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Timur Bekmambetov

Director - "Night Watch", "Wanted"
Interview by: 
Cap'n Kunz

HV: First, before I barrage you with my series of probing inquiries, congratulations on the amazing success of Night Watch, and thanks for taking time to answer some questions for and its readership.

When watching your film I was really blown away by how visually bold and imaginative Night Watch is. With a relatively small budget that equates to around 4 million dollars, you made an eye-catching, effects-filled epic that looks like it cost more than twenty times that amount. How did you and your collaborators overcome the budgetary constraints to accomplish this?

My experience with Roger Corman gave me a sense of what filmmaking is. His secret of how to be creative is to imitate the budgets of bigger films - meaning to get the maximum value from acting, style and story. (Note: In 2000 Timur made Gladiatrix {aka The Arena} which Roger Corman produced).

Night Watch gives the audience a complex world that balances the real and the unreal by integrating the imaginary and fantastic with the realities of everyday. The film's success of bringing to life the fantasy elements relies predominantly on CG effects, but you seemed willing to employ traditional make-up and prosthetic effects as well. What can you tell us about your approach to special effects as a filmmaker's tool?

That was the most interesting part of the work. You create a world that isn't really there, but the audience believes in it, because it captivates. We developed and produced most of the CGI in Russia and Ukraine. About 100 professionals were involved, from over 20 different freelance studios. During the making of the film they were temporarily united into one unit, working towards the same goal, with all communications taking place over the internet. We created a unique "pipeline," and now that the second film is in the making, we have developed software that allows us to control this complex system. This was the only way to bring these peopletogether without actually bringing them together, physically, and without disrupting their work at the studios; instead, each one sets aside part of one's time for the project. This approach proved very cost- effective.

This juxtaposition between that which might be termed the "unreal" and "real" seems to reach towards a type of surrealism that is prevalent in many horror and fantasy films. What can you tell us about this element in Night Watch?

Night Watch mythologizes everyday life. Everything in the movie is truthful. Every element, every character, every location... An unfulfilled dream, a secret fear, an all-but-forgotten childhood memory, a toy you suspected to contain some living thing in its hollow inside... The film is full of objects, concepts and images that have a history, things that surround us in reality and that are, for me, THE reality - not the objective reality, but my own, the way I see it. The doll "Mashenka" stands for a whole era in Soviet Russia, when every little girl played with this kind of doll, and didn't have much else to play with. The yellow "ZIL" trucks have the same degree of significance for the Russian audience as, say, the yellow cab for the American viewer.

There's a line in Night Watch, and I'm paraphrasing, that says, "To destroy the light in himself would be easier than to fight the immense darkness that exists all around him." Would you elaborate on this a little in relation to its importance to the film and your philosophical approach to the material?

Everything in the world is interconnected, even if we can't see it. A man can change the world's history. This thought makes me excited.

Night Watch has a fairly straightforward premise, but the actual story and its plot are somewhat complex. With this in mind, when working on this epic trilogy, how do you as the director, for the sake of consistency and coherency, balance the larger picture and the smaller intricacies without becoming too overwhelmed by the immense scope of it all?

I guess, like the master-schemer characters in the film, one has to know where one is heading, figure out all the steps to get there - and then sort of forget about it for a while and have fun along the way.

Someone once said (and I'm paraphrasing again) that an artist is never truly done working on a particular piece of art, but rather, at some point they are merely required to stop. It's not uncommon for a filmmaker to want to make changes to his or her film after they have stopped working on it. Was there anything that you wanted to change, either by adding or subtracting, and were able to alter after Fox acquired the rights to release Night Watch?

I refuse for as long as I can to give in to reality which dictates that all creative imagination must stop after the filming is over. As long as editing continues, our creative team keeps throwing in ideas, we try to make it better. A lot of things become clearer only when the final product is more or less put together. Fortunately, with editing and CGI (and an occasional re-shoot) a lot can be achieved.

Thankfully the U.S. release of Night Watch is subtitled rather than dubbed. The subtitles are integrated in a truly innovative and effective way that actually complements the film rather than distracting from it. Whose inspired idea was this?

We created these subtitles with our editor Dmitriy Kisilev. It's very important figure in the film. It's separate hero, leading the viewers through the whole movie

I imagine those who see Night Watch will be very curious about the next two films, Day Watch and Dusk Watch. At the risk of asking too much, what can you tell us about the next two films? Also, according to what I have read, the third film, Dusk Watch, will be filmed in English. How will this transition between the two Russian language films be achieved while maintaining continuity?

The second movie Day Watch - is the end of the story that begins in the first movie. It is more ironic, a little bit sentimental, full of special effects. Dusk Watch - we're in pre-production. It'll be quite different from 2 previous films. We made a movie about Russia for a Russian audience. American movies in Hollywood style, Russian and French, commercials, computer games - we joined everything together but we made it especially for Russian people. It was local. But then I understood that local means unique, and it is interesting for everybody. I don't know the mechanism of transition yet, I simply enjoy entertaining people.

Once again, thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule, and on behalf of Horrorview -best wishes and continued success!