Ulrich Seidl (second from right). Photo by Eve Lucas
As he takes the stage along with a Kreuzberg-booted moderator, an interpreter and his long-term collaborator (and, as it turns out, wife) Veronika Franz, Ulrich Seidl looks encouragingly at an auditorium packed with young, earnest cinephiles. Most of these are already chewing Luddite pencils as they await insights on Seidl’s working process – maybe even some thoughts on his competition film Paradise: Hope. Defiantly, I hold my Iphone up and turn on the voice memo function.
To set the scene, we watch a clip from Paradise: Love, part one of Seidl’s “Paradise Trilogy”. It shows a couple of Austrian Sugar Mamas trying to teach a Kenyan beach hotel barman the finer points of Austrian pronunciation.
The moderator asks for some input on the scriptwriting process, on which Seidl and Franz have been cooperating for 17 years.
“Screenplays are written as treatments,” says Seidl. “The theme is set out, but there are no dialogues … “
Question marks float around the auditorium. The moderator intimates the need for some specifics: Veronika Franz smiles apologetically:
“It’s not very dramatic: Ulrich starts to develop a story, he sends it to me, I put down my ideas and send it back. That’s it. Not very exciting.”
The moderator leans forward in case he’s missed something. Franz takes pity on him. Based on the scene that we’ve just seen we should know that:
“It’s part of the character that we developed (for Theresa) that she wants to instruct. She wants to teach the African barkeeper German, for example – and this leads to the development of this specific scene.”
It only works, says Seidl, because they know each other so well. They know where they want to go: they have a similar understanding of humour, and of people.
So this particular artistic cooperation verges on the osmotic: never an easy process to show and tell.
But they’re giving it their best shot, as Franz continues Seidl’s line of thought, explaining that she knows how he’ll work with her ideas, how much space he needs in a script, what he’ll do with a location – and with the actors.
“So you need time?” says the moderator, hopefully. “For a scene like the one we’ve just seen, to develop …”
But Seidl is moving on – or back: a script, he says, is necessary to get financing, so that he can start casting. It’s a starting point. On set, there is no script. The actors never see a script, they never know what they’ll be doing the next day. This allows for innovation, for inspiration in terms of casting and location.
It sounds distressingly confusing – and we haven’t heard the half of it.
Prior to shooting, says Seidl, he traveled to Kenya on separate occasions with three different potential lead actresses: to try things out with the beach boys, to see how natural they were with them.
And even then, adds Franz:
“The final choice (of actress) can lead to changes in the screenplay. We can write to the strengths and weaknesses of the person, we can take characteristics into account …”
And it’s back to Seidl, describing the process of finding the right Kenyan beach boy to play the main male character in Paradise: Love. As it turns out, there were two, with whom he began shooting in parallel, waiting to see who would be the better choice.
The moderator takes a covert glance at his watch. We’ve still got Paradise: Faith and Paradise: Hope to cover.
As the lights go down for a second set of film clips, my young Spanish-speaking neighbor flexes his fingers and sticks a pencil behind his ear. I take the opportunity to steal away into the shadows. I think I’ve got the picture. Although whether it’s the right one is anybody’s guess.