Director Jan Hrebejk
Q:Up and Down is your first film that takes place in the present...
A: Writing the screenplay was a very natural process. My co-writer, Petr Jarchovsky told me about the story of a lost child reported in a television report about refugees. I also drew inspiration from the story of a Czech friend of mine from Los Angeles, about his emigration thirty years ago. We added a few true stories that we experienced or had heard of and the rest was fictional.
Q: The main themes in your films, whilst having comic spark, are always very serious. Can you expand on your fascination with "great events" playing out in the background of "little stories"?
A: With our previous films we never said: "Now we'll make a film about the Holocaust or the occupation." We have always been intrigued by a certain character or story. Up and Down was no different. We always look for something compelling in our stories and in the humanity of the characters whose stories we are telling. In a sense, it's a sort of plebian view of the world; history goes on regardless of our little characters. Our heroes don't make history; instead they are usually its victims.
Q: Can you describe your inspiration for this new film?
A: Our main inspiration is what we see around us and not what we see in the theater. Personally, British cinema, for example Mike Leigh's Secrets and Lies and Stephen Daldry's Billy Elliot, is very inspiring. It's contemporary and I see similarities in my work and their use of dialogue and character within the narrative. I also consider the work of Woody Allen and Milos Forman to be masterful.
Q: Why did you cast Vaclav Havel (Award winning writer, and former President of The Czech Republic) in your film? A: The Burmese dissident couple in our film was inspired by my wife's work for Amnesty International. At the time, she was working on an exhibition of photographs on Burma held under the auspices of then President Vaclav Havel. I knew that his participation in the film could contribute to the believability of this element of the narrative.
Q: How did you choose the music for Up and Down?
A: The composer of the music is my long-time friend and collaborator Ales Brezina, who also composed the music to Divided We Fall. We worked with Goran Bregovi and Slobodan Dedeji (who have worked many times with award-winning director Emir Kusturica), and a number of top-notch Serbian musicians including Boban Markovi Orkestar and Ognjen Popovi. In addition, rising London club star Luk Richie with the current biggest Czech singing star Dan Barta, worked on the film.
Q: Can you talk about the stars of Up and Down?
A: Besides Jan Triska (Oto) (a great Czech film and theater star of the 1960s who now lives in Los Angeles), we had the pleasure of working with Milos Forman's son Petr Forman (Martin) and Slovak actress Emilia Vasaryova (Vera), who first appeared in Vojtech Jasny's When The Cat Comes, which won three major awards at the Cannes Film Festival in 1964.
Q: Where did you shoot the film?
A: Cinematographer, Jan Malir and I filmed in real apartments and on the streets in the center of Prague, often in a semi-documentary style. We were inspired by Steven Soderbergh's Traffic, which I personally consider one of the best films in recent years, in terms of style and cinematography. Q: Part of the film takes place in Australia. What was it like to work there?
A: Milos Forman's brother Pavel and his family have lived in Brisbane, Australia since the end of the 1960s and helped us a great deal. Some of the scenes were actually filmed in their backyard.
Q: Can you talk about the look and the sound of the film?
A: For the first time, we were shooting in CinemaScope and processed the image electronically after editing. We took our inspiration from Traffic and Amores Perros when deciding on the color hues. As for the music, we found the musicians among Balkan jazzmen and in a rock club in London. An Interview with co-screenwriter Petr Jarchovsky
Co-writer Petr Jarchovsky
Q:Up and Down is your first film set in the present day. How different was this for yourself and director Jan Hrebejk when writing the film?
A: I can't say that we think about our films as historical or contemporary. Films that are set in the past have to resonate with today's viewers. Otherwise, they wouldn't have a chance to catch the interest of the audience. Basically, we are drawn to tales, which then have to take place in a certain period. The period itself is secondary because we are interested in the human characters and how they react and change in certain historical contexts. So we didn't plan anything, but when we decided on a contemporary theme we were happy for the chance to show our audience something different. We reveled in the opportunity to break out of the "nostalgic retro-comedy" box we are often placed in.
Q: How is it different to write a screenplay when you are describing a reality that you know well and live in?
A: You don't have to work with sources as much to check reality, because you're living in the present and contexts are obvious. It gives you a kind of freedom and you can concentrate more on the fate of your characters.
Q: But viewers can possibly be more critical of a contemporary narrative...
A: Everyone sees the present from his or her own point of view and that is what's exciting about it. We are not looking for some wide consensus, but we are trying to pose questions about our period and ourselves.
Q: As a screenwriter, do you participate in the selection of actors?
A: It's one of the most pleasant phases of preparing the film; a sort of daydreaming and I'm happy that I can be a part of it. I owe a debt of thanks to all the actors who worked on Up and Down. It was exciting and inspiring to watch how their talent enriched the filmmakers' collaboration and made it into a film that I stand behind completely.
Q: Last year you worked on PUPENDO, now Up and Down. What are your future screenwriting plans?
A: We are working on the second version of a love story, which is still very much a work in progress. It will be a story told on two levels, where the common past and present of our characters will play out. I see it as a tragicomedy, a story of forgotten childhood love that unexpectedly comes to life.
Q: Two films that you wrote the script for (ZELARY and DIVIDED WE FALL) were nominated for a Best Foreign Film Oscar. Some would call that a great success. How is it reflected in your work today?
A: I have more peace in my work and I'm not as tortured by existential problems. I'm a bit wiser, but on the other hand I'm a bit more careful. You gain something and you lose something. The biggest advantage is that I can continue to work on themes that interest me and that are close to me and I don't have to adjust to the tastes of others.