Tuesday, 15 February 2011

'Vincent' and Mazin Power

If you haven’t seen ‘Vincent’ yet, which is directed by Mazin Power and written by Arivind Abraham, then, quite simply, you are missing out. With a simple yet very inventive premise ‘Vincent’ is an original take on the time travel film that is a pleasure to watch. With a touching and funny script that is skilfully directed and wonderfully cast I urge you to try and catch the film when you can.

I was lucky enough to have some words with director Mazin Power.

How did you get started in filmmaking?
I got started, like most people of my generation, because my parents
bought a camcorder. I used to make stop-motion films using in-camera
editing. It was great fun.

When I was older, iMovie came out, which completely changed the way I made
movies- but again, it was only fun, I never actually saw it as a career.

That changed completely when I was 21 years old, living in Austria- my
friend was in a band at the time and, just for fun, we made a music video.
I really had no idea what I was doing, but we had a great time shooting
an extremely silly music promo. Then, suddenly, his band was picked up by
SonyBMG, and they released the song on a major label. They bought the
rights to my video, and put it all over television. Pretty soon, the song
hit #1 in the charts.

It was bizarre- I saw 12 year old girls in the street singing the song.
And I had made the video for it. That's when I knew it could be a job.

So what is 'Vincent' about?
Vincent is about a man who has been living behind a church for five years.
He says he's a time traveller from 2079, and that he's stuck in our time,
because his time machine broke. All he wants is to get back home to his

What themes does it explore?
Vincent is about what it means to be homeless... Not necessarily to be
living on the street, but to live without a place you feel at home. Many
people have been there at some point in their lives, where they don't feel
they have a home. It's also about hope, in the face of extremely tall
odds, that everything is still going to be ok. Almost a blind faith in
positive outcomes, if you will. I think there's something extremely
courageous about people who have that kind of outlook.

Mazin Power
How did the idea come about?
This is really silly but- I wrote to Arivind (the writer), asking him if
he wanted to write a script that was 1) five minutes long 2) featured one
actor and 3) featured only one location (this was later changed).

He shot me a script back two days later. It was brilliant, and though I
did add a few scenes to it, the core script didn't actually change very
much from draft 1.

Describe your writing process?
I like to write characters, and then put them in challenging situations to
see how they hold up. So the first thing I do is really get to know the
characters, to really understand how they would react in any situation you
put them in. This was especially the case on Vincent, where I did
additional writing- I had to make sure I did justice to Arivind's

The second step then is to work out the plot structure. What's important
to me is to always be raising the stakes- to make the character's journey
more and more challenging. People don't generally like to see a character
have an easy time- it bores them.

That doesn't mean they should be sad characters of course- I think Vincent
is so interesting precisely because of the unusual way he reacts to his

How do you prepare to direct a film?
Preparation is everything to me.

I like to have lots of meetings with key crew members, to really make sure
everyone is on the same page, telling the same story.

But probably the most important thing about preparing a film is hiring the
right crew.

I put a lot of trust in my crew- but I also expect them to carry a lot of
responsibility. I like to arrive on set and let everyone do their thing.
I really appreciated the relationship I had with my DoP, for example,
because I barely had to talk to him. He would (very quickly) frame up, and
then ask me if it worked. 95% of the time it was great, and so we could
just get on with shooting.

That kind of work is only possible with people who are damn good at what
they do- its extremely liberating, and I would urge all filmmakers out
there to find the best damn crew they can get, and not to work with just
their friends.

It leads to a kind of military precision on set, which in turn infects the
set with a high level of energy.

What format was the film shot on and was this a creative or financial

We shot Super16mm film- and it was both a creative and financial choice.

I'm one of the few filmmakers who don't believe that the so-called digital
revolution has actually resulted in bringing down the cost of production.
Yes, the RED camera looks good, but it'll cost you just as much to use as
celluloid, since you need the extra processing time in post-production.
And things like the Canon 5D, while decent, still have a very 'video'
look, and aren't actually great quality as they work on heavily compressed

On the flipside, I think nothing looks better than celluloid- it's just
completely believable. And yes, though it's expensive, it also attracts
talent to your project, who would otherwise not come on board. We got the
entire post-production workflow for Vincent done at a major London
facility, including the Edit, Dubbing Mix, and Color Grade... for free.
Why? Because they liked the fact that it was shot on celluloid (and a good
film). That's thousands of pounds worth of in-kind support.

What was its budget and how did you raise the finance?
Vincent was made for 3 grand. We got a lot of great deals on equipment,
and the whole crew worked for free, but there are just some costs that you
can't avoid.

The money was raised by me- I knew nobody was going to give me money to
make a film, because I didn't have a proven track record. Still, I knew I
could do it... so I worked a crappy, but well paid job, and saved up.

It was totally worth it, but it's definitely the first and last film that
I will ever fund out of pocket.

Describe the casting process.

We saw about 25 actors- Bill Thomas was the immediate standout. Watching
the rehearsals back in the evening, I immediately saw something very
different in him. He had memorised his lines, and was really getting into
them, instead of reading them back. It wasn't a tough decision.

Are you a director who likes to rehearse a lot before shooting?
I like to rehearse, but not too much. What's important is that the actor
understands where the character is from, and where they want to be going.

Everything the actor does should be based on those two things.

What approaches do you employ when working with actors?
I like every single line, and every action, to have one active emotion
behind it. Actors do their best work when they do one thing at a time,
and are focusing their energy outwards. Saying to an actor "right now you
are sad because of X, but also happy because of Y" will end up in a
muddled performance. Do one thing at a time, and do it well.

And whatever you do, always keep your actors outwardly focused- so that
they projecting their emotion onto other actors, and not keeping it to

Did you storyboard/shot list every shot in pre-production?
Yes, very thoroughly.

I storyboard in excruciating detail. This is especially important on a
film like Vincent, where we had 40 minutes of Super16mm stock- on a 6.5
minute film, that's a shooting ratio of 6:1 - not a lot, to be sure.

It changed quite a bit once we got on set- but simply having that
storyboard can help you understand what each shot is supposed to be about,
and so that when you do change things, you don't change the meaning you
were originally after.

How and why did you decide on the visual style you employed for your film?

It grew through discussions with the crew. Crucially, I knew I wanted the
film to feel bright and positive. The most important people involved in
that process were the DoP, production designer, and Bill Thomas (Vincent).

In the original script, Vincent was sitting on a bench beside the river-
we realised early on that this would make for a very boring film, so we
ended up changing his location, so that it became more an expression of
his character.

How long was the shoot?
Two days. The first day we shot the bench, and the second day we shot the
street scenes.

Which part of the production did you find most enjoyable?
Definitely the shoot.

It was extremely positive, very well organised, and the crew was
fantastic. We finished early on both days, and even had some footage left
at the end to play around with- some of which actually did end up in the

This is, I think, because we were all so well prepared. I think that the
Vincent shoot is probably one of the best moments of my life.

What lessons, if any, did you learn?
I learned that I could make a good film- I didn't know that before. I
thought I could, but I hadn't proved it yet. Now I know.

I also learned that the MOST important thing in your film is having a good
script, with good actors. If one of those elements is missing you're
dead. Vincent has both those things- having made this film definitely
proved it to me.

Where has the film been screened so far?
We had a private screening at BAFTA, and an invitation screening at Sunday
Screenings. But there haven't been any actual public or festival
screenings yet.

Future plans for the film?
The film was made as a calling card- though I might also turn it into a
feature at some point down the line. Right now, I just want to enjoy
giving it a run around the festivals. I hope it does well.

What’s next for you?
I'm working on three feature scripts right now- one of which is aimed
squarely at a mainstream audience. I'm really enjoying the writing process
on that one. I'll be announcing more on that as work progresses.

I'm also working on a new project with Arivind Abraham, who was created an
episodic series of video games for the mobile apps platform- they rely
quite heavily on video content, and I'm directing one of the episodes.
It's a very cool project, very different. The best part is that it's
Sci-Fi, which means special effects, and action scenes- something I've
never done.

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