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Interview - Christoph Englert
by Kevin Gillette
[Christoph Englert (c) Tobias Pfeifer (www.emmeran-media.com) 2009]
Fringe Report (FR, Kevin Gillette): How did you start in film?
Christoph Englert: With a finger flying over the film section of the yellow pages, with my eyes closed. For my first job and the first number I tried from the yellow pages, I ended up as a casting assistant. Well, this job was not so different from what I did before. At the hospital where I worked in a neurologic unit for my alternative civilian service, I was making arrangements or listening and talking to the family members of the patients on the phone and now I was doing the same only with actors.
Soon I moved on to a local TV station for an internship, sold computers in my spare time to finance this internship, and got a job as a news cutter and later as a news cameraman. After 3 years as a freelancer for several German TV stations and after the first few jobs in film business, my second application at the Munich Film school was a success. I started studying camera in 2002, finished my pre-diploma and went on studying directing since then. The Watchman And The Little Girl is my pre-diploma film for the directing class in film school.
FR: What are you most proud of so far?
Christoph Englert: As a director, The Watchman And The Little Girl. It took such a long time from the first idea to this little movie, that it got a special place in my heart. It is truly my story with the charm of not being perfect.
FR: One of the features of The Watchman And The Little Girl is that it has no dialogue - it is ostensibly a German film, but it can play to any audience, no matter what language they may speak. Was that intentional from the outset, or did it evolve as the film was being made?
Christoph Englert: This short story was never intended to have any dialogue from the first idea to the final cut. Nearly all my ideas for short films start with no dialogue. Sometimes pieces of dialogue sneak into a draft and sometimes I keep them, unless I find a stronger, visual way to tell the scene. Having no dialogue for The Watchman And The Little Girl was a conscious choice which had nothing to do with commercial thoughts. As a side effect it happened that the movie was highly suitable to go around the world.
FR: Johannes Silberschneider and Gina Altner, the two principals, are of very different ages. How did you find a way of working with them?
Christoph Englert: To work with those two brilliant actors was such a great pleasure. Gina who was 6 years old at this time was a stroke of luck for the movie and so was Johannes with all his experience. For the rehearsals I separated them and went to the art gallery mainly to talk about their character and to watch them discovering the place. Johannes studied the watchmen of the gallery, and with Gina I made a safari through the rooms and let her draw her own impressions of what she saw. During the shooting of the movie the biggest challenge was time. In Germany, with a 6-year-old kid you're only allowed to work 3 hours and she was only allowed to be 5 hours at the film set. Thanks to Johannes and Gina, we shot the movie in two-and-a-half days.
The reconstruction between the scenes was another challenge. For this case I got a friend of mine, an actress who cared lovingly for Gina. They did some rehearsals, tap-dancing, reading and a lot of stuff to keep Gina in a good mood. To switch between two modes of instructions was difficult in the beginning. I soon recognised that the way I rehearsed with Gina was not working properly on set, with all the new faces around her. It was too stiff and she was not reacting to Johannes but rather to my instructions. After giving Gina more freedom, it worked out fine.
Johannes was playing what we talked about and rehearsed and in the end the stiffness he chose for the character and her playing nearly freestyle, fitted the characters even better. Johannes was impressed by her presence and so was I. By giving her more freedom, she was not playing the Little Girl anymore, she was the Little Girl.
FR: The music for The Watchman is lovely, but fairly spare. What is your approach to music in your films?
Christoph Englert: For me, music in film is a tool to accent a scene, to transport a mood or even to counterpart a visual image. The way I use music in my films depends on what I want to achieve. I like music which gives a scene another layer, which enriches the visual image. In The Watchman the first music, coming from outside for example, is more than directing the dramatic arc. It stands for a picture the watchman is staring at, but the audience does not see and it is the complete opposite to what the watchman's mood is at this point, but deep inside longing-for. In the end, the same music is used in a variation to direct the dramatic arc of the piece to its end. I like to use the score of my films to go beyond the last images into the titles. I like the idea of an audience thinking about the movie even while watching names flying by.
FR: What's in the works now?
Christoph Englert: I'm in post-production of my latest short movie for film school. It's called Nebeneinander ('next to each other', 'side by side'). It's about an old man meeting his wife at a lake, but she does not recognise him any more. One day out of many days of him trying to get through to her, waiting for those little moments where she recognises him. It's my first movie completely with dialogues. Another short film with Johannes Silberschneider is planned in 2010 - The Man At The End Of The Platform. It will be my diploma film. I'm also working on a feature film script: an adventure movie in a fantasy setting. A friend of mine did her art department diploma based on my first synopsis and scene outlines and won the first prize for the best art department diploma in her course at film school!
(c) Kevin Gillette 6 January 2010
Kevin Gillette is Fringe Report's Dallas USA correspondent
Notes - Filmography and more details at IMDB Christoph Englert - www.imdb.com/name/nm1849989/. The article above is based on an interview in October 2009. IMDB page on Der Wachmann und das kleine Mädchen (2007) (The Watchman And The Little Girl) is www.imdb.com/title/tt1034087/. Fringe Report review of the film is here review.
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