"If you feel you have an amazing story that must be told, don't wait!"
Some people were born to win big.
When Jarek Marszewski started writing his second feature film, Bikini Blue, he knew that the story would be challenging for an independent film. He also knew that he had an amazing Post War dramatic story, and wasn't willing to give up on it. This was a film that needed to be made. Jarek bought a Blackmagic 4K camera, found the DOP, got a motorcycle, collected a number of other props and was determined to make it happen.
Three years later, it paid off. Bikini Blue has been winning one festival after another, including the LAFA Best of Fest 2017, New York Film Awards Best of Fest 2017 and Festigious International Film Festival Best of Fest 2017.
The LAFA Premier Judge, Jeff Melman, described Bikini Blue as "an exceptionally beautiful and complex production, extremely well directed".
So how did this Polish director stunned our entire jury? If you ask Jarek, it's all about passion.
In the following interview, Jarek takes us behind the scenes of Bikini Blue, shares his thoughts and ideas about filmmaking, and has some great advice for indie filmmakers!
Training played an important role in your formative stages. You studied directing at FAMU - the Film Academy in Prague, graduated from the Kieslowski Film Department at the Silesian University and also graduated the English Department at the Wroclaw University. Can you please elaborate on your training and experiences in these educational institutions? In your opinion, is it a pre-requite to become a film director?
I do not think that a film school is a ’sine qua non’ condition for becoming a good director. So many amazing films had been made before the first film academies were established that it practically should go without saying. Orson Welles, Stanley Kubrick or Akira Kurosawa were self-educated directors. For me though, a film school provided a chance to meet outstanding artist and to obtain the access to professional film equipment. I became a student of FAMU - the Prague Film Academy and until now I am very proud that I passed the entrance exams with the highest score out of all the candidates! Just sitting in the same lecture rooms going to the same library where Milos Forman („One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”, „Amadeus”), Milan Kundera (author, „The Unbearable Lightness of Being”, „Laughable Loves”) or Emir Kusturica („Underground”, „Arizona Dream”) - the outstanding graduates of FAMU used to study, was very inspirational. I had amazing teachers as well - Joromir Jires, Vera Chytilova carried the „aura” of the legends of the Czech New Wave cinema of the 60s. I was not less lucky in Katowice: Krzysztof Zanussi („A Year of the Quiet Sun”) or Edward Zebrowski(„Hospital of the Transfiguration”) - having them as professors was a great experience. Yet, probably the most important teacher for me was Janusz Nawojczyk who run a Student Film Club „FOSA” in Wroclaw - my home town, which I began to attend in my early high-school years. Janusz was a really awesome, teacher and friend with lots of wit and wisdom. He passed away last year. I miss him a lot.
When did you direct your first film, and what was it about?
It was back in the „FOSA” film club where I made my first shorts and won my first awards, including the UNICA Gold Medal for the World’s Best Non-Professional Film in St. Gallen, Switzerland. My very first film was called „The Fly” (1986) - about a teenage girl who escapes from home and is chased by the police, which was intended as a metaphor of the martial law era in communist Poland. We shot it on 16 mm, black and white - quite dark, quite „post-punk” and depressing:))).
You previously directed several operas for TV productions: “Aida”, Italy/Qatar for Al Arabia TV, 2002; “Madame Butterfly” Italy/South Africa for SABC TV, 2000; “The Magic Flute”, Opera Podlaska, Poland, 2014. How did you get into directing opera productions? Did you go through any musical training before? And how is working on an opera different than directing a narrative, nonmusical project?
I was still a student of the Kieslowski Film Department when I started collaborating with Channel 2 of the Polish National TV. I was making short music and video-art clips for a show called „The Art Night”. Its main show-runner soon became a head of Teatr Wielki in Lodz, which is one of Poland’s most important opera stages. He must have appreciated our tv co-operation, as he decided to take a risk and make me direct „Carmen” for this theatre even though he was conscious I had no music education and was more into punk rock than opera. Fortunately, „Carmen” was well received, so I continued and worked on „Madame Butterfly”. It was also at the Teatr Wielki in Lodz where I met Giuseppe Raffa, an Italian opera producer. He was aware of my film and tv experience and invited me to work for his company called Operama and producing large scale operas presented for multi-thousand audiences at stadiums or other big venues. We staged„Butterfly” at Loftus Stadium in Pretoria, South Africa and shoot a television version of it for SABC3. After a year we met again - in Doha, Qatar working on „Aida”. This was an event celebrating the birthday of the Prince of Qatar and planned to take place at the Doha National Stadium. On the day of the premiere the whole pitch was covered with carpets and sofas for VIPs, the rest of auditorium was attended by 20,000 viewers. The prince was an hour late to the show, so we also started later, and I was simultaneously directing the tv live broadcast! The whole crew - including extras - consisted of over 500 people, and the crew was very international - the slide projectors came from UK, the lighting - from Netherlands, the orchestra and the choir were from Romania, the soloist came from Italy, Venezuela, Poland, Russia, Bulgaria. My seven (!) ADs were from Romania and France. A precious experience, I must admit. Opera is definitely different than film - its beauty is based on music and the general visual effect and impression rather than on the plot and emotional storytelling, even if it sounds like stating the obvious.
With such varied interests —TV series (The Murder Commission, 2016), short films (Berliner Tango, The Rats), feature films (Tomorrow Heaven Comes, Bikini Blue), music videos and operas—how do you prioritize projects?
Cinema is my passion. Most of all, I enjoy telling gripping stories using this medium with all the complex and fascinating ways of expression it provides. Then, most briefly speaking, if I face a chance to make a film with a good story, no other creative temptation or challenge can compete with it.
Bikini Blue’s screenplay was awarded the Grand Prix at ScriptPro (Poland’s main script competition) in 2015. When did you come up with the initial idea for the film, and what sparked it? How does this story resonate with you, what makes it special and why do you think it’s an important story to tell?
What inspired me to write this story was the fact - found in a historical magazine - saying that after World War II in the UK there were two mental institutions intended only for Polish ex-soldiers, and that Poles in Britain were suffering from mental diseases five times more often than the Brits and three times more often than other immigrants. I thought it was a touching metaphor of the exile’s fate and decided to tell a story around this fact.
Tell us your creative writing process. Did you conduct any research about the Cold War in Britain during the 50’s while writing Bikini Blue? And did you have any technical considerations in mind when writing the screenplay?
The 50s is a very special era for me - with its beauty, visual taste and style on one hand and the fear of the nuclear apocalypse on the other. This period has always fascinated me - the growing optimism, lust for life clashing with the real threat of the total destruction of the planet. Year 1953 in which the action of „Bikini Blue” takes place is very peculiar - it was when the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II took place in Britain, when the most intense nuclear experiment in Bikini Atoll were conducted, when at the Cannes Film Festival Brigitte Bardot presented to world the first Bikini costume, and when the legendary George Pal’s „The War of the Worlds” was released. The title of this film is very symbolic for the 50s - the planet was literally split into two political blocks fighting against each other - the menace of the Soviet invasion on the Western World was very real. This is the background of the plot of my screenplay. Certainly, I did some research before and while working on the story but also had been very keen on this era before I even began to think of „Bikini Blue”.
There’s an exceptional chemistry between the actors! How did Lianne Harvey (Dora) and Tomasz Kot (Eryk) come on board?
I met Lianne Harvey thanks to Ewa Lepecka, our casting director, who invited her to „The Spotlight”, a legendary place in London where auditions, acting courses and workshops take place day and night. It is amazing and unbelievable how many gifted people appear in that little building. Lianne radiates with talent, sensitivity and intelligence, so it was impossible not to realize that she was the perfect choice for Dora, our main character. I can confess that for a while she seemed to me a little too young for this part, but her performance in „Bikini Blue” shows how completely pointless were these doubts.
Tomasz Kot is a very popular and respected actor in Poland, and his access to our project, his enthusiasm was one of the decisive factors to make this production happen. It was thanks to the producers Juliusz Machulski and Wojciech Danowski who invited and convinced him to become Eryk, Dora’s husband. Were it not for Tomasz Kot the „Bikini Blue” screenplay would probably have waited longer for its chance.
As the director on a set, how do you take the lead and move people in the direction you envision?
I adore working with people whom I trust and respect, with whom we look and head in the same direction - this inspires and stimulates me. With a certain „synchronicity of minds” it is much easier and takes much less time to communicate. I certainly do my best to be clear about my vision, yet I am aslo able to listen. Certainly, the most important discussions, assumptions and decisions have to be made before shooting. A film crew is like a good jazz band - you play your beautiful tune and carefully listen to the others - even the best musicians cannot play their solos at the same time. It all feels very easy when you have the right people around you.
Martin Scersese says: „Your job is to get the audiences to care about your obsessions”. The same refers to the people you work with.
Bikini Blue recently won Best of Fest 2017 at Los Angeles Film Awards, Festigious and New York Film Awards. How do you feel about the film’s success so far, and who are the people you wish to thank for being part of the project?
Thank you for this question and this opporunity. Certainly, there many people to whom I owe my gratitude. I have to mention Jacek Podgórski the DOP. For his great talent, but it was also him who showed the „Bikini Blue” script to Donata Rojewska his agent who took it to the Zebra Studio where Wojciech Danowski the Executive Producer convinced Juliusz Machulski, the Head of the studio, to turn it into a movie.
I worked with a great crew: Andrzej Besztak (the production manager), Kasia Filimoniuk (the production designer), Basia Sikorska-Bouffał (the costume designer), Bartek Chajdecki (the composer), Zofia Morus and Piotr Knop (the sound designers), Jarek Kaminski (the editor) and in fact I should mention many others.
I have to humbly admit, I had a lot luck for the cast - Lianne Harvey, Tomasz Kot, but also Ruby Bentall, Tilly Gaunt or Lee Ross, who played in one of my favorite movies - Mike Leigh’s „Secrets and Lies”! It was really fascinating to work with them.
Who is an actor / actress you’d love to work with in the future?
Since very, very long ago, it has been my deep and secret dream to work with Jack Nicholson and Daniel Day Lewis, yet - if to believe in their words - they are both slowly quitting acting, which obviously will be a great loss for the world of cinema… However, speaking more realistically and optimistically - there are so many so incredibly talented actors and artists around us that we should not worry about future in this respect.
If you weren’t an incredibly successful writer-director, what would you have wanted to be?
When I was teen, I wanted to have a punk band. I loved the energy and the free, creative spirit of the early punk like The Clash, The Stranglers, The Ramones, in Poland we had a great band Brygada Kryzys. The only subtle detail was that I did not play any instrument and could not sing. On the other hand, my passion for cinema - even at that moment - was stronger, so I quite early decided to go into the movie making.
What advice would you give to our readers who aspire to follow in your footsteps?
The original idea about „Bikini Blue” was to make it as a totally independent movie - I bought a Black Magic 4K camera, found the DOP, got a motorcycle, collected a number of other props and was determined to make it happen. Therefore, if I was to give any advice I would say: please, do not wait. If you feel you have an amazing story that has to be told, do it. The access to quality film cameras and other equipment is much easier than it used to be. Inspire your friends and create a team. If it all turns too big, too complicated and too risky, write a story for two people locked in a room, or just for one man driving a car, and make it gripping. It is possible - just watch Rob Reiner’s „Misery” or Steven Knight’s „Locke”. Elia Kazan shot „The Visitors” in his own house on 16mm within a few days and it is a great movie. Kevin Smith, Robert Rodriguez, David Lynch and even Francis Ford Coppola made their first films with almost no budget. The history of cinema knows very many of such examples. So, do it yourself.
Tell us about your future projects! What are you working on these days?
Currently, I am working on a story based on facts, which is set in the 20s of the previous century and deals with killing and sacrificing for love. It is filled with mystery and passion - this is as much as I can say for the moment.
Recently I had lot of luck and met a few really good and creative people with whom I will be more than enthused to collaborate. The best vibes come from London, so this is where my dreams and plans go to for the nearest future.
Bikini Blue - Teaser
Bikini Blue - LAFA Best of Fest 2017