Interview by Chris Olson
At just 21 years old, French filmmaker Keyvan Sheikhalishahi has already made three short films.
His newest Divertimento is one of the biggest shorts in film history, starring Hollywood actor Kellan Lutz (Twilight, Expendables) alongside Torrey DeVitto (Chicago Med), Ola Rapace (Skyfall), Götz Otto (Cloud Atlas), Christian Hillborg (Fleabag), Ellie Heydon (Harlots) and Brittany Gonzales.
Both Kellan Lutz and Götz Otto, whose career began with Schindler's List, compared Keyvan with a young Steven Spielberg and declared they would love to work with him again.
Keyvan just received the Remi Award at the 53rd Houston Festival for his previous short film Nox, an award that Spielberg himself, George Lucas, Ridley Scott, Oliver Stone, David Lynch and others received in their debuts.
I caught up with him to talk about his filmmaking.
How would you pitch your new short film, Divertimento, to a new audience?
I would say it’s a very subjective experience in the mind of a chess player who has a tragic past and now needs to deal with it. How would he react? How far can his imagination take him?
Why did you want to make this film and tell this story?
Cinema is the most powerful art when you’re dealing with different layers and timelines. I’m trying with this movie to continue to explore new ways of storytelling. Also, I wanted to make an action or a thriller movie but to me, there’s something more with lots of nostalgia and different emotions throughout the film. Each character has an emotional journey in 30 minutes.
How was the journey? What obstacles and challenges did you face?
We shot the movie in a huge 18th-century castle, which was great but it’s very time-consuming. You need to light large rooms, you have lots of actors and extras, lots of props, different vehicles, different locations in the castle and 5 days for 30 minutes is very short, especially for this type of movie and when you don’t have rehearsals with the actors!
Before the shooting, we decided to double or even triple the lighting and grip department than usual and we had 100 lightings. Everyone knew how he needed to work and what I expected. We found very rapidly a good rhythm.
For this film, you wore many hats. Not just writer/director/producer but also costume designer, production designer and props. What was it like managing all these aspects and how big was the crew?
I think a short film is an opportunity to experience new things and make more than what a director is intended to do. While I certainly wouldn’t do that for a feature, I think it can only add depth and knowledge for your own experience. From pre to post-production, around 150 people worked on the whole project, we handled it like a feature.
How was working with Kellan Lutz and Götz Otto? Having previously worked with Götz on Vesper.
It’s always awesome to work with actors you knew before and watched in movies. Both Kellan and Götz have a unique experience of big movies. They have two different methods though, or should I say one difference.
The part of improvisation and feeling with the atmosphere and the set is much bigger with Götz. Even if I spend one hour with Götz and plan everything when I say ‘Action!’, I never really know what will be exactly happening and I love that with him, I'm impressed each time.
With Kellan, everything is more calculated in advance, he's very thorough, he liked to see himself a few times in the monitor to be the most precise possible.
What's next for you? More indie filmmaking or are you doing any studio work?
While I love indie movies, I don’t want to become the kind of filmmaker who always wants to make indie movies. Divertimento already feels like a studio movie, actually. So I’m ready to work with studios with a good collaboration. There are the assets to make bigger scale movies and to work with big actors.
My next dream is to work with my all-time favourite actor and it would be awesome to have a studio to make this possible. And also, I’d love to work with Pierce Brosnan, I’m a huge fan!
What would your advice be for a new filmmaker?
I think a new filmmaker has to tell a strong story and to make a movie which looks all his own. A story can be filmed in multiple ways, you can ask ten people to paint a very precise house or landscape, you’ll have always ten different paintings. It’s why it’s unthinkable for me to not direct my stories. You need to be sure how you want to tell them. That will make the difference.
Why do you make movies?
If the audience can forget their everyday lives and enjoy the movie during two hours, I’d be happy!
What would you say if you were a dolphin?
Protect my house! We do not live with tons of plastic in our home.