"I watch every film twice. First for fun, and then frame by frame, to learn"
Sandor Gal is a talented filmmaker and screenwriter, based in Hungary.
His latest short film, Long Way Home, recently won LAFA Best Picture award, receiving a particularly high rating from the jury. LAFA lead judge, Shaw Jones, described Long Way Home as "Superb. Film making at its best".
In the Following interview, Sandor takes us behind the scenes of Long Way Home, through five long and exhausting filming days, admits that there were many difficulties along the way ("some things didn't go the way I planned") and reveals what's his favorite part of the production process.
Where did you grow up, and when did you become interested in filmmaking?
I grew up in a little town called Vecsés next to Budapest, Hungary. I've been a huge film fan since my childhood, but the idea of filmmaking just started five years ago. At the end of the '90s, I saw a tv spot of Dante's Peak starring Pierce Brosnan and Linda Hamilton. I can not explain what happened, but that trailer had a huge impact on me. Since then I have seen a lot of film trailers. I think this is why I started filming later. That was my zero point.
Tell about your first movie, Move On, that won many awards internationally. What was it about? Did you make it while studying at Werk Film Academy in Budapest, Hungary?
Move On is my very first short film, that I made for Werk Film Academy in 2015. That was an exam project and absolutely low budget. I studied film editing and directing at the Academy, but there were some other subjects including screen writing and production management. That was a fantastic two year period of my life. I met a lot of interesting people and since then I have been working with some of them.
If you wouldn't be a filmmaker, what would you be?
Besides filmmaking, I work for a commercial TV company in Budapest as a promo producer. I make film trailers and tv spots. Although the work in television is different than film, there are same similar points, for instance editing. I like both of them, so I never wonder what else to do, because my job is my hobby.
You previously mentioned that the first step in becoming a great filmmaker is to be an avid film-viewer. What are some of the greatest movies you've seen, and what do you like about these movies? Do you feel they influenced your cinematic approach?
Every film I've seen, influences me. However drama and horror are my favorite genres, for instance Split by M. Night Shyamalan, Get Out by Jordan Peele. I think these films are absolutely shocking masterpieces. Besides that I recently saw a very fresh thriller from Norway entitled Thelma by Joachim Trier. I watch every film twice. For the first time for fun, and secondly, frame by frame, to learn more about how it was made.
Premiere at Werk Film Academy in Budapest 2017
Why did you decide to tell the story of Long Way Home? What made you passionate about this story?
Long Way Home is basically not a war film. It's not based on true events. I wanted to show something different and unique. The story of Albert takes place in a war zone, but in the end you realize what is the real struggle for him.
How did you cast Gergo Bardi (who won the LAFA Best Actor award) to play the role of Albert and what was it like to work with him?
Gergo is a phenomenal and absolutely talented actor. We didn't know each other before this film. He has lots of role in Kolibri Theatre in Budapest and he also played in films for instance Mansfeld, co-starring Maja Morgenstern. When I told him more about Long Way Home, he immediately liked it. He told me that he wants to be Albert in the film. After some brainstorming he got the role and he was very enthusiastic throughout.
Gergo Bardi in Long Way Home
The cinematography of Long Way Home is phenomenal. Excellent job! What were some of the visual references you used in order to convey your vision to Daniel Papai, the cinematographer? Is this your first collaboration together? How did you meet?
Daniel also studied film editing at Werk Film Academy, but later he was more interested in cinematography. My upcoming short film Martin is our second collaboration after Long Way Home.
Daniel currently works as a camera trainee and second assistant camera for many international films that are shooting here in Budapest. He worked in Blade Runner 2049 by Denis Villeneuve, Robin Hood by Otto Bathurst, and hungarian hit film Viszkis by Nimrod Antal. He is absolutely talented, determined and ambitious in filmmaking.
Daniel Papai, Director of Photography
What was the best part of the production process, and what was the challenging part?
We shot the film in March, exactly a year ago. I remember, it was very harsh weather in the woods. This five day period was really exhausting for us. The best part of these days was when the sun came out. All the scenes shot in the nature, so we had to adapt to the weather. Nevertheless the cast and crew had a very good mood all the time. For me, film editing was the best part of the production process. It's a great experience when you realize that the scene settings are fitting together.
What is the most important lesson you have learned from this production?
Sometimes things didn't go the way I planned. We had lots of unexpected situations in this project and we had to make quick decisions, for instance unpredictable weather, rainfall. Otherwise, most of difficulties didn't depend on money. Everything must be prepared. Be calm and creative.
Who are the people that supported you from start to finish?
My film career started at Werk Film Academy in 2013. I met a lot of great Hungarian film makers and talented people who work in media. They taught us production management, screen writing, editing and also directing. Long Way Home producer Judith Csernai is also my former teacher. She works as a producer and line producer for lots of productions in Hungary and other countries in Europe. Her production company, named I'm Film, also supports my projects. Erzsébet Dubóczky is also my former teacher from Werk and she helped us a lot, especially production management.
Long Way Home - Trailer
We loved Long Way Home - it won Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Narrative Short! It's very thought-provoking, and as our lead judge, Shaw Jones mentioned - "...the movie artfully examines how we can be imprisoned by our past and our present". Is this the message you set out to achieve? Can you elaborate on that thought?
I'm trully honored to have won 3 awards at Los Angeles Film Awards. First, I would like to thank my cast and crew for impressive work. They all believed in Long Way Home and did the best. It was a fantastic teamwork. Thank you, the Judging Team and especially Shaw Jones for receiving us the awards. Long Way Home is a journey in which the stations are not in the usual order. The character of Albert is the symbol of how much we can break away from the past.
What is the best career advice you ever received? Do you have advice for new filmmakers, who wish to make an extraordinary movie like yours?
Never give up and never surrender. You have to start by making shorts. These projects are really good for practice and getting more routine. If you can not tell a story in short, do not try it in feature.
If you could cast any actor/actress for your next film, who would it be, and why?
My upcoming film is about a 11 year old boy. I want to find a character, who is absolutely honest and cool, but also serious. In Stranger Things by The Duffer Brothers and IT by Andy Muschietti, the young characters are really cool.
You are currently in pre-production for your next movie, Martin. Can you share a bit about this upcoming film and about your next projects?
Martin is a live action short mystery drama about an eleven year old boy who has special ability. He tries to figure out how to use it. It may seem like a superhero story at first, but it will be much different. Mark Kiraly and I write the script together. We met first at Werk Film Academy five years ago. He is an extremely talented writer and published his first novel last year, entitled '30 Days Before The End Of The World'. This year he is nominated for best achievement at the Hungarian Peter Zsoldos Sci-Fi Writers Awards.
For next year I have a short thriller project, entitled Defect. It's a creepy story about a woman and her child who have to survive the night on the highway after a car accident. I would like to make my first feature film within a few years.
Thank you, Los Angeles Film Awards for the interview.