Boyden Road Productions: Martin, tell us a little bit about your background. For instance, when did you first realize that you wanted to be a film director? And what training or education did you pursue?
Martin Bode: I grew up in Germany and was always active in Martial Arts. That`s why I moved to China – to study it. By chance I was cast in a tiny role in a movie and found myself a few hours later on a film set for the first time. It took me less than one hour to realize that I wanted to become a director. So I got on the next airplane to Hong Kong to learn more about the Asian film industry. Shortly after that I went to Spain to actually study directing. After graduating, I directed some short films and was the Co-Author of a feature film. Last year I directed “A Good Story”.
BRP: Wow, that’s amazing. You go to China to study martial arts, get cast in a movie, you have a sudden epiphany that you wanted to be a director … and then you decide to go to Hong Kong and then after that to Spain! What compelled you to go to Hong Kong? And then why Spain? Was there something or someone special that you wanted to study with?
MB: I went to Hong Kong because I was such a big fan of Hong Kong cinema, especially in my teenage years, the Kung Fu films, you know, But later on I discovered films by directors such as Wong Kar Wai or Zhang Yimou. After working as a PA for a while in Hong Kong’s film industry I wanted to learn more about directing and writing so I decided to attend film school. Because I am a very impatient person and I believe in fate I attended the first school I found in the Internet where I could start studying immediately.
BRP: Tell us a bit about studying directing in Spain. What was the school and what was the focus of the teaching?
MB: It was an International Film Academy with the focus on working with actors. They had an acting program running – and it included the Meisner Technique. Jaqueline McClintok and CC Courtney trained me in the Meisner Technique and both were former students of Sanford Meisner. Studying the Meisner Technique became a great benefit for me as a director, helping me to observe and to see what was going on inside the actor, or the character.
BRP: That’s impressive. A director actually studying the Meisner Technique. Well done. Now let’s talk about directing. Are there specific directors whom you admire? Or genres of film you desire to explore? What we’re really asking is … what kind of director do you aspire to be?
MB: I don’t have any idols or one particular director whom I admire. Although I do admire the Asian Cinema culture for its visual approach, as well as the American storytelling culture, especially at its “New Hollywood” era.
BRP: What do you consider the “New Hollywood” era? And what is it about American storytelling culture that fascinates you?
MB: The New Hollywood era was in the early 1960s when the old Hollywood studio system came to an end. “Golden Age Stars” like Humphrey Bogart or Gary Cooper were dead and famous directors like Hitchcock or Ford finished their main work.
As the artistic vacuum in Hollywood became visible, young filmmakers like Arthur Penn, Mike Nichols, Dennis Hopper and Robert Altman were able to establish a new kind of cinema. Later on, in the 1970s, there were William Friedkin, Peter Bogdanovich and Roman Polanski along with Scorsese and Coppola bringing the ‘New Hollywood’ to its artistic and commercial peak.
I mostly admire them because they were the ones who changed the big studio system and made commercially successful films for a huge audience through a more artistic approach to film. Wouldn’t it be amazing to do that again? Change the blockbuster system?
As far as my directing is concerned, I simply want to tell profound stories and move the audience in the most entertaining way I can possibly imagine.
BRP: What are the films you admire – that you have found to be profound? What films have moved you in an entertaining way?
MB: Films like Taxi Driver, The Godfather, Chinatown, and The Graduate. They entertain but also have something deeper to tell than just a plot. I don’t know the right word for it but a good movie or story is always exemplary of something deeper and universal. For example the film In the Valley of Elah by writer and director Paul Haggis is on the surface a typical crime movie. (A retired military investigator works with a police detective to uncover the truth behind his son’s disappearance following his return from a tour of duty in Iraq (IMDB)). But on a deeper level what this film is really about is pride and how pride can make us blind. I think it’s a great movie and a little masterpiece, because everything, the script, the characters, the visuals, the staging, everything serves that specific, deeper idea.
BRP: Let’s talk more about your most recent film: A Good Story. Where did the idea come from for this compelling story? And why was it so
important for you to tell this story?
MB: Two years ago, after reading the script for the first time, I immediately wanted to make this film. It is a film about German – Polish history during WWII. But for me it is much more than a film about our past. It is a film about telling stories. The story itself has value. Like Jacub Lato a character in the film says:
“A good story is worth much more than any money in the world.
Because if it isn’t told it is lost forever.”
And that’s what I am doing as a director – telling stories. So this film shows not just the past, but also the importance of stories in our culture and personal lives.
BRP: Mark mentioned that the two of you worked together on A Good Story. But let’s start at the beginning. When did you first meet Mark?
MB: I attended one of Mark’s workshops because I wanted to explore new ways of directing. At that time I worked a lot with actors, but I needed a new approach to the process, so I could stay focused and fresh. As Mark demonstrated his Travis Technique I was immediately hooked by its effectiveness and simplicity.
BRP: What had you first heard about Mark’s workshops?
M.B.: A friend of mine who happened to be an actress went to one of Mark’s workshops and told me about it. She was quite enthusiastic about it. I didn’t quite understand what Mark was doing, but I heard it was amazing. So I went to the next workshop to find out for myself.
BRP: What had your process of working with actors been before you worked with Mark? And why were you so clear that you needed a new approach?
MB: As I said, I was working a lot with the Meisner Technique. At that time I was working at an acting school. I was directing scenes with students and I had my routine how to direct and work with them. I think that I needed to break that routine to have a “fresh eye/approach” on the progress of the students and the actual directing in a scene. After directing the same scenes over and over I kind of lost curiosity in the process, I guess.
BRP: And what do you mean by ‘focused and fresh’? Was this about you staying ‘focused and fresh’ or about keeping the actors (characters) focused and fresh?
MB: It was both, the focus on the actor and his/her acting progress and the focus how to direct the character in the scene.
BRP: You say the Travis Technique hooked you because it was effective and simple. Can you explain more about what you saw, what you experienced? And how did this address your need to be more ‘focused and fresh’?
MB: First of all, it hooked me when I saw Mark demonstrate his Technique (the Interrogation Process). When I saw an actor who didn’t know much or even anything about his character suddenly become the character, I was hooked. And all that was accomplished just by asking the character questions! And I thought: “Oh, that’s easy!” But then I tried to do it myself. Big failure. In front of me was not a character but a confused actor. But I was intrigued by the technique and other rehearsal tools Mark explained. The approach to work with the character and not the actor sounds simple but was a big change in my work. Unconsciously I did it occasionally before but always went back, or got mixed up with the actor and wondered why some things didn’t work out.
So after the workshop I had what I was looking for. In terms of the actor I had new tools to bring him into the character, or show him ways he/she can do it himself. In terms of directing I had a whole new world, a bunch of tools on how to explore, direct and stage a scene.
BRP: When you began talking to Mark about consulting on your film, A Good Story, what were you looking for? As you know, many directors are not willing to share their process or seek the consulting support of other directors. What made you feel that this would be beneficial to your process?
M.B.: Right after the workshop I started to read Mark’s books and was intrigued by their distinctiveness about the process of directing. As it turned out I was going to shoot A Good Story with one of the best and most legendary cinematographers, Christopher Doyle. I wanted to make sure that I was absolutely clear about what I was doing. That’s why I asked Mark to consult with me on that film.
BRP: How did this process affect your film?
MB: As soon Mark understood my vision of the film, we started to discuss the script in detail. To develop the characters from the script, I
brought two actors in and we rehearsed via Skype. I was absolutely amazed how Mark used the Travis Technique via Skype and how perfectly it worked. Now knowing the characters, we staged some of the scenes. It was only through this process of pre-visualization and staging, that some important shots got developed. For example, I had to establish very early in the film that Helga has a personal connection to the jug. To emphasize it visually I had a profile tracking shot of her passing by the jug. The camera remains on the jug in the foreground, so the audience knows immediately there is a connection between her and the jug.
BRP: For our readers, can you let us know when and where they might be able to see “A Good Story”? Are there more festival showings?
MB: I don’t know which festival will be next, but the film will travel to festivals around the world for the next year.
BRP: And, finally, Martin, what are your plans for the future?
MB: Besides writing on an Animation series and a feature film (a spy thriller), I am constantly looking for good stories and scripts that intrigue me.
BRP: Thanks so much, Martin. We all look forward to following the success of A Good Story.