Philipp Stölzl • Director
Films are like Kids
- Philipp Stölzl’s new film The Physician, starring Stellan Skarsgård and Ben Kingsley, will be ready for Christmas 2013
“I never went to film school,” Philipp Stölzl says. “I just learned on the job working on music video sets and watching other directors. I guess I would have been wrong in a film school anyway. When I started out most of the film schools in Germany were very artistic-oriented. I had no great artistic master-plan,” he says. “Luckily I’ve always been offered a lot of projects: it was more about instinctively finding out what sets me on fire, who are the people behind it and do you fit with them. I guess when you come from music videos you have a pretty ’crafty’ attitude toward creative work – the videos are a broad art format, you have to sell a record after all, you always try to find a broad audience”.
Stölzl’s filmography “is more European than US but English is a great script language and it’s so good when films have the chance to reach beyond the three German-speaking territories.” Although he has a lot to be proud of, Stölzl does not rewrite his personal history to suit: “I developed a lot of stuff that did not make it into a film. Sometimes it feels like planting a garden, seeing what grows. It could be a tree or nothing.” One of these dead trees was a film called The Truth about Hänsel and Gretel. “We worked long and hard on it,” Stölzl says. “I also developed with Jan de Bont, producing a film about a time traveling serial killer in Boston. You spend years sitting on the script, give it your all and nothing gets green-lit! It’s the reality of the business unfortunately.”
How does he do his thing? “I get a script,”Stölzl explains, “I look for what suits me. You have an instinct. I’m making my third historical film. I know I am good at creating worlds, I’m experienced, you have a feeling. It’s not that you want to do that forever, but it is a security thing and I feel safe and the cast is in good hands.”
Entertainment, for Stölzl, does not mean lightweight, quite the opposite. “I tend towards heavy themes,” he explains. “North Face is quite heavy weight, about death, survival, politics, Nazis, an ice storm. Young Goethe in Love [+see also:
film profile] is a bit lighter, it’s a romantic love story but also has painful moments. The Physician is similar: there is a great deal of religious conflict, power politics, war fanaticism, all solid stuff.”
Stölzl seeks “to create a climate with actors and camera and crew where everyone can give something. I’m a director where actors can say when something is not right and make suggestions. There is always this large machine running so you have to create a relaxed atmosphere and freedom. Every day is new, you have only so many shooting days, you have to get to the point, which limits what you can try and experiment with.”
North Face and Goethe “cost around €7 million,” Stölzl explains. “The Physician is some €20 million, but you always find it’s not enough! The budget has to fit what you want to make. It’s silly if the story is too big! The Physician was a long shoot because it’s also made as a TV two-part, so you are making two times ninety minutes. In the end, though, whatever the budget, you are always nervous at the start and there is no big difference in the end. But when you have actors like Stellan Skarsgård and Ben Kingsley the whole ’star’ thing is not so important. It’s very uncomplicated on set and they were both great to work with.”
The Physician will be ready for Christmas 2013, then it’s back to opera and development for Stölzl. “I want to make a film about Richard Wagner,” he says. “There hasn’t been a good one yet and it could be really great, something made for me! Not a classical biopic but about the premiere of The Ring in 1870 in Bayreuth. He created his own monster trilogy, you know. There are diaries about rehearsals, treading the line between disaster and madness. The music is great, it could be a theatrical feature. It’s my heart’s project so I’m not rushing it.”
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