I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.
Perhaps you’ve heard of the Academy Award-winning film BIRDMAN. It won the Oscar for Best Picture and Best Cinematography for its daring yet bold illusion of a movie filmed in one, continuous shot. It was, of course, a mere illusion – virtually no one in the film industry has worked out the logistics of a one-take movie. Enter German filmmaker Sebastian Schipper.
Schipper put together the ultimate, immersive film featuring you in the driver’s seat. His powerhouse of a film titled VICTORIA follows a runaway party girl, Victoria (Laia Costa), who runs into a friendly quartet of men (Frederick Lau, Franz Rogowski, Burak Yigit and Max Mauff) who invite her on a journey around town. Little did she know, she would become the wheelwoman of a bank heist before the night was through.
VICTORIA is an undeniable technical achievement – you will be completely floored by its style, wondering how the hell they pulled it off. It’s quite the storytelling achievement as well. Unlike previous one-take films, VICTORIA is not a “look what we did” technical demonstration reel. The film gives audiences the before, during and aftermath of a bank robbery, which only adds more fuel to the tension shown through this particular lens. You’ll easily find yourself caught in the web VICTORIA spins.
The film held its regional premiere at Fantastic Fest today, and audiences seemed to walk away just as transfixed as we did. We had the opportunity to ring up director Sebastian Schipper, who shed some light on how his team achieved the impossible and made a film that leaves you awe-inspired and shocked.
I have a few critic friends that have seen this film, and we all agreed that it’s one of the best movies that we’ve seen, but we differed in knowing whether or not we wanted to know how you did it and achieved it.
Sebastian Schipper: “[Laughs] I love that! I don’t know, man. Sometimes I know there’s no way around it, but sometimes I do feel like, ‘Why am I even telling all this stuff? Should I just shut the f*ck up and let it be, and not be somebody that talks about his tricks and gets excited how we all did it.’ I can absolutely relate to that. What team were you on?”
I was right in between. I don’t usually watch movie trailers nowadays. I like going in blind. I think I would rather just kind of experience this and be in awe, not knowing how you did it. Maybe after I see it a few times and got what I wanted out of it I can go back and look up how you did it to better respect the work that went into making it.
Schipper: “Yeah! You know what? I think probably what makes best sense is what you said. It’s totally valid. You shouldn’t talk about it, and now you’re going to do it anyways. I think that’s both 100% true.”
When you’re making a movie like this and you’re venturing into essentially uncharted territory – there’s not many people out there that have attempted something like this – where do you find your faith to pull something like this off?
Schipper: “I think it is the idea if you really look at it, you only do something like this if you have nothing to lose. It’s not the faith of, ‘Ah, I can pull this off.’ Maybe there’s some of this grandiosity that you credit yourself with, but I think it’s more like, we have no chance left, use it, or something like that.
Now that we’ve finished and done VICTORIA and I can look at the film, I think it’s almost that I am, or the film is like Victoria itself. She’s playing this piece that some say is not playable. Why does she do what she does? Because maybe she has run dry on her life and now she’s got to do something. Maybe that’s how I felt a little bit, too. Of course, from the other side you could say, ‘Ah, you know, I did my films. I was a feature director, it was my fourth film. I do commercials to support myself in between films…’ I felt really, I don’t know– I got to this point when I felt like a fake or phony or whatever you want to call it, and the whole situation felt really sobering. And in a way– I don’t want to call it depressive, but I just spent my life sitting at desks writing scripts, and then writing a new draft, and then writing a new draft, and I did that for five years. I worked on this one script about a paranoia for five years and there weren’t even horrible producers involved that gave me a hard time; it seemed like that’s the process of filmmaking on a daily basis of micro-managing, and avoiding, and being monitored, and then monitoring yourself and this whole process. I was sitting at this desk and I thought, ‘Wow, my dream has come true. I’m a filmmaker, but what is my life?’ I don’t know.
I hope this rambling makes sense to you, but it was time to break free from that, or escape from it all. It wasn’t so much fueled by, ‘Ah, we’re the greatest,’ as more as to escape, or break out, or do something, like, ‘why don’t we do something?’ It was like – whatever you want to call it – authenticity, or keeping it real, or being radical– all these words that use for selling. There was some aspect of, ‘what if we take these words serious? What if we really try that?’ I think we were getting so excited about it that we were willing to accept if it would work at some point. Of course, then, we get super scared, and then the process of making VICTORIA was also the process of learning that that’s impossible, and realizing it, and learning it on a daily basis that what we set out for was impossible. That’s what the process of making VICTORIA taught us. Until the last take, and it worked. But going towards that, it was a constant movement towards disaster.”
You know, it’s interesting because you think that it would be a lot of weight on your shoulders, and it was, but really everyone – the actors, the cinematographer, the crew, everyone – shared the load. Do you work better under pressured situations like that?
Schipper: “I think I am. I think I am. I’m much better under pressure.”
Schipper: “I’m much better if I can pull out the crazy. The crazy in me is not frantic or anything. It helps me focus. It really does. I know that’s like I’m patting myself on the shoulder, but I’m not even sure if that’s, I don’t know. I’ve used it a couple of times. I stole the line from Francis Ford Coppola that he used presenting APOCALYPSE NOW. He said APOCALYPSE NOW is not a movie, it’s not about Vietnam- it is Vietnam. A little bit, I’m stealing that. VICTORIA‘s not a movie, it’s not about a bank heist– it is a bank heist, it is a bank robbery. That’s really how it felt. This is really like, you have a couple of beers, and you have this idea, and then you’re really doing it, and halfway through, you really think, ‘what was I thinking? Why are we even doing this? This is impossible.’
The plan B was always to throw together the jump-cut version. That’s also how I sold the project to the people who gave me money. I said ‘I will tell you how to do this,’ and nobody believed in it, and I said, ‘you don’t have to believe it it. The DNA of these pictures is going to be different because we’re aiming to do a one-shot movie. The story, everything is going to be different, and it’s also going to be great as a jump-cut version,’ but the thing is it wasn’t.
After we did rehearsals– we shot rehearsals, so we had a lot of material we could edit the film from. We shot the first one-take, which worked technically. Then, we shot the second one-take, which also worked technically, but they both weren’t films yet. Then there was 48 hours before we shot the last take, and we knew we would only had money for the last take, and that was the first time I saw a jump-cut version, and it totally fell flat. It doesn’t work at all. So 48 hours before we shot this last take all was lost. I know it’s kind of awful to say it now, but it was really horrible. At that point we failed, and our plan B like in the bank robbery, the plan B was, ‘OK, we can always run away. We won’t have any money, but they won’t catch us,’ and that fell flat.”
That’s really fascinating to hear.
Schipper: “I kind of feel like a rambling dude. I hope what I’m saying makes sense.”
[Laughs] It makes perfect sense, and you managed to answer some of my other questions in the process.
Schipper: “Oh, good!”
I was reading your statement in the press notes, and you brought up Ernest Hemingway and how he wanted to shoot an elephant and how it was a sin.
Schipper: “[Laughs] Yes. That’s right.”
You also said that robbing a bank would be your sinful act you would want to do. I remember when I was a 12 or 13, doing bad things– that adrenaline just really gets you going. Is there anything else in your life that you wish you could do, or was this kind of like your one thing that you wish you could do, and by filming it you’re kind of living through it vicariously?
Schipper: “I hope I won’t let it go, man. I hope I can stay within that without having to do one-take movies. Here’s the thing, I had a technical advisor, he’s a young kid who was a head of a gang. They robbed jewel stores. He hooked me up with people that robbed banks. I actually talked to one guy who was not on the run. They’re not running because you robbed a bank, and they didn’t catch him. That’s what they do. It turns out that while I was meeting him, he was being tapped, and the conversation’s we had on the phone all in a restaurant, we were being observed. I know this sounds like, and I just visited him the other day in prison, and he said, ‘Dude, you know what? Just one sentence I said to you while we were on the phone, saved me a year of prison.’ I said, ‘Really, what?’ Because I told him how great it is to film, and if you do it right, it’s like a criminal thing. It has criminal energy, but it is legal. I remember him saying, ‘Man, so I can be criminal without being illegal?” I said, “Yeah man. If you do it right, that’s what filmmaking is.” Because he said that sentence, it got used by his lawyer to prove to the jury, or to the judge to say, ‘He doesn’t want to be illegal.” Because he is such a mastermind, he was running his own gang robbing jewelry stores when he was 16. Once he kidnapped people, but he’s a bit of a genius. He’s in jail most of all because he can manipulate people really well. He said, ‘That sentence saved me at least one year of prison because it proved that I don’t need to be illegal, but that I have this criminal force in me.’
I can relate to that, and I think if we do films right, we are like criminals. I think that it almost seems like criminal intentions have been chased away from all the managers out of the cinema, but it’s found a new habitat on these exciting TV shows that we know. It seems like the crazy spirit has kind of left the cinema. That’s no coincidence. I’m thinking of Hemingway, I’m thinking of APOCALYPSE NOW because it’s this highly criminal, criminal as in you shouldn’t do that, and I think they should put something in movies, whether their comedies or whatever they are, there should be a sense of, you shouldn’t do that.
I hope that my ego and all the chances and offerings I have now, and, of course, I hope I can stay a little criminal for awhile, and enjoy how great it is to work with big budgets and big names for now, which I might do. I hope I will stay daring. You know? I hope I will be able to continue to make films like they would be. I was saying we should make VICTORIA like it’s our last film. We cannot make this as a further step within our career because we just really have to do something that’s way more than that. I hope I can keep doing that.”
What do you think that says about us as a society that we’re kind of drawn to material or characters like this, where we kind of do live vicariously through it? Morally, we would like to say that we wouldn’t do anything like this, but we watch movies and television with this kind of material and we’re drawn to them.
Schipper: “Because we’re alive. Because we need stories to not go insane. There’s a huge difference in a story about something and doing it. That’s a huge difference. I think everybody falls completely short to mistake a daydream for reality. Daydreams and thinking crazy stuff– it’s beautiful to think up crazy stories, and it’s beautiful to have a great, dirty, unmonitored fantasy about what you could do. That doesn’t mean you have to do it. That’s the beauty. We can’t have films where people set great examples. Of course we can, but what would it be?
There would be no Richard III, and there would be no Joker pressing Batman to relive that entity. We need that, though. Those things I think are in the mechanics in us. It’s like the love, and the hate, and the lust, and the humor, and all that is what makes us, but we don’t have to go and kill people to live it out. But it’s brilliant and wonderful to see stories about that. That’s why kids love stories. They love that because it helps them find that entity. Not because they want to do that.”
For sure. I agree 100%. Well, man, I feel like I could talk to you all day. I really enjoyed this movie so much, and I’ve enjoyed speaking with you about it.
Schipper: “I was just thinking that, too”
VICTORIA premiere today at Fantastic Fest, but there’s an encore screening on Tuesday (9/29) at 8:30 p.m. It will also open in limited release on October 9th.