Nimrod Antal talks about having Kontroll
Hungarian director Nimrod Antal explodes unto the international film scene with Kontrol, a dark tale of redemption set deep within the bowels of Budapest. The film takes place entirely underground in the subway system. It follows a societal underclass of ticket checkers as they brave the perils of their job. There's actually a disclaimer from the real-life subway chief that serves as a prelude to the film. Kontrol is an accomplished debut with slick editing and shotgun pace from start to finish. I met Nimrod, who's heard every snide at his name, at a hotel cafe in New York City. He seemed like a really cool and down to earth guy, a far cry from the prima donna directors I usually interview. Kontrol might be a little gritty for the average filmgoer, but Nimrod Antal has obvious talent as a filmmaker. Hollywood needs a shot in the arm and he could definitely provide it.
What was it about the subway that made it a perfect setting for the film?
Nimrod Antal: Initially it was more the occupation, the job that was interesting. You have all these people that are really despised by society. There's all kinds of prejudices. They go through all kinds of verbal and physical atrocities day in and day out. I got to a point where I thought these guys were so cool. They go through so much.
Is it really that bad as a ticket checker?
Nimrod Antal: It really is that bad. It's exhausting for them. The actor and I, before shooting, joined them for one hour. It was crazy. It was scary, physically and emotionally. You just get tired out. That's what I thought was really cool. Because in Hungary, you have the buses, the trams, the trolleys, and the metro system. The metro guys are like the commandos. They get bigger pay because of draft pay. They're standing in a draft all day. The air is really bad down there. They get a little more.
Like hazard pay, when you consider all the other dangers also.
Nimrod Antal: Exactly, they go through all kinds of pyschiatric evaluations because of all the atrocities. The location was a given at that point. I remember when I was kid and first seing it, because I grew up on the [American] west coast. It was a trip just to go down and see that world, especially a Hungarian one. All Eastern Europe has this ominous design, this Soviet design. You feel like you're in a Kafka book.
In the beginning of the film, there's a disclaimer by the subway chief. Why did they let you shoot the film as is? Were they horrified by the result? Did they try to change it?
Nimrod Antal: They flat out said no when we approached them with the script. No way in hell, because they are despised by society in Hungary; for whatever reason. So, the head of the metro system didn't want to put his people through it. We stopped production. He closed us down. Through one of those weird episodes in life, I happened to know someone who knew him. He got me through the door. It took me nine months and six meetings of me telling him that I wouldn't portray them in a bad light. I root for the underdog. I want these guys to be humorous and endearing. I don't want to paint them as bad guys. It took a little time, but once I got over that hurdle, they didn't give me any problems on location.
Free reign while you were shooting down there?
Nimrod Antal: Pretty much, we only had four to five hours to shoot every day, from eleven at night to four in the morning.
How long was the shooting schedule?
Nimrod Antal: Forty days, I don't think you can tell from the production quality. I think it looks pretty good, considering that metro guy scared the hell out of me. He told me he would only do it if I changed some stuff in the script, which never happened. They didn't edit us at all, except the disclaimer. He told me he was going to have it in front of the film. I was so mad...
It actually adds to the film.
Nimrod Antal: It takes it to a completely different level. I was very fortunate. Some people think it's fake, like an actor. That is the real dude. That's his monologue.
What was the reaction once they saw the completed product?
Nimrod Antal: They were hesitant, but they actually didn't see it until it was released theatrically. They didn't ask to see it beforehand. It had really warm reception in Hungary, after the fact. People become more nice to the ticket inspectors.
So it was well received and that took the heat off.
Nimrod Antal: Actually, there's an award ceremony every year for people that work for the transportation system. It's a really big and prestigous thing to get in the company. They usually give an award to reporters for positive propoganda. That year, they gave it to us.
Tell our readers a little bit about yourself. You've got an interesting story.
Nimrod Antal: I was born in Los Angeles. My parents were Hungarian. We kept on going back when I was a kid. I came from a broken home, you know, shit was going down. I didn't want to stick around. Later in life, when things got rough, I wanted to get out of the situation and what better place than Hungary. I had really fond memories there as a kid. It was a naive decision on my part but a great experience. I got there when I was seventeen. I moved back alone.
How long where you there for?
Nimrod Antal: I'm thirty-one now, but I just moved back to Los Angeles.
You didn't go to film school in U.S.?
Nimrod Antal: No, I went to the Academy of Film and Drama in Budapest. I was accepted as a D.P. (director of photography), but I asked them if I could direct in my first year. My dad died that year and it messed me up, we were so tight. I went back and asked again to direct. At that point, for whatever reason, maybe out of empathy, they said alright. I didn't step foot in the U.S. for eight years. I'd been directing commercials and was really frustrated with what I was doing. It wasn't emotionally fullfilling. I was really miserable.
So how did Kontrol come out of all that?
Nimrod Antal: I got so miserable. I came here to be a filmmaker and I'm making frozen vegetable commercials. It taught me lot and I was able to support myself, but it wasn't what I wanted to do. January first of 2000, we went down in the metro with eight actors and we shot a fictional trailer. I wrote the script after the trailer, kind of backwards, but I kew in my mind what I wanted it to be about. I finished up in 2001 and met a wealthy German businessman. He's a really wealthy dude who I think feels guilty about his success in life. He likes to support young broke guys who make movies. (Laughs) He loaned us $200,000 dollars. I told him straight up, this is a Hungarian movie. They never break even. He said, well if you do make it back, just make it back two-fold.
I think he's pretty happy with the result. Are you surprised by the international success so far?
Nimrod Antal: Yeah! I'm really emotional about it. I didn't think it would be received this way.
Has it opened up any opportunities in America for you?
Nimrod Antal: I'm a little superstitious so I don't want to blow anything, but I do have representation from an agency. I'm just waiting for an opportunity to arise. I would love to do my own thing, but I got a baby on the way. I got responsibilities to deal with, so if they offer me Alien 5, I'm doing it.
Congratulations! So you've got no problem with directing the big Hollywood film?
Nimrod Antal: You know what? Any director who says that is full of shit.
Does your next film have to be a Hollywood film? Would you do another small Hungarian movie?
Nimrod Antal: I don't really approach it as a career. I would love to do an American film, but just the thought that I could jump on a plane and go back to Hungary, right now, write a script and get a million dollars to film it. I love that. I don't feel this is a do or die situation. But like I said before, I'm financially stable at this point, so an American film would be nice.
Getting back to the film, I was impressed by how stylized it was. Who were your influences?
Nimrod Antal: Man, they're so many. I could start rattling off names.
Give me four or five directors, your favorite film as a kid.
Nimrod Antal: In high school, Bladerunner, Kubrick for me is the king. Taxi Driver, I love Martin Scorsese. I love Gangs of New York.
You seem to like the gritty, hard-edged films.
Nimrod Antal: I love those films. David Fincher, he's the best contemporary guy. But growing up, I loved all kinds of movies. They're just so many, some Hungarian directors also.
Istvan Sabo? Do you like his work?
Nimrod Antal: Oh man, the only reason why I won in Copenhagen is because of him. He's been so supportive from the beginning.
Do you feel that you're the new "it" director from Hungary?
Nimrod Antal: No, I'm not that guy. There's a bunch of younger guys also. My generation has gotten really, really lucky.
Is there a new focus on the arts in Hungary? Is the government very supportive?
Nimrod Antal: Not as much as they should be, but they are definitely helping. The budget of the film was $800,000 dollars. $200,000 dollars came from the German businessman, but the government paid for the other three fourths. And that's nonrefundable, we don't have to pay that back.
That would never happen here.
Nimrod Antal: It's good support, but at the same time they have a limit for how much they can give you.
I'm so curious, is Nimrod a common name in Hungary?
Nimrod Antal: No, it's a weird name there too. It's a fucked up name wherever you go. I get heat for it all the time. There's nothing that anybody else can say to me. I've heard it all. Maybe Nimrod will finally pay off. (Laughs).
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