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Interview with director Philipp Christopher

Philipp Christopher was born and raised in Berlin, Germany until he moved to New York City early on. He studied Film at SVA and has directed award winning short films, music videos and commercials. He is the founder and artistic director of FilmGym, a New York/Berlin based film production company and community.

His acting career began while he was in film school which collaborated with the prestigious Actor’s Studio. After studying under mentors such as Elizabeth Kemp, Ken Schatz and Barbara Portier, he has since appeared on the New York stage, on television and in numerous films in both Europe and the United States.

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

I think I was about 12 when I watched Bertolucci’s “The Last Emperor”. I know it sounds awkward but I totally fell in love with it and wanted to makes a movie like it one day. I felt like the combination of camera, sound and music was the ultimate form of art since it brings everything together. I just didn’t know how damn hard it is!

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

I think it depends on the person. For me, it was essential. Of course I have no idea what would have happened if I hadn’t gone but it did provide a basic foundation for me. For me, it’s not so much what you learn in Film-school but the fact that you’re surrounded by like-minded people who inspire and encourage you. I also think it’s essential to learn about the history of film. When directing is your focus, it also encourages you to look into all aspects of filmmaking which is very important. A director who never edited a film in his life will have a much harder time directing.

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

 If talking about a particular project, I think it’s harder to get started because it can be very overwhelming and there is a lot of fear and doubt involved. If talking about the career, it’s harder to keep going. Due to my acting career the work behind the camera had to take the back seat. But I miss it and now find myself more and more drawn to it. Because I do have another career as an actor it’s less pressure which is good…but it’s always a long road. That’s why this film was an absolute pleasure to make: short, mobile and last minute.

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

Just do it. I think many times we wonder about whether we should do something or not. I realized that just doing it, whether it works or not, is worth a shot. I am, however, very picky before investing a ton of work and money…I think it’s mandatory to make sure that what you’re putting out there at least has the potential to work. You never know for sure, but it helps to gather feedback from peers before you jump into cold water. But when it comes to projects that are easy to produce, I take the ride immediately.

  • 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? Well…for this film we decided the day before the deadline to make it. It was me and a colleague of mine who I had worked with on a BBC production. She was up for the idea, I wrote the script, brought my camera over to her place and we just shot it. It since has received a lot of unexpected attention which is great. After all…it was the cheapest and easiest film I ever shot. Go figure.

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

If I should do a one take or cut. To expose some trivia, there are three cuts in the film even though it appears to be in one take.

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

Recommendations are one of them or seeking out talent myself. I usually hire the same people if I can although they have changed due to time constraints or other issues. But I think it’s wonderful to work with people who you trust…it makes the work so much easier. But I’m always open for new talent. At the end of the day it needs to fit and it’s important to me that whoever works on my project needs to be excited about it.

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

I think audiences want to be touched in some way.  How that happens is up the filmmaker but I think we do have to keep the audience in mind. That’s not to say to please the audience and make a film “for” them, but whatever story you tell needs to reach them. Not all audiences, but at least some. I think if something is truly coming from an inner place, it tends to be universal and it will reach an audience. But I see too many filmmakers who want to be artistic and fall into the trap of making an artsy movie without the inner connection, the research, and the need to express how they feel. That usually doesn’t reach the audience and it ends up failing. So reaching the audience is key, however you go about it. If it’s not, then why make films at all?

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

I honestly think they are way too many film festival out there. I’ve been to festivals, big ones, that were completely unnecessary. But once in a while there are these festivals, mostly smaller ones, that are an absolute pleasure as you meet other filmmakers, get your film in front of a proper audience and feel like you’re being recognized for the work that you’ve done. In so many of the bigger film festivals, short films are buried under the staggering amount of features that are being produced these days. So networking is surely a good thing to do, as long as the possibilities are given. Either way…the last thing the world needs is another film festival.

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

Always be original and fresh but that doesn’t mean you have to discard classic film making. Re-invent. Learn from the masters and take it a step further. Imagine we would see Van Goghs painting strokes over and over again. It’s boring. But what if, instead of using a paintbrush, we used a knife with those same strokes. You use the same techniques but different tools. That’s something new and yet…builds on the old. Either way…be bold.