On this week’s podcast, Giles Alderson and Dom Lenoir chat with the director and writer Nóra Lakos.

They talked about film festivals – her feature film Hab (or Cream, in English) won 5 awards at the Paris International Film Festival in 2021, writing, and applying for funding.

Starting Out

“I used to be a journalist in my early twenties, and then I gave birth to my daughter, and then I didn’t want to be a journalist anymore.”

Nóra felt that she wanted to “do something that was more creative, something that I created, and not writing on something that other people did.”

She had been a big film fan when she was younger and had loved watching films ever since, so decided to apply to the Hungarian Film Academy. It’s not “easy to get into because like five people get admitted each year. So once I got admitted, I was like the hero, the best in the world. I was so happy”.

After finishing at the academy as a director and writer, she started travelling to festivals.

Submitting to Paris Int’l Film Festival

In Hungary, there is one “national film fund which deals with festivals, they send the film to all the big festivals.” 

But Nóra took it upon herself to search for festivals on Film Freeway. “Paris International Film Festival was such a great place. Not only they are really enthusiastic and make panels and Q&A’s, even though it’s online, but I could meet so many filmmakers from around the world.”

She also said that it was brilliant that the jury was made up of the likes of Oscar-winning writer Jeff Arch (Sleepless in Seattle), who did panels too.

One of the catalysts for submitting to the Paris Int’l Film Festival was that Cream has been described as having a bit of a French atmosphere, so Nóra thought that it might appeal to French audiences. 

Nóra believes going “to festivals brings so many other opportunities.” Her advice is to always “check the jury members if it’s available before you apply. What kind of panels and professional meeting ups are going to go on; because that’s the most important battle – to meet other people.”

Making Cream

All Hungarian film projects are centralized. “There is a five member committee who decide on your project.” Nóra had applied to the fund on two occasions. Once for a feature film for children and families, based on a famous Hungarian novel, and once for Cream.

Her first feature received development money in order to write the script. The drafts were checked and approved throughout the process and then when they reached the end of development, the committee agreed that the film would be too expensive to make, so wouldn’t grant funding for production.

Instead of giving up, Nóra was in contact with a producer who she’d worked with a lot before. There was a script, by a writer that had just won a script contest, that was suited to Nóra’s style. And together Fruzsina and Nóra began developing a script over Skype. 

This time, they applied for pre-production and production money, and it was granted.

The committee was involved in this process too. They would give advice and assistance. “For example, in a previous version of the script, we were thinking of not having a straight happy ending but rather an open ending. One of the members of the committee decided they don’t recommend this because it’s a genre film and a romantic comedy.

And now with this script, it wouldn’t be imaginable to not have a happy ending. They wanted us to make a film that is a blockbuster in a Hungarian term, which means that more than 100,000 people are going to watch it.”

Writing process

If Nóra is writing “an adaptation, then I have the story already.” If not, “I have a topic or theme that’s important to me. And then I start writing. Nowadays, I try to find a structure.

I try to say what is the story, what would be the heart of the story, and how do I express it in one or two sentences?”

She also works a lot with the characters, using character cards and archetype characters. “And then I try to find how this character is really similar to someone I know, or someone I’ve met. And I think that’s really helpful at the beginning. To just go and dive into the real problems – this real want and need is something that I have to find at the beginning.”

After that she looks for images, in order to help her with the production, design and style of the film. “And it also gives me ideas.”

To find out more about Nóra’s career, Cream, and her process check out our podcast here.

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