Director’s

Inspirational Directors’ dialogue where we invite them to
share some thoughts about their film craft

talk

CREATING FILM WHILE
THE HOUSE IS ON FIRE

MAURUS

VOM SCHEIDT

(Germany)

On a late Friday afternoon, we sit down with German director Maurus vom Scheidt over Zoom. We talk for just about an hour, discussing his work as a director, talking about his views on making commercials, the future of the industry, and about how the pandemic has affected and will affect the things we create. If you’re not familiar with Maurus, check out his work for Das Erste, Kaufland, Balenciaga, and McDonald’s.

THE PRESSURE IS OFTEN SO HIGH, THAT PEOPLE WILL DIG WHERE GOLD HAS BEEN FOUND BEFORE.

Maurus Vom Scheidt

Maurus, you create many different types of films and commercials. If you had to describe your work in three words, what would those words be?

Maurus: (without hesitation) “Emotion, emotion, emotion. I think that’s the bottom line. For me, storytelling is about looking closely. Staying true to the characters you portray. From this basis I constantly try to expand my field of expression.”

Do you feel like you’re put in a certain box as a director? For example, are you the ‘feel-good’ director, or the ‘warm and cozy’ director?

Maurus: “Well, you always struggle against the box you’re in. In my experience in the commercial industry, there’s little out of the box thinking. The pressure is often so high, that people will dig in the spot where gold has been found before. So if you have made a successful film in a certain genre, those that want to create that genre will come knocking on your door. The variety sometimes dissipates, but you try to work around the box you’re put in.”

So how do you convince a client to hire you for a job that’s outside of your box?

Maurus: “When people are open, they might see something in your work that goes beyond a certain category. That’s one of the reasons why I loved doing the Balenciaga commercial – they completely trusted me, even though it was so different. Although at the same time it wasn’t, because it’s all about emotions. They came to me because of two Christmas commercials I made.”

Find an interesting angle. Avoid clichés. Make it personal.

So Balenciaga said: ‘Do it like your Christmas commercials, only make it fashion’?

Maurus: Laughs. “Not really no. But they wanted the same kind of warmth and positive vibe. Very emotional vignettes. Once we had established what the basic mood and feel of the film should be, they left most of the creative decisions to me. So I outlined like 20 vignettes for them and they picked the ones they thought would fit best, and I took it from there. It was a very productive dialogue.”

If the essence is emotion, do you approach every project similarly; try to find the emotional angle?

Maurus: “When I said that my work in 3 words is emotion, emotion, emotion, that was of course a bit silly because filmmaking – like storytelling in general – is all about emotions. So there’s always emotion in a story, but it’s about finding an interesting angle to portray the action from. For example, a funny Christmas commercial is probably the one that will stand out amongst the tearjerkers. Even better: one that is dramatic and on top of that, is funny. So, in that case, a lighthearted moment can be the perfect balance for drama and tears. Adding contrast often completes a story, because life usually isn’t one-dimensional either.

A big part of the job is to create something that makes that message work in an emotional context. Avoiding clichés. There’s an interesting story in everything, even if the premise seems cliché. It just depends on your angle. I think that’s where a lot of potential is in my job: To find something that I can attach to personally, and then the viewer as well. Make it personal.”

There’s an interesting story in everything, even if the premise seems cliché.

Maurus Vom Scheidt

When you have a short format, you have to work with broader brush strokes.

Maurus Vom Scheidt

It’s not about the length, but about what you want to convey.

Do you think it’s possible in a short commercial to achieve the same level of personal connection as you are able to get in a feature film? Can you create a strong feature-like narrative in under a minute?

Maurus: “Of course you cannot unfold the same kind of depth in 30 seconds as in 90 minutes. But in terms of craftsmanship, I don’t think it’s all that different… It’s the same toolkit.

I try to bring in as much detail as I can, to really do some layering. In the end you have a limited amount of time both in feature and commercials, so what it comes down to is: make it count.

And of course, when you have a short format, sometimes you have to work with broader brush strokes. For example, I’m doing four 15 second films in October for a client; I finished the storyboard this morning. I worked a lot on adding detail, but in some places you end up realizing… It’s only 15 seconds. That just doesn’t allow for much detail, so you have to be super-efficient and create drama in those 15 seconds, and it’s possible.

There’s a Tim Godsall commercial for a short film festival that makes a hilarious comment on how to establish characters in short formats: the shorter you get, the less gray area you can have. You have to get to the point quite quickly. On the other hand, not answering all the questions is vital to interesting storytelling. You don’t intrigue by playing your audience for fools.”

Do you enjoy working in a short format or do you prefer having more room to really create?

Maurus: “Well, I love films where you keep discovering new stuff, and you don’t get tired of it. That makes for quality. If I can put that in there, great. So I don’t really have a preference in length. Some commercial scripts will only give you a tagline of two sentences, and then they will ask you to write something – much like Balenciaga, where I had so much creative freedom. And sometimes you get a script where every comma was placed meticulously and you have to see how much you can add. If it’s a great script, short or long; wonderful – let’s shoot it.”

Is it hard to fight for your creative ideas? How do you go about collaborating with an agency’s creatives, for instance?

Maurus: “I find that you can open doors when you create an atmosphere of respect and understanding. There’s so much hard work that goes into a script until the point where it actually lands on my desk and so I do my best to give it respect and to add to it, rather than trying to force something onto the people on the other side of the table.

I often experience that once you establish that feeling of respect, people will start to give back trust. And to be honest, most of the time you can tell from the first script whether it’s open for interpretation or not. So, the idea is to choose wisely, really. Even so, I’ve been surprised in the past to see what someone else made of a script I rejected because maybe I thought it wasn’t inspiring or it wasn’t for me.”

Moviemaking is about looking closely, and it’s the same with finding inspiration. You have to look closely, and it’ll come to you.

Maurus Vom Scheidt

Creativity in survival mode.

What inspires you, or where do you get your inspiration?

Maurus: “Really, I get it from all kinds of places. I collect photo books, I love to browse around in bookstores. Usually I don’t have too much time for that, but recently was really the perfect opportunity to spend some time doing that.

Aside from that I go to concerts and spend a lot of time to search for new music and of course I listen to tons of music. Moviemaking is about looking closely, and it’s the same with finding inspiration. You have to look closely. Sometimes that means to pause and look into another direction, to let go in a way, in order to find the missing piece.

I used to watch tons of movies for inspiration. I still do, but the more you’ve seen the harder it gets to be super surprised by a film. I also visit exhibitions and museums. There are beautiful museums here in Munich, and they were even better during the lockdown, that was really amazing to experience: you were basically alone. That was the most inspiring thing; having so much time in front of these paintings with no one else interrupting.”

How was the lockdown for you? Were you extra creative or were you in survival mode with no room for creativity?

Maurus: “Everybody has their moments of panic, it’s only natural to feel like that sometimes. I feel really lucky because I had a convenient coincidence. Three weeks before the lockdown I was in London doing grading for a project, and you could just see it coming. And still, I was able to add three days to my stay in London.

During that time, I went the Victoria & Albert museum where they had a special exhibit on Tim Walker photography, which was amazing. I visited the museum store – it’s really worth a visit, they do a great job there – and apparently Tim Walker had curated a bookshelf in the store. There was one classic in there about creativity called ‘The Artist’s Way’. It caught my eye and I started reading it on the plane ride home. The book is basically a twelve-week seminar in creativity and writing, about coming back to being creative and opening up. And then a little after I returned home, the lockdown happened. It was the perfect time to start the seminar. And I started to write a new feature film script. And to finally learn to play piano. So, it really came to me at the perfect time.”

The interesting conflict of having a nice family dinner when the house is on fire

Do you see the pandemic reflected in the types of projects that land on your desk? For instance, in Belgium we’re only allowed to see a limited amount of people. Shooting a big family Christmas dinner doesn’t seem realistic here. How has that been for you in Germany?

Maurus: “Well, I see two directions. One side is agencies that try to touch on themes that reflect the pandemic and everyday life. That makes total sense, as it is our reality now. If you look closely, the pandemic creates all sorts of immensely emotional implications. And in a storytelling business I think it makes total sense to reflect on this and to integrate that into the narrative.

On the other hand, not unlike in times of war, there’s a deep-rooted wish, that at least around Christmas time people turn to their families and everything should be warm and cozy and just fine. Somewhat understandable escapism. I think that it’s a reflection of our time. So, there is an interesting conflict there: to try and have a nice family dinner when the house is on fire. Which makes for quite an intriguing plot basis.”

Where do you see things going in the industry, how do you look at the future?

Maurus: “That’s an interesting question. I think the types of stories we see are definitely changing, but there will always be a need for stories, for people who make films. Probably we’re only witnessing the very beginning of a development of technical possibilities where everybody can make a story. Since anybody can create with their iPhone or whatever it is, there are so many brilliant little things, so much self-empowerment going on, it’s amazing.

At the same time, there’s the ever-accelerating speed of everything around us, and quick and easy availability at times becomes more important than depth. With that, the struggle is going to be to keep up the quality. But then again, if a story or an idea is really great, the technical qualities behind can become less important.

With social media being so global and involving more and more film we live in a time where, as a young creator, you really can be heard or seen.”

That’s part of our vision as well, there’s so much talent out there. Do you feel like it’s hard to compete?

Maurus: “Well I try to see it like in ‘Taxi Driver Wisdom’. It’s a nice read, oscillating between total banality and some really great lines. One of the lines really captures how I try to look at the competitive aspect of this industry: ‘If someone else catches your fish, it wasn’t your fish.’”

That’s a good way to look at it. Alternatively, what about when you catch all the fish. When you win several projects, how do you keep track of each when they overlap?

Maurus:“That’s easy: I involve every member of my family and they all must suffer with me. Laughs. No, really, I think sometimes making commercials feels like you’re juggling with many balls in the air at once, and somehow, I don’t mind having a few more balls up there. It’s like when, as a student, you have a hard time organizing yourself to even just do the groceries in time before the shops close. And then once you start working, and working more, you find that the farther you go, the more you get done. Work creates work, in a way. Efficiency creates more work.

There’s always space for more, but of course, there’s a limitation. It’s super important that sometimes, you just quit, just say no. You defend your own recreational, inspirational spaces. Otherwise, the work that comes out isn’t really good anymore.”

With that, I think we’ll let you have some resting time. Thanks for your time.

I involve every member of my family and they all must suffer with me.

Maurus Vom Scheidt

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