Filmmaker. The Path to the Coveted Aim

Inspiration is a bird which comes to those who has a patience to catch it when it comes.
At the same time when the whole Ukraine was watching with bated breath Eurovision not least event took place at France: Cannes Festival where our incredibly gifted and talented writer Marysia Nikitiuk had been recognized as one of the best scriptwriter and awarded by the Krzysztof Kieslowski Scriptwriter Award for the Best Script from Central and Eastern Europe for ‘When Trees Fall’. Off course we couldn’t lose the chance to hold an interview with her and we dared to do this as soon as she came back from the Cannes Festival. Despite the haste and emotional stress, it was a fun and interesting experience. We should confirm that we were absolutely fascinated by Marysia. Here are some words that come to mind when talking to her: brave and beautiful, open-minded and extraordinary, incredibly talented winner. Moreover we have received some exceptional information that her next film will be shot in five languages. No typo there; these five languages are: Ukrainian, Russian, Surzhik, Polish, and Romanian. Now let’s take a closer look on the talent from Ukrainian and her amazing work.

1Marysia, you have won the Krzysztof Kieslowski ScripTeast Award for the Best Script from Eastern Europe at 2016 Cannes Festival. Tell us more about the award, please.

ScripTeast is a training program aimed to prepare scriptwriters to shooting and film project promotion at the development stage. Thus, the program is attached to the professional part of two major European film festivals — Berlinale and Cannes. We had three sessions: Warsaw, Berlin, and the final one in Cannes. Scripts from Eastern and Central Europe were selected for the program; we trained with the best film professionals from England, Spain, France, Germany, and North America. For example, I had my script read and commented by Academy Award-winning scriptwriter Mark Peploe, the author of Bertolucci’s Last Emperor and Antonion’s The Passenger.
During this time, we became friends with the program participants, completely forgetting about competition. Yet in the end, one of us was to receive the Krzysztof Kieslowski Award for the Best Script.

Did you hope to win? What did you feel after-wards?

I wanted to receive the Award, I really did, because it is so beautiful. However, I did not set my hopes high, for all the disappointed expectations prove disastrous to creative energy. So, I was very surprised to receive the Award. And yet, I was extremely happy, jumping on my heels like a little girl, but a big one and wearing a floor-length dress. Tiniest moment of happiness, before you poison yourself thinking that now you’ll have to live up to this declaration of success.
Tell us a bit more about your triumphant work.

When Trees Fall is my first full-length script and film, and it marks the beginning of my way as a director. After writing the text, so close to my memories of my own childhood, I realized that I would never be able to give it to anyone. At that time, film critic Volodya Vojtenko, my cinematographic guardian angel, was putting ideas about directing into my head, and producer Igor Savichenko simply suggested that I try shooting shorts, just to see whether I can and want. By now, I have already done three shorts. They seem okay. ))

What is the film budget and what financial aid have you received from the State Film Agency?

The film budget is around UAH 22 mln. Half of that is provided by the state — we’ve won State Film Agency pitchings last fall. The other half should come from coproduction with Macedonia and Poland — Igor and I are currently waiting for several film funds to reply.

The project attracted a lot of interest — from French and Swedish producers; then, our Polish partners and Igor Savichenko continue negotiating. However, all missing specifics shall be made clear in June. Furthermore, Spanish distributors and several film markets tailored to search for lacking funds have also shown interest in the project.

When are you beginning the shooting?

The shooting is planned for August-September, within the territories of at least three countries: Ukraine, Poland, and Macedonia.

It will be a film about freedom, ideological triumph of good when evil seems to prevail. Attention is focused on the fate of three generations of women living in modern Ukraine who sacrifice their dreams to accommodate the society.

Marysia, does one need special education to become a successful scriptwriter? What personal traits must one possess for the same purpose?

I think, no. No, one doesn’t need special education. It might be even better without it. But certain professional skills would be certainly useful. There are lots of wonderful workshops, courses, master-classes for scriptwriters in Europe: for example, MAIYA workshops, the already mentioned ScripTeast, Torino FilmLab, and many others. I’ve mentioned only the best ones. Then, there are lots of books: Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces and Myths to Live By, McKee’s Story, and loads of professional literature on anthropology, psychology (psychopathology, psychological types, stories from actual practice etc.), philosophy, cosmology, physics and so on.
Without the knowledge, modern storyteller will only wallow in multiplying template stories. And to tell stories today, one must be the best. So, you have to read a lot, take interest in everything, observe people, listen in on them, even spy on them. All life, all lives, the entire world — that’s the source of a story. Intuition is also vital to creating a proper script, original and unconventional. Story has its own logic, often called three-act structure.

In fact, it is the frame of any person’s life: birth, death, and something in between.

Give some tips for aspiring writers. What should they begin with? How does one introduce oneself to the right people and how does one meet them? How does one make a name for oneself? (and not only within one’s own country)

A scriptwriter and a writer must be proficient in psychology and have interesting life experience. One also needs to read a lot, listen, want to tell and pass on not only one’s own grandeur and inflated ego, but something of value. That’s all one needs to become a good scriptwriter. As for making a name for oneself, one can either produce one-hundred-percent-sure commercial hits, or adhere to one’s own unique and, thus, lonely and often painful road. It depends on what you are looking for: money, women, and glory, or the happiness of being real and free, even if people do not accept or love you.

You are scriptwriter and director. Does it benefit the film if one person is responsible for both areas?

I’d say it happens. Or, sometimes, there are two persons working together. To each his own.

What is the key to creating a script that holds the audience today? What hooks must the plot have?

There must be no hooks from other films. People have advanced a lot in terms of perception. We watch, read, perceive too much; more than we live. Thus, the audience becomes more exacting, and the storyteller — less engaging. So, one needs to be sincere and righteous, while really breaking the logic. Complex characters are taking the center stage now — villains with kind hears and enormous guilt. The more complex is the inner world of the character, the more interesting is the story.

As a scriptwriter, what techniques do you use? Do you have a role model among successful script-writers?

No authorities, no role models. I have favorite films, favorite books, favorite writers: Borges, Céline, Bukowski, Márquez, Jodorowsky, Virginia Woolf; favorite directors: Godard, Bertolucci, Béla Tarr, von Trier, Roy Andersson, Paul Thomas Anderson.I write as it goes, in a flow. But first, I carry the story, or the feeling of a story inside for a long time, it kind of stews within me. And while it stews, I create the narrative track, place markers and flags, direct the story. Though, it often bursts its banks and makes its own and very different route to the end in the process of actual writing.

How important is rich life experience to cover this or that issue? For example, does one have to experience tragic love in order to depict it vividly?

Yes. Experience is everything. Life, in fact, is a sequence of experiences. As I have already said, dramaturgy did not appear from nowhere, simply because it’s pretty. Its roots are buried in life experience, structured by our brains into stories. The more experience you have, the richer and deeper the story is.

In your opinion, what does the audience want today? What genre will be popular in the next few years?

The audience always wants one thing: to be enchanted. Everyone comes to the cinema for magic. People give their attention to the director hoping to be scared, to laugh, to cry, to live another life, full of emotions. As for genre, it’s not really important. It’s just the question of mood and depends on individual preferences, sometimes on history phases.

It is not easy to become recognized in the film industry. Can you tell us about your failures on this road? How do you overcome them?

Well, I had my fights with directors. Then, some films didn’t work out, and my own films, as a director, fell victims to my unreasonable expectations and inadequate self-perception. Those things are not easy to overcome, but there are two ways. Either you pull through and let yourself go, give yourself the right to make mistakes, to a bad film, to misunderstanding, to anything, and everything will be okay, you will become free from the thing you call ‘recognition.’ Or you don’t and simply break down.

What are some funny, awkward, interesting incidents from your work as a director?

A lot of them. Like when I was running with the crew after the actress, filming her jogging from the back, and I had pockets full of small change, of which I completely forgot. Then, during the shooting of Mandrake, seaweed plugged the motor of the boat with seven crew members. We were shooting three people in the boat with one strong young actor doing the rowing. And then our boat kept drifting due to the wind. The only persons who happened to be “free,” i.e. have nothing in their hands, were camera mechanic and I. So, we rowed on both sides. I was giving orders, throwing lines to actors, watching them act through the tiny camera monitor, and rowing, all at the same time. There you have it, experience.

What unfulfilled dreams do you have today? 🙂

I have great dreams, I have smaller ones, but none unfulfilled. I either have already achieved my goal, or am on the way. Even if I don’t reach them while alive, I will still consider them as “everything is possible.”

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