BTA interview

site.btaBelgian, Bulgarian Filmmakers on Swapping Satellite for Turtle When on Budget

Belgian, Bulgarian Filmmakers on Swapping Satellite for Turtle When on Budget
Belgian, Bulgarian Filmmakers on Swapping Satellite for Turtle When on Budget
From left to right: Svetla Dionissieva, Mira Staleva, Geraldine Chaplin, Stefan Kitanov, Jessica Woodworth (Bulgarian Cultural Institute in London Photo)

Belgian filmmaker Jessica Woodworth is the writer and director of King of the Belgians and The Barefoot Emperor. Bulgarians Mira Staleva and Stefan Kitanov were co-producers of the two films. After watching the British premiere of The Barefoot Emperor on Sunday, the three gave an exclusive interview for BTA. They shared some of the challenges they face as independent filmmakers, which inspire them to apply unique problem-solving, including swapping a falling satellite for a turtle.


The full interview for BTA follows:

Q: Tell us a little bit about your role in making the films.

Woodworth: I am the co-producer, co-director, co-writer of King of the Belgians and The Barefoot Emperor, among other films. I have spent many years working in Bulgaria with my partner Peter Brosens. We are based in Belgium, but we have spent a lot of time working in Bulgaria.

Staleva: We met back in the day with Jessica and Peter, and it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. So we came out to work on these two amazing films - King of the Belgians and The Barefoot Emperor. And now there is a third one coming out - Luka, in post-production. Other than that, we are also behind Sofia Film Festival, Sofia Meetings, Cinema House in Sofia, Bulgaria.

Kitanov: My particular role behind this screen is co-producer of King of the Belgians, The Barefoot Emperor, and the upcoming Luka, which was produced, directed and written by Jessie Woodworth and Peter Brosens.

Q: When you have such a production, spanning multiple countries, what are some of the challenges that are not typical of a movie that was shot in a single region or country?

Woodworth: Money. Time, money… To move a whole crew is such a chaos and very expensive. We were really fortunate with the great help we got at the locations represented in the story King of the Belgians. In Bulgaria, which is one of the set locations together with Albania, Montenegro, Serbia, etc., we found all the perfect locations here. This helps with the logistics, it helps to save time and to concentrate on the efforts. We had a large number of Bulgarians on the team. This keeps the process as streamlined as possible. Then, of course, we partnered with Bulgaria in co-production efficiently, so we also have to send money in Bulgaria. It worked out really, really well. We drove thousands and thousands of kilometres looking for the locations that were going to be credible. We had a great time. We had a lot of mish-mash [a Bulgarian dish made with vegetables, eggs, and cheese] - mish-mash was a magic word.

Staleva: Yes!

Woodworth: You can also kind of describe the co-production as mishmash - different people from the Netherlands, from Turkey, from Bulgaria... Bulgaria has great professionals in cinema. We are absolutely happy to expose them internationally, so we can bring even more international co-productions.

Staleva: The level of technicians is super high, the roads are great, the food is wonderful. The type of humour of the Belgian and Bulgarian people is kind of really nice. We get along really well. Our humility and sense of humour... We have a lot of things in common, so we just connect.

Kitanov: It's not only money. And if we are talking about money, we should mention the Bulgarian support for the Bulgarian National Film Center, its talents and its energy. When it's talents, money, locations, food and drinks, it's a great mixture of energy, which is behind any creative process. I think that is obvious, once you see the result.

Q: We can all think of the benefits of having a big star such as Geraldine Chaplin in your cast. Are there any drawbacks?

Woodworth: No. She appears in The Barefoot Emperor, the sequel, which we shot on Tito's island - Brijuni Island in Croatia. First of all, the geography - we were on an island, so we were quite isolated throughout the whole process. We shot the whole thing there. We also had Udo Kier, who is a very well-known actor, so we had two stars. Both of them are really humble and accessible. They were a real part of the crew. It was like one big family isolated on an island. They don't have egos - they are just as fragile as any other actor arriving on set. By nature, they are not complicated - they are really generous. They brought their decades and decades of experience. This raises the level higher.

Kitanov: That's absolutely true. I was amazed to see how normally they behave. They were a part of the family, a part of the team. They didn't want to be treated differently, they didn't want to have a separate caravan, where to hide, they didn't want to have separate meals. They were coming to the common tables.

Staleva: The way they worked with the actors was absolutely generous.

Q: Correct me if I am wrong, but some of the worst critics that artists have are the artists themselves. So, whenever you are faced with your own piece of art, with your own movie, you cannot help but notice things that you wish you had done differently - a shot that needed better lighting, a line that could have been directed better. Does that cause you any stress and, if so, how do you tackle it?

Woodworth: In the very beginning, it's a struggle. Years of decision-making, conscious or unconscious, always trying to hold on to the intuition. This is our best option - to trust out intuition. Especially when we are crafting comedy - you really have to trust your intuition, doing so all the way through the process. And it's a matter of semantics - I am searching, not doubting. So, when you are insecure, you just accept that this is a part of the search. It's not doubt, it's a search. When you finally reach the end of the mix and colour grading, it doesn't belong to you anymore. Of course, your soul is sitting in there, a piece of you is there, absolutely. You are very vulnerable when you share. But when it's done, it's done. It's the absolute maximum you could give, so there's no regrets - zero. This is the kind of cinema that we produce - we do not strive to please everyone. Instead, we are trying to preserve the integrity of the work, which requires us to take risks and push boundaries. The scariest thing is to try and make comedy - to trust that the viewer will step into your world. Comedy is the most difficult thing to do on Earth. It's very easy to make people cry, but to have people bond through laughter is a whole different thing. When you share laughter, it's a beautiful bridge between people to take. We have no regrets after we gave everything we had. It takes a long time, it is a big risk, and you have to really believe. We don't consider ourselves artists, we are more like craftspeople, because you craft collectively. We work together, Peter and I, so ego is never in the way tripping us up. It's very obvious when things are working or not. This film brought us huge joy and a lot of friendships. Last night there was a lot of laughter in the cinema.

Kitanov: It's important when there's a comedy to have viewers with a sense of humour. There was one person, I think he was Pakistani, who came and said, "I enjoyed the film very much, but I didn't know why they were laughing so much". Improvisation and intuition are very much they ways Jessica and Peter work. The important thing is, you are searching to know what you are searching for and to figure out what you want to achieve, and Jessica and Peter know. That's why they leave the process to their improvisation and intuition. They change a lot of things during the process, but, at the end of the day, they know what they want to achieve. And they keep the costs within the budget.

Staleva: Their background is in documentaries, so they know how to make things efficient and cheap. And this helps a lot.

Kitanov: They are Belgian.

Woodworth: I have a small anecdote. We were supposed to shoot a satellite falling from the sky, but this was too expensive to create. So instead, we just put a turtle on the road. This was much cheaper.

Kitanov: It was a Bulgarian turtle, so it came even cheaper.

Woodworth: Very skilled though.

Q: This reminds me of another brilliant comedy - Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The crew was on a tight budget, so they could not afford horses for the knight characters to ride. And this gave birth to one of the most memorable skits, where the knights mimed horse-riding, while their porters trotted behind them banging coconut shells together.

Staleva: Limitations are only enriching the experience. Once you are pressed to consider limitations, then you become creative. You come up with really interesting solutions.

Woodworth: We wouldn't know what to do with a big budget of 10 million euro. We don't need it.

Q: Did I hear correctly that there is a third film planned in the series?

Woodworth: There are two in the story - King of the Belgians and The Barefoot Emperor. We are just finishing a third co-production in this partnership. It is called Luka. We shot it in Sicily

Kitanov: It is based on a novel by Dino Buzzati called The Tartar Steppe.

Woodworth: Geraldine is also in this film. She plays a man there. We felt we had to keep her as part of our family, so we cast her as a general of a military regiment in Sicily in the future. And a very convincing general too. So, you will be able to watch her in this role soon.







By 16:30 on 01.10.2023 Today`s news

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