"It's amazing to see your characters come to life"

Tom Sielemann is a German actor, writer and director. After making several short films ("I see these short films as a beautiful reminder of my beginning"), Sielemann created his most ambitious project to date, "Mia".

After losing their mother in an accident, Mia and Ben are taken to a psychiatric hospital. While Mia is looking hopefully into the future, Ben can’t forget the past.

This short drama was well received by the LAFA judging team. With a low budget and a great story, Sielemann touched the hearts of the jury. The lead judge, Roy Zafrani, described Mia as "an incredible short film with perfect performances by Saskia Caroline Keilbach as Mia and Tom Hoßbach as Ben- I believed them every single moment.". Mia won 5 (!) awards at LAFA in December 2018, including Best Picture, Best Drama, Best Actor (Tom Hoßbach), Best Actress (Saskia Caroline Keilbach) and Best Supporting Actor (Christoph Nitz).

We asked Tom to join us for an interview. Here's his story.

Tom Sielemann (Director) and Tom Hoßbach (Ben)

How did you get involved in filmmaking? What were some of your first gigs?

It all started in 2011 when I made my first, very amateurish short film called "Mirror" with a good friend of mine. I met him through my work as a film critic on YouTube. I starred in it, playing both the main character and his alter ego in the mirror and my friend did the camera work. Since my background is located in a rural village, it was generally difficult to inspire people from my environment for it. Many did not take seriously what I tried. Given the first results, I can now understand why they were thinking like that. This first film was screened at a very small, rural film festival and it was the first time for us to show our own work to an audience. Since then, I've been firmly convinced turning it from a passion into a profession.

Why did you decide to write Mia and what was the inspiration for the screenplay? Is it based on true events?

Personally, I have a penchant for personal and human stories. The film is not based on a true story, although there is still a lot of myself in the story. The relationship of a family and especially the strong attachment of siblings who grew up together is exciting. I also have a younger sister. For "Mia" I changed that point and wrote Ben as an uncertain and (at first) weak main character who relies on his sister's support and always can count on her, even if she sometimes shoots past the target.

Besides, it's important to me personally to address difficult issues, because movies can be so much more than just pure entertainment. So I came up with mental illnesses that should be taken seriously these days. Shortly thereafter the scenario and the other characters emerged but the defining core and what I want to tell is that you should never give up and rely on your loved ones.

Tom Hoßbach (Ben) and Tom Sielemann (Director) on Set

Before directing Mia, you directed a few other short films - Schatten, Augenblicke, Nacht. Do you feel your directorial process changed over the time?

Definitely, I have tried out a lot in these previous works. Some were for smaller festivals with specifications such as theme and production time and therefore they were not nearly as much of a hassle as "Mia". But especially if you want to put on a bigger project, you should have a few references. At the moment I was still studying at a film school and became aware of the craft behind it. Of course, you learn different techniques to direct and develop a working script. I see these short films as a beautiful reminder of my beginning.

Saskia Caroline Keilbach (Mia) in her room

Could you share how long did it take to bring the film to life? From your first draft to screen?

For me "Mia" was the year 2018 compressed into 20 minutes. The idea itself and the first versions of the script were already present in 2017 but as so often I rewrote the story again and again. At the beginning of 2018 there was a script that I wanted to work with, so I began looking for locations, a crew and of course the actors. We started shooting in April shortly after my birthday and my wish was that everything would go smoothly. Of course it was not like that but we had a good team that also defied the different challenges. Post-production took a long time, because I also had other shootings going on at the same time, with students who had helped me with my project. So again, we experienced different ways of working on this type of project. I have the goal to be more confident in the future when I approach the next set. The film was finished in autumn and immediately there was a small success, winning the "Hagener Fenster" at the "Eat my Shorts" in Hagen, an award for local filmmakers.

Christoph Nitz (Dr. Neumann) and Tom Hoßbach (Ben) talking on Set

What were the most challenging moments during the shooting of Mia? And what were some of the highlights for you?

The shooting and the individual scenes were naturally beneficial for the actors themselves but also for me as a director, because I wanted to achieve a certain emotional depth. It was also exhausting, especially since we had many night shoots. I'm very grateful that we were allowed to shoot in a real psychiatry to get a real insight. Sometimes we were shooting until 5 o'clock in the morning. As a result, the sleep pattern of the entire crew was different but somehow, we all kept ourselves motivated. After all, you get something for eternity. Defining a certain highlight in the form of a scene is difficult for me, in general it was great to see how the characters came to life, everything that was previously only in my head. When you first get this feeling, "Yes, that's it!"

Tom Hoßbach (Ben) and Saskia Caroline Keilbach (Mia)

Saskia Caroline Keilbach (Mia) and Tom Hoßbach (Ben) delivered stellar performances in the film. How did you go about casting and how did you work with both of them to achieve such authentic performances?

Since I myself have an acting background, I find it relatively easy to work with actors. Because I know exactly how to feel as a part of the set and what you need in certain situations to create certain feelings or a mood. For Mia I also did E-Castings, later there were three actresses in the race who really had talent. Saskia was the one where it instantly clicked for me and I thought, "This is Mia, through and through." She always makes me feel like she's not acting, she just feels it and gets it done. Although she had not really much experience, I didn't care, I myself wasn’t very experienced as a director either.

With Tom or the role Ben it was also difficult, because I had to find an actor who still looks very young and is experienced at the same time. It was important that he is already over 18, because there are certain rules in Germany for very young performers or children. For example, you can only shoot a maximum 5 hours a day. He was in front of the camera since he was as a child and had just shot the last season of a television series titled "Herzensbrecher" (“Heartbreakers”). He showed interest and I got my Ben. That the two would harmonize so well is of course a real stroke of luck but also hard work. The first day we only shot with Tom and Saskia joined the team from the second day on. Fortunately, her cheerful nature helped her to integrate into the team and she has also found access to Tom who sometimes can be a little quiet.

I had the feeling that both of them trusted me and my work completely. I think that's a pretty important part; the awards are a remarkable reward for their devotion.

Tom Hoßbach (Ben) and Saskia Caroline Keilbach (Mia)

How do you feel about the film's success so far? How was it accepted?

As a young German filmmaker, I was really amazed that "Mia" suddenly won awards in Los Angeles. Also, the previous awards were a real surprise for me. It is always incredibly difficult to judge how certain short films were rated by the audience or expert juries. So I was incredibly satisfied and finally able to prove that it´s serious work for me. The film got some pretty good reactions so far. When it was finished and I showed it to my girlfriend for the first time, there was a moment when she cried and I had to comfort her first. She was really and honestly touched and if a movie can achieve that, you certainly didn't do much wrong.

Tom Hoßbach (Ben) and Saskia Caroline Keilbach (Mia)

Looking back, is there anything you'd change in Mia?

It's really amazing, even though it's not that long ago, you keep learning from day to day. I honestly believe that I should have trusted the camera work a bit more and trying some new things. The film is a bit more classic regarding the camera work and more focused on the narrative. In general, you should not be too busy with something you could have changed, but with what you can change in the future.

What do you generally wish people knew about your work as a writer and director?

I am passionate about interpersonal matters. The soft tones, the conflicts that each one of us has and the difficulties in life. How can we overcome problems? Is there any hope for us at the end of the day? Themes that really deal with us, inside of us. I will continue to try writing and directing sensitive scripts in the future. Stories that can affect us. Personally, I like movies like "Room" by Lenny Abrahamson, "Shoplifters" by Hirokazu Kore-Eda or “Hope” from Joon-ik Lee.

Saskia Caroline Keilbach (Mia) and Stefanie Renk (Mother) while shooting the car scene

Do you have any tips on how to create a meaningful film?

I think it's hard to sit down and say, "So I'm shooting a significant movie because I have something to say." Everyone has to question themselves once: "What moves me.". If something moves you, you can take others along on your journey, and in the best case change the way they’re looking at your work.

You're currently in post production for "Das Bilderhaus". What can you already share about this upcoming film?

"Das Bilderhaus" is a film that´s already finished in principle. It was filmed before "Mia", but I worked with a producer and screenwriter who wanted to take some time before it was released. For me, it was interesting to work on a screenplay that I didn’t wrote myself, where I have to find something that excites me. In this case it was the many different characters. After all, it's an ensemble movie about people who share the passion of cinema, but each have their own little stories.

From Left to Right - Tom Hoßbach (Ben), Saskia Caroline Keilbach (Mia), Stefanie Renk (Mother), Benjamin Grüter (Father)

Tell us about your next projects. What are you planning for the long run?

Of course, I am currently also working on my final film at film school which must be completed by 2020 for my graduation. At the moment I'm not at the point where the script convinces me and it still needs a lot of work. However, I have learned to focus on fewer characters in order to be able to tell more about them at the end. I find this aspect very important, especially in a short film. At some point, of course, the goal is to make a long film. Maybe something to be in the race for an Oscar as best foreign film to represent Germany? I do not know, but of course it is important to me, that the widest possible audience can see my work.

How can our readers follow your works?

Of course you can follow me on instagram: https://www.instagram.com/tomsielemann/ Or like my Facebook page for Mia: https://www.facebook.com/MiaKurzfilm/ I will always keep you on track what is happening to “Mia” and where it will be shown. In addition, I will always point out new projects and publish everything that matters.

Is there anything you wish to add or anyone you wish to thank?

I want to thank all the people who supported me in creating "Mia". Especially my family, who always believed in me and my work, and all those who supported it from the beginning, staring with the very first idea and now can be proud to have been honored here and be a part of “Mia” forever.

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