There is a high possibility that in a little under a week, the first Hungarian short film in over fifty years will find itself on the list of the prestigious Academy Awards nominations – Sing (also Mindenki), the excellent 25-minute short about the competitive world of children’s choirs that is based on a true story but also stands as a solid metaphor for the current state of the world, made the cut and was shortlisted as one of 10 out of 137 live-action shorts that were originally in contention – quite a feat in its own right.
Sing was co-written and directed by the Hungarian-born director Kristof Deak, who completed his film studies in the UK and who now divides his time and his work between UK and his home country. He was kind enough to take some time out of his busy schedule to answer a few of our questions.
You co-wrote, produced and directed Mindenki, and you have previously tested yourself as a screenwriter, producer, editor (including your editorial work on Steven Spielberg’s Munich) and even sound editor – which of these aspects of film industry do you find to be most challenging and which do you find most comfortable?
Honestly, I’ve enjoyed each and every one of those stages in my life – but right now I mostly write and direct and I’d say the former is harder. Doing any of these jobs on your own can be ten times as taxing – I find editing my own films almost impossible for that reason. But with the right creative collaborators, a co-writer, a co-editor etc., it just makes things so much more comfortable and enjoyable.
(Please note: I merely served as a humble assistant on Munich – it was my first job, an entry-level position. Still, I admit I learned a lot, especially about how hard working Hollywood crews are…)
Tell us a bit more about your professional path. You were born in Hungary but decided to continue your film studies in the UK. What spurred that decision?
I applied to the MA Film and TV Directing course at the University of Westminster because it offered what I was lacking: actual on-set experience directing actors. I was familiar with the Hungarian system where a well-known master guides each student through their own creative journey in a process that lasts several years. In contrast, my course in London offered a very pragmatic, practice-based, bootcamp-like approach. Precisely what I needed with a few years of industry experience behind my back.
Tell us a bit more about Sing (Mindenki). It is based on a true story – what made you decide to turn it into a short film?
First of all – I love music and I play music so naturally I gravitate towards stories with a musical element. The basis of this story was an anecdote I heard from a Swedish flatmate of mine. She was told not to sing out loud in their school’s famous choir – and it was later revealed half the kids were told the same. This simple case of school related injustice really spoke to me, I thought it was extremely cruel to exclude and reject kids in such an underhand way. I came up with an uplifting ending for the story and that’s when I started feeling really good about it.
Since the majority of the Mindenki cast are children, was casting a challenging process?
It was certainly a bit of a logistical challenge – we looked at nearly 80 kids, each of them with at least some acting experience. With the help of amazing kids’ specialist Casting Director, Andrea Steinhauser, it didn’t feel that hard at all. We narrowed it down to 20, then 6, then tried several permutations with those six and landed on our final two: Dorka Gáspárfalvi and Dorottya Hais. There was a separate process for choosing the choir – they had to be from one place so we went around town and looked at a few famous choirs. I wouldn’t call it a difficult process – we were basically going around listening to beautiful young voices singing some amazing music… free concerts!
You are now working on your first feature. Can you tell us a bit more about that project?
It’s early stages so I can share very little but I’m really interested in stories around technology and progress – how it shapes the very nature of what we consider our meaning of life today.
Thank you for your time!
Written and interviewed by Sanja Struna
All photos © Meteor Film, 2016