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Questions & Answers

Questions & Answers (Q&A)

by Tamás Yvan Topolánszky& Claudia Sümeghy

When and how did the idea of CURTIZ come up?

Tamás: At the end of 2014 was the first time when we thought that we should make a film about Michael Curtiz, the most successful Hungarian director of all time. 

We wanted to make a film about a Hungarian historical person who could be exciting not only for the Hungarian but also for the international audience.

Are the film's events exactly the same as the reality?

T: Like all biographical films, CURTIZ also has highly dramatized storylines, scenes and characters. These are primarily making to understand the story easier. However, our film is based on 80-90% of real events, mostly we just changed the order of the events or touched up the events what we considered dramatically important, but we had little information about it.

How and how long has the script been written?

T: I've been writing the script with Zsuzsanna Bak for about 2 -2,5 years. The first half year was research, then we worked on the structure of the story and the clarification of the characters, followed by a lot of rewriting. After 1,5 years an American scriptwriter, Ward Parry joined our team and took over the Americanization of the film's content and dialogue.

Did you always know that the film will be black & white? Why is it B&W?

T: I didn't know, even 5 years ago, I was convinced that I would never shoot in B&W, because I found it so difficult.  However, during the making process we found that the colours draw the attention away from a lot of details, which we pay close attention in the book. 

Besides, it was hardly able to find a colorful photograph of Michael Curtiz, so it was a black-and-white character in my head. Not to mention the fact that he also shooted his most important movie of his life, Casablanca in black-and-white, although he's been through several technicolor film by then.

Did it help for the production, that the movie is B&W?

Claudia: Of course, in many things it was easier to think in black-and-white. In the department of set-design and costume design it was especially helpful that we didn't have to deal with the colors, only just the textures and shades. Curtiz's best suits in black-and-white had terrible colors in the reality. (e.g.: goose turd green)

Budget?

C: Globally, our budget is an extra low budget. The total budget barely exceeded 1 million dollars - there were lots of departments who worked at their own expense or for favor, for trust credit. For example the composer - because of his love to the project - gave up his honorary prize so he could compose the music for a 20 membered orchestra and he could get enaugh money for the musicians and the sound recording.  The co-producer of the film has also provided the best-fit technique (Panavision Primo Lenses) and two Arri Alexa cameras to make the feature film can run in this quality in 19 days.

What was the biggest challange on the production?

C: From the creative side, it was the set and the costumes - we needed to create the best quality from a given financial framework. From the side of the producer it was the managing of the foreign actors' agreements, managing the cash flow and the gap financing (finance the whole gross budget from the half of the net budget). Besides, working with the more experienced members of the crew wasn't easy every time, for them it was really difficult to understand that as a first-time filmmaker we wanted to see every step of the process in details. Not everyone has the patience which leads to conflicts sometimes.

Do relatives of Curtiz live and did they see the movie?

T: We know only one straight-line descendant. After the film's succes in Montreal,a certain Linda Goldfarb has got in touch with us. She is Michael Curtiz's niece, the granddaughter of the Holocaust surviver, Margit Kertész, who appears in the film. Linda haven't seen the movie yet, because we asked her to wait until she could see it on big screen at the Los Angeles Film Festival, so we hope she can see it soon in worthy circumstances.

By the way Linda was very enthusiastic about getting to know us and she recommended some original, dedicated photos from Michael Curtiz's photo album.

What do we think about Curtiz in the aspect of the #metoo?

C: We know that with Curtiz's women's affairs and the the appearance of the 'casting couch' we touch a sensitive topic, but back then when we've written the script we didn't even know how much. The milestone of the Metoo movement, the Weinstein scandal exploded on the day when we wanted to shoot the rape scene of our film... the scene was slightly reconsidered and put over for another day. 

I read articles about the abuse of power in the '40s Hollywood that say it was not only from the side of men. I am one of those lucky people who have never been part of this kind of confrontation before, so I do not feel that it would be my job to make a statement in this topic, beyond that I wish our daughter and all of our daughters a future what is secure and where the success can be achieved with diligence and persistent work.

Music?

T: The film's music was composed by Gábor Subicz, an excellent jazz trumpeter, one of the MAO's (Modern Art Orchestra) composers.

It was my secret desire that the film get a big orchestral live music background, which thanks to Gábor's self-sacrifice and invested energy bring us to the Golden Age of Hollywood in a worthy way.

With what kind of camera did we shoot?

T: We used two Arri Alex (SXT, Mini) with Panavision Primo optics, which can be rightly called Rolls-Royce of lenses. This combination is thanked to Sparks Camera and Lighting rental company.

The two cameras was rarely used at the same time, but we were able to save ours in a day, because we didn't have to restructure between the camera drive systems. One camera was usually on a tripod or a fahrt carriage, while the other camera was in hand or on a MöVI.

How was the casting going?

T: After many attempts, we realized that we should do the casting of the talking actors ourselves. In 1,5 years we got to know every English-speaking actors who live in Hungary.

From this 80-90 people everybody visited us at least once. Besides that, we searched actors for more specific roles based on IMDb. For example, we wrote to every identical twin male actor who we found (approximately 50 people) and that's how we chose Yan and Rafael Feldman for the role of the Casablanca's screenwriters. We were very lucky with them because they were the best and also the most open-minded twin pair. But there are a number of people in the film who have just stood in front of the camera at the first time and still they fit perfectly in to the environment and the age. For example, Bob Atkins who played the receptionist (and who is an English teacher in the real life), or the waitress, Csenge Tálas (who was actually a waitress when we did the casting).

Why can't we see Bogart and Bergman sharply?

I am convinced that these people have grown to an icon (larger than life), so that every attempt to show them is doomed to failure, we know their faces so well. In my opinion, the best portrait of Elvis Presley in the world can be seen in Forrest Gump. I still believe that the little Forrest met Elvis, who've been unknown yet. Based on these experiences, we would like to refer to these icons rather than showing them. However in our movie they are supporting actors (almost extras), besides characters like Curtiz, Kitty or Johnson.

On what festivals have we been yet?

C: The world premiere of the film was in the Montreal World Film Festival, where CURTIZ won the festival's main prize. (Best Film Award, Grand Prix des Ameriques).

2018 Montreal World Film Festival -Best Feature Film 

2019 South by Southwest Film Festival –in Title Design Competition

2019 New York City Independent Film Festival 

2019 Boston International Film Festival 

2019 Riviera Independent Film Festival (Sestri Levante, Italy)

2019 Phoenix Film Festival 

2019 Washington DC Independent Film Festival 

2019 Pendance Film Festival

2019 Toronto Jewish Film Festival 

2019 Newport Beach Film Festival 

2019 Beijing International Film Festival

2019 Shanghai International Film Festival

2019 San Francisco Jewish Film Festival

Where will it be seen in the future?

C: 2019 Burbank International Film Festival

2019 Santa Cruz Film Festival

2019 Fort Lauderdale International film festival

2020 Miami Jewish Film Festival 

and many other film festivals around the world.

What is the next project we are preparing for?

C&T: We are developing three movie ideas in parallel:

One of them is the scenario of DVNA, which has already been a great success on YoutTube. We are working with Zsuzsanna Bak, and it will be a sci-fi.

Another project is a childhood idea is a modern messianic story what is actually about the Second Coming.

The third is a short fictional film that we aren't bored during the development phase of the two feature film.

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