Martin Turk is a Slovenian-Italian filmmaker, a graduate of University of Ljubljana’s Academy of Theatre, Radio, Film and Television (AGRFT), now based in Ljubljana, Slovenia. He created several award-winning short films that were screened at film festivals across the globe; his most notable creations include his short film Every Day Is Not the Same (2008), which premiered at the Directors’ Fortnight in Cannes, and shorts Slice of Life (2006) and Sunday Morning (2017). The screenplay for his feature debut, Feed Me with Your Words (2012), got him selected for the Cannes Cinéfondation Residence in 2009.
He wrote the screenplay for the short A Well Spent Afternoon in 2011, and with a lot of work, patience and a bit of luck, the feature version of the short film, now set in Bosnia and Herzegovina instead of Slovenia – more specifically, in Sarajevo – had its international premiere halfway across the world, in the Flash Forward section of the 23rd Busan International Film Festival in South Korea. Good Day’s Work, a social drama, was created as a part of a new production scheme called Sarajevo City of Film for Global Screen. The scheme was started as a collaboration between Sarajevo Film Festival and Turkish Radio and Television (TRT), as a production scheme for a feature film called the Sarajevo City of Film for Global Screen.
We sat down with Martin Turk for a conversation about Good Day’s Work right before one of the Korean television teams swept him away for yet another video interview.
Having your film screened at the largest international film festival in Asia is not a simple feat; how did it all begin? It seems to have been quite a long journey to make this film.
Here’s how it all began. The first draft of the screenplay was actually a short, written in 2011, and we applied for the funds of the Slovenian Film Centre (SFC), but the money ran out, even though we got a high enough rating. That was when it all began. They said it was great, but there just wasn’t enough money to fund all of the projects, so it was a no-go. But one of the committee members said the story was a good one and could be developed into something more. So I said to myself, OK, and I wrote a screenplay for a mid-length film. And the story repeated itself; I was told that it would be a waste of money to make it a mid-length film, and that I should change it into a feature.
So, I started writing a screenplay for a feature, and started applying to tenders. I got the funds for script development, the project development, SFC supported all of it, we got the media funds and were ready to apply for the funds for a feature. But we got turned down again, and we ended up using the media funds to make a teaser trailer with two of the scenes, and I edited them so they looked like a short film.
And what was the casting for the short like?
The main actor was the one I had in mind for the lead, the kid was my own son, who I called in to help, and our nephew even got a small role. The team was the usual, the people I usually work with, with a low budget, of course, so we used up the media funds – just by paying the actors and location shoots. And we made it into a 7-minute short that went on to be screened at over 35 festivals, and won the award at Oberhausen festival – A Well Spent Afternoon.
So that film was the predecessor of A Good Day’s Work?
Yes. We actually shot two scenes of the feature. And we re-applied for the funding, and again didn’t get it. We got our final rejection in 2015, and Ida Weiss, the producer, said she was too tired to continue pushing for it. I started writing a different project in the meantime, so we shelved the project, and then Ida, half as a joke, applied for the new project of Sarajevo Film Festival, Sarajevo City of Film for Global Screen. And then we got the call that we got the funding. At the same time, we won funds for a different feature in Slovenia.
Was that Don’t Forget to Breathe?
Yes, we thought Don’t Forget to Breathe would be my second film, but then we got the call and… We weren’t sure at first due to the small budget and scheduling issues, but we managed to work it out somehow. We adapted the script from 100 pages to 60, since the budget only allowed for 19 days of shooting. With the exception of my assistant director Petra Trampuš and the DOP Radislav Jovanov Gonzo, the rest of the team was from Sarajevo. Tinka Grahić was the casting director; she sent me photos and even scouted locations – it was a lot of online work. And then last year, I went to Sarajevo for 2 months, where we did the preparations and then had the filming. All the while, we were getting things ready for my other film, so it all had to be done by the end of February this year. So we basically shot it and edited it very fast, and we sent everything to Sarajevo and Turkey as we went, so they looked it over, gave feedback… so in the and, we were all happy with what was made, and we agreed to have it screened at Sarajevo film festival.
So that was the official premiere?
Yes, in the pre-premiere section of Sarajevo Film Festival. Then we got invited to Busan and after, we’re headed to Montpellier Film Festival.
It’s happening fast and all of these are big festivals….
Yes, it’s great. And the official European premiere will take place in Montpellier, where I will actually have two films at the same time.
Right – basically, the film was supposed to be your third feature, and it ended up being the second feature?
Yes – it was supposed to be the second feature, then set aside, and it made a reappearance. It’s literally a story about a film that was not fated to be made, but ended up being made anyway.
How much is the story actually different from the original one, the one that was set in Slovenia?
There aren’t many changes – very little has changed, really. The story itself is different, but I experienced Sarajevo in a way that made me change the feeling of the story itself – that has changed. It was supposed to be comedy – a comedic drama. Also, the way it ended up being shot is different – we thought there would be the budget, more time, and an entirely different visual of the city.
This is something I wanted to ask – Radislav Jovanov Gonzo, the DOP – cinematography really plays a role in the film, it is so realistic – and you two have worked together before, right?
Yes, this is our third project together. 2 shorts and now the feature.
How do you two work together, do you give him a lot of artistic freedom?
Our relationship is a bit special, since we became friends – we hang out, even go to concerts together… We talk a lot and watch films together, then debate about them. A lot of the work is done on the set itself, on the locations themselves. We agree on the visual style and we stick to that, then we test the visuals and decide which direction to take. We know each other well, and he – he worked on music videos for years, he’s the king of music videos, and it’s great to work with him, because he’s capable of delivering completely different things, it’s not all one and the same.
How much did the city itself influence the visual style?
I started to see the city differently while making the film. I visited it about six times before, but I always stayed in the centre, and when you venture out into the suburbs, you start to see an entirely different life. That Sarajevo called to me and the movie got an entirely new meaning, which influenced the change of cinematography, and we ended up with an entirely different film. We only had 19 days to film, so we didn’t have the time to experiment, to set the lighting a lot… so we shot it in a way that city is always above what is happening.
What was the feedback like, then?
People who watched the film said that this was an entirely new Sarajevo, the city that they’ve never seen before – and I was told that by the people of Sarajevo. Now, I am an outsider so I look at Sarajevo with a different set of eyes, I felt that the big buildings set against the little man were fascinating. And they liked it, because they also saw a different side of Sarajevo. The producer said that at some point, she didn’t even know where the locations were, even though she knows the city really well, because it was shot in a way that made everything look different. Working with Sarajevo as the background for the story was very interesting for me as well.
About the casting – you said you had a casting director, who helped with the casting – did you have an audition based on her suggestions? What was the process like?
I didn’t know almost any of the actors beforehand. She suggested 2-3 people for the role. I saw a film that Aleksandar Seksan had a role in and both me and the producer agreed he was perfect for the role. As for the role of his son, the casting director did the casting and sent me the videos, and the final casting was great. She made the suggestions, I told her my opinions, and it was all based on the trust because she is really good at what she does and she did a great job.
Was it very different, working with a Bosnian cast?
Well, in Slovenia, we tend to work with the actors a lot; while Slovenians are more natural in theatre, we often need to help them get relaxed in front of the camera, and the Bosnian actors seem to be the opposite – while it’s more problematic for them to do theatre, they are very relaxed in front of the camera, and you just look at them and think “Wow!”. I didn’t have to do much, just gave them some direction. The most work I had to do was with Maja Zeco, who plays the wife. She did mostly theatre before this role and it was more about the basics – where to step, where to look. My experience with the cast was really great.
And the team?
Same – they are all professionals, and they took it as their film, since it takes place in Bosnia, and they had no issue with a Slovenian as the director.
Was there a language barrier?
I was worried, because my Serbo-Croatian is weak, but we made it work somehow. (Laughs)
What was the most difficult thing about the 19 days of shoot?
The fight was the most difficult to film, and also – the days were really short, it was dark by 4 PM, but we set the schedule and managed to finish in time, and we were really lucky with the weather. It snowed on one of the shooting days, but the snow melted on the next day, so we were really lucky.
We just thought that we need to get as much material as possible, to shoot as much as possible, so we had a lot of material to work on during the editing, and we used up almost everything that we filmed.
How long did the editing take?
It was done quite fast, actually. Jurij Moškon did the editing and in 3 weeks, we had the first version which we then sent to Turkey and Sarajevo, and in early 2018, we started with the corrections – the film was fully edited by end of February. And we went into the post-production fast, we had the deadline, the film had to be completely finished by May. It was all done really really fast.
Since this is for an international readership, what is it like, being an independent Slovenian filmmaker?
In this moment, it’s great. I made two films in a row, I can feed my family… but not knowing what comes next is the problem. We get our funding on tenders, and there’s always a question if we’ll get funded for the next project or not. There are no guarantees. After my first feature, which was not seen as successful, I didn’t work as a director for three years and had to do other work for a living. Also, since my wife, Ida Weiss, is a producer as well, we live off projects – if we get it, great, if we don’t, there is no income.
Future projects – tell us something about that.
I’m currently editing the third feature, Don’t Forget to Breathe. It’s a story about two brothers who are growing up, and they are very connected. The younger is 15 years old and the older is 18, and when the older brother falls in love and gets a girlfriend, the younger brother goes a bit crazy, trying to get his brother back. It’s a young adult film, but with a different atmosphere. Also, it’s partially autobiographical. What is interesting is that we left central Slovenia and shot it in White Carniola, in the south. So, that film is in editing, and I’m already working on the screenplay for a new project.
We would like to thank Martin Turk for answering our questions and to Busan International Film Festival Press Team for arranging the interview!
Written, interviewed and translated by Sanja Struna
All photos © Obala Art Centar & Bela Film