Making Films with Baltasar Kormákur

This week, Giles Alderson and Dom Lenoir chatted with Baltasar Kormákur about set life, making and starring in his debut film, his directing tips, what he’s learned over the years, and more.

‘The weird thing about making films is that when you’re making them, you have no questions, you just go forward with confidence. 

But I would also describe it as being in a car crash as a passenger. You can’t do anything. If you tried to do anything, it’s just going to make it worse. You don’t have any control.

It’s a nerve-wracking time, to be honest. And I think most filmmakers probably feel that because when I’m making films, I’m not nervous to start the first day. It is a process.’

His Debut Feature Film

Baltasar says that he usually has a ‘calm before the storm moment.

When I made my first film, it was about the process, not about the first day. It doesn’t matter how the first day goes. It’s almost, how is my start going to be in a marathon?

You are just doing your thing and keeping your pace.’

The Three Stages of Filmmaking

‘I do actually think that you make three films. You make one in prep, one in the shoot and one in post. And it’s enjoying the process of each step and allowing it to bring whatever it brings to you. There are gifts on the way that you might take. But you have to be open.

And it’s actually Bergman, I think. who said: “the more you prepare, the freer you are on set.” Let it all go because everything is going to bring a different thing to the set.’

Letting Go on Set

He went on to say that ‘everything is a problem on a film set unless you make it not. The babysitter of the lead doctor could be your problem if he doesn’t show up on time or is sick; but if you stop seeing ‘everyone is trying to work against me’ making the film. I think what you’ve got to learn is that you have to embrace it.’

When making Everest, there was an avalanche. And you’ve got to ‘just bow your head to the mountain and take what it gives you. It doesn’t mean you don’t try everything and prepare and have ambitions, but you also have to have humility. You just take what comes to you without obsessing and I think those movies taught me to stay calm in any situation.’

Moving onto His Second Film

Baltasar’s good friend was selling off his first film but it wasn’t finished.

‘And I told him, please finish editing your film. It doesn’t matter if it’s shown at a festival, don’t shortcut it, because the only person excited about your career right now is your mother. But if you deliver on this one, you might have a few more on the next.’

He also advised taking time because it’s ‘harder to make a second one if you don’t have success in the first one.’

After his first film, Baltasar didn’t feel like he was ready to make his second film, but after sending off some scripts he decided to go back home to make a film about ‘a guy who falls in love with his lesbian mother’s lover.

It didn’t play that great in Iceland, because it had a Spanish actress and it had a gay theme. You can afford to make art house films for your home market but I realised that you have to make a film that works commercially in your environment. 

And so I felt like I’d won over the world, but I hadn’t won over my own people. So I thought I might make a film about Iceland and its fishing. It was the biggest film of the year in Iceland.’

His Words of Advice

If you’re making a film with a studio it is important to see eye to eye with regards to what kind of film you’re going to make. It can’t be that the studio plans to make one thing and you’re planning something else.

‘Have the conversation, be honest about what your intentions are. Because if you don’t and then you do something that the studio wasn’t expecting (and visa versa), then you’re going to be in those horror stories of Hollywood.

You hear about European directors coming in and then they go and make some indie film. The studio needs to release to 4,000 screens. It’s just not going to work. And if the people paying for the movie and distributing it, do not support your cut, they’re not going to distribute it.

But if you take that step, you do have to work with people and commit. It doesn’t mean that your freedom is taken away, it just means that you have to be on the same page about it.’

For more from Baltasar, listen to the full episode here.

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