As I return for what may be my last stint at the Berlin Film Festival next week, I thought it’s a good time to re-release the short film I directed together with Lilian Thoma way back in 1996. Back then, I had just finished my civilian service, and while that was never a way to make much money, the fact that I applied for the housing benefit that I was entitled to only at the very end of my service suddenly saw me receiving 13 months worth of rent and utility costs. Furnished with this rather handsome amount of money, I signed up for an intensive course at the Kaskeline Filmakadamie, to inch a little closer to my then dream of becoming a film maker.
At the Kaskeline Filmakademie, I attended classes about subjects including Directing, Script Writing, Optics, and Editing. Early on, everyone had to find a partner among the other students to write, plan and direct a short film together. I teamed up with Lilian Thoma and together we decided to adapt a couple of pages from Douglas Adams’ fourth book in the increasingly inaccurately named Hitchhiker’s Trilogy, “So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish”.
For the leading part we recruited Max Limper, then fresh out of drama school, and my best friend Marek Foeller, with plenty of experience as an extra on TV shows, to feature as his cookie-eating antagonist. During the shoot, the cookie eating – central to the story – became an increasingly unpleasant ordeal for the two of them since the cookies in question were shortbread biscuits that consist to one third of butter, a rather heavy diet as time went by.
The ordeal for Lilian and myself began after the shooting, because the key scene turned out to blurred. We had shot on 16mm and by the time we got the prints back from the film lab, setting up another day of shooting was out of the question, both for logistical and financial reasons. Instead, we had to opt for adding some optical effects to emphasise the key moment of the film. If you shoot digitally, adding those effects is rather easy, but when shooting on 16mm, the whole process becomes very elaborate and incredibly expensive. It came in handy that I worked at the Geyer Berlin film lab at the time, where we got a good deal for those effects used in the last scene.
More problems arose when we recorded the soundtrack of the film. We were very lucky to get the late Willy Sommerfeld to compose and perform the music for our film. Willy Sommerfeld, born in 1904, was a silent film pianist who began his career in the 1920s and revived his profession in the 1970s when he was asked by Ulrich Gregor to accompany silent films in the Arsenal film theatre in Berlin. Sommerfeld continued to play past his 100th birthday before he died in 2007. The way in which Willy Sommerfeld worked was that he improvised the music as he watched the film. We recorded his music at the Geyer Synchron dubbing studio and the first problem was that we did not find his first version suitable enough. Imagine yourself as a young aspiring film maker telling someone of Willy Sommerfeld’s stature to “play it again, Sam”. He seemed a bit surprised but he was too much of a gentleman to be irked. His second version was much better and so we thought we had it in the bag. But it was not to be that easy. Since we had shown him the film as a video at the frequency of 25 frames per second, the music did not match the 16mm original that ran at 24 frames per second. Thanks to the kind efforts of several people at Geyer Berlin, the problem got resolved and finally we held two married prints in our hands.
I came up with the title “Difficultea” because the whole story happens during a cup of tea, but in retrospect, the title seems even more befitting, considering the difficulties we had to overcome in the making of this film. The film is no masterpiece and hopefully you will not be among those who do not get what is actually happening. In the premiere and at other screenings afterwards, about one-third of the audience did not understand it – a rather poor result for a short film that’s supposed to be comical. But over the years I got used to the film and now look back on it as a nice experience back in the days when I tried to enter the world of film as something other than a projectionist.
Back in 2001, I managed to have “Difficultea” screened before Jean-Luc Godard’s “À bout de souffle” at the 3001 Kino, a renowned art house cinema in Hamburg. Since then, “Difficultea” has not been shown anywhere but you can now watch it on Vimeo. So, turn off your lights and turn up the sound – it’s showtime!