INTERVIEW WITH DIRECTOR NIKITA BELOMESTNYKH

Nikita Belomestnykh
  • Was there a particular event or time that you recognized that filmmaking is your way of telling stories?

When I was a freshman in middle school my parents bought me my first cellphone. It was one of those bulky plastic devices with buttons a primitive version of an MP3 player and a camera.

Gorgeous 0.3 megapixels and enough memory for about 50 photos without removable storage or option to download any of them. I became obsessed. That to me was somewhat of a film camera to a modern photographer: limitation on number of shots that makes you very selective and creative with what is worth taking pictures of. I’ve played with that photo camera-phone for a few weeks, when I discovered that if you were to hold a “right” joystick button while viewing pictures in the library, they will start switching from one to another in a loop without stopping, just like frames in a film. I discovered this in the morning, so my entire day I’ve been dying to get back from school to try something I didn’t even know will bring me where I am now. Bell ring, I storm out of the class and head home. A long bus ride, front door, elevator – I am home. I’ve immediately gone for a box of LEGOs and constructed a mount for my phone, so when placed in it it will be locked in an overhead shot above a bank pier of paper. Even though it was hard to part with some of the shots I’ve had on that phone, I need to clear the entire library to be able to make what I was about to: a poorly drawn stop motion stick figure animation of a Darth Vader slicing air with his lightsaber. I took 50 what I would call now ‘frames’, opened the library and held that “right” button. It came to life. Yes it was jumpy and poorly lit, yes the amount of pixels in each image was less than my age, but none of that mattered: I made a movie. I didn’t know who directors, DP’s, gaffers, screenwriters or producers were back then, so I didn’t really understand that I could do this as my profession. That year I’ve created dozens of short animations that I’ve shown to all of my friends, but each one of them had to be deleted to make room for a new one. Looking back at it now I wish there was a way to see at least one of them and save it, but with technology, as it was back then – it was impossible.

  • Do you think it is essential to go to a film institute in order to become a successfulfilmmaker?

Absolutely not and absolutely yes. Let me explain myself. Most people that enroll into film school expect to attend classes and learn about movies and are wrong. Film school is way more than learning about a movie that has been shot half a century ago, film school is about making mistakes. There are no investors, no critics, no dislike buttons, no responsibility in front of your audience or studio executives – it’s amazing. Film school allows you to enjoy filmmaking before it becomes your job, it allows you to network and makes connections, be artistic and allow yourself be as creative as you want, but at the same times teaches you to work within limitations. In 2019 you do not have to attend any school, anything you want to learn you can by simply googling it and studying it yourself, but there are a few experiences you can not supplement without going to a film school.

  • Is it harder to get started or to keep going? What was the particular thing that you had to conquer to do either?

Getting started is way easier. An idea that comes to you spark inspiration, inspiration sparks action. It’s those times when inspiration leaves you that are very tough to get through. To me the best way of dealing with getting back to work is the advice one of my screenwriting teachers gave me a few years ago: if you leave your characters in the middle of a very exciting scene, you will be equally excited to come back and finish writing it. If you create “cliff hangers” for yourself, you will enjoy coming back to your work. Leave a party while you are still having fun.

  • What was the most important lesson you had to learn that has had a positive effect on your film? How did that lesson happen?

Never be afraid to ask. This simple concept is really hard to get over, especially for creative people like myself. There were multiple situations in my life when I didn’t get or experience something because I was afraid to ask or unsure if I will be able to get it. What helps to overcome this is that the worst thing that can happen is that your request will be denied or ignored. That’s it. When casting the right actress for this film, my cinematographer Anna Vialova has shown me an Instagram account of the amazing model and actress Amara Vayder.

We weren’t sure if we will receive a positive response or any response at all, but after a few days of casting and not being able to find anyone we decided to message Amara. To our surprise, she responded almost immediately, we arranged a meeting, had some coffee and immediately realized that she will be perfect for this role. It never hurts to ask.

  • What were the production realities from casting through editing that you had to accommodate? How did you navigate those compromises or surprises and still end up with a cohesive film?

Producing a film in Los Angeles is way more different from producing it anywhere else In the city, where everything is focused on filmmaking, everything is way more complicated and expensive. The vintage car you see in our film was one of the biggest challenges to find. We looked and asked everywhere. Every single rental shop and every vintage car dealership – we called all of them and they all were way out of our budget. A week before the shoot I was pretty desperate and was ready to completely abandon this script when I got a text from Anna, my cinematographer. It was a photo of a car parked on one of the streets near her house wit ha hug sign FOR SALE and phone number below. I immediately started calling. No one picked up that evening. I called in the morning – mo response. Afternoon – same story. In the evening of the second day, I got through. A man picked up a phone and introduced himself as a father of the car owner. His son was out and wouldn’t be back that night. I’ve explained the situation, stated the amount of money we were willing to pay and begged him to let his son know. He told me that he will and that they will call back the next day. The wait has been killing me. Four days until the shoot and we didn’t have one of the major elements. No call that day. I decided to call myself at noon of the following day. At 11:45 am, fifteen minutes before I was about to call myself, my phone rings. I pick up. They agree. We have a car. Our shoot is saved.

  • What was the hardest artistic choice you made in the making of this film, at any stage in production?

Originally the script needed with the main character driving off into the distance, but permitting department of Los Angeles does not allow to have any running engines to be in the area we were filming. We had to do something about it. Anna and I played with the idea of shooting it somewhere else, cheating that shot to make it work, but it overcomplicated everything and this film being shot on just one 35mm film roll (about 5,5 minutes of rolling) meant we had to nail it in the first take. This limitation forced us to solve this issue creatively and, as you can see in the film, our main character abandons her car, which now, looking back at our film, I think works way better than the original idea.

  • You are a collaborator. How have you discovered members of your team and how do youkeep the relationship with them strong?

Anna Vialova, this film’s cinematographer, is a very good friend of mine. We’ve met in film school a few years back and kept in touch ever since. The rest of the crew were all Anna’s old classmates and now colleagues, who did an amazing job in bring this story to live, which I am extremely grateful for.

  • What do audiences want? And is it the filmmaker’s role to worry about that?

I believe that what audiences think they want and what audiences actually want are two different things. Henry Ford once said: “If I’d asked customers what they wanted, they would have told me, ‘A faster horse!’”. I believe a filmmaker that is focused on their art and creates what they want is way more intriguing for audiences than something that simply plays on their nostalgia or entertains them while they eat their popcorn.

  • What role have film festivals played in your life so far? Why are they necessary? How do you get the most out of them?

Film festivals, especially short film focused ones are an incredible learning experience for young filmmakers. Thousands if not millions of films you know and love today were discovered by audiences of smaller festivals around the world. I believe short form shoot is equally if not more challenging than a full-scale feature production. Having thousand of limitations and yet overcoming them with creativity and talent instead of money is what makes it so special for me. A few weeks ago I have started my own online platform for short films: NO LONGER NETWORK to allow filmmakers from any part of the world to share their work with as many like-minded people as possible. By the way, our movie is going to premier online on that platform very soon as well, so look out for nolongernetwork.com. Coming very soon.

  • Do you believe that a filmmaker should be original and fresh or he/she should stick to classic but safe cinema style?

What is classic but safe cinema style? I don’t think that exists. No matter if you are a huge film studio with thousands of employees and enough money to cover any expense or you are an independent filmmaker with a phone that only stores 50 images – story comes first. Being original in your approach or using the common filmmaking tools in the way they were intended is a choice solely based on what serves your story well. We live in an age of postmodernism, which means we take what has been created before and reshape it to give it new angles and meanings, but your story always comes first.