was to show that this can be done, but also because I just needed to do my feature film.

C: And do you feel that you get quite a different result from this kind of filmmaking? Do you feel like it’s more authentic?

D: I think so. Because you normally have so much time to rehearse and do more takes, it kind of makes it more natural and raw, you don’t think about it, you give your all for one shot. And I think it shows in the film. It just flows, and it’s not perfect, but it – it just is.

C: Did you have a clear image in your head of how you wanted each shot to look, or did you let it happen more spontaneously and naturally?

D: No, I’m actually more [into] following the actors. I just follow them and see what happens. And then Anna [Patarikna], who shot my film, talked about doing every single bit differently, so we tried to make it like “maybe they can sit over here, what if they lay down on the couch and we can shoot it from above”, little things like that.

Split Screen pic

C: So how did the rehearsal process work?  

D: Well, it wasn’t easy. I measured the train compartment and I built a little replica in my living room. And I also had a YouTube video of a train passing through a particular place, I think it was Tokyo or something like that. And then we talked about the scenes, what we were going to do, and they just kind of improvised, and then we talked about it more and then I shot it – I have a living room version of this film actually! I should release that as well (laughs). The actors were like “no, no, no, don’t show this to anybody! It’s our rehearsal!” So we rehearsed, and I recorded that, and then I wrote the script from there.

C: In the film we’re presented with these two characters who have very specific ideas about what it means to be in love, and we get to see how they’ve become paralysed and oppressed by those ideas. Was there any particular message or statement that you wanted the audience to take away from the story?

D: Well I was thinking of how powerful love can be, and for this [film] it’s almost like a drug, you know, you’re hypnotised, and there’s nothing else in the world, it’s so powerful. For young people maybe more than old, I guess! It’s a powerful thing that can crush you.

C: There are a lot of references in the film to the lack of authenticity in rom-coms like ‘Love Actually’, and the danger of expecting real life to work out that way. And yet at the same time the film is quite romantic and uplifting. So what made you decide to go down that route instead of taking a more cynical approach to love and ideas of love?

D: I think for the most part I was just really, really tired of how filmmaking is in Sweden. It always comes from more heavy ideas, like death or stuff like that, all that Birdman stuff. And I just wanted to do something more real, stuff that you can recognize. But also at the same time [I was] playing with the rom-com thing, because the characters are kind of like, she hates it, but she falls for it in the end. Somebody wrote that it’s a romantic comedy for people who hate romantic comedies, and I like that.

C: Was there any work that particularly influenced or inspired you? It seems like the film has quite a unique approach and style.

D: I like Jim Jarmusch a lot, this American director. He has an easy approach in his scenes, like, they’re not making a fuss about it. But I also like films that tell a story. One of my favourite films is Smoke, and in that film there’s this one scene where the actor tells a story about something that happened, and I like that because she does it in the middle of a party, and she talks about a trip to Italy when she was little. So [I like] this easy approach in filmmaking of just seeing what will happen.

How to stop a wedding pic

C: You’ve said that the film was largely reliant on crowdfunding. How did that work for you?

D: Yeah, I learned a lot about this part [of the process], because before, I took my camera and just shot it, but with this feature film I felt like I would let the crowd fund it a little bit and see what happened. It didn’t work as well as I thought it would, mostly because the crowdfunding audience is kind of more genre-orientated. Like, it should be some kind of zombie or vampire flic to make it work. It’s more of a nerd-culture orientation. Making this more broad film, more of a romantic thing, it didn’t work as well. But we got £1000, and that was pretty much what we needed for these five hours, so it worked out and I’m really grateful for that.

C: So would you say that crowdfunding is opening up more opportunities for independent filmmakers, or is it at the same time limiting them?

D: I think it’s a great opportunity, but I guess you need to know your crowd, and see what kind of people are out there and what kind of films they want to see. You have to have that little bit extra in it to make it work.

C: What projects do you have planned for the future?

D: I’m writing my next film right now. It’s called Filter, and it’s also a bit of a concept thing so I’m just trying to make it work. It’s about this woman looking for a child who’s been missing for five years, so she goes back to this place to seek her out again, or like to seek revenge. So I’m just trying to make it good, make it work.

C: Well I guess that after the success of ‘How to Stop a Wedding’ you feel like you have more license now to take risks and experiment?

D: Yeah, and now I’m getting paid to write as well, which is my first experience of that. So I feel like it’s opened a lot of doors for me, and people are listening now. Unlike before, they’re like, “oh, come in, come in, let’s see what your ideas are”. So yeah of course it actually did help. And that’s the biggest tip I could give to other filmmakers, you actually have to make it first, and then [opportunities come along]. Because it’s really hard to make this jump from short film to features. It’s a big risk so you really have to show people that you can do it, and then you can make your next film. This film has really surprised us all, this little film shot in five hours. I remember I bought a little computer to edit it, a really expensive computer, and then when I was done editing I sold the computer. So it really is our little film that we did in our living room, pretty much.

[Cat Acheson – @cat_acheson]

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