INTERVIEW WITH TOM SCHILLING
On hearing of the “Egoshooter”-project - what was your immediate reaction?
I found it interesting. Even though I wasn’t quite sure which direction it was going to take. So far I had only acted in stories which were rather conventional - therefore this project for me absolutely felt like new territory. I knew this was going to be a real challenge! First of all: the main character is present in the film all the time, it is him who tells the story - I was afraid I might get on the audience’s nerves if they constantly see my face. And I wasn’t even sure if I was the right one for the job since I’d always found it difficult to do improvisations. But Christian Becker and Oliver Schwabe really really wanted me. We talked a lot and they convinced me to let myself in on this experiment.
Did you know their earlier work?
Yes. I looked at some of it before I met up with them. Some of Christian’s short films for example. Or the short film “Freunde” (The Whiz Kids), for which Oliver did the camera work. That one showed me that he was able to use video in a very stylish way. And of course Oliver’s video diaries, just to get an impression of what I had to exspect.
Some of the protagonists from the video diaries now again appear in “Egoshooter”…
Yes, and some of them knew each other quite well already. That’s why at first I was afraid to meet the other guys: I wasn’t quite sure if I as an actor would fit into this gang of cool skaters. At that point I even started smoking - I was so nervous! Fortunately I wasn’t the only actor on the set. Camilla Renschke, we both starred in “Schlaraffenland” five years ago, really supported me - I was glad she was in it. Before the shooting started all of us, actors and non-actors, met up at a youth hostel outside Cologne, for rehearsals and to get to know each other.
Did you practice with the video camera before the shooting started? Or did you already have some experience as a cameraman?
When I was 16 I bought a video camera, tried out a few things and did a short film called “Der heisse Genuss” - it’s about me being ill and making myself a cup of tea. Apart from that I’d never been behind the camera. That’s why with “Egoshooter” I felt really insecure at first and Oliver had to guide my hand when I was filming. But then it sort of got going by itself and I found it really enjoyable.
In “Egoshooter” there are two camera perspectives: the objective one, which shows Jakob filming and the subjective one, which shows what he is filming. Did you always do the subjective camera?
Yes, everything that is filmed by the subjective camera is filmed by me. At times I’m in the picture myself - that’s when I held the camera away from me and pointed it in my direction, or we used a bodymount construction, a self-built steel-based trestle, which was strapped on to me and which I put on like a knight’s armour.
Did that get you in the mood to work as a cameraman yourself in the future?
Not necessarily. With my modest means I tried to find interesting pictures I could film. And I do think that what I filmed is watchable. But beyond that I have no further ambitions regarding camera-work.
Did you find it difficult that the film is without a linear plot?
No, not at all. If you use the form of a video diary that’s really the nature of things. On the contrary, I really like the fact that this is not a case of traditional drama-writing, where a person goes through some change and comes out wiser or broken or a completely different person even. That’s not how life really is!
How much did you affect the shooting process?
Quite a lot. It started with me being very sceptical about open improvisations. Previous experiences taught me that from twenty improvisations you do there are only two really good ones. I always found the risk far too high. That’s why I demanded from Christian and Oliver that there had to be a basis to every scene we did, a guiding line which tells you about the conflict, what things have to appear in the dialogue or where a scene leads to. That way we always had a basic text we could use, even though on the set we were allowed to leave it behind. Apart from that there were a lot of things I said or suggestions I made and we discussed them for quite a while. At times that lead to whole scenes being rewritten.
So there really is quite a lot of yourself in Jakob, the character you play in “Egoshooter”?
Yes, of course. With every part I try to be as authentic and truthful as possible. That’s why every character that I play has a lot to do with myself. So you find a lot of me in Jacob.
First of all a longing for love. For people who reach out to you. And at the same time a lack of ability to deal with it if somebody actually does. And like Jacob I fall in love all the time - that’s why I feel quite close to the character. Even Jakob’s destructive vein has a lot to do with myself. And the dream Jakob talks about is actually mine - a dream which keeps on haunting me: I know for sure I committed a crime, but I haven’t a clue why!
How would you characterise Jakob?
Somebody who seeks for something, so much that it makes him blind. You find that phenomena well described in Hermann Hesse’s Siddharta: “When somebody seeks for something, it can easily happen that his eyes can only see what he is looking for. That because he only thinks about what he wants to find, he is no longer able to discover, no longer able to let things enter his mind.” Jakob doesn’t really know what he is looking for. He only has an abstract aim, but can’t say what it is - and he feels he will never get there.
Can you identify with that kind of feeling?
I know this feeling only too well. But as opposed to Jakob I’m in a privileged situation, where some things just fall into my lap, so I don’t actually have to make decisions. Apart from that I get a lot of incentives and stimulations from the outside world. I believe that if you don’t have the right set of people around you it is very hard to find the right way. I can see it with friends or acquaintances from when I was at school: all of them really bright, but some left school or fell by the wayside somehow, because society could not quench their thirst. Or to put it differently: because nobody kicked their ass.
Is that Jakob’s main problem?
I think so. You really should like him: He reflects a lot about things, tries to find his own way, thinks about what he is heading for … But what really annoys me about him is the fact that he just doesn’t get out and do things. I think that’s typical for my generation: we can’t get off our asses.
In the film Jakob’s mate Phillipp talks about how simply nothing happens, about there not being a really good youth movement or culture you can identify with… Can you understand that kind of attitude towards life?
Absolutely. Principally “Egoshooter” is a portrait of my generation - a generation of people who just hang around: It is really difficult to be against something if you live in a democratic state, which has a welfare system and a foreign policy which is more or less reasonable. So because we don’t have anything to work against we develop a sort of cynical attitude and our hatred is not geared towards the system but towards other people and most of all ourselves. This feeling of not being able to like yourself in the film to me seems very authentic: Lots of people these days are already quite neurotic when they’re young.
What is the reason for that do you think?
It’s mainly to do with a lack of responsibility by the media. Because my generation is really being formed by the media, you could say we’ve been educated by music TV. And what are the kind of values that are taught to us that way? It is really very few: Rap and R’n B and women. Even on afternoon TV you get lots of mobile phone commercials with naked manga females. That surely leads to a brutalization of the senses among young adults. Probably my generation is not very likable. Probably the characters in the film are not particularly likable. But that is what makes the film true I think. I just hope that the cinema audience are willing to let themselves in on this portrait of a generation, because it dares to try something new, something different to how we usually perceive things. I for my part am extremely happy with the result!