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Interview with director Helen Takkin


Helen Takkin was born at an interesting time of the dissolution of the Soviet Union, in a country that sang itself free. She has always wanted to tell stories – whether the plays she put on for her family, or the poems she wrote, or the films she makes now. She feels that this is what defines her. She is a distinguished commercial director, working on international markets for the past 10 years. She has directed 3 short films, numerous awarded music videos and is working on several scripts for TV and feature films. Helen’s most recent film, Descent, is a moving depiction of a woman struggling in silence.

  • Was there a particular event or time that you recognized that filmmaking is your way of telling stories?

I have always thought in images not in words. I actually made a decision that I want to be a theatre director when I was 6 years old. Luckily the theatre school did not accept me but film school did. It took this turn of events for me to understand that it is the visual medium that is attractive to me and that film offers so much more freedom. I just fell in love and have worked tirelessly to be better at this to this day and I think that this love is forever.

  • Do you think it is essential to go to a film institute in order to become a successful filmmaker?

Film making is a craft and learning it involves a lot of practice. You can go to an institute or learn by doing, working yourself up trough a production ladder — both routes are valid. What film school gives you are mentors and like minded collaborators and a more nurtured environment. The tools you learn there might make it easier to get started but it is not a must in my opinion.

  • Is it harder to get started or to keep going? What was the particular thing that you had to conquer to do either?

I think it is harder to keep going. The road(especially in the beginning) is filled with disappointment self doubt and heartbreak. You need to have a strong flame burning inside you that carries you trough that and keeps you going. I think the hardest thing to conquer for me has been time management. I tend to immerse myself in my work in such a way that I forget to eat or sleep. I have learnt how important it is to take care of yourself on a purely human level and set boundaries. Otherwise it is easy to burn out.

  • What was the most important lesson you had to learn that has had a positive effect on your film? How did that lesson happen?

Listen to and trust your team. There were several moments during the production of this film where all of them contributed to the storytelling by asking the right questions or noticing things that I had overlooked. This is something I am still learning every day as I tend to get stuck in my own head and forget about the fact that there are people around me that are there to help me do this.

  • What were the production realities from casting through editing that you had to accommodate? How did you navigate those compromises or surprises and still end up with a cohesive film?

We didn’t have a budget for this film. Everyone was there to help us shoot this just because they believed in the idea. The production company Get Shot Films covered the necessities out of pocket and High Voltage gave us all the equipment for free. We lost our location very close to the shoot. That was a blessing actually because, looking back, I like this one better and it was really nice to shoot there because all the people were so friendly and helpful. Finding the right car was hard because we wanted it to have a specific look and at the same time it needed to be very cheap. My production designer Kamilla was jumping up and down from happiness when she finally managed to track down the one. From a purely technical point of view we needed to fill the car with water. Figuring out how to do that with low cost was difficult. Luckily I had an amazing stunt coordinator who made it work! The car was dismantled from the inside, everything that could be filled with silicone was filled and then they put the interior back together again. The doors were welded shut so they would not give in to water pressure. A special connector was installed in the back of the car that connected to a firehose. We had a volunteer fire brigade on the set who pumped the water in and could control the speed and amount of water. Then we were fighting with time and physics. At one point the back glass of the car gave in and they strapped it in place and we needed to do some retouching in post. Luckily when the front glass gave in and flew away we were shooting our last shot. I edited the film myself and my cinematographer Meelis color graded it on my office iMac. That was quite a hassle, because doing grade on a monitor that is not calibrated makes for a lot of testing back and forth on different screens. Luckily we had amazing friends and colleagues who advised us how to make it work. In conclusion, yes there were challenges but everything that went wrong ended up to be a blessing. We just planed everything meticulously and then adjusted to the opportunities that presented themselves.

  • What was the hardest artistic choice you made in the making of a film, at any stage in production?

Honestly, I can not think of anything. No compromises were made. I was working with a group of very talented and experienced people and they managed to make everything come to screen as we imagined. The only thing that I can think of is that originally we wanted the man to break the glass and to see the water pouring out. This created a problem, that the person we cast in that role needs to be qualified to perform a glass breaking stunt. Finally our stunt coordinator agreed to Meelis doing it. So this is why my cinematographer is also acting in the film. As we were shooting with 2 cameras then our B-cam operator tended to the shots where Meelis was in front of the camera. But in editing we realized that the breaking of the glass really did not work visually or story wise. So it was an easy decision to leave it out and opt for a simpler ending of him knocking on the window.

  • You are a collaborator. How have you discovered members of your team and how do you keep the relationship with them strong?

I have worked with a lot of different people. I guess along the way with some of those people you kind of click on a deeper level. Our work methods and our way of thinking match. All of my long time collaborators are also my best friends, my family. I think the key to maintaining these relationships is to be honest towards each other and to keep in mind that this is a collaboration. Everyone needs to have an opportunity to bring something different to the table and be heard.

  • What do audiences want? And is it the filmmaker’s role to worry about that?

I believe the audiences want to be entertained, be it on intellectual or emotional level. Yes, there are common practices on how it is best to reach or make an impact on certain audiences(depending of culture and age). It is good for filmmakers to know them. Though worrying about the audience can be a double edged sword. I believe that the best stories are born from your individual point of view as a person and a filmmaker. If you are motivated about what the audience wants to see you might loose your honesty or start imitating what others are doing. I think the best way to tackle the insecurity that one might experience towards the audience reaction is to write and plan your film as it feels right to you and then discuss and show it to people you trust.

  • What role have film festivals played in your life so far? Why are they necessary? How do you get the most out of them?

For a filmmaker, festivals are a great source of energy and motivation. I always feel like I want to do more and better films after attending a festival. They are also an amazing place to find collaborators. I would say, watch as many films as possible but don’t forget to socialize. Because you get a lot of amazing feedback, good and bad, that helps you grow a s a storyteller.

  • Do you believe that a filmmaker should be original and fresh or he/she should stick to classic but safe cinema style?

I think the cinematic style a filmmaker chooses should always be in service of a particular story that is being told. Being original can be great because it makes you stand out and I love people who make bold choices but it has to be motivated by the narrative.