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SXSW '07 Interview: "Steal a Pencil for Me" Director Michele Ohayon

by Scott Weinberg

The "Steal a Pencil for Me" Pitch: Jack, his wife and his new love, Ina, find themselves in the same barrack in a concentration camp. When Jack's wife objects to the "girlfriend" in spite of their unhappy marriage, Jack and Ina resort to writing secret love letters, which sustain them throughout the horrible circumstances of the war. They all survived, and choices have to be made.

Is this your first trip to SXSW? Got any other film festival experience? If you're a festival veteran, let us know your favorite and least-favorite parts of the ride.
I was here in 2005 with Cowboy Del Amor. Yes, I am a festival veteran and of course SXSW is my favorite! I love the audience and all the cool cats that roam around the fest. Can't wait to play my new film there.

Back when you were a little kid, and you were asked that inevitable question, your answer would always be "When I grow up I want to be a ..." what?
I don't think my parents asked me that questions and I don't believe I would have had an answer. Or maybe it was obvious- I started a small theater in my neighborhood in Israel when I was 12 years old. That's how long I've been directing....

Not including your backyard and your Dad's Handycam, how did you get your real "start" in filmmaking?
None of the above. I had 6 months to burn before I had to fo to the Israeli army, and my mom got me an internship with an editor in the Israeli TV. That's where I got the bug. Then after the army I went to college to study film and television.

Do you feel any differently about your film now that you know it's on "the festival circuit?"
I'm just excited to see the reactions now that it's no longer mine but the audience's.

Of all the Muppets, which one do you most relate to?
Don't watch TV, sorry.

During production did you ever find yourself thinking ahead to film festivals, paying customers, good & bad reviews, etc?
Sure. You have to have that vision of your film playing in front of an audience on a big screen. That's the reward for all the torture...

How did this film get rolling at the beginning? Give us a brief history from writing to production to post to just last night.
I read Jack and Ina's love letters from the camps and were blown away by them. I approach their daughter Margrit, who is a friend, and from then on it was labor of love until REE came on board and I was then able to finish the film. It was all together over a 4 year period, but I also made Cowboy Del Amor within those 4 years. Lots of trips to NY and Holland, where my subjects are from. But thanks to the P-2 Panasonic we were able to be mobile on these trips. I'm glad I am able to show the film in the format I shot on: HD.

If you could share one massive lesson that you learned while making this movie, what would it be?
Try to avoid archival footage. That was my first time using archival, since I have always done cinema verite. It's a lot of tedious work and expensive to buy the footage.

What films and filmmakers have acted as your inspirations, be they a lifelong love or a very specific scene composition?
I like Michael Apted's early docs , and I like the minimalism of some of the Japanese directors. I am mostly inspired by the early Italian New Realism films (The Bicycle Thief) and the French Novelle Vague (Truffaut, Godard). I love plan-sequences but you can't really make those in documentaries.

What actor would you cast as a live-action Homer Simpson?
Sorry- I don't watch these series. The little time I have I spend with my children.

Say you landed a big studio contract tomorrow, and they offered you a semi-huge budget to remake, adapt, or sequelize something. What projects would you tackle?
I've been down that road and there are two documentaries of mine, Colors Straight Up (Academy Award Nominee) and Cowboy Del Amor, that are in the process of fictionalizing.

Finish this sentence: If I weren't a filmmaker, I'd almost definitely be...
A news reporter or a UN delegate.

Who's an actor you'd kill a small dog to work with? (Don't worry; nobody would know.)
Robert De Niro

Have you "made it" yet? If not, what would have to happen for you to be able to say "Yes, wow. I have totally made it!"
You never "Make it." There is always more you can achieve but the most important is not the result but the process. Every film is a new learning experience and as long as you are able to exercise your craft you have made it.

Honestly, how important are film critics nowadays?
Important -- for those who read the newspapers or check on line, or go to see movies by the review. You can learn a lot from a review and if it is honestly written and not mean-spirited you can implement the criticism into your next piece of work.

You're told that your next movie must have one "product placement" on board, but you can pick the product. What would it be?
Netflix.

You're contractually obligated to deliver an R-rated film to your producers. The MPAA says you have to delete a sex scene that's absolutely integral to the film or you're getting an NC-17. How do you handle it?
I try to convince, re-cut and do anything to try and save the scene or at least parts of it.

What's your take on the whole "a film by DIRECTOR" issue? Do you feel it's tacky, because hundreds (or at least dozens) of people collaborate to make a film - or do you think it's cool, because ultimately the director is the final word on pretty much everything?
If the director indeed had the vision for the entire film then it's legit, just like all the other credits. The director guides all the team members to work and fit into the big picture. If it's a lousy director and everyone pretty much did everything for them then the credit is not justified. It's case by case.

In closing, we ask you to convince the average movie-watcher to choose your film instead of the trillion other options they have. How do you do it?
I have not disappointed them with Cowboy Del Amor and I hope they'll check out a moving love story that takes place in the most unlikely environment-- a camp. Thanks in advance for giving me a chance to show you a unique story you will not forget!

--

Steal a Pencil for Me will have its world premiere at the 2007 South By Southwest Film Festival. (And check out BSide.com for more info!)


link directly to this feature at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/feature.php?feature=2130
originally posted: 03/04/07 01:19:13
last updated: 03/05/07 00:15:15
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