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New Talent: Igor Zimmermann
05/12/2012
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Director-come Sahara explorer extraordinaire
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Igor Zimmermann claims to have made his first movie before he had even left his mother’s womb. Claiming to be somewhat of a pre-natal Mel Gibson, directing and starring in his own ultrasound scan feature films, his adventures haven’t lapsed. Him and two friends travelled the Western Sahara, dodging military checkpoints, armed only with a jeep, Canon 5D cameras, gasoline and silly wigs. LBB finds out the result below.
 
LBB> How would you describe your work?
 
IZ> My work is all about being curious and pushing ideas as far as they go. I'd love to create work that is very cinematic but based on something human and honest.
 
LBB> Do you remember the first time you picked up a camera?
 
IZ> Well I made some shorts a few months before being born because my mum would go for ultrasound scans… The doctor would tap on her belly as a cue for me to switch to a new position and hold it as he snapped another shot. After a few hours we would usually have enough footage for a brief stop-motion film. 
 
Most films were slapstick skits with me directing and playing all the characters – I was kind of a Mel Gibson of the womb. Pretty rich on stunts, but lean on story…
 
LBB> Where did you learn your craft? Did you go to university? If so what did you study?
 
IZ> I did and still do my learning by doing! Also by listening to DVD commentaries with [director] Paul Thomas Anderson talking about listening to DVD commentaries. I went to art school and studied graphic design and art direction. It wasn't film school, but working with different kinds of ideas in visual ways was pretty sweet.
 
LBB> Your short film La Pierre et La Vitesse is a 12 minute short made up of still photos – what led you to creating a film in this way? What do you think the removal of motion brings to the storytelling?
 
IZ> I love how stills present something very immediate but also let you make up your own story that there's something in the gaps between images that's a bit bigger than one could have perceived. 
 
The film was commissioned by a fashion label and had an open brief, but I thought that just pretty pictures with a model felt boring. I would rather shoot ideas, characters or a human portrait that I could really get behind. The budget was tiny so we couldn't afford both film gear and travels - this made for great inspiration in this case. I wrote a ten-page script with my ideas and pitched it. 
 
We traded motion, expensive equipment and a film studio for stills and the gasoline needed to drive to Western Sahara. I got my photographer friends Marcus Palmqvist and Frode Fjerdingstad onboard and shot it with them. 
 
La Pierre et La Vitesse has since lived a happy life with screenings at places such as Le Centre Pompidou, The Lincoln Center, El Museo Guggenheim Bilbao. It has also been shown at a number of international film festivals.
 
 
LBB> The film was shot in Norway and the Western Sahara – there are some spectacular shots of the blue figure leaping around the red desert rocks. How did you alight upon the idea of shooting in the desert? And in terms of practicalities, what was the shoot like? What challenges did you face working in such a stark dramatic landscape?
 
IZ> The idea was to create rich, epic imagery so I wrote it as a vehicle for that. We sat down and looked at a world map to see what locations excited us – Frode had been in Morocco before and enjoyed his experience. 
 
Once we were in the desert, it was all about rolling up our sleeves and creating the imagery we had set out to get. We each had our own Canon 5D camera and shot all of the images together. Everything was very lo-fi and we sometimes slept in the jeep we were travelling in. 
 
Also, we didn't have the benefit of any location scouting. The shipwreck was found using Google maps satellite view because they are easily findable when you scroll along the West African coast. We did have some paper printouts of that before leaving, but as we reached our first wreck we realised the satellite data was old and that the wreck had washed away to sea years ago. Luckily we had a backup. 
 
A lot was shot in occupied areas. As a result, there were many discussions at military checkpoints about why we had so much photo equipment, buckets of blue powder, neon shoelaces, gallons of gasoline (for self-made pyrotechnic effects), a big silver flute and weird wigs. The post-process after the shoot was me being locked in a room for a month, sorting out the 22,000 stills that we took and finding a true language for the edit.
 
LBB> I love your film Two Chaps in a Park! The film as it exists is a demo – what are your ambitions for the mechanical theatre?
 
IZ> It's a theatre play with mechanical actors that some awesomely talented friends and I built from scratch. There is a simple video record of it online but it was built to experience live. The user presses a button and it performs from start to finish – it's all run by computers and microcontrollers. 
 
The animated video backdrop is actually a 3D display. Unfortunately the whole setup was smashed in transport as the two actors tipped over inside a freighter truck. Our dreams of theatre festivals and just letting this thing have a life of its own were crushed then and there. 
 
The idea was to go in an opposite direction to the epic macho robots of Michael Bay [Executive Producer Transformers]. I aimed for more like a Woody Allen take on it – a pair of frail fellas that maybe are a little bitter, hurt and longing. They did brake easily so at least they were great at staying in character. We'd love to do more.
 
 
LBB> As well as films and interactive projects, you’ve also created sculptures and installations, such as the Nike Sportswear sculpture. Why do you enjoy playing with different media?
 
IZ> I just follow ideas or questions that seem like they might have really interesting answers. Then it's just about finding the most exciting or affordable shoes to dance around in. The robot theatre came from a desire to write a dialogue piece that could go on for a few minutes just on the strength of its writing. Silly character design and robots is just something else that I've been trying to do for ages. It was financed by TBWA, who approached me with a lot of trust and freedom to create ‘something’ for one of their clients. 
 
The Nike sculpture was a backup idea because my first proposal was an elaborate stuntman project. They were afraid of all the fire I wanted to use, and probably the goofiness of it... so that didn't happen. I see the Nike work as more of a warm-up and learning experience in terms of starting to work with engineering and design in elaborate ways. The theatre was a more fun and creative take on it. 
 
As I said earlier, I'd like to create films with cinematic worlds that feel real and honest rather than designed and orderly. To find exciting moments with mages that aren’t so blatantly storyboarded is something that I aim for. 
 
I've shot some documentary work lately just so that I have a fresher take on fiction. However it is nice to sometimes do these non-film projects that are centered around experiment and design.
 
LBB> Who are your creative heroes?
 
IZ> There are too many too say, really. I'll gobble up anything that moves me. Some favourite filmmakers would be Spike Jonze and Paul Thomas Anderson. I'll buy any photobook by Vivianne Sassen and I love the genius animations of David Oreilly. I’m really looking forward to Shynola’s feature film. Loads of Phillip K Dick and Haruki Murakami is on my bookshelf. I read Dave Eggers ‘You Shall Know Our Velocity’ when it came out and want to revisit it. 
 
A mixed bag of names, ranging from skate to comedy: Jerry Hsu, Rob Bottin, Jim Carrey, Harris Savides, Charlie Kaufman, Rodney Mullen, Rinko Kawauchi, Shel Silverstein, Ana Kras, Seijun Suzuki, Raymond Carver, Keita Takahashi, Tim & Eric.
 
See more from Igor at: http://igorzimmermann.com
 
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