NOTES ON THE PRODUCTION
The “radikal digital” series
The “radikal digital” series by Reverse Angle Factory, under the patronage of Wim Wenders and in co-operation with WDR, offers chosen film-makers the chance to do make their first feature film using digital cameras. Students of film-making from all over Germany are invited to send in their work - amongst them Oliver Schwabe from the Kunsthochschule für Medien in Cologne.
Oliver Schwabe starts doing a yearly series of video diaries for NDR.
“I gave a camera to each of my chosen protagonists.“, he explains, ”They were all young adults aged between 15 and 22 and they all filmed one year of their lives. During that time I instructed and helped them; from time to time I looked at their filmed material and came up with suggestions. But at the end of the day they were allowed to decide what they wanted to film. When the year was over I edited the 80 hours of raw material to a 45-minute documentary- without adding commentary or additional interviews. Doing that it was sometimes hard to get a hang of the story, because so many important things had been left unfilmed.”
Ute Schneider, producer and manager of Reverse Angle Factory, is impressed by the documentaries and asks Oliver Schwabe if he could imagine doing a fictitious video diary.
Oliver Schwabe teams up with Christian Becker, also a graduate from the Kunsthochschule für Medien Cologne. They have worked together before on various short films and documentary projects and Christian has some experience as a writer and director of feature films.
Field Recordings (Christian Becker and Oliver Schwabe) is founded.
Calling themselves Field Recordings they work on the concept for “Egoshooter” together. Both film makers aim for something related to the video diary idea: Their goal is to come up with something that is very close to the actual lives of the young adults who are being portrayed. Some of them, among them rapper Max Timm and skater Ben Nijmeijer, star as themselves in the film.
Jakob, the main character, is Christian Becker’s and Oliver Schwabe’s invention. They recall: “We wanted to get to something which was close to the young adults, to create a description of the status quo - not necessarily a universally applicable portrait of a whole generation, but at least a picture of the young people we have met. Doing that we encountered again and again a way of looking at the world which was shared: These young adults all look for the right path in life, but they absolutely do not know where they want it to lead. In themselves they carry a vague longing without being able to say what exactly it is. They feel an urgent need for change, but they are not able to put it to any use. That kind of feeling is what we wanted to catch.”
The characters in “Egoshooter” are not capable of breaking out of their lives: “Jakob and the people around him all feel that something is not right, but they do not have a clue what they could do about it.”, Oliver Schwabe states. “ You can see it is eating them, that something is about to happen, but it is not clear which direction it is going to take.” Christian Becker adds: “Even the rapper character, who is the most active from that circle of friends, is “only” a rebel on stage - his revolution is made up of words.”
Describing the status quo as they do, the film-makers move away from a traditional, linear narrative structure: “We did not want a classical plot, we wanted to show a young adult who spends most of his time in his room and uses a camera as a means to describe his everyday life - a reality that is somewhat bitter, but at the end of the day carries some hope.” Christian Becker resumes.“ Our aim was to come up with a portrait that is made up of snapshots, fragments almost, that are only held in place by a certain atmosphere. Certainly we could have made it much easier for ourselves by having a story which had more of a plot. But it was important to us to stick to the style and the mood of the documentary video diaries.
Tom Schilling is signed for the leading part
„We were sure that this was more or less going to be a one-man-show.“, Oliver Schwabe explains. „ It had to be someone who could not only believably embody Jakobs character, but also someone you like looking at for about 80 minutes.“, Christian Becker adds. „And that almost inevitably lead us to Tom Schilling: his physical constitution, his movements, his way of talking – there is a nervous and restless quality to all of it, which seems perfectly suited for Jakob’s lack of orientation. He is exactly what we were looking for: a personality with an edge to him, someone who is capable of telling a film by himself.“
25th Feb –1st Mar 2003
The whole team prepares for the shooting in the Eifel mountains area.
5th Mar 2003
Shooting starts for “Egoshooter”
During the shooting the cast shared a rented Cologne loft apartment. “That certainly helped the film”, Christian Becker finds, “the actors and the team became much closer.” The number of team members was reduced to a minimum. “During the shooting there were never more than five or six people about, that’s including the actors. That helped us to retain the kind of flexibility we wanted”. Oliver Schwabe confirms.
Apart from Tom Schilling only four other members of the “Egoshooter” –cast had previous acting experience: Camilla Renschke, Nomena Struß, Lilia Lehner und Lennie Burmeister. Since it had been decided at an early stage that all the other parts should be done by non-actors, the film-makers had rejected the idea of a detailed script, but instead they wrote a 50-page treatment, which contained some worked-out dialogue, but in which many scenes were left sketchy. “During the shooting we wanted as much creative freedom as possible.”, Christian Becker stresses, “Ours was one of the first treatment-based projects which was funded.”
During the shooting the treatment turned out to be a continuous work in progress. Christian Becker recalls: “Sometimes we would write stuff at night and bring it along to the set the next morning. But it was never a case of wild improvisation, we always had something in writing.”
For Tom Schilling this kind of film means a completely new experience. “I do admire his courage to let himself in on this project.”, Christian Becker admits, “There was not even a split second when Tom could have known what would happen next. All he knew was that he had to be on the go for twelve hours daily, since using the video equipment allowed us to shoot almost permanently. This tour de force must have been quite hard to do for him, even more so because we wanted him to give as much of himself to the character as possible.”
Part of the camera-work is done by Tom Schilling, which presented an extra challenge to him. “In the film you get an objective view on what happens to Jacob and also his subjective view of things – and when we used the subjective view it was always Tom who did the camera”, says Oliver Schwabe, who not only does the camera for the “objective” scenes, but also shows Tom Schilling how to use it. “In our treatment we were quite clear about when we wanted the different camera perspectives. What we did not want though was to separate these two perspectives aesthetically. That’s why Tom and myself used the same camera model. At first he was a bit tense and insecure, but after a while he lost his initial shyness regarding working behind the camera – and at the end it became almost impossible to separate him from the thing!”
“In a space of 25 days Tom gained the kind of ability it took other video-diary kids a year to learn”, Christian Becker notes. “He had the camera with him all the time: Sometimes he would even spend a night on the set and when he woke up he would record statements or dreams with it. He and the camera became one entity!”
11th Apr 2003
End of the shooting for “Egoshooter”
25th Apr 2003 – Sept 2003
“Since we did not have a linear story which went from A to Z it was obvious that the main part of our work had to be the editing.” explains Christian Becker. “The filmed material amounted to a lot and from the start we had planned to spend three to four months in the editing suite, the challenge being that all the parts had to be arranged in such a way that they would become a sort of puzzle, one that if you took one scene from this fragile arrangement it would all fall apart.”
29th Apr 2003
A VHS tape without sound is sent to New York.
A further element to this puzzle is the music. Seven years ago Oliver Schwabe had done a documentary on New York’s underground music scene, which is where he got to know musician Aurelio Valle. The two directors commissioned him to do the music for “Egoshooter”. At this early stage of the editing process it was not possible to provide him with pictures from the film, so they decided on an extraordinary method: “Christian and I put together some scenes from the history of film, most of them black and white, for example stuff from Bergman, Pasolini or de Sica, all of it without sound and lasting about one hour and a half.”, says Oliver Schwabe. “It was a beautiful way to avoid talking about music and instead use these pictures to show the kind of atmosphere we had in mind.”
“I quickly realized what the two of them wanted”, recalls Aurelio Valle. “I could sense the subtle tension inherit in those pictures. Soon I began to use them for improvisations – and the result I sent to Germany.” To supplement his music the musical score of the film also includes two songs by band Calla - Aurelio Valle is singer and guitarist with them - and among other a song by Robert Stadlober’s band Gary, a guest appearance by rock legend Nikki Sudden and some free-style rap by Max Timm alias Mad Maxonom.