Interview with director Denis Gulyar

  • Was there a particular event or time that you recognized that filmmaking is your way of telling stories?

When I was a teenager and I saw a film of Stanley Kubrick, I think it was the Clockwork orange, I thought that this magnificent force of visual language is unstoppable. It creates a strong bond between creator and audience. That moment I realized, that all my love to telling stories should be created with language of cinema.

  • Do you think it is essential to go to a film institute in order to become a successful filmmaker?

No, absolutely not. But it is necessary to get basics. Somehow. To get all information right. I don’t support this saying: “all you need is practice”. Practice turns to be nothing good without well-built theoretical base. But nowadays you can avoid high-priced films schools to get it. I was in film school in 2011. But all I know today and everything I achieved is only my own efforts to get better each time I make mistakes. I’ve got 8 years of practice, but if I haven’t read and watch a great amount of content about filmmaking myself, all I’ve made might be the same level each time. In visual, substantial and professional way. Film schools just don’t give you any guarantees. It’s only up to you yourself all the time.

  • Is it harder to get started or to keep going? What was the particular thing that you had to conquer to do either?

If you mean to get start a career and keep going in it – it’s not hard to get started. Sometimes it’s more difficult to hang on, keeping it fresh and interesting for you each time you start a new project.  Also, it depends on your personality. I adore filmmaking and every new story I have to tell makes me happy deeply inside. However, speaking about commercials – in my practice it is more often about making something new, when customer doesn’t want it to be new. It’s hard to keep going in a routine, but that’s the case – being creative professional, when it is not necessary. May be this conflict is driving me through my entire job and giving me more energy each time.

If you mean starting a project and keep it going. Every new project is a spark, and whether you turn it into a flame or not is only up to your charisma and character.

  • What was the most important lesson you had to learn that has had a positive effect on your film? How did that lesson happen?

Unfortunately, I don’t remember the name, but once one film director said to me, that the most important instrument in director’s arsenal was an actor. And if I couldn’t work with him or her properly – I would fail, no matter what visual, sound or technical ideas I had. Since then I’ve been trying to develop this line of directing. And this commercial “What do mother want” is no exception.

  • What were the production realities from casting through editing that you had to accommodate? How did you navigate those compromises or surprises and still end up with a cohesive film?

Speaking about “What do mothers want”, it was fun. Really. We’ve got only two days to shoot 4 locations and over 10 setups. And one week to post production. And a little bit more than a week for preproduction. We had to work in very intensive rhythm. Luckily, it wasn’t the first time our team get in such conditions. Every single person in the team is a real professional. So there was no any troubles in making the whole process work. But for me the most difficult part was to put whole story in two minutes. I wanted and I still think that this story should be at least three minutes long. But our customer insisted it to be short. That’s why it was hard for me in the editing room to cut the parts. Because from my point of view, when you shorten a scene too much – you lose emotions. But the editor helped me a lot. Helped first, to find good way to create a compromise between what I wanted to do and what I had to do. Thank her a lot!

  • What was the hardest artistic choice you made in the making of a film, at any stage in production?

The hardest choice for me as a director was to reshoot a scene. It was my first serious short film with very low budget. In the editing room, my editor told me, that a scene that we shot in a perfect winter day with a perfect weather with all actors trying as hard as possible to act in -20 degrees outside – this scene didn’t work. At all. It looked stupid and fake. But not for me. Only for him. I was totally against reshoot. I saw that scene as a true masterpiece. Especially because the weather was on our side. It was a hard dramatic scene and snow was falling really hard and dramatic. It created necessary effect. It was a peace of luck to shoot that scene that day. The first thing that was stopping me of reshooting was that snow effect. I knew that we could not recreate such heavy and natural weather anyway. But my editor was very persistent. And the hardest part for me that time was to except my mistake, that I did something wrong. But we did it. We reshoot the whole scene. And the most magnificent part of it was, that despite the whole day was sunny and warm the exact moment we started filming the intensive snowfall happened. And it was so until the end of shooting. It was a true miracle. And scene we recreated appeared to be better. Really better. It was a good lesson for me but also the most difficult choice to make.

  • You are a collaborator. How have you discovered members of your team and how do you keep the relationship with them strong?

I just listen. Listen a lot. Listen and memorize other opinion. I always try to speak with every team member, even if a department is not my jurisdiction. I try to be communicative. I like to ask what people think of. It’s not about me using other ideas and no using my own, it’s about being a good kind and understanding guy for everyone. I don’t like when a director is just a strange powerful person somewhere really high in hierarchy. Project team is not a bunch of laborers. It is a family. Only if other members of a team know that their points of view is important to a director, they act truly, open-minded and with pleasure.

  • What do audiences want? And is it the filmmaker’s role to worry about that?

I will never forget one saying. Rupert Wainwright (“Stigmata” film from 1999) once said to me: “Denis, all we do as film directors is everything for an audience… Otherwise, to whom are you making a film? To yourself? Your mom? No. It’s always about the audience”. Audience is a part of any film. If no one watches your movie – your movie doesn’t exist. This is my belief. And it is not about doing only what an audience wants you to do. But about getting in its’ mind and heart. Creating a dialog between you and a viewer. If not, you become mute. My opinion.

  • What role have film festivals played in your life so far? Why are they necessary? How do you get the most out of them?

I got into industry only after a film festival. I came to Big Bag Films in 2015 and showed my award from Saint-Petersburg’s film festival. It wasn’t my fist effort to join them, but only after that award producer gave me a little job to see what I could do. Since then I’ve been working with Big Bag Films. In fact, with Big Bag we’ve made “What does mothers want”. So, festivals play important role in filmmaker’s life. It is so in my.

  • Do you believe that a filmmaker should be original and fresh or he/she should stick to classic but safe cinema style?

There is no such thing as safe cinema style. It depends on your taste, your experience, your beliefs. Nothing can promise you a success. And nowadays it is very hard to be original, after more than a century of cinema. Whatever you do is a copy. But originality appears when you put something your own. When you try to find depth in standard. Did Guy Ritchie invent “fast clip montage” that became his style? Nope. He used a method that was popular in British music videos of the time. And earlier it was popular in Soviet avangard cinema of 1920th. But he did use it his own way to develop his storytelling technique. Everything you make or use depends on a story you tell. Take for example on of my favorite film directors Ron Howard. Can you easily distinguish his style? I can’t. But each of his films is beautiful on it’s own way. Because he knows how and when to use any technique. Practice and theory with a pinch of courage and experiment someday will definitely make you original. And there’s no need to believe in safe or classic cinema style.