Name: Matthias Van Hijfte
Interview with Luc Walpoth (Switzerland)
Director of "Replika"
Combining his three passions- writing, taking pictures and acting- Director Luc Walpoth rolled into the world of film. We got the chance to learn from him on how his successful short film Replika came to life and on his interest about highly collaborative art.
The film is uncanny in style but the core is an emotional family story. Was it hard to the find the right tone? Which films inspired you in that aspect? How did the story develop?
The premise of Replika was imagined by binding two opposite topics: On one hand, the emotional aspect of the loss of a child and on the other, our materialistic habit of replacing objects as soon as they don’t work anymore. We buy, we use, we throw away. The quasi-automatic conflict that was created by putting these two concepts at the same level helped me to balance the world and keep the emotional stake as high as possible during the entire length of the film.
Some great science fiction movies, like Children of Men, Blade Runner or Gattaca, of course, inspired me, but when writing the screenplay with my co-writer Klaus Pas, we mostly focused on the human drama and not on the science-fiction gimmicks. Sometimes it’s very hard to renounce a good visual idea, but if it doesn’t serve the theme of the movie, there is no point in keeping it.
In Sci-Fi, you have to be very rigorous and stick to the story, because every week, you have a brilliant visual idea. One thing I learned over the years is that the audience sees everything, so if it’s not to the point, they will notice it. That's why most of the time I try to stick with the drama.
Actors playing distant people, acting with things that are only added later on in post-production. How was that the experience for them? How do you handle actors as a director?
I love working with actors, and I had the chance to have fantastic ones on Replika. They liked the project and noticed that I knew what I was looking for, so they trusted me and this is the first step towards starting a collaboration. As in the case of most of the short films, we didn’t have much time for rehearsals, but I tried to spend as much time as possible with them in pre-production, to talk about the characters. That also gave me the possibility to study how to help each of them to access what I was looking for in each character. I gave them some homework, notes, and questions to think about. They arrived on the set with a clear image of their character, and that helped a lot.
Interacting with imaginary interfaces was not the most difficult part. As the plot is quite dense and has a lot of different emotional moments, the most difficult part was to help them to find the same, or similar, energy they had in the previous scene, which sometimes was shot a few days or a week before.
I can imagine that the post-production for a film like Replika must have been a true journey. With whom you worked on it? Which problems occurred and how long did the post take? What was the most difficult part of this process?
My biggest problem during the post-production of Replika was to decide and accept to finish the editing. It was hard to judge the rhythm and the dramaturgy, without the sound, the music and the VFXs. I had the chance to work with a very competent and flexible crew in post-production. They allowed me to do some small changes on the cut, even after I had given them the final cut. Everybody was extremely motivated, but as it was a huge work and the budget was not sufficient, it took more than a year to finish the post-production.
The second hardest thing is to keep the same energy as a director, over such a long period. You always have to ask for the best but in the limit of the possibilities; knowing that each modification will delay the entire project for a couple of weeks or more. I feel very lucky that my producers and co-producers trusted my vision and let me finish the film as I wanted.
You have been selected in many film festivals around the world. Which festivals had the most memorable audience reactions?
Difficult question. I haven’t been to all the festivals, but one of the greatest moments was to listen to a debate about Replika between two spectators in a bar. It was during the shnit International Short Film Festival, in Bern, Switzerland. They didn’t know I was the director, and they were so passionate about getting all the answers that they had seen the short film two or three times. They wanted to know and understand everything about it. Having such a great audience in your home country is a pleasure because it’s rare. On the other hand, I had a very nice professional feedback in Los Angeles, and it opened some great doors for me in the US.
Currently, you're re-working your short to a feature? Seems like a hard nut to crack?
Yes, the difficulty is that I didn’t want to do the same story. I don’t believe that short stories are conceived to be transformed into feature length stories, so I kept the world, I kept the characters but created a new plot. The theme of the feature is about the transfer of knowledge from one generation to the other. I wrote the first draft alone last year, and I’m currently working on the second draft with Klaus, who co-wrote Replika. The asset to use a short film to push the feature film is that it’s hard to convince a producer to invest in the development of a Sci-Fi project. But with a successful short movie and a great script, the chance to convince him could be a little higher.
You were also involved with NISI MASA's European Short Pitch what did the project gain from this experience?
ESP was a very great experience. The script of Replika was already solid, but we were missing some nuances. To brainstorm the script in a group of talented filmmakers helps you to identify the weaknesses and to bounce some new ideas around.
Besides that, NIS MASA is a great network and I’m still in touch with most of the participants of that edition. We follow each other’s careers and help when possible. It also offers you the chance to meet producers from all over Europe and gives you a glimpse of what is going on in the different regions in Europe. A few weeks ago, I had the chance to take part as a producer at the 2016 Edition of European Short Pitch, and I’m currently in touch with some directors to help them to develop their projects.
Science-fiction isn't the easiest genre out there. What would be your advice for starting directors who want to tackle this genre?
Find the drama, stick to it and don’t try to show cool visual effects! Only with a strong story and great actors can you create the basis to do a good movie. Then, if you manage to add some interesting visuals, do it, but they have to be organic to your subject.