Sebastian Schipper is not only a director, but also a writer and actor. He appeared in 1996’s The English Patient, 1997’s Lola Rennt (known in the United States as Run Lola Run), and more recently in 2013’s I Am Here; his writing/directing credits include 1998’s Absolute Giganten (Gigantics), Ein Freund Von Mir (A Friend of Mine), and Mitte Ende August (Sometime in August). Schipper spoke to The Nerd Element about his latest, Victoria, during a whirlwind press tour prior to the limited release of the film.
Warning: The interview contains some spoilers for the film.
The Nerd Element (TNE): Why did you decide to shoot Victoria in one take?
Sebastian Schipper (SS): Because I’m a nerd [laughter]. No, it’s kind of a brainless idea, actually, if I’m going to be honest about it. Of course, that was not the only qualification that made me kind of go for that.
In the movies…we always tend to enlarge everything, so if it’s a bank robbery, it’s the biggest bank robbery in the world. [O]n the other hand, if I would’ve been the driver, not even carrying a gun, of a bank robbery, like the most boring, the lamest bank robbery in the last 20 years…it would still be one of the craziest moments of my life, like, all my life. [T]hat kind of got me started on not making everything bigger, but how can I bring you that experience, and that eventually led up to the one-take.
TNE: Is that why you chose to go with improvisation versus a complete script?
SS: Maybe for authenticity, but also because I knew I needed a different set of rules for the actors to carry this out. If they’re just doing lines—and you [the actors] think about those lines, you’re delivering lines, and of course, really great actors, they make it sound like they just thought of that. But some people might think, “Oh, that’s like theater.”
You say lines in a theater—it’s a different kind of art—whereas in film, the more authentic you want to get…that’s something you want to achieve, and to do that for two hours with learned lines, I just didn’t believe in it. I wanted to set my actors free and talk about something else with them than dialogue, more about themes: “What is this moment? What is crucial to this moment? What’s the core of this character?”
TNE: How much planning did you need to do before you started shooting?
SS: It was really that the logistics were all right. It was a difficult three months.
TNE: So you planned out the map for the driving, and all the other logistics like permits that would be needed for filming? Laia [Costa] said you were telling her to make sure she stops at the lights so that the real police don’t stop you.
SS: Right, and they should have done that because there was a cinematographer inside the car kind of crouching in the middle, and he was not secure, the seats were not locked. We shot this in open traffic in a quiet part of town Sunday morning between 4:30 and 6:45 or something.
TNE: Laia said it took three takes to get it right or to get the version you wanted.
TNE: What was it about the first two that you didn’t like?
SS: The first one was—nobody wanted to mess it up and it was way too controlled; it was the stunt, but it was not the movie. The second one was really crazy and [for] improvisation, you need rules. [F]or example, everybody thinks free jazz is improvisation, but there’s a lot of rules. If the saxophone player starts to play “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” they all mess up what they’re doing. There are strict rules; it’s not like you can do what you want to do. We needed a lot of rules to make it flow, and in the second take, they threw too many rules overboard.
TNE: And the third one came out just the way you wanted it for everybody?
SS: Yeah. Actually even better. I’m very, very happy about the third one.
TNE: When you were done, did you guys all party at that club [seen in the film]?
SS: No, I was just went home. I was already exhausted.
TNE: How many days between the three takes?
SS: We did the first, and then there was 10 days, and the second, third, there was about 48 hours.
TNE: What about Laia and Freddie [Frederick Lau, who plays Sonne] made you decide to hire them for those roles?
SS: I thought they were amazing and they were great together, and they weren’t afraid to improvise and go all in. I was amazed by their talent and I can’t stop watching them.
TNE: Laia said that it wasn’t called Victoria at first. Why did you change the name?
SS: Honestly, because the other titles were not good and also in the course of making this film, her character became stronger and stronger, and of course now, it’s obvious.
For the longest time, it was called the German word for robbery, which is überfall—which is a pretty good name, too—but I realized this is not about the robbery; it’s about the girl.
TNE: The robbery is for only €50,000 ($60,000 U.S.). It seems like such a low amount to steal.
SS: I know, I know, but that’s what you get out of a bank these days. It’s a private bank; it’s small, you don’t really get caught because you get that kind of money fast, and they [the characters in the film] have inside information—but you’re right, it’s a pretty intense thing to do for not that much money. But that is actually what robbing banks is. People have kind of stopped robbing banks. I had some technical advisers; that’s what they told me.
TNE: I know I shouldn’t be rooting for them to succeed, but I just kept thinking, “You gotta get out of there!”
SS: You always root for the bank robber! [laughter] To tell you the truth, I root for them when I hear about them on the news. Some dude’s dug a big old tunnel—I mean, yeah, come on! We should rob [banks], I mean, I don’t, but… [laughter]
It’s not like, “Oh, that’s so mean!” No, it’s not! [W]e talk about a freakin’ zoo somebody owns in his home in Long Island because he runs the bank because that’s for the money he burned, you know. That’s what I think is kind of disgusting.
TNE: Anything else that you’d like our readers to know either about the film or about your own work in general?
SS: Actually, I would love them to buy the ticket like you would buy a ticket for a film because it starts raining and you have no umbrella: Go in without any information. Don’t expect anything, don’t think about the robbery, one-take thing—it doesn’t matter. This is entertainment. I think for this film, the less you know, the better. Right at the beginning, watch the film and then read the article.
Victoria is in general release
Here’s the interview we did with Laia Costa (Victoria) : http://www.thenerdelement.com/2015/10/23/victoria-an-opportunity-for-freedom-part-two/