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The franchise man

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Mike Marzuk • Director


- A portrait of German director Mike Marzuk, best known for the children's film series The Famous Five, of which he just finished the fourth film

Mike Marzuk  • Director
Mike Marzuk (© Constantin Film Produktion GmbH)

Unlike the majority of filmmakers, Mike Marzuk’s entry into the business was both circuitous and fortuitous. Born in 1969 in Landsberg in Bavaria, he was a self-confessed “unsuccessful student: my passion lay in music, not maths, but I needed to earn a living so I trained in the hotel industry, but two years was enough, I decided to become a film editor, which has similarities to making music, as I saw it.” He did this for around two years and slowly moved into the world of film.

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He then “slid”, to use his own word, further into post-production and one day made contact with the director Markus Goller. Even then, he admits, “I had no ambition to become a director.” Their many evenings chatting, most likely over a beer or three, resulted in a microbudget film about... two guys chatting! “We wrote a script, somehow. We gave it to some guy because “we had no idea how films get made!” Called WWGW - Weisst Was Geil Wär...?!, it came to the attention of producer Andreas Smeaton at SamFilm. “He then offered me the chance to direct Summer, which was very successful and was the start of our teamwork,” Marzuk explains. “And then I did the teenage music film Rock It!. After that came the first The Famous Five [+see also:
film profile
and we have just finished the fourth. SamFilm is now my home and I’ve had great material from them for eight years now.”

Never work with children or animals is the saying, but tell that to Marzuk, who is now well used to it! He actually calls it “Great fun! I think I’ve now become the go-to-guy! We’ve been doing this for quite a while now so the kids are older and more professional, the dog is too! They all give authentic, instinctive performances, rather than ‘acting’.”

As a director, Marzuk wants “a good script that moves you emotionally. It needs a fun factor too, and has to call up the pictures, even if they always turn out differently in reality! As a director, I let the actors show me their interpretation and I prefer to correct afterwards, not in advance. With kids I first do a bit of guidance and you have to use the time well, because there are legal restrictions on how many hours they can work. Adults are given more freedom, kids as much as possible.”

For him, the The Famous Five franchise is “about friendship, emotions that apply to everyone, paired with lots of action. I don’t follow the latest trends in family entertainment, I make these films from the viewpoint of an ordinary guy who was never fixated on getting into the business, so I’m relaxed.”

Marzuk is currently working on another dialogue-driven film, on the template of the much admired John HughesThe Breakfast Club. “It has such a great time structure and can handle long dialogues, a film does not have to be an MTV edit every time!” he says. “A script is ready when you can no longer remove stuff, and the same goes for editing. A film happens three times: script, direction, edit. Get that right and I have never had to rescue a disaster yet, thank God!”

When asked about his favourite films he replies, “I really like Back To The Future. It grabbed me, it’s so great and funny, has a super cast. It’s my film! It’s a family thing, the production, the same relationship I have with SamFilm. People have to feel good and enjoy working together. It comes over in the end product,” Marzuk continues. “You see the reaction at the premieres, how much the kids enjoy it. I want to entertain people and quality is what counts. We simply try our best to do that.”

Even if the kids in the films get older, “family entertainment stays family entertainment. We don’t want to ‘age’ the audience. The scripts are a bit harder than the earlier ones but we don’t want to repeat ourselves. The actors also need new challenges and the bad guys get more interesting too, especially in this latest one where they are doing a bit more than just stealing the tiles off the roof!” But what makes The Famous Five such a successful franchise is that “the theme of friendship remains the same and that is something anyone of any age can understand and relate to.”



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