Making Historic Films with Daniel Brühl, Albrecht Schuch and Edward Berger

This week, Giles Alderson and Dom Lenoir welcomed actors Daniel Brühl and Albrecht Schuch as well as director Edward Berger to the show. Together, they made Netflix’s new film All Quiet on the Western Front.

Director/ DOP relationship

Giles, who had also worked with Edward’s DOP on All Quiet on the Western Front, James Friend, asked about their collaboration. ‘I first met him on a show called Patrick Melrose. We had a great experience and became very close collaborators – we speak all the time about what we want to do next. And what I wanted to do was put the camera in the middle of this battlefield with Paul Bäumer, our main character, and grab the audience by the lapels and drag them through the mud with Paul. But at the same time, stay five inches back, observing.’

Edward says that the reporter-style feel came from the book – ‘fairly unemotional, just observing. And the writer lets the audience do the emotionality for themselves rather than telling them this is going to be emotional. And in terms of my talks with James, when gearing up to make the movie, we had that same language and observation of the book. It just felt like we were going to be the best collaborators on this.’

Feeling Inspired

They spent a lot of time looking for art and movies that inspired the look of the film. And after that, they worked on the shot lists and storyboards. Some of it takes months to create.

‘Sometimes the shots were very long – like 30 frames of drawing, just for one shot – every new position was drawn. And so we’d put it up against the wall and look through that sequence and say that doesn’t quite work, let’s take out this shot, let’s change that, and draw it again. And then eventually we have this book with shot lists and storyboards so that the entire crew knew what we were going to try to achieve on a certain date.’

Finding the Story from The Book

‘The book is very observant, but it’s also very human and about how youth and innocence, embodied by these enthusiastic kids, are manipulated into war. They have no clue, they have no news, and they have no television where they could see their friends blown to bits in the trenches.

They think their great-grandfathers were in wars and came back heroes and they want to be like them. There were a few wars in the 19th century that were very short and successful in the end, they were victorious and they thought it was going to be like this.

And they told them it’s going to take three weeks to Paris and then it’s yours. And even though they had no right to it, they felt they were manipulated through propaganda and populism into this belief. And so for me, the book follows youth in innocence.

As they arrive, they find out that everything they’ve learned so far, all the morals, and all the values that they have are worth nothing. And that it’s all about your own survival in the end. And they become survival machines and in a war that also means killing machines. It’s either you or the other guy. The childish, innocent, youthful perspective becomes a very dehumanised machine.

And that theme of the war machine is because it’s also the first industrialised war. And so we focused by taking this script, a lot of research and the book, of course. And then the amalgamation of it gives our perspective into this war and into this story.’

Acting In An Historic Film

Daniel and Albrecht both agreed that it was easier to really dive into the film than being allowed ‘distractions’ from the outside world, especially when the film is set in the past – with circumstances and experiences that are foreign to everyday life.

For Daniel, it helped ‘to lower the distractions and get into it more intensively. Not going back to your normal life every day.’

Staying True to The Period

‘There are moments that give you the chills almost. Because if it’s a wide shot, where you don’t even see the crew, you don’t even see the camera and you’re surrounded by period. And it’s absolutely 100% accurate – where nothing disturbs the eye – you are really travelling in time and it helps you massively as an actor to really believe what you do. It has a lot of authenticities and I find it remarkable with the circumstances.

They shot the film at the height of the pandemic, and Daniel says that the ‘images that Edward and James created – those battle scenes, given that the budget was so much lower than an American film – is incredible.’

The Magical Triangle

According to Albrecht, there is a magical triangle that helps him ‘to decide whether to take on the part or not. Is it the right character? Is it the right director? And what about the colleagues? And in this triangle, it was the content. 

It was remarkable, so to me it was a no-brainer. It just felt right, after I met Edward.’ Albrecht always meets work connections in a quiet spot ‘because you can listen between the words. 

That was a huge interest of mine because normally my characters tend to talk too much and there’s nothing left for the audience to project themselves into, between those lines. And that’s what I liked about this character. He doesn’t need words, but you felt the background stories.’

For more from Daniel, Albrecht and Edward; listen here.

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