Tough Shoots, Tight Budgets Challenged Oscar Hopefuls

1 BOB The Edge (Extra Photo)

An action packed, frequently hilarious thriller about decorated war hero who refurbishes a broken drown train in an effort to escape a Russian gulag following WWII.

From Brazil to Norway and Russia, these international filmmakers -- some of whom will have their films screened at this year's Palm Spring Film Festival -- fought to bring their visions to the screen.


Lula, The Son of Brazil
Brazil’s most expensive production ever chronicles the life of Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who rose from poverty to become president of Brazil

Paula Barreto, producer: “Filming Lula was an intense challenge. It was a period piece covering 5 decades — the 40´s to the 80s — shot in seven different cities on location with 120 actors with speaking parts, and 5000 extras all in only 8 weeks. A major challenge was that we had the same actor play Lula from age 18 to 35 and this required major physical changes, starting from significant weight gain to weight loss, as we shot age 35 first and worked backwards to age 18. A month before principal photography the first actor cast to play Lula fell ill preparing for the physical requirements of the role and dropped out. (Director) Fabio Barreto panicked but kept working with our casting director and saw Rui Ricardo Diaz´s test to play a nurse in the film. Fabio´s immediate reaction was: “That´s not a nurse, that´s Lula!” Fabio was very concerned that the actor who play Lula not mimic the real man; more importantly, he had to compose a new Lula. And in the end Fabio was very satisfied with Rui Ricardo´s performance and says the film would not be what it is without him. There was pressure on Fabio and I to cast a known actor like Wagner Moura or João Miguel, but Fabio and I always wanted a unknown actor, and thanks to scheduling conflicts with the bigger names we were able to cast as we wanted.”


Eastern Plays
This timely drama looks at two brothers who pursue different paths in contemporary Sofia.

Kamen Kalev, director: “After the main shoot was over, I still had some shots to make, but we were absolutely broke. I needed a shot in the middle of an angry football crowd, but only 5 friends responded to help me out as extras. How could I make a crowd with 5 people? The sound guy came with his 4 years old kid, because he couldn't leave him alone. I needed one more person to fill the space so I asked the sound guy to be in the frame. So finally the boom was held by this little baby who was standing right next to me without understanding why his father was shouting and acting crazy in front of him. Today, it is an amazing feeling to see that shot perfectly integrated in the film.”


Steam of Life
A moving, provocative documentary about Finnish men who bare their souls (and bodies) while steaming in Finland’s ever popular saunas.

Mika Hotakainen, director: “I think we there were two kinds of challenges that rose up in making Steam Of Life. Technically it was challenging to shoot inside hot saunas. Temperature would rise over 200°F and humidity was unbelievable. The camera equipment had to be equally hot as it is inside the sauna to prevent humidity condensing on the lenses. To operate a 200°F hot camera is a challenge itself. Another challenging thing relates to the content of the film. We were dealing with all types of issues in human life and not all of those are easy to confront. There were quite a few shootings where our main characters and crew couldn't hold back tears. A truly emotionally thing, but a cleansing experience all together. Hopefully that will relate to the audience as well.”


The Human Resources Manager
An offbeat comic drama about a man attempting to redeem himself by escorting the body of a deceased woman back to her hometown in Russia.

Eran Riklis, director: “On Dec. 17th, at 7 a.m., we shot at a cemetery in Rado Voda, 300km from Bucharest, Romania. Me and my crew and cast of Israelis, Romanians, Germans and one Swiss get out of the crew busses only to discover that the temperature has dropped to minus 22C and everything is frozen. The ground, the trees, the graves, the crosses. Add freezing wind, rain and snow and you can imagine this was not going to be the easiest shooting day on the schedule. It looked like a Hollywood set created overnight, but it was mother nature at her best. I looked at my cast and my motionless, frozen camera equipment and decided that this was going to be the easiest day I ever had. So I took off my coat, took off my gloves, put on my thinking hat (it has The Departed logo on it - fitting for a day at a cemetery), looked at the watch and said to myself: “We can do this.” And then I said to my 1st AD: “Let's get this show moving.” But my AD could not move as her leg had froze. The next evening I received the rushes of this day at the comfort of my hotel room, put the DVD into the player and watched some of the most beautiful images I was ever part of creating — and it all seemed effortless and easy. Like it should.”


The Angel
A stark, unflinching look at one woman’s struggle with addiction.

Margreth Olin, director: “The leading part in the film, Lea, is played by the Norwegian actress Maria Bonnevie. She is one of Scandinavia’s most celebrated actresses. Since this was my first fiction film I asked her to do an audition for the film. I had to be sure that we could go all this way together —  that we could go as far as it takes with a leading role like this. Doing your first film about a heroin addict is to not make it easy for yourself. Maria and I worked together for weeks before we decided that we could to this together. she really worked hard to transform herself into Lea. I have always thought that Maria Bonnevie is surrounded by a special light, and I was thinking that my task was to take that light away.”


The Edge
An action packed, frequently hilarious thriller about decorated war hero who refurbishes a broken drown train in an effort to escape a Russian gulag following WWII.

Alexey Uchitel, director: “For his role, Vladimir Mashkov did all his own stunts, including the train driving.  A couple of times we almost lost him, like when he fell from the bridge into the river while shooting a scene and was taken away by the rapids. We were lucky to catch him by a rope in the fast, cold river. The greatest challenge was coping with all the complexities of shooting in such complicated and harsh conditions of the Russian winter, plus all the scenes with the trains that are true museum pieces from the beginning of the 20th century. But I hope that our huge work and efforts were appreciated by the viewers.”


Barefoot Dream
A down and out pro soccer player coaches turns a rag tag group of poor children into champions.

Kim Tae-kyun, director: “The film was shot 90% on location in East Timor which practically has no infrastructure for filmmaking. We had difficulty finding a good translator, so smooth communication was always a problem. But, the difficulty of communication and cooperation required was the very essence of this film. The final outcome was an overwhelming sense of cooperation.”


Simple Simon
A young man with Asperger’s syndrome hatches the perfect plan to help his brother get his girlfriend back.

Andreas Ohman, director: “The challenge was to combine the visual and playful look with a deeper story and a complex character. Since Simon is so specific with time and details, we had to be that precise. I remember a scene where a character is claiming that a film, 2001: A Space Odyssey, is 4 hours long. Simon corrects her with the exact duration, which was something we came up with on set and had to find the right answer on spot. Thank God for modern technology.”