When Laia Costa was asked to audition for what would eventually become “Victoria,” she had no idea what to expect.
“Actually [the casting director] said to me, “Don’t worry, it’s a supporting role,” said Costa, who wouldn’t find out until later that she would occupy every frame of the film as its titular character.
“She did?” asks the film’s director Sebastian Schipper, sounding as if this is the first time he’s hearing of it.
After seeing “Victoria,” it’s understandable that its director only has a vague idea of how it came together as it is one of those rare bits of cinematic magic that there wouldn’t seem to be any rational explanation for. You could put specific numbers on it – filming involved 22 locations, three separate sound teams and six assistant directors making sure that no random civilians stumbled into the shot as Schipper tells the story of an easily impressionable young woman from Barcelona, alone in Berlin, who inadvertently finds herself as part of a heist in one continuous, 134-minute take. However, there is no way to describe just how “Victoria” immerses one in the sensation of being overwhelmed by the circumstances life can present, doing so in entertaining fashion as Schipper ups the ante with flying bullets, piano solos and car chases. (Says Costa of the last of those obstacles, “It was difficult to remember where is my right and my left and I have to drive and we cannot be wrong because if we get lost, the one take is fucked up.”)
The result is exhilarating, which is the only outcome Schipper was going to accept after his mind began to wander from a more traditional screenplay he was working on to a more ambitious undertaking, both for his characters and for himself. With three opportunities to shoot the film in its entirety and plenty of preparation beforehand to work out the small details, the director, who once had a small part in Tom Twyker’s similarly groundbreaking “Run Lola Run,” cracked the code for a thriller that’s unexpectedly moving in any number of ways, and shortly before the film finally makes its way to American shores after a triumphant bow at the Berlin Film Festival earlier this year, Schipper and Costa reflected on the unique experience of making a movie in real time and how there might not have been a part for the actress at one time.
How did the two of you find each other?
Laia Costa: He found me.
Sebastian Schipper: I found her. But it was really easy to find her. Obviously, Luci [Lenox, the casting director] found you, but then again, I didn’t do anything on this film. I just talk. [laughs] I always laugh a little when people say, “How did you find her?” because honestly, if she’s so talented, it’s much easier to find her. You could only ask me that if she’s not talented. I was just lucky to call the right person. Sooner or later when it happened, I was the guy that was there. We had very little money for this film, and I knew that Victoria had to be Spanish, but we didn’t have the money to pay a proper fee for a Spanish casting director — I called a couple of them and said, “Hey, we don’t have much money.” One lady was really angry — that was the worst phone call I had in the entire making of “Victoria.”
Laia Costa: Why?
Sebastian Schipper: Because we asked her to work for nothing. And I said, “Just sit down for ten minutes and…”
Laia Costa: Maybe because it was a big agency.
Sebastian Schipper: Yes, it was, but she was so over the top and crazy — I never do this, but I hung up. Then we talked to Lucy and she was really easy. She mentioned Laia’s name in the first phone call and [she] thought it was good money because it wouldn’t be much work because [she thought], “I just have to present Laia and then she’s going to get the part.” We were like, “Yeah, she looks great but can you give us maybe three names?” [looks at Laia] You guys already knew each other for a year or couple of years, right?
Laia Costa: Yeah, because Luci Lenox is Irish, she lives in Spain and she works a lot in Europe, so she knows a lot of actors, has a very good eye and is doing a great service in Spain because she was casts some great Spanish actors, but their English isn’t so great, so she trains Spanish actors to be able to act in English. A couple of years back, she [told me] “Look you should try to …” because I was not able to speak English like [I do now] three years before.
What was more intimidating — the fact that you’d have to speak English or that this would be in one continuous take?
Laia Costa: No, Luci said to me, “Well, you’ve got the role.” Then I was like, “Okay, now can you explain to me what it’s about?” [laughs] Because I knew nothing about it at that point. She said to me, “Look, it’s one take, you’re going to rob a bank and you have to spend three month in Berlin.” And I was like, “Cool, let’s do it.”
Sebastian Schipper: When was the first time you realized, “Fuck, this is real”? When you were in Berlin?
Laia Costa: When we were at rehearsals. Before when I met you in the hotel, we were not talking much about the film – it was more about us [working together]. But when I met all the crew and we started doing rehearsals, I was realizing this was going to be cool.
Since there was a 12-page outline, was the character there on the page or were you able to develop Victoria together as the filming process went on?
Sebastian Schipper: It was not on the page. Honestly, there were a lot of things being developed while we shot the film, and the one thing we developed the most was Victoria. Laia and I worked together on it, but also my editor — and now she’s my co-author — Olivia [Neergaard-Holm], also helped me a lot. Before Laia was even brought in, Olivia said, “Dude, take Victoria out of the film because right now [in] these rough pages you don’t need her. [Either] give her the film, or take her out.” That was a process I had with Olivia and even with Sturla [Brandth Grovlen, the cinematographer] [to figure out] what Victoria really is. Only at the very end was the film named “Victoria.” Now it sounds crazy — because what else you want to call this film? — but for a long time, it was about the robbery and it was called “Überfall,” the German name for robbery.
Because you shot the film three different times, what did you learn from the process of redoing it?
Sebastian Schipper: It was way more then I expected. Honestly, I think scripts are overrated. Of course, you think about what’s important and I think the most important thing about a film is the story, and most films we know have been written, but then I look at one of my all-time favorites, “Apocalypse Now,” and they fucking went to the Philippines, went crazy and brought back this film. If you look at “Breathless” by Godard, from what I know, he wrote stuff while they were filming and they were playing around. I’ve heard [Inarritu’s “The Revenant”] is like that. The one thing that totally turns me on about that is they went crazy out in Canada, the snow went away and they went crazy in somewhere in Argentina and I love the idea it was impossible to shoot this film – I think everybody does.
In general, how much did you want to let reality into the production? Specifically, was the lighting, which is quite affecting, ambient or something imposed by the production?
Sebastian Schipper: We were shooting a movie, so we needed to be able to see, and the streets where they were walking at the beginning, we had pretty big [lighting] units on the roof and some cherry picker with a simple light coming in. I always think from a technical point of view, if you see a lamp in the frame, for some strange reason, it never bothers me. In everything that was indoors, it was lit with what was there and out in the street, there was some sunlight, and in the garage where they meet the gangster, we exchanged the florescent lights and we put some mist in just before they come in, so we wanted it to look like it just happens [naturally], but Sturla, my cinematographer, and I knew that because this is a movie, it’s got to look right.
Was any special significance to the locations that you chose or did it turn out what was convenient for this type of shoot?
Sebastian Schipper: Yeah, Germany is a very rich country and in the capital Berlin, the Friedrichshain [District] where we shot [the majority of the film] is the richest shopping [area], but we shot in cheap side of that street, which wasn’t a coincidence.
Were you able to feed off the energy of doing this in one take to help with the character?
Laia Costa: Yeah, of course. I think my favorite moment [of the shoot] was the 10 minutes before starting the filming of “Victoria,” because in this ten minutes, all the crew was excited and frightened, and altogether [felt], “Come on, let’s do it now,” so that energy put you in a very good place for being there – like really there.
Time really plays a fascinating role in film and one would guess, given you’d want to get this over with as quickly as possible, but the longer it goes on, the more immersive it becomes. Was length part of the conception of it?
Sebastian Schipper: Yeah, big time. The best I can say it is that time is crazy, and I thought if the film should be shorter, it would end up shorter. There were also moments when I thought “Okay, this is four hours long, if it’s good…”
Laia Costa: I would love four hours! Next time four hours. Please, please!
Sebastian Schipper: [smiles] No, but the end of the day, the question is – is it entertaining? Two hours and fourteen [minutes] is pushing it in the sense of whether you can still screen it [in traditional movie theaters], even though this was not a commercial enterprise at any point. That’s why I produced it myself. Really, I wanted to get together with great people and not do anything but what we like and what we understand. Of course, I tried to keep it dense, but for entertainment reasons, not for commercial reasons, and I think if you look at the film, you can see that we have no true understanding of time.
Humans – we can see, we can smell, we can hear – but we have no sense for time. Maybe it’s good because then we would be more aware that every day is ending, and this ignorance is very important for us to not go crazy. But honestly, why we’re here today is because of what happened last year on April 27th between 4:20 and almost 7 o’ clock in the morning. For me, it’s not understandable, and of course, there’s the preparation for it and everything else, but what we actually talk about is what happened within these two hours and fourteen minutes.
“Victoria” opens on October 9th in Los Angeles at the NuArt Theater and in New York at the Regal Union Square 14 and the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.