Thursday, February 05, 2009

Interview with 17 year-old Filmmaker Misha Vertkin

Filmmaker Misha Vertkin

How long have you been into Film?

I've always loved the medium of film, it's fascinated me since I was about 10; however, I've only been into filmmaking for about 6 months. Vera City was my first venture into filmmaking.

Which filmmakers have inspired you?

All the filmmakers who stop at nothing to achieve their visual dream; and anybody who has a unique vision and take on the world. Robert Rodriguez especially inspired me, as whenever I hit a low I always thought: “he can do it, what makes me any different?”. Quentin Tarantino's writing has always been mind-blowing to me; and has helped me craft my own style of script writing; and the way in which he has built himself up is just incredible. Also, recently, I've been researching filmmakers on You Tube, and came across an amazing guy called Matt Brown: his style is incredible, and just seeing what he can achieve with a cheap £100 handicam is utterly inspiring.

You shot your first feature film at age 16, how does this happen? What was the inspiration? Did you ever doubt whether you would be able to finish this project?

Well, I wrote the script during my GCSE's, which was probably a bad idea; I often forgot that I had exams the next day! So, I finished the script, and was quite pleased with it; and contemplated sending it to the BBC writer's room, to try and get it produced professionally. However, in the end I thought, that as it was my first script it was unlikely to get through. So, I decided to produce it myself; I'd never made a film before in my life, so I thought it would be a good opportunity to teach myself, as I would learn gradually throughout the entire process.
I began to research heavily into equipment, and what I'd need; I then borrowed some money from my mum and bought everything I needed. Basic equipment, but I wasn't looking to make a blockbuster! I then decided to shoot in the summer, but as I was going away, I only had a timeframe of a month to shoot in. I planned meticulously, and thought it would be simple, and easily do-able! I scouted out friends who could act, and friends who couldn't and began to shoot. During all of this I was moving out of home (I moved twice during the shoot!), it rained 70% of the time (60% of the scenes were outdoors!) and one of my leads got kicked out of home half way during the shoot: there were so many challenges, that I won't go into too much detail! But I had about four mental breakdowns, and decided that I wasn't going to continue about five times; somehow, though, I finished everything in the month: I had 20 hours worth of footage and no idea how to edit. So, I began to learn.

I also started college, was in a couple of plays, and making more films; so, it took a lot longer to learn than I thought! I'm sorry I've written an essay! My inspiration was my motivation, and vision; I felt this message needed to be shown. I also wanted to show people,that you can do whatever the hell you want; as long as you have that sheer tenacity and sticking power.

Tell us about Vera City. What is it about? Who acts in it? What role did you play in making it? Who does this film appeal to? What audience are you going after?

Vera City explores the boundaries we set up in our lives, which hinder our movement and freedom. It's about encouraging a positive outlook in life, and establishing our values. This is all told through the eyes of a 15 year old girl, and her surreal journey through her own mental development. I don't want to give too much away about the story, as it's the shock, of seeing it for the first time; which drives the message home. However, I can say that it begins as a very ordinary story; following a girl, as she lives her teenage life, but it's how she begins to interpret things which eventually leads to this her world, being rocked a certain number of revelations; and looks at how she copes, and develops with all these new aspects in her life. On top of this, it's also a story of friendship; rebellion; drugs; violence; and a neurotic mother!

One major reason that I felt it necessary to produce this film, was that being part of this young generation, I felt that something needed to be done about the self-obsessive attitudes of young people in the urban world. It's about not taking life for granted, and seeing everything in it's true colours.

My role was, to put it simply: everything. I did absolutely everything production wise: I'm the writer, director, cinematographer, editor, grip, producer, etc! I also, act in it as well; I shaved my head entirely specifically for the role! No-one else wanted to do it for some reason, so I had to take it upon myself..

Acting is my other passion, so I knew a whole load of people who would be interested; however, during the shoot, a few people didn't turn up: which meant some very quick phone calls, and eventually finding stand-ins who'd never acted in their life! However, my main roles, were filled by brilliant actors; and they made this project possible. I also enlisted the help of my drama teacher, and mum: as I felt adults added a little credibility to the work!

This film appeals to everyone and anyone, as I think it's rare to meet someone who doesn't need a little boost in their life. A little film, to encourage them to see the beautiful things in life; not the shite!

However, mainly, my audience will be the 14-25 year olds: as I had to build a negative world for the story to work, therefore, there is a bit of swearing, drugs, and violence (a bit meaning quite a lot!). However, do not take this to mean it's not an intelligent film: I despise, unintelligent films; which only use sex, drugs and violence to sell their product; it's a ridiculous method, and whoever delves in it should be removed from society.

Tell us a little about your production. How much time did you spend in Pre-Production, Production, Post-Production?

Well, I planned everything precisely, as I didn't think I'd be able to cope otherwise. I planned every shot: about 1800 altogether (the finished film has quite a lot more!); I made about 10 different rehearsal schedules; I even contacted smarties about using their name in the film (they declined, but oh well!); I contacted a whole host of famous bands, hardly any of them replied and only one said yes! But planning, and writing the script took about a month. As I was the only crew, I bundled all my equipment into a big hold all, which I then carried around to every location (it weighed a ton!); the actors would then only learn the line that they were to say in the shot, as they hadn't had time to learn their lines! And due to the tight timeframe, I only ever really did one take for each shot. I would set up the mic, plug in the headphones and check all the levels; I would then set up my shot, direct my actors; make sure everything was ok, and shout “Go!”. Relying on myself, meant I got everything done extraordinarily fast; and all the actors were absolute stars. Post-production was a bit laborious; as I went through a lot during the process, and I felt my confidence dropping when I first started. However, it was so satisfying to see a finished scene that it always motivated me to go onto the next: I would often stay up till the early hours to try and finish another scene. It became an obsession, which I didn't really have time for!

What was the craziest that happened while making this movie?

Well, so many things happened that I eventually lost count; I resigned myself to just expecting the worst, and just getting on with it. My lead got kicked out of home half way during the month, so, we had to sort out a place for her to live; and deal with everything else; and then still carry on filming. She insisted, despite me saying otherwise! I moved out of home and stayed in one place for two weeks and then moved again, as the contract ran out! Another person, dyed their hair half way through the shoot, so her hair changes colour randomly in different scenes! We took a door to a graveyard, a ladder to a field in the middle of know where, broke into a historic castle: and the list goes on, and on!

What did you shoot on? How did you go about financing the film?

I spent a huge amount of time researching the camera, and didn't really have any money! However, I managed to secure 3CCD Panasonic MiniDv camera off ebay; the GS400. Brilliant camera, which shoots at 25fps, and is small enough to carry easily, and bulky enough to handle smoothly. It was perfect! The mic turned out to be my biggest problem, as I bought a Rode videomic, and then realised I'd be filming in huge number of outdoor locations; and didn't have enough money for a windshield! This made the outdoor shoots frustratingly long, as we would begin to roll when a huge gust of wind would come and ruin the sound; it once took 42 takes to do one shot! I did everything on a budget of nothing, I bought the equipment through borrowing money; but everything else, was paid for through the enthusiasm of my cast, and perseverance. My lead roll travelled in on the bus everyday! A brilliant actress, and a bloody lifesaver. When shooting in certain locations, such as friends houses, I would crash on a sofa; so, I could prepare early the next morning. It was a crazy month.

What has been the biggest challenge you have faced in completing your first feature film?

Becoming demotivated, and beating myself up about how it's not turning out the way I imagined. But then I'd experiment, learn more, and it becomes my vision. It's just those low times that I have trouble with.
Many filmmakers will live their whole lives and never make a feature. You finished your first at age 17. How do you feel about that?

I feel great that I've done it, and can't wait to make my next one, but I don't see why anybody else couldn't do it! The age doesn't matter, I've met people aged 13 more mature than people nearing their 40's; it's just about your how you live your life. I just love the feeling you get when you create something, it's like nothing else I've experienced and I want to keep on feeling that; until the day I die.

What are some of the important lessons you learned in the making of Vera City?

Film as much footage as you can, take your time with every shot, and make sure everything is perfect before you shoot; DIRECT your actors, realise the vision in your head, don't just let it go because you're under pressure; and see the film as a whole, not as separate scenes, this will help you connect everything together in post!

What are your plans for distribution? Is this a film you are looking to sell? Are you submitting to Film Festivals? Where will we be able to see the film?

I began to publicise my work at first, by the only way I knew how, at the time: by going to parties and telling everyone there! I then began to research it, and look into distribution; and contacted the local Picturehouse and Pheonix: who are both very interested in screening the finished film. I'm also going to get the local press involved, as they're always looking to promote young people. I then looked into duplication, and may eventually work with my cousin to create a website to sell DVD's. However, I' going to start by creating a shop on 'create a space', as then I won't have to worry about any inventory! I don't know whether I will submit the film to festivals just yet, as I still have so much to learn, most independent feature films are made by people with years of experience, and a budget, I have neither! I do want people to see this though, as it's an interesting story, and message; and also, it's interesting to see my learning curve as you progress through the film! I'll definitely send you a link, when I've sorted everything out.

What are your goals for this film?

To have it screened, and to make a profit, which will pay for any debts and contribute towards my next feature: which I should be shooting next summer.

Will you share Vera City with your Mom?

My mum was in it! She plays a neurotic mother, which she found incredibly fun. She's a drama teacher, so was excellent and definitely inspired everyone else on set.

What's next for you? Are you going to film school? Do you have plans to make more films?

Well, it all depends on my results; I hope to go university, to study drama; and then to do a post-grad course at Bristol Old Vic. However, during all this I'm going to be incessantly making as many films as I can; I've got four more finished scripts, and am working on a whole lot more. I'm not really a fan of going to film school, as I learn much faster via teaching myself, and I don't believe you can be taught the act of filmmaking. It all just comes with experience. You can be taught how to use a camera, of course; but you have develop your own style of story telling, and I believe I can do that while doing everything else in my life. So, I have a whole range of possibilities! I always have a main plan, and then branch my way off it; and if it doesn't work out, I just go back to the main plan: and it seems to be working so far!

What do you have to say to any filmmaker out there who has yet to make their first feature film?

Just keep going, and never stop. If you get kicked down, just get back up; dust yourself off, and keep going. Research as much as you can, and ultimately experiment! Write a script that you truly believe in, and as cliché as it sounds, just believe that you're capable of doing it.


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