Balázs Lóth - Social Media Filmmaker [balazsloth]
What is your specialty? Production, direction, something else?
I'm a director and a producer as well.
I'm working as a professional director (www.balazsloth.com). In the last 8 years, I've directed 200+ productions, including shorts, commercials and music videos. Although I'm from Europe, I'm a genre film director, not a typical auteur filmmaker. This has a lot to do with my schools: New York Film Academy, Hungarian University of Theatre, Film and Television, Hungarian University of Szeged and a masterclass with Vilmos Zsigmond.
I'm also working as a producer of short and feature films, commercials. With my own company TheGarden we believe in producing quality films for our clients and creating our own productions as well.
We're among the first guys using social media for producing films (www.twitter.com/SocMedFilmMaker). It's not just about raising money or distribution: we're using social media in all aspects of filmmaking, from the idea to the feedback of the finished movie.
Is there a link to a site where we can see references to your work?
How did you begin in this field? Who introduced you to it?
Well, I pretty much introduced myself to film industry :-) As a teenager I was making animated shorts with a consumer camera. Leaving high school, I attended a University and started making shorts. Later own I attended the New York Film Academy, and coming home I established Celluloid Workshop for young filmmakers, like me. That was the point some well reputated Hungarian filmmakers noticed I'm around and I started my career as a workshop leader, a feature, commercial and music video director and a company owner.
Which have been the most symbolic works of your career?
After a series of small local festival prizes, I won a special award at Golden Drum international commercial festival with my public service ad 'He loves me - he loves me not'.
With my latest short psycho-thriller, 'Epilogue' I've been recently selected in the competition program of Seattle International Film Festival and several other festivals. http://balazsloth.com/epilogus/
Do you work for a client, for the audience, or for your own creative adventure?
A bit of everything. I produce and often direct commercials for our clients and direct films for a wider audience. I'd really love to go for my own creative adventures - but instead I'm using my other works for my creative purposes.
What should a good script have in order to interest you?
Although my latest work is a thriller, I'm interested in all kinds of quality genre films. I prefer scripts based on genre traditions, but I tend to want more than that: the film must have a soul, depth for the characters or the situation. Or at least it should fun like hell :-)
Name three contemporary directors or producers that you admire.
David Fincher, first and foremost. I like Christopher Nolan and Frank Darabont, as well.
What movies or television shows inspired you to work in this field?
Fincher's Se7en, The Game and Fight Club. The Godfather, of course, especially Part II. And Inarritu's Babel. But as much as I love dark films, I love the other side: The Groundhog Day, As Good As It Gets, Chicago. I love the musical classic, Hair. I admire Kusturica's Black Cat White Cat.
In television, I'm a great fan of Friends :-) and highly respect X-files and some C.S.I. episodes.
If an actor delivers the lines but is not believable, how do you direct him/her?
If it happens on set, maybe it's too late. Unless he or she's in a bad shape, this shouldn't happen during shooting. Shooting is the end of rehearsals, therefore you shouldn't get surprised by an actor's performance.
Anyways, if it happens, there are several ways to help actors. First I always think I gave them some bad advice. Or I didn't notice a script problem. Sometimes I just run into incompatibility problems between the style of a written text and the actor/actress. In most cases I alter the line or let them change it. Forget about the script, let's see what comes naturally.
If it still doesn't work, I tend to get suspicious. Maybe there's something wrong with the context and gotta change more than one line to make it work.
What actor would you love to work with and what type of character would you propose to him/her as a challenge?
Robert De Niro or Al Pacino would be terrific :-) maybe an old Taxi Driver?
Are you the type who instantly knows when a take is good, or one who does another three takes to be safe?
Sitting in front of the video assist, I always feel immediately when rhythm, composition and actors have a harmonious relationship in a take. I seems so perfect. And gives you much headache until you finally feel it.
But I always go for safety and do more than one take. It's always good to have a choice in post and things may seem quite different in context and on the big screen.
As I grow older, I tend to shoot versions of acting. Just minor differences, but these can help a lot in post.
What type of direction are you used to giving the director of photography?
Since I've been working both as a cinematographer and a director for a long time, I'm a visual kind of director. I storyboard, preshoot or previz most of my scenes and decide blocking during the prep process.
This means my DOP has to work on lighting and atmosphere, since I make decisions on framing, lens, camera moves etc. With my current DOP, Daniel Reich, we understand each other quite well. This means I accept his alternatives for framing and he listens to my lighting ideas.
How interested are you in image technologies such as robotized cameras, special effects, etc.?
Since my company includes a small, but very talented 3D animation and VFX, compositing department as well, I've been working with effects for a long time. In my last works I also used SFX for bloody scenes, puppets etc. and had experience with motion control cameras, even motion capture.
I feel I understand the complete process and had enough real life experience to work with vfx and sfx in other projects.
Which has been your experience with conflicts between direction and production?
It's always about the money :-) Since I worked on both sides and happened to represent both in my own productions, I always felt that it's a matter of communication. Producers and directors want to same thing: a good movie. You just have to feel the limits and make them work for you.
Do you enjoy post-production, or do you prefer to leave that in the hands of other professionals?
I always take my part of the post process. I understand all aspects of it, due to my experience with my own company.
In my last films I decided not to edit on my own. I can keep a little distance from my work if a professional editor works on it and shows me rough and fine cuts time by time. This way I have a bit of objectivity and it's essential if you wanna be effective.
I also like to control vfx, but only at milestones, for the same reasons.
Do you approach an editing session with a clear idea of what you want to do or with an attitude of experimentation?
My editor, Gábor Kertai (www.arenafilm.hu/tag.php?nev=Kertai+G%E1bor) is a talented professional and I trust him pretty much. Our films are always blocked and storyboarded for a certain editing order but we love to shoot as much coverage as possible (within a certain budget).
We always talk through the shotlist before shooting and later I ask him to do the rough cut alone. Then we discuss it together with other crew members and make changes. This process includes experimentation and creative freedom.
What magazines or websites of the sector do you follow regularly?
American Cinematographer, sometimes Filmmaker and a lot of blogs. I use Facebook and Twitter and find them extremely helpful at all aspects of filmmaking.
What is the best movie than you have seen in the last year, and why did it seem especially good?
Slumdog Millionaire and Benjamin Button are the toppers for me. In Europe they came out in January and I saw them in the same afternoon. Amazing pieces of work! All details, motivations, the structure, the style - everything precisely thought over and produced. These very different films are simply perfect.
And of course, I admired Avatar a lot...
Do you eat popcorn at the movies?
Quite rarely. I'm a sportsman :-)
What do you think of public subsidies for cinema?
In Europe you can hardly make film without them. All countries have different languages, therefore film market is segmented.
The European Union system is an efficient base to finance films for several national funds. Public subsidies help filmmakers get closer to their visions, although they definitely need to understand bureaucracy to get by.
However, local film funds should support archetypical stories for a global audience, instead of funding national stories that can't cross the border.
What respect does the reality phenomenon deserve? What experiences have you had with this genre?
I don't have too much experience. But I like realistic films - or some subtle stylizing. It's a way of presenting your story - a style.
What works best for you when selecting an actor: an audition, seeing some of his/her previous work or having a long conversation with him/her?
I usually invite people I know or I admire. But you can't skip personal meetings: I may have choices but love to get surprised. And you also need casting to find out whether there's chemistry between your characters.
Do you like to have a second unit or do you prefer to control every still of a production?
I'm a great believer in the multiple unit system. As a director, I gotta concentrate on the story. But all films need additional shots, however easy or elaborate they are, that can be achieved with a talented 2nd unit team.
I'm not afraid of losing control: 2nd unit directors and DOPs must be prepared and informed during the process. They are great help to make a film successful - and they provide me a chance to sleep :-)
Do you change the dialogue after selecting the actors in order to adapt the characters to them?
Although I believe in careful planning, at the start of my career I often made a mistake: I sticked to my initial idea way too much. You gotta let life come in. Sometimes accidents improve your film way over your imagination.
For me, the greatest challenge of filmmaking is being rational and emotional at the same time. Thinking about the whole film and the take in front of you - and make it work both ways. When I alter something in the process, I must be sure it's not because of comfortability, and that it serves the film.
So yes, when it's necessary, I adapt to situations. But it's never easy to make me so...
Which do you like more, large budget or small independent productions?
I prefer bigger budgets and accept the way it works. A lot of negotiations :-)
However, right now I'm planning to find some character-driven, contemporary stories that can be produced or directed via social media. Cool loglines, low budget and great fanclub.
Do you like to experiment with new technology immediately or do you prefer to wait for it to develop?
I love gadgets and work with them easily. We were among the first guys working with the Red One in Europe and already own one. But it all depends on the scale of a project: I try things as soon as possible, but always in a limited responsibility project. For big budget, you're suspicious and test everything a thousand times.
Is the future of cinema the Internet? Mobile phones?
Cell phones will have their part in the business, especially short net-series that can be watched while you're riding the tube.
But I'm a great fan of social media: I think this is what's gonna change it all. With the help of socmed, you will find and test your stories, prep them with immediate feedback from your most devoted audience (your opinion makers!), finance your film with crowdfunding and shoot it with the help of your fanclub, finish, promote and distribute it online. Even for the big screen! It's not the future, it's happening, right now, and that's what my blog is about: www.balazsloth.com
Does the concept of interactive video stir up creative thoughts for you, or does it leave you cold?
Ten years ago I experimented with interactive films and still find it extremely exciting (but unfortunately quite expensive - you gotta shoot so much!). Meanwhile, 3D accelerator cards developed so fast that now you don't have shoot your alternative storylines, since you can "render" your story on the run.
Right now, 3D FPS games don't have too much to do with filmlike storytelling. They provide great experience, but there's not too much room for thoughtful scene composition or using film time.
I'd love to create an interactive 3D film that cares about classic film tools: rhythm, composition, structure and time.
What recommendations do you have for someone who wants to break into in the industry?
Use social media to make films! Establish your network via Facebook, find followers via Twitter, and create your own system with a dynamic homepage, feedbacks and backlinks.
Balázs Lóth - Social Media Filmmaker