Interview with director Patrik Krivanek


Patrik Krivanek is a Czech film director, producer and writer. He studied film at the University of Westminster (Westminster Film School). He is a former Vice President of the University of Westminster Film Society and director of the Westminster Film Festival. Previously, he studied at the Film & TV School Wales – the University of South Wales (formerly Newport Film School). During his studies, he became a member of BAFTA Cymru, Royal Television Society and has worked on Britain’s Got Talent as a production assistant. His experience includes working on many short and feature films, high-end commercials and TV programs (including Red Bull and Ferrari). In 2017, he was the Assistant Director on the Czech feature film, The Smiles of Sad Men (Dan Svatek, 2018), which launched into cinemas in 2018 with an attendance of 180 thousand people. In 2019, the film won the Czech Lion. The film also won a total of four NASK 2018 awards, granted by Czech and Moravian cinema operators: best actor, best adaptation, best director and best film of the year. The film was among the five best Czech movies from which academicians chose a nominee for the Oscars. At the moment, he is producing a new film, Two Words as the Key (Dan Svatek, 2020), shooting all around the world (USA, India, Indonesia, Japan, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland) with a production budget of round $2.5 million. This film was promoted at The Marché du Film Producers Network in Cannes during the Cannes Film Festival 2019. Additionally, he is an award-winning filmmaker. Many films he scripted, directed or produced either won or were nominated for awards at international film festivals all around the world, including Los Angeles, New York, London, Mumbai, Tel Aviv, Prague, Cardiff and Elche.

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

The first film I’ve seen in the cinema was Dances with Wolves (Kevin Costner, 1990) when I was about five years old – my mum took my sister and me to the cinema for the first time to watch Beethoven (Brian Levant, 1992), a family comedy film, but we went into the wrong screening room, and the first thing I watched on a big screen was a man, killed by arrows – I was terrified but I started to love the cinema. When I was about 8 years old, I spent all of my pocket money given from my parents on VHS rentals. I have watched hundreds of films that were not appropriate to my age. I simply loved everything about films. I wanted to make movies myself.

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

Definitely not. I don’t think it’s important to study in a film school to become a successful filmmaker, but film school give you resources and it’s a place where you can experiment – use all of the expensive equipment for free. It’s also a place which pushes you to research film history more in depth or research the area which you are interested in. It’s a place where you are surrounded by other creative minds, and with some of those people, you will be cooperating for the rest of your life. Out of the film institutions, the best way to become successful filmmaker is to work hard and present your films to others – Your films need to be seen. Film anything which is close to you, believe in your story, believe in your work and one day (and it’s maybe tomorrow), it will be seen by someone who gives you opportunity to film your bigger film next time.

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

Sometimes it’s hard to keep fighting (the financial aspect is always an issue) but the feeling that hundreds – or thousands – of people who love films are watching your stories is priceless. For me it’s almost impossible to stop fighting; stop believing.

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

It’s the same for every film you make; you are never good enough, and even if you are, you shouldn’t think you are. There will always be someone more talented than you, but remember – it’s not the competition. It’s mostly about you, your talent and dedication. And trust me, everyone has some kind of a talent. I also had to learn, that filmmaking is about synergy; trying to find the right path, right resources, right people to work with. Always learn from your mistakes and always fight harder to make something better, something bigger than last time. It’s also important to listen critiques, but don’t take them negatively – use them to become a better filmmaker – to improve your films. They can be hard sometimes, but never let them kill your passion. Think about them and learn from them.

  • 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?

The film was shot on Arriflex 16SR and 16mm Kodak Vision3 film stock. Shooting film is also a bit more challenging than shooting digital. You have to prepare and be prepared for everything. The set for our period drama was built by ourselves in the film studio at our university in London. We were permitted to use a film studio for 8 hours only! We didn’t use any external monitors, and production was limited by the amount of film stock we were permitted to use (600ft = 16 minutes). Pre-production was also very short, about 3 weeks only. The most important part of your films is the cast – You always have to find the right actors who are not only talented actors but who are also able to analyse the story the same way you do. Finding good actors always needs some time which we didn’t have, but luckily we have managed to make it happen in a very short time – Many nights without the proper sleep, such a challenging experience, but worthy! 

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

It was in the post-production of this project; we didn’t have enough quality footage to cover all I wanted, so we ended up shortening the film into a shorter piece – we cut out like 1.5 minute. At the end it was a good decision as it added the pace I wanted.

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

I love to work with people. Not just head of departments but also with people covering assistant roles. I believe they are the most important element of your production. I love to communicate with them and motivate them even if they are not doing things correctly sometimes. We have all been there! Also, I always take everyone’s opinion into consideration – I am always learning from others. People who experienced working with me know that I am not a director or producer dictating orders – I believe in everyone’s talent. I think this is important for every successful production.

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

Audiences want to be entertained but also very often educated. They want to switch from the outside world and be a part of your story. For example, be a super-hero. They want to learn about something and very often it’s about themselves, and the filmmaker’s role is to present them the narrative and visual piece that will make this happen.

  • 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 a big part of my life. I believe that it’s super important to submit your films into film festivals. Films have to be seen! They are made for people, not to be hidden on your hard drives. Visiting film festivals is also important as they are great places for networking, and you never know who you are going to meet – and it can be a career changing contact, sometimes. It’s also great to see the work of others.

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

A filmmaker, or any other artist on the planet, should remain himself and shouldn’t follow a recipe/books like “Only the way to make a good art in the 21st century.” You always should take a risks and experiment, be brave. You should believe in your work because it’s probably good… or if it’s not now it will be. You should believe in yourself and you should never surrender! Never stop challenging yourself, and never stop working hard because you never know if your next destination is not the Dolby Theater during your Oscar speech.