Filmmaker Interview by Chris Olson
I recently reviewed filmmaker Alexander Tuschinski's rebellious indie film Timeless for UK Film Review. Having got to grips with the movie's anarchic spirit, I was also lucky enough to catch up with the man behind it.
How do you describe your feature film “Timeless” to a new audience?
To describe “Timeless” to a new audience, I would say it’s a satire, it’s an anarchistic comedy. “Anarchistic” not necessarily in a political sense, but in a stylistic one. Meaning that it’s unpredictable and it plays with genres. We have some scenes that are straight drama, we have very realistic war scenes, we have slapstick comedy, then we have thriller sequences, and so on. So, I would say it’s an unpredictable comedy and a satire on many aspects of the modern world.
What prompted you to tell this story?
I have always been very fascinated by how quickly people’s mindset can switch into a totalitarian one, independent of the ideology, just in general. How difficult it is for many people to remain truly tolerant. In Timeless, I wanted to show that issue. By making a young man from 1932 – right before the Third Reich was taking place – travel in time to a quasi-dystopian very near future in which there is a strange totalitarian system, I wanted to show the nature of totalitarian thought, independent of any ideology.
I thought it’s best to tell this story not in a “preachy” way, but in a very light one. To make people laugh, enjoy it, and then later realize what’s actually happened there. So we have scenes you laugh about, it’s very funny, and then later when you think about it you realise: “Wait a second, there’s really tough stuff going on there.” And especially the ending of “Timeless” I wanted to make very brutal to suddenly make the laughter stop and make people realise the true nature of what totalitarian systems lead to: violence and war. So, that’s what prompted me to do it.
When making the movie, what difficulties did you face?
I was actually pretty fortunate because there were no real “difficulties” when making “Timeless”. I know this sounds like some kind of marketing / PR thing to say, but it’s actually the truth. It was a very straight-forward and very pleasant process. The biggest challenge was that there were a mix of professional actors and friends of mine who do it in their free time. To coordinate everybody so that they had time was actually relatively difficult but it worked quite well. I produced the film myself, so this was also my task.
Actually, the most interesting thing to me was that the film grew and grew and grew as I made it. The sequence where we smash a car in the final movie was actually just dialogue in the screenplay and I wrote the script myself, so three or four weeks before I shot it I thought: “Wait, this isn’t that interesting, let’s make the dialogue shorter and let’s destroy a car during the scene.” So, that was pretty nice. And the ending, the WW2 scene with the tank, was originally just a few German soldiers in a bunker. Then, I found Mr. Jörn Bindig in Saxony who owns a WW2 tank that’s de-activated but still it can drive, it looks very real. So suddenly, we shot the ending scene as a WW2 tank battle, which was pretty exciting. So, it was challenging, but no particularly difficulties, I am lucky to say.
You have a really impressive cast. What approach did you take in directing them? Including yourself?
Thanks a lot for the compliment! I was very, very lucky with the cast and I’m very happy about them. Also because the professional actors you see in the film are friends of mine, too, whose work I admire and I wanted to collaborate with them for a long time. And the approach to directing actors? I myself haven’t thought about it a lot consciously, but I heard from others that my approach is very “result-oriented”. Meaning, I tell actors what their role should look like, but I leave it to them, I give them freedom, to develop the background of the character themselves.
Watch the official movie trailer for Timeless above.
For example, Alliene [Hochrein Gunn], who’s playing Lizzy in the film. When I met with her, I told her a few things: “Lizzy just wants success very quickly, she’s very ambitious”, and then Alliene came up with this whole background story and she checked with me if I’m okay with that. We discussed it and I really liked how she developed the character. So I would say it’s a very result-oriented style.
And how I direct myself? That’s a really good question. I just behave the way I feel like in each sequence. There was one scene where my character is very angry and ranting. So, the people behind the camera and I – they’re friends of mine, and I improvised that rant – we had a blast. They were sitting behind the camera and told me things to make me ‘angry’, but in a funny way, so I went with it and just got into the mood to improvise as the character. So, that’s my approach to directing.
How has your approach to getting this movie out to an audience been?
To get the movie out to an audience, my approach so far has been to show it at festivals. Just to show it around and to get audience reactions directly. And after the festivals, I’ll look for distribution. So, at the moment, it’s still the festival-run. It’s been a blast so far: The film had its world premiere in Paris at the Paris Independent Film Festival in November 2016 and it was just a great time. Helmut Berger is very popular in France.
Then, the film had its German premiere at Berlin Independent Film Festival in February, and right after that it screened two times in Los Angeles: In Downtown LA and North Hollywood. It was just a wonderful time. I saw very different audiences respond to the film, and I saw how different people’s views on the film were. Some saw it as a very funny comedy – which was great. Some saw it as a very thought-provoking radical drama that uses comedy as a way to kind of ‘alienate’ the viewers from the story a little bit – I am not using the right word, but you get what I mean. So it’s just very, very interesting to see all these different viewpoints of different audience members on the film, and the film won some awards at festivals, which was also nice. I am looking forward to distribution and to showing it at more festivals. It’s been a really good time, and audiences really liked it so far.
What are your filmmaking influences?
I would say in general, I am mostly influenced by filmmakers who use the medium “film” to the fullest extend possible. I hear some people say that filmmaking is “primarily storytelling”, but I think there’s so much more to it. The cinematography, the editing, the use of music, it can all bring something to it if it’s just very original, if it does more than simply support the storytelling, if it actively does something in it.
Let’s say, people I personally met and exchanged artistic views with would be Hugo Niebeling, first and foremost. He used to be a German director – he died last year, unfortunately – and we were very close. We talked very, very often about films, about editing – he liked my editing-style, I liked his – so we were very, very close. Then there’s Tinto Brass, whose 1960s experimental filmmaking influenced me a lot. The way he’s using cinematography, editing, and switching between genres, giving it all a very surrealistic touch.
What advice would you give to a filmmaker in 2017?
Advice to filmmakers? That’s a really good question, because I can only speak for myself, so I could give you advice how to be like I am, but that’s not the only way to be. So... I would say some general advice, to filmmakers who start making films in 2017, would be to just do it. Many filmmakers I find put a lot of thought into everything, pre-plan a lot and then it all seems so overwhelming and so difficult that they don’t tackle a feature-film, for example. They say: “Oh, I can not produce such a long film, it’s so much work!” I would say go step by step by step. So, when I produced my feature films so far, to me it feels like producing one short film after the other, every sequence – just to me, feeling-wise – is like a short film: I organise it, I do the next. I just look at the immediate next step. And, sooner than you think, you are done and you have the whole film. So, maybe that’s my advice: Just do it, just start it, and then it will work out.
What would you say if you were a dolphin?
It’s a good question: What would I say if I were a dolphin? Dolphins are very intelligent mammals and a lot of observations show that they are very self-aware. So, it’s a very tough question, what I would say if I were a dolphin, I cannot answer quickly, I have to really think myself into the mind-system of this marine mammal. So, after careful deliberation... Is that the battery blinking there?