Photo by SØREN SOLKJÆR STARBIRD
- Name: Martin de Thurah
- Created on: 1974-April-29
- Record last updated on: 2008-November-20
- Homepage: Martin’s homepage, Academy Films
- Domain: Filmmaking, Photography, Visual Effects, Animation, Eating
- Location: Copenhagen, Denmark
After touring his stunning 2005 Carpark North music video and his subsequent videos around the world with RESFEST, I had an affinity for Martin de Thurah, but we had never met. This week, that changed, as we invited him out to Los Angeles to present the U.S. premiere of his new film Young Man Falling as part of the Flux Screening Series tonight at the Hammer Museum. Over sushi Tuesday night, after a rather surreal sneak peek of footage of the new Star Trek film yesterday and finally over email this morning, I was able get to a clearer sense of this talented Danish filmmaker.
Tell us a little about yourself, your background and what inspired you to become a filmmaker?
I come from Copenhagen, 20 minutes from the center on a bike, my father is a school teacher, my mother is a secretary – they are very warm people, and they are divorced. I’m the first born out of five children. My one grandfather was a baker, he could blow a swan in sugar (yes), and my other grandfather was a captain on a ship.
I was painting, and I was standing in my atelier feeling a bit lonely and lost in the process. I thought of what could possibly be more social, somewhere where I had to explain myself a bit more. So it was out of a social need that I improvised an application for the National Film School of Denmark, and wrote a story and made a storyboard for it (a book in two weeks). – And I didn’t believe anything would come out of it, and the film school just takes six students for each department every two years. I got in, and skipped my idea of going to the art academy. I still miss painting though.
Photo by Martin de Thurah“The boy in the sea is my little brother - i took the photo”
When I was in school I didn’t really believe I was going to make films, I just made little projects all the time. I was in the animation department, but I tried the best I could to avoid animation – because it was very heavy and I wanted to make documentaries instead. I think I’m good at convincing people that what I do is right, so I somehow got away with it.
Before film school I hadn’t seen many films, and I didn’t know anything about anything – so I knew that there was a lot to catch up with and I worked my ass off.
And I lost two girlfriends on that account.
What were some early influences (films, art, music) from your childhood that had an impact on you?
My grandmother’s brother knew how to draw and paint, I remember getting goose bumps when he drew me a sea with a man fishing and a fish. The lines were drawn so delicate and I hadn’t seen anything like it.
Can you share with us a little about your creative process? Do you take a lot of photographs for inspiration?
I write, I look, I am confused, I write too many ideas, think they are bad, write something new, walk, sleep 10 minutes, do something else, but quickly go back and write. I do try to do something in which I’m actually interested in myself – and I can’t help telling it in my own way. I work in a lot of areas, I make drawings, paint, write, posters, bookcovers. For me it always works out the best, when I have two things going at the same time, and always change what I’m doing. The knife gets dull if I do the same all the time.
We Who Stayed Behind (2008) tells the story of 10-year-old Adam, one of the few kids left behind, after all the grown-ups have succumb to hopelessness and abandoned the city, leaving it in a state of disarray.
What has your favorite project been, so far? What has been a challenge?
All have been good projects in some way, most of them challenging. It feels like going to war when making a film. The best projects are the one with the most love involved, I try to spread as much as I can while working.
A good one was me and two friends, in my flat, one week, doing three minutes of animation. We worked all the time, but what was clear for us all was that the “meeting” between us was the most important. We talked, discussed, I cooked the food all the time. Food is very important.
How has your early work as a painter influenced your work as a filmmaker?
I think the way I manage my thoughts and try to put them together. No – the abstract space I had in the paintings is something I try to bring along to describe an emotional space.
Why did you choose to specialize in animation in film school?
It was my Trojan Horse to get into the National Film School. I came from painting and the animation directors were the ones mostly concerned with the images of the film – so it was an obvious choice. And I didn’t dare to apply for the live action director, because so many were trying to get in. I learned a lot, and taught myself a lot of technical things. Which is quite handy now.
How then did you evolve into live action?
I wanted to and my music videos, which apparently really hit some people – made the Film Institute believe in me. And then I made two films in 2007.
And that was a good change for me too, to be away from the very competitive music video world and enter a new world.
Opening scene of de Thurah’s award-winning music video Human for Carpark North
I remember the excitement we felt, while programming RESFEST, when we first saw your Carpark North video Human. It went on to win the Audience Choice prize at the festival in 2005 and many other awards and accolades. Why do you think this video resonated with so many people?
Because its very personal, and I try to describe an emotional space in the pre teen years. I was invisible and day dreamt that I could fly so everyone could see that I existed. I wanted to be a part of the world, but I didn’t know how to. Many have written emails to me about how they cried while watching it. It was very moving.
I notice a few de Thurah trademarks: moody cinematography, an identification with the personal experiences of children and people flying around. I’d love to see your version of Peter Pan.
Yes – I might make that. There is a lot of longing to make films about.
But seriously what is it that interests you in children as subjects for so much of your work? How much is actually based on your own experience
I always have a personal outgoing point. I have to really feel what I’m doing. But I guess it’s a phase, maybe it will change. But there are many things that want to come out.
There has been much speculation about your music video for Kanye West’s Flashing Lights video. Kanye ultimately commissioned two other videos for the song, releasing the final one by Spike Jonze. In brief what happened and what lessons did you learn from the process?
I learned that no project should be done with too little time to prepare. I wanted to do my best, but there was just too many things that didn’t work out the way I wanted. And that way very sad, because me and Kanye had been talking about making a video for so so long, and then in the end – the timing was just not good.
That’s a long story.
A still image from Young Man Falling (2007), his first scripted short film, which was included in the Official Critics’ Week Selection at Cannes in 2007
What was the inspiration for film Young Man Falling?
Me and Rune wrote about our youth, we wrote down anecdotes from our lives. Made a big pile of stories. Took out some strong elements – and Rune (the writer) wrote a script. It took quite some time to develop and to find the right way to tell the story about this young man not feeling a part of the world.
After your premiere in Denmark you screened the film at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. What was that like?
It was a lot of Rosé. A lot of interviews and many many people. It felt like putting a little pole in the ground. But an important one.
You recently screened your latest short We Who Stayed Behind at the Chicago Children’s Film Festival, where in won the Children’s Jury Prize. What was special about that experience?
To watch the film with 900 kids and see them being totally involved. It was very very fantastic to watch and very moving. And I had never been In Chicago.
Were the short films preparation to do a narrative feature-length length film?
No they are films, but with a different length. The next film is going to be a feature, and I hope to make that within the next two years.
Röyksopp video “What else is there.” Look closely - she’s floating, a de Thurah trademark
What are you working on now/next? I heard that you are in the midst of another frenzy of music video commissions.
I’m working on a Glasvegas video and Karin from The Knife is making an album and I will try do make a video for that.
What do you like most about making music videos?
The art aspect of it. And the mix of music and imagery – and that you can freak out.
Even as you begin to make more narrative films, will you continue to make music videos?
Yes I love it too much to let it go. But it’s a hassle with the budgets.
Based your personal experiences what advice would you give to aspiring filmmakers? Or perhaps words of wisdom?
If you have to, you have to. Don’t live too expensively, and live close to your doctor. Remember other things like love is important, otherwise you will die too soon.
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