Zaciu brothers – young directors in America
Like Stanley Kubrick, one of the most influential filmmakers in cinematic history, once said, Never say no to an idea - you never know how that idea will ignite another idea. In the following interview we hear the story of two young filmmakers, Oliver and Sergio Zaciu, who dedicated their lives to the cinematic arts.
You are passionate filmmakers. Why did you choose this path, to study Fine Arts and Film Production?
O: It started when we were growing up, watching movies on a daily basis with our family. This brought joy to us. Watching movies and seeing their magic was an exciting thing. When I realized that there were a lot of people behind the movie working to make it happen I said, “I want to do that”!
S: When we were young we started doing theatre in school. After that we got very involved in music. We had a rock band in Romania and we did theatre productions in school. After a while, my brother Oliver started to work behind the scenes for the theatre productions (sound and light technician). After that, we also did still photography. Doing all these separate arts: theatre production, music, lights, sound and photography is the reason that we chose filmmaking, because it integrates all the art forms that we love.
You both graduated with a BFA in Film Production from the Chapman University, Dodge College of Film and Media Arts. How does this film school prepare students for the real world?
Sergio: The best way to explain how these schools prepare students is not necessarily in terms of how or what the faculty are teaching you, but the environment that the school provides; a place where you can meet the people who you’ll work with for your entire life. You make teams with people, making films together, reaching for the stars and mostly failing. Film school is about being ambitious, dreamy and a little bit crazy, and seeing if you can make something big. Usually the first 3 years of projects are not great, but by year 4 you can take your 3 years of experience and make a strong movie that will be your thesis film.
Oliver: The more mistakes you make the more you learn. What’s great is that you are going to shoot a movie every year at Chapman. It is among the film schools with the most projects in a year (appx. 400 a year). Younger students mostly learn from older students. The freshmen will work in small positions for the projects of the juniors and seniors who are teaching younger generations how to make movies. It is a school that teaches mostly by doing.
Sergio, you are currently a graduate student at the USC School of Cinematic Arts in Los Angeles. We know that this is a top university with an acceptance rate of 2-3%. How is it to be a student here, an institution that gave the world many personalities in filmmaking; like George Lucas, Ron Howard, Robert Zemeckis and so many more?
S: Because of the history of the school it’s an honor to be there. It is beautiful because of the legacy, and the fantastic filmmakers who currently teach at the school. The attitude is very positive and supportive; you can learn filmmaking in any way. You don’t have to focus on directing, you can be a little bit of everything if you want. My advice for young students would be this: try not to find the perfect school, but to make your current school the perfect one for you and be a self-teaching person.
Tell us a little bit about your family background: How did your cultural roots influence the art you are doing today?
S: We come from a very culturally mixed family. Our mother is from Turkey, our father from Romania and they met in Germany. As such, I think our most important influence is our extremely mixed cultural background.
O: I also think that there is a deeper cultural language that we definitely adopted into our work. We know the societies of every culture we have observed over our years on earth. We know Turkish and Romanian humor and expression. For example, Romanian stories are often walking the line between morals and manners, like my grandfather, Mircea Zaciu, used to say. He was a writer and made a short story collection where he spoke about the line between morals and manners and I think he expressed this very well.
S: Our short films are explorations of other cultures. We are very passionate about this idea of how culture influences behavior. We express cross cultural conflicts or miscommunications; you see people react differently in the same situations and this makes interactions very interesting.
Who were your mentors or your models who influenced you the most? Was there someone from your family?
S: Our parents first of all. Our father, Radu Zaciu, he was extremely important, he was actually the reason we chose this path, because he loved watching movies and when he came back from business trips from Germany he came with a lot of DVDs. We watched a lot of diverse movies all the time and this immersed us in the world of cinema. What separated us from our colleagues, was that we saw a lot of foreign films; Spanish, Iranian, Japanese, Korean, etc. Most of our favorite directors are from all over the world. This was a very important step in developing our taste as filmmakers.
O: Mentors outside of the family, more industry related would be our high school film teacher, Greg Jemison – he was really teaching us filmmaking, he put the first layer in our evolution and made us think critically about film and how it is told. More recently we were mentored by Cristian Mungiu. During this time he made us understand the realism of film.
O: Stanley Kubrick, Robert Altman, Michael Mann.
S: Edward Yang, Sofia Coppola, Cristian Mungiu.
You have made four awarded short films, which one of them laid the cornerstone of your debut in cinematic arts and what challenges did you encounter?
S: Intr-o Noapte dupa 30 Octombrie – a movie made in the summer of 2017. It was a wonderful experience, it made me truly understand what kind of movies I wanted to make. It is a very domestic drama about family, and it tries to capture the realism of Romanian family life. The big challenge we thought we would have was about the language, because we didn’t fluently speak Romanian and the actors were all Romanian. But luckily Romanians are good English speakers so we didn’t have any trouble with that.
O: Take me Home – my thesis film at college - doing this movie made me understand what my strengths are. It helped me understand the distinction in the type of movies that I like to make, combining the American and European style. American films in general feel like they are dreams rather than are reality that has been photographed and I liked finding a balance between that and the realism of European films.
What were the efforts and how much time did you give to your productions so far?
S: The costs are much higher in America because it’s a very saturated market. If you want to film in a restaurant or in a coffee shop it will have big costs because somebody probably filmed there in the past. It is difficult in Los Angeles because you need a permit for which you have to apply and pay for, and everything is very strictly controlled. Making movies in Europe is less difficult and more freeing.
What challenges do filmmakers encounter while producing a movie? What can you share with us from your experience so far?
O: At the end of the day I think the most important role that you have to play is keeping the team together. The hardest part is to keep that up. Under all the complications, you need to move in many directions. You often see people losing their temper. A friend of mine says, “calm is contagious”, so you need leadership skills to keep this going. Filmmakers shouldn’t take themselves too seriously. After all, you’re making a movie.
S: The hardest parts is keeping everyone together and positive. No film is going to be 100 percent like you planned, so stay optimistic!
What awards did you receive for the short films made so far? Did you expect it?
S: First award was for my thesis film in 2016. We didn’t expect to win the award, but we really didn’t think about it. Our priority was to make sure that people see our movie. If you are making movies for the trophies, then you are making them for the wrong reason. It’s more important to see the movie than to win a trophy. Important to say is that the movie that we made in Romania was watched during the film festival in Mexico - for me it was a much bigger honor to see the movie there, than it was to win an award for “best screenwriting” for my thesis film.
O: Take me Home was the most celebrated movie. People very often commented at the end of the movie and wanted to speak with me about the scenery and the characters.
Pop Verve is your first feature film. Depict the idea behind the movie and how was it born. How is the production going so far?
S: Pop Verve is about a DJ who lives in L.A. with his manager. After 1 year of trying becoming successful in L.A. they get into many comic situations. The film is about the ego and artificial elements in the industry. Morals and manners like we mentioned earlier. It’s mostly a satire of Los Angeles, and can be seen as an outsider’s perspective of America.
O: It is about the corrupt nature of L.A., of the entertainment world, about fame, about people being preoccupied with selfies and careful about the language they use in order not to get in trouble.
Have you put yourself in the shoes of a character so far? If so, which one did you choose and why?
O: Yes, this is pretty much what you do as a director, you have to put yourself in the shoes of all the characters in order to express how they think and act.
S: In the case of Pop Verve, you are looking at two young guys looking for fame and you may be thinking it’s us, because the movie is about searching for success. The two characters are very much like us, one is more a dreamer, like me and the other one is more realistic, like my brother, Oliver. He is always bringing me with my feet on the ground.
What is your biggest fear as a film producer?
S: That the cinema might be dying, people are watching a lot more movies at home. We have a lot of respect for blockbusters, but there are a lot of good movies that aren’t blockbusters and don’t receive a chance for the big screen.
O: From my opinion, audiences just don’t want anything other than the blockbuster movies and this might become a problem for the industry and the art of filmmaking.
What are your motivations? What is the trigger that keeps you going even if sometimes things don’t work out the way you planned?
S: It’s just adrenaline, being able to tell the story and show it to the world.
O: It’s the unending desire to capture something. A moment, a feeling, an energy. When things don’t go as planned, maybe you didn’t catch something important while shooting, the hardest part is how you capture it again.\
What is the secret behind your success so far? Is there a well thought and applied recipe? A habit? Or maybe a person that inspires/supports you?
O: I honestly think that the most important thing is that we have each other, we push each other to grow, having our lovely family by our side. We put the team first, if there is any secret, it is that Sergio and I have a very strong relationship. There is a strong energy and connection between us.
S: Determination. You can never stop doing moviemaking. It is about being there and not giving up.
What abilities you want to further develop in the future?
S: With every project you want to challenge yourself to do something that you haven’t done before. You need to think from a life perspective – what are the things that you don’t know how to do and do exactly that.
O: I want to learn how to do stunts!!!
Have you ever imagined a world without art? How would it look like?
O&S: No! We don’t think there can be a world without art, art is in all forms of our life.
The most important thing is that we have each other, we push each other to grow, with our lovely family by our side