Curtiz (Hungary, 1 hr 33 min)
Directed by: Tamas Yvan Topolánszky
Written by: Tamas Yvan Topolánszky; Zsuzsanna Bak
1942. America is on the edge of war. Hungarian-born film director MICHAEL CURTIZ (56), under government pressure, gets a chance to influence public opinion about war, thus gaining international recognition by directing a new propaganda film: CASABLANCA. It does not come at the best time though. Curtiz is working on helping his Jewish sister emigrate from Hungary before the Nazis get to her. His daughter appears on set with the purpose of getting answers as to why Curtiz had abandoned her as a child. Can Curtiz overcome his famously arrogant and cynical personality? What sacrifices make a man a patriot in a foreign country, a good brother and an honest father at the same time? What should his main character, Rick, choose in the end of Casablanca?
Interview:1. You seem to have been running multiple ships as the writer, director, casting director and producer of this film. For how long had you been working on this film?
• I had been working on this film for about 4 years. Although the film premiered at Montreal in September, I finished it in November after some minor edits. My wife, Claudia Sümeghy was the producer of the film.
2. What made you choose Michael Curtiz?
• Andrew Vajna, the Hungarian- American producer was the film governor of Hungary and he really wanted Hungarian filmmakers to make a film about notable Hungarian people. Although Hungary has produced several notable figures, the two that really stood out to me were Robert Capa and Michael Curtiz. Although Capa is a very interesting person as well, the film would have been very difficult to produce. Hence, Michael Curtiz was the ultimate choice.
3. How long did production take? Where was it shot?
• The film was shot over 20 days in Budapest, Hungary. The production design team did a great job replicating the set from Casablanca. We used about 2-3 locations in Budapest, with a film set for Rick’s Cafe and an old airport for the studio set and meeting rooms.
4. The cinematography in this movie is truly incredible. Could you talk about your collaboration with your cinematographer?
• Zoltán Dévényi, our cinematographer had worked with me on a short film I made earlier. I prefer doing things myself, so when I was working on storyboarding and other presentation aspects of the film, I wasn’t very keen on collaborating with anyone. Dévényi, however, convinced me to work together in the planning and I am so glad he did. Dévényi, our Gaffer Andr?s Szendrö and I were the creative team on this film. Although, a gaffer is traditionally a member of the technical unit on a film, Szendrö is credited as a part of our creative team because he truly was.
5. The music in the film resonates with the Golden- Age Era. How did you come to choose the soundtrack that you did for Curtiz?
• Gábor Subicz is the composer of our film. He played trumpet for a jazz orchestra, but he took half a year out of his schedule to work on the music for our film. When we pitched the idea to him, we told him we wouldn’t be able to provide compensation as this is a very small budget film. However, Subicz insisted on working on the music anyway, as he wanted to take the chance to create music for a feature film. Luckily, our film ended up getting commercial success and we were able to pay him for his brilliant work on our film.
6. Could you tell us a little about your journey as a filmmaker so far?
• Although this sounds like a cliché, I wanted to be filmmaker since I was 5. I credit my interest in film to my grandmother who would take me to the movies, and I ended up watching two films that influence me- Jurassic Park and Forrest Gump. They are two such different films and even though my taste has changed quite a bit since, they definitely had a huge impact on me. My godmother gifted me a mini DVD camera when I was 14 and I would make tapes for my friends etc. Eventually, I moved on to creating music videos, short films and now feature films.
7. What advice would you give aspiring filmmakers?
• Stop taking advice. I spent years trying to figure out how to be a great director and listened to people’s advice and it only distracted me from the path I was meant to take. Making your own decisions helps create a better overview of what you want to create and even helps develop insights for future works.
8. Are you working on any future projects?
• I’m currently working on a screenplay for a one-minute trailer I made a couple of year ago. It’s a post- apocalyptic story of Budapest if the Danube disappeared and so did the civilization on both sides of it. The trailer I made was released online, and it went viral overnight where I was receiving anonymous emails from fans demanding for the release of this movie. I finally decided to take them up and am in the process of writing a screenplay with my writing partner, Zsuzsanna Bak.