OSCAR LIVE ACTION SHORTS 2019 – SHORTLISTED TITLE SPECIAL – ‘CHUCHOTAGE’ INTERVIEW

The Oscars Live Action Short category is often a key to future riches and success. Look at Nick Park’s hugely popular WALLACE AND GROMIT shorts, which put Aardmann Animation on the map and led to commercial and critical successes like CHICKEN RUN, EARLY MAN and FLUSHED AWAY amongst others.

The only comedy in the shortlist for 2019, CHUCHOTAGE focuses on the seemingly unseen but very important world of the conference interpreter, in this case a pair of Hungarian linguists who are aware that their endeavours are being heard by only one person. However, upon scrutinising the room they are in, they focus on one lady – and before long their desire to make a romantic and sexual connection leads them to compete for the mic – and her attention.

Film and TV Now had the pleasure of speaking with the director of the film, Barnabás Toth, a graduate of The Film and TV Academy of Budapast who has worked extensively in local Short Film content and has also directed several of the native TV shows.

The production company behind CHUCHOTAGE is The Laokoon Filmgroup, led by producers Gabor Sipos, Gabor Rajna and Judit Stalter. It’s a market leader film production company in Hungary, mostly known for their ground-breaking holocaust-drama of 2015, Son of Saul that won most of the awards of the world – including the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, a Golden Globe, the Grand Prix of Cannes and ca. 40 further awards – and is sold over 98 territories.

FILM AND TV NOW: The short gives us an insight into the world of people who are, in essence, invisible at times to the world and serve a supporting role. What was the key catalyst to developing this script?

BARNABÁS TOTH: I did this conference-interpreting job once in my life and it was a nightmare. Fortunately only a gentleman from Luxembourg was listening to my French channel. At the end of the day I excused myself, I was so poor in this job. It was 20 years ago but last year when I saw a call for a short film script contest, I entered with this idea and won a small budget to produce it with Laokoon Filmgroup.

FTVN: What’s impressive about the film is the simplicity of the concept. Is this something you use a lot in your creative ideas, given that audiences today look for more complexity in their entertainment.

BT: I cannot write about things that are too complex, and I cannot read them either – not even in scripted phase. I don’t follow any TV series because they just don’t grab my attention and after each first 1-2 episodes I realize I don’t care about the characters or their problems. So yes, I think from this point of view my works and myself are all quite simple.

FTVN: The film explores the nature of sexual attraction and misinterpretation, without resorting to explicit imagery. Is this a theme you like to explore in your films?

BT: Some, but not in all of my films. I like romantic stories and I’m obviously attracted to beautiful women so I think I still have to work on traumas from my teenager years. I have all kind of love stories in my drawer, and yes, some of them are more explicit then Chuchotage or my previous ones.

FTVN: How did you put together the package for the film?

BT: First I won a script contest (10.000 dollars), then I found a sponsor (15.000 dollars) and there was the automatic state support in the shape of tax refund (10.000 dollars).

FTVN: Tell us a bit about your creative team and how many of these people worked on your previous work.

BT: Pál Göttinger, who plays the bearded interpreter is a friend from a theatre and he advised Géza Takács to be his partner on screen (he knew Géza before, I didn’t). For the female lead, Andrea Osvárt was a great choice because she is very pretty and her Italian is perfect. Although I didn’t work with DOP András Szőke Másik since my diploma film at school, he is a very longtime friend and creative partner. The composer, László Pirisi scored all my films since 2004. Finally, these five producers supported me with all my shorts since 2012 so I can tell it was like a big family. Only exception: Gyula Hegedűs as the editor: usually I edit my stuff myself.

FTVN: How long did it take to complete and where did you shoot the film?

BT: It took only 3 months – from idea to print copy. Principal photography took 2 days and the location is an old trade exhibition center in Budapest. In the 60s it served as a conference hall for top communist leaders of the block.

FTVN: You shot it with a mix of English, Hungarian and Italian languages. Is this something you would like to do in future and have you got any plans to shoot a film in English?

Yes, why not? English would mean a much broader audience worldwide. We all grew up on Hollywood, I think I’d be great with an English cast and crew. I have 2 different projects in English but all my ideas are easily adaptable for abroad.

FTVN: The film has been shortlisted for the Oscar Live Action Short. Where were you when you heard the news and will you be travelling to LA for the ceremony at the end of February?

BT: I was asleep. It was announced after midnight, Central Europe Time. I woke up at 4 am, checked my mobile phone and saw all the messages. And if the film gets a nomination, I will definitely be there! My wife too and hopefully some cast and crew, too. That’s an experience one should not miss – unless you’re Woody Allen.

FTVN: Finally, what are your plans after the Oscars? We understand you work in local television production as well as short film. What are your hopes for the film and who would you like to work with in future?

BT: I guess my life will go on as before. I don’t have illusions nor hopes, but I’m prepared. I have over 10 well developed film projects as well as a funny TV series too. I can’t wait to pitch some of them to a producer over a nice cup of coffee.

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