"Learn the process step by step and don’t be an idiot like me"
Our latest Best Picture winner, Who is Alice, is more than just a good comedy. It is a philosophical, thought provoking film that intends to mess with the viewer's mind.
Paul Smit, writer/producer of Who is Alice, is a well-known philosopher and comedian. He is one of the most in demand speakers in the corporate world, constantly invited to give presentations about human behavior, the brain, creativity, innovation, leadership, and marketing.
In the following interview, Paul takes us behind the scenes, and shares his thoughts about filmmaking and screenwriting.
Paul, you're a philosopher and a comedian who is constantly invited to lecture for numerous organizations... and you also had the time to write nine(!) books about philosophy, psychology, and neuroscience. How did you get into screenwriting and film producing? What sparked your interest in the entertainment industry?
I was doing a talk about non-duality years ago and director Robert van den Broek was in the audience. After the talk he came up to me and said: ‘If you ever want to make a movie about non-duality, just give me a call. That’s how it started. One year later we made our first movie ‘Everything about nothing’, which was a combination of a film and a documentary.
Paul Smit, writer of Who is Alice
Your debut feature film, Alles Over Niets (Everything About Nothing), was an adaptation of a book you’ve written (under the same title). Did you initially plan to make it a film? How similar is the cinematic story to the one in the book? You must have had to make a lot of changes, left some of the elements/characters out, etc... How did you make it work?
The book is actually a collection of interviews with twelve people who talk about non-duality. In the movie we explain in a playful way what non-duality means. To give even more insight in this philosophy, we added a second DVD with 12 interviews. And in the book itself these people have written their view on non-duality. So the storyline of ‘Everything about nothing’ is separate from the book.
Non-duality means ‘not two’, so it’s pointing to the idea that everything is one energy and that everything goes at is goes. We as human beings experience life as if we control our thoughts, feelings and choices, while actually we are simply happening. Because we think we control life we often worry a lot. John Lennon once said: ‘Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making plans’. This insight can give you more inner peace and less worrying thoughts.
Who is Alice - Official Trailer
Who is Alice is clearly very entertaining to watch, but also present some very thought-provoking ideas about life. What were some of the inspirations for the screenplay?
I wanted to show non-duality rather than to explain it. As non-duality is a quite radical view of life, I wanted the storyline not to be too complex and I wanted to mess with the viewer's mind. So we picked a man and a woman and see how they try to find their way. Alice as an actress, desperately trying to get a new role, and Dick, a car salesman who wonders what life is all about and tries to become a spiritual teacher.
Who Is Alice is your second collaboration with Robert Van Den Broek (who co-directed Alles Over Niets) and Ismaël Lotz (who shot it). Clearly, you guys form a wonderful team. How did you meet in the first place?
I met Robert during a talk years ago. And Ismaël came to record me while I was doing a podcast with my friend Patrick, who’s a famous radio DJ in Holland.
Afterwards Ismaël said exactly the same as Robert did. ‘If you ever want to make a movie about non-duality, just give me a call.
That was only one week after Robert had asked me the same question.
So the three of us met in a cafe and that’s how it all started and how we became friends.
The Making of Who is Alice
You are from the Netherlands, yet you shot the film in the UK. Why London? And what were the challenges you experienced when shooting the film in London?
In Holland we have a big network of people we can call if we need anything. In London we only knew the actors.
So we decided to shoot all exterior scenes in London and interior scenes in The Netherlands. The funny thing is, that in the movie we see Alice in the centre of London walking in a cafe. And once she is inside, she is actually in a cafe in The Netherlands.
Also London is very expensive and as we had a relatively small budget, shooting several scenes in Holland was a good idea.
What was your casting process like?
We used the Spotlight website to find actors and were overwhelmed by the amount of response we got.
4000 actresses applied for the role of Alice. So we’ve seen a lot of showreel.
We went to London and did our castings in the Spotlight Studios, where we had invited about 40 actors and actresses.
And that’s how we ended up with the 15 actors that are in the film.
Ali Bastian wins Best Performance of Fest at the Actors Awards, Los Angeles
What were some of the highlights you enjoyed throughout the process of making Who Is Alice?
The recordings days itself. It’s so wonderful to work on a project with such passionate people.
For me as a writer, it was great to see a script coming to life.
I’m sitting in my garden with my laptop writing my ideas on paper. And then to see an idea in your head turning to something real is great fun.
What advice would you give a young filmmaker attempting to shoot their very first film?
Start making short films first!
I had written books and comedy shows, but writing a feature film is really a different kind of art.
Writing this script took me a whole year, as I was constantly rewriting things.
I’m glad that it all turned out so well, but this was a big challenge for me.
So my advice for new filmmaker would be, start learning this process step by step and don’t be an idiot like me.
Ali Bastian and Patrick Holland in Who is Alice
Tell us about your future projects. What are you up to next?
No future projects yet. I first want to finish this project.
We have a distributing deal with Indie Rights Los Angeles, with China and Japan.
So my focus will be to do the marketing for Who is Alice in the best way I can.
After that, we’ll see what happens.
Is there anything you’d like to add?
Yes! Participating in Film Festivals really worked for our film.
By winning 19 times now, we have gained a lot of exposure.
After we won one award, we got approached by a sales agent, who got us in contract with Indie Rights and China.
And a company from Japan contacted us after we won several times.
So my other advice to new filmmakers would be, join the festivals!
Who is Alice on IMDb