Interview with director Nicole Vanden Broeck

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

As filmmakers, I guess we all have that moment in which we made our first home video or watched that movie that stuck with us for years. But aside from that, I think for me it was really just a feeling, that maybe as a kid I didn’t fully comprehend but as I grew older I realized, that films made me feel heard and seen. That the empathy that I felt towards certain characters and situations made me feel less alone in my personal and internal struggles. And after I understood that, I wanted to make other people feel the same way, even if it was just a few.

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

I don’t think it’s really necessary, especially considering that people have different ways of learning. But I would say that it is helpful, or at least it was for me. Because it puts you in a place where you have the opportunity to meet other filmmakers that could become lifelong collaborators and in an atmosphere where films are the core of every activity and conversation. It also allows you to try and fail, to experiment and learn.

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

I guess there’s something to be said about the naivety of getting started. When we are at that point, we normally tend to think that things are possible because we don’t exactly know what they imply. And I think this is great, because maybe if we really knew we wouldn’t even try. Once you experience all the pros and the cons, all the setbacks involved to get to a place of satisfaction, I think that’s when the decision to keep going becomes the real question. In my case, it came during film school and I think it was the perfect place because you’re not out in the “real” world just yet. It’s just a matter of being bold to question if you see yourself doing anything else, if you’ll be happy doing something else with your life. And if you’re honest enough, then you’ll have your answer. 

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

I actually think I was asking myself that exact same question we were just talking about during the pre-production of this film: if this was what I was supposed to be doing? But my team kept believing in me, no matter what. So, I guess I learned that sometimes we can be judgmental and harsh on ourselves, to the point that we become our own setback. But if people keep believing in you, that means you might be doing something right, that you are in the right place. In the end, it’s been incredible to see how the film has spoken to all ages, even though it’s told from a child’s perspective. People have responded to amazingly to it and it will be premiering in one of Portugal’s most prestigious film festivals in October.

  • 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?

Well, it’s always challenging to direct kids, but working with actors is my favorite part of filmmaking. We needed a 6-year-old boy and as soon as I saw Kue Lawrence, I knew it was him. After casting him, we found out he had shared scenes with Steve Carell in a Beautiful Boy and we were even more excited to have the opportunity to work with him, he did an amazing job. During production, the hardest thing to achieve was the production design of the market. We wanted to set the story in the early ‘50s, so we rented a warehouse and built it from scratch, so a considerable part of our budget went into making this happen. Hence, the budget for the other location, the bedroom, had to be compromised and we didn’t have as many elements to play with as we would have liked to. Finally, the post production process was smooth. Our editor Benjamin Tolentino has an incredible amount of experience, he’s very talented and easy to collaborate with.

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

The writer, András Roder, who is also the director of photography and executive producer of the project, came up with the story from a personal experience he had as a kid. He once stole one bean from a market and had nightmares about it. Being the cinematographer, it was only natural that he wanted to explore the nightmare not only metaphorically, but visually. We had the intention of having the rain of beans projected boy’s face when he is looking out the window, but since we were shooting in 16mm and with a limited amount of time, the shot didn’t come up as we aimed it to and we decided to take it out of the film. We always knew this was a risk, but we still wanted to try, so we filmed a backup of the shot without the projection and we ended up using that one.

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

Collaboration is crucial, it can sometimes make or break your film. I can say I’ve been lucky with most my collaborators, particularly in this film. I think it all comes down to trust, if you’re teaming up with a person who doesn’t trust you or you don’t trust, it’s going to be hard and it’s most definitely going to be reflected in the movie. When there is trust, on the day when the problems come and decisions have to be made on the spot, the team will be able to get on board knowing that you’ll always make the best choice possible for the film and the story.

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

Well, I believe audiences have different agendas, but if I had to generalize I would say audiences want to feel something. Call it to live someone else’s life, to have an experience, to escape; it’s all about having feelings. From watching a chase scene in an action movie to a slow dance in a romantic one, we are emotion addicts. Now, the specificity of an audience is defined by what triggers those emotions. And I guess that’s what the filmmaker should take into consideration, the particular audience they want to get to. To be able to speak to the right audience, not all of it.

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

Film festivals are necessary to give exposure to the film and the creators behind it, but it is important to be informed and craft a plan considering the kind of film you have and where would you like it to go. If you are not clear with this, a lot of time and money can be wasted sending your film to festivals that are not looking for that type of content or thematic. There is a huge amount of festivals and it is also important to consider what they offer to promote your work, especially in the current pandemic context where in-person screenings and networking events are not happening in a lot of parts of the world.

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

Original and fresh always. A vision and specificity is all we’ve got if we want to make it as filmmakers. As humans with shared experiences, we do tend to tell the same stories over and over again, but we should tell them from a unique perspective, our own, which will make them personal and universal all at the same time.