By Charmaine Gorman – Next up in our expat filmmakers in Berlin series, we talk with Australian filmmaker Ivan Malekin about his experience filming a completely improvised film in Berlin, as well as other worldwide locations.
Ivan is originally from Melbourne, Australia but is currently living in Malta with his partner in both film and life, Sarah Jayne. Their film, In Corpore, is a completely improvised feature that explores love, sex, and betrayal by delving into the contrasting relationships and cultures of four different couples around the world. Even though Ivan and Sara Jane both have a few films under their creative belts already within their company Nexus Production Group, Ivan says that making this film has been one of the most enriching experiences of their filmmaking careers. And because of the improvisation process, they have ditched the idea of making films in the traditional ‘script to screen’ method and jumped head-on into creating films using improvisation and exploration with actors and love the buzz of never quite knowing where exactly story is going to take them. He says its more exciting that way, so……
Why did you want to become a filmmaker?
Ivan – I was a late bloomer when it came to filmmaking; I didn’t grow up with dreams of making movies, instead, I wanted to be a writer. As a child, I wrote stories, and as a teenager, these stories become novels I was constantly working on and sharing with my friend Patrick Siscar. I would go on to do a Degree in Professional Writing and even managed to finish the first drafts of two separate novels, one an epic fantasy like The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the other a young adult fantasy novel like Throne of Glass.
But it was also during University that I met another writer – Heath Novkovic – and he had a penchant for scriptwriting and filmmaking in the horror genre. He would recruit me to act in his films, playing the stereotypical slasher villain under a mask, and gradually this would develop into helping with script writing and even directing. Thus the addiction to filmmaking began.
What (if any) challenges did you face when filming in Berlin, and how was the experience?
Ivan -Filming in Berlin was a wonderful experience. The moment we began advertising for cast and crew on social media we were inundated with applicants and had so many passionate and talented creatives to choose from.
One particular challenge I remember was turning the apartment we hired as our character’s home into the Berlin bohemian look we needed. My partner and co-directed Sarah Jayne began her film career as a Production Designer, so she usually takes care of the art department on our sets, but as we were flying in from Malta we couldn’t bring the props we needed with us, and upon arrival we only had one day in the apartment before we began shooting, so there wasn’t enough time to find all the props in a city we didn’t know.
But luckily Katherine Sultan came on board as a Production Designer at the last minute (even though we never initially advertised for a production designer) and she brought with her assistants and a station wagon full of props and really made the apartment pop with the style we wanted.
Apart from that challenge – it was cold. Always so cold.
Where were your other locations around the world?
Ivan -We began the film in Melbourne last year in June where we were living at the time. We knew we were going to travel so we wanted to make a film while we travelled – so we began the story with fellow Nexus Production Group member Clara Francesca, who actually lives in New York, but is originally from Melbourne and was coming down to visit. The idea was to begin the story with her character in Melbourne and finish the story with her in New York. We were going to LA later in the year for the American Film Market so stopping by New York on the way made sense.
So that was two parts of the film planned – Melbourne and New York. Then in August, we relocated our lives to Malta. There we filmed another section, which was the most difficult, as we had no networks and had to begin from scratch. And finally, we finished the journey in Berlin in January this year.
How did you fill your crew and cast when you had so many different countries to film in?
Ivan – In Melbourne, we already had a big network of cast and crew to call upon as we had been making films for ten years there. We had either worked with each crewmember previously or we knew their work and wanted to work with them. The Melbourne indie scene is small – everyone tends to know of everyone – and once you have been doing it for awhile you get a sense of who is genuine and worth working with.
Malta was the biggest challenge. We landed and knew nobody in the film industry there. It is also a much more conservative country so the story we were telling about love and sex and the improvisational style we were using, along with deferred payment, and the fact the dialogue was in Maltese, probably turned a lot of people away. In the end, it was a Maltese actress named Naomi Knight who was studying in London, including Mike Leigh’s improvisational techniques that applied and won the lead role. Her co-lead ended up being Christopher Dingli, another actor who had spent a lot of time studying and working in London. They proved to be the perfect screen couple so we were very blessed to work with both.
Finding crew was similar. We kept pushing and pushing through the Facebook group called Film/TV Work Malta, had coffee with applicants, and eventually settled on the people we had the most rapport with.
New York crewing was handled by Clara, who is also the co-producer of In Corpore. We didn’t meet anyone until we arrived on the first day of set but we trusted Clara and sure enough, everyone was fantastic and there was a great chemistry on the team. In terms of acting, we cast Clara’s real-life partner and fellow actor Timothy McCown Reynolds as her husband, and the final cast member in New York was Amelia Hunter.
And finally, Berlin. We had already worked with one of the leads, Sarah Timm, back in Melbourne last year when she won the role of Josephine for a feature I produced called Choir Girl after a worldwide audition process. Sarah had moved from Frankfurt to Berlin and we knew we wanted to work with her again – she is an amazing actor – so we told her about In Corpore and she said yes. Kelsey Gillis, her co-lead, is a Canadian actress living in Berlin who applied and after a series of emails and a Skype chat and audition; we knew she was our perfect. Together, Sarah and Kelsey were incredible on screen. After such a great response to our call on Facebook for cast and crew, it was difficult to narrow the field down and select the final team. But that was a good challenge to have. Berlin really is an amazing creative hub.
What do you do when you are not making films?
Ivan – I work as a freelance video editor. Almost since arriving in Malta I have been lucky enough to have fairly constant work for a company called Monolith Productions. They are great at what they do and are great people too. In the limited time away from work and film I hop on a bus with Sarah Jayne and explore Malta or find somewhere in the sun to sit with a coffee and good book.
Any plans for the next project?
Ivan – We are concentrating on post-production now on a couple of big projects – In Corpore of course, and an educational video for Udemy highlighting the filmmaking process for our previous feature, Friends, Foes & Fireworks – also completely improvised, but filmed entirely in a single night on New Year’s Eve.
But we have a few things in the early stages of development. One of them is a sequel of sorts to Friends, Foes & Fireworks, continuing the story of two of the characters from the film, but taking them out of Melbourne and into Europe. Another is developing In Corpore into a television series – there are so many stories we can tell in this anthology format and so many relationships around the world to explore.
When can we see your latest film?
Ivan – In Corpore should be completed this summer. Then we will look for an SVOD or a VOD release on platforms like Amazon Prime, iTunes, Netflix, etc. either tackling the distribution ourselves through companies like Distribber or working with the sales agents who have taken our previous films.
Friends, Foes & Fireworks actually had a small cinema release in Melbourne on March 21st. So I am actually writing this from Melbourne, after the world premiere. After that, it will come to VOD on Amazon Prime and hopefully a few more platforms, and also DVD in North America.
Charmaine Gorman is an Australian actress and writer living in Berlin with her family. As a content writer and editor, she works for many clients around the world, and along with her husband, is the founder and content manager of the online travel guide My Guide Berlin