Where are you based and how did you first get into this line of work?
I spend my time between Tel-Aviv and Berlin. I studied film at the Sam Spiegel Film School in Jerusalem. I was into arts from a very early age and always knew I’d be an artist. I started with painting and drawing and later on I was into acting, photography and music.
I decided to study film since I felt it combines all my passions. I am such a bad decision maker and I thought that studying film means I don’t really have to choose. Little did I know that film-making is all about making choices. It taught me a real life lesson.
How did you come up with the TOYOTA – START YOUR IMPOSSIBLE – Atita Verghese project?
I was approached by the producers in Rejell in Hamburg to direct the fourth film in this beautiful documentary series, about Dergin Tokmak, a paralyzed break-dancer who dances on crutches. They were looking for a dance director and since I directed a few dance-oriented videos, it fit perfectly. The production went really well and at the end of our shoot, they told me about Atita. My eyes lit up when I heard her story and I immediately knew I had to do it. I remember coming home from two long shooting days and researching about her. She gave a very inspiring Ted-X talk. It was mind-blowing to hear this young woman’s insights about education and gender equality in India and all over the world.
Once the guys in Dentsu agency saw the first cut of the Dergin film, they immediately signed me up for the Atita film. So there was no real pitch. I wrote a treatment and presented my vision, but it was all about personal trust. This is practically a director’s dream come true. There was a lot of creative freedom and trust during the process, from the agency, client and producers, and I think you can feel the result of that in all the ten films made in this series.
What gear/cameras did you use and why?
We used an ARRI mini Alexa with anamorphic lenses and an easy-rig. The anamorphic ratio was defined by the production and agency for all ten films.
I don’t really have any essentials. Every project has its own requirements. I like to trust my DoP in making the best gear choices. I used to do some camera work myself, so I am always involved in the technical discussion.
I love working with DoP Roman Linetsky, because he works so beautifully with available light. He taught me a lot about the simplicity of things and I know that when he requests certain equipment, there’s a very good reason for it.
Did you plan out the story structure from the beginning or did it come out in post?
I wrote a very clear story structure in the treatment, but I knew it would probably change. It helped me understand which images and syncs I want to capture. But the most beautiful things, especially in documentary filmmaking, happen when you least expect them. It was my second time filming in India and I knew that India can be surprising and unexpected. And indeed many of the things we experienced turned out to be so much better than I had imagined.
I love the gap between what you imagine when you’re writing, and the reality of things when you’re on set. These are the most beautiful moments in filmmaking.
I eventually got to the editing room with much more than I had expected. Together with Saki Bergh, the editor, we started by picking out the voice over syncs first, and that was our lead to structuring the images around the film.
What do you do differently from other filmmakers?
I studied in film school when we shot our films on 16mm. I’m glad I had the chance to still experience the “Film Era”, because it forces you to think about what you’re doing and plan your shoots. Working as an AD has also taught me how planning everything to the smallest detail is important. But over the years, I’ve learned to let go, and not try to control situations, but rather let them lead me, and open me up to new ideas.
I love planning everything down to the smallest details, but then letting go on set. If all those details are there, they’ll come together magically. If you try to force your vision on something that isn’t there, it will never work. Always look around you. There are answers everywhere.
If you had to go back and do it all again, how would you get a foothold in the business?
I’m not sure I would do anything differently. I’ve worked for years as an AD in film, television, and commercials. It was the best film school I could ask for. I’ve learned a lot from working with some of the best directors and I’d like to think it had made me a better director.
I guess the only thing I would change is that I wouldn’t put so much weight on everything. My first years out of film school were a real struggle because I was putting too much pressure on myself and aiming for huge projects, instead of appreciating the smaller ones I was doing.
Today I am happy to say I’m working on two feature films, a TV show, two music videos and a commercial. Once you let go, things just come knocking at your door.
What’s the one secret tip, go-to trick that you use often that takes your work to the next level?
I think that 90 percent of the work is choosing the right people to work with. I love opinionated creative partners who give their own point of view on the work. The results of these exchanges are always way beyond what I envision.
A small trick I sometimes do is filming people when they’re unaware of it. I sometimes ask my DoP to push that red button and we act like we’re just focusing or checking the light. It might be a bit cheeky, but sometimes the most precious moments hide in those “outtakes” before the “Action” and after the “Cut”, when people let go of their defenses.
What has been the hardest part of doing what you do?
“Selling” myself. I am happy that my work speaks for itself now.
What is currently the best part of doing what you do?
Everything! Every stage in film-making has its own thrills. Every project is unique. I feel very lucky that I get to do what I love. Filmmaking has brought me to places I wouldn’t dream of – both physically and emotionally. It’s an endless, exciting voyage, or should I say a rollercoaster which you don’t know where it’s heading. I absolutely love it.
What are some of your favorite stories or web videos that you’ve gotten inspired by?
I love the works by Melina Matsoukas, Martin de Thurah, Daniel Wolfe and Hiro Murai. They are all incredible directors with a very strong voice. But my biggest inspiration is David Lynch, especially “Mulholland Drive”. I’ve seen this film a million times and each time I watch it, it reveals something new, like a piece of art should. It’s visual, passionate, funny and scary all at the same time. The man’s a genius. I’ve learnt a lot from his intuitive way of film-making, and I love the fact that not every part of the story has to be explained. A director I worked with once told me: “I love the films that begin when the end credits roll”. This is definitely “Mulholland Drive”. I’d love to grab a coffee with Mr. Lynch one day.
I come from an arts background, so I love finding inspiration in painting, photography and music. And people watching. Anytime. Anywhere. The best stories are just outside your window.
Where can people follow your work?