Were you interested in film from a young age? What was the first film that made an impression on you?
No, I think I was an average boy from a migrant background, who liked film as much as everyone else in the Offenbach ghetto. More than movies, I was interested in games: I loved my Atari 2600 and then my C64 home computer. I played table tennis and never invited girls to my birthday parties because I was afraid of acting awkwardly in front of them.
I think I was five when I secretly watched the James Bond classic For Your Eyes Only 100 times on our VHS recorder. Then, my mother moved and took me with her to the Bavarian mountains. Here, I started with amateurish skate and snowboard flicks in the early ‘90s. I think this pushed me so far that I’m doing what I’m doing at the moment.
You’ve recently released the third film in your ‘MeTube’ series, August sings ‘Una furtiva lagrima’, and it’s as flamboyant, creative and original as we could hope for. Did you always intend to make a trilogy? How much pressure was there to up the ante in terms of production values, narrative etc with each film?
No trilogy was planned in the beginning. We never expected to be this successful with the first one; what we hoped for was to get positive reactions about our “opera meets pulp fiction” crossover thing. That’s why we released it online only. Then we got asked by a festival to apply, they awarded us the grand prix and then the snowball effect started. Awards and other invitations followed. After one year we were nominated by Sundance and it blew my mind. It’s just wonderful when you don’t expect something to happen and then you get surprised.
At this point we decided to go for the sequel. The story was neat: first this odd couple proved themselves at home (1), then they go on the streets pulling off a never-to-be-seen flash mob (2), and finally they take over the opera stage (3).
It might look like the lazy (American) way, but for us it was challenging because there was a lot of pressure: we wanted to make something ‘different but the same’. It had to be at least as successful as the prequel, but with only limited resources.
Our recipe was to take the most important ingredients of our original short and throw them into a new environment. [As a director] the question you are confronted with most of the time is: ‘How can I surpass and confound the expectations of the audience?’ Somehow, we managed to convince the curators at Sundance. But this time I spent the whole festival week in a cozy Airbnb bed with a fever while my team was having a good time.
If you say 2, you need to say 3. The last one was the greatest ‘chewing gum project’ of my life. I’m happy that it is finally done and out.
MeTube 3: August sings ‘Una Furtiva Lagrima’
All three MeTube films look like fiendishly complicated productions: you’ve got green-screen, CGI, motion capture, alignment of music and visuals, and of course the added complications of gimp suits. What were the biggest challenges you encountered? How much was captured in-camera versus in post?
The first one was comparatively easy, shot in a Viennese studio over 2 days. We used a handy motion control system (C-MOCOS) which gave us the possibility to make it look as if it is a single shot. The amount of CGI/VFX work was clear. Some effects (like the moving walls) were shot in-camera and so the robot post was also done in a reasonable time.
The second film was more challenging. It was done on an outside location in two days and one night (plus a bit of extra time for mo-cap and digitalizing humans). I can remember the feeling of fainting when i first saw the rough cut: just an ugly, shaky sequence from green hell. The four minutes were stuffed with effects from beginning to end so the post took a while.
We got rid of the one-shot characteristics (and the motion control) for the third one and attempted to go for more narrative simple storytelling. We thought it would be an easy walkthrough, but sadly it wasn’t. Somehow, we managed to ignore the fact the last part is twice as long and the script was stuffed with over 100 FX shots, on top of a large cast and stunt rigs. Also, the fact that even in Vienna – a city well-known for its theatre and opera – nobody wanted us to conquer their stage, made the production much harder. After four months of searching, we had to travel to the Hungarian/Romanian border to find the wonderful and supportive Czokonai Theater in Debrecen (Hu). It took us nine days to shoot, with a far too long postproduction phase. Thankfully we had the support of 15 post companies spread all over the world to make it happen. We burned most of the budget for the ambitious shoot and we were super happy that these companies helped us (we fed them with Austrian chocolate as compensation).
‘Una furtiva lagrima’ sees the return of brilliant actress Elfriede Wunsch, who plays August’s overbearing mother, and who also took the lead in your video for TANGOWERK’s Emergency. Is she something of a muse to you?
She’ll be happy to hear that! Before our MeTube series, she used to work as an extra for Ulrich Seidl and other productions here in Vienna. I remember casting her in 2012 for August’s mother. The moment I saw her bringing his glass of milk into the frame, I fell in love. She is a wonderful character and she doesn’t pity herself – for the Tangowerk video, she stayed cool when we made her throw colourful dust into her face and then made her lie on a cold floor with artificial rain pouring over her at 2:30am. At first she said she didn’t like it, but afterwards she asked me when we’d do the next project together. Actually, she was the first person talking about a sequel after we finished shooting MeTube 1.
MeTube 3: August sings ‘Una Furtiva Lagrima’
It’s rare to watch anything genuinely original these days, but the MeTube films are unlike anything else out there. Where does your inspiration come from?
Thanks! I try to look always for something which I haven’t seen in this particular context or framework. The nice thing about opera is that this world is pretty untouched. A bit conservative and old fashioned. So it’s not too difficult to score here.
Are you a classical music aficionado? Are there any other classical singers/performers you’re keen to work with?
I wouldn’t call myself that, but my mother is an opera lover, and I grew up with these sounds around me. Since I have been running the projects with my supportive friend August, who is an opera singer, this special music is much closer to me than before. He lets me suggest opera pieces that we could use next. In this way my knowledge in the world of opera has grown steadily. And, of course, I also enjoy working with others – as long as they are willing to think outside the box.
MeTube 3: August sings ‘Una Furtiva Lagrima’
Your 2011 feature documentary, Login2Life, about people who live most of their lives in online virtual worlds feels more relevant than ever during Covid-19 – a pandemic that has physically separated us all. As a filmmaker with a multimedia background, what interests you about the virtual world?
I love the fact that synthetic worlds have the ability to extend our space. You can meet in places which don’t exist in the physical world. And when you have social interactions in these spaces, they start manifesting as real places in our minds, so they become meaningful. I was playing World of Warcraft in 2005 when I realised that, and that’s why I thought this phenomenon needs to be examined closer in a documentary. Because of the pandemic, I’ve made it free to view on my VOD channel: http://watch.login2life.net/
What are you working on next?
My buddies and I are sitting in a writers’ room and working on my first feature. We are also developing short content together and other formats like TV shows. I’m also looking for a possibility to work abroad where humorous content is more appreciated than in Austria. Not quite easy during a pandemic but hey – the vaccine is coming.
Interview by Selena Schleh
MeTube 3: August sings ‘Una furtiva lagrima’
Director Daniel Moshel
Production Moshel Film and August Schram
Opera House Partner Csokonai Színház, Debrecen
Post Production Partners: Pixomondo, Polar Media, Pfx, Bottleship, VFXLA, Music Moviebrats, The Grand Post, Digic Pictures, Two Seven Lab, Compozitive, Die Leinwandhelden, Eighty4, Utopitree, K – Effects, Screenclay Fx, Automatik VFX, Klangkulisse, The University of Bolton.
Written by Eugen Klim & DanielMoshel
Director of Photography Benjamin Paya
Edited by Anna Kirst
1st Assistant Director Moshe Kvitelashvili
Production Manager Lena Krins
Music Composed by Gaetano Donizetti
Remix by Alin Cristian Oprea, Lidia Kalendareva
Executive Producer Eugen Klim
Set Designer Jenny Schleif
Costume Designer Heike Werner
Key & SFX Make Up Artist Tom Mayr
Choreography Sebastijan Geč
Concept ArtistJens Kuczwara
Storyboard Josef Zorn
Location & Partner Research Angela Voith
Set VFX Supervision Florian Hirschmann
© Moshel Film / August Schram 2020