We made a group exhibition, a piece of comics and a commemoration to show our admiration to H. P. Lovecraft on the anniversary of his death. Some months ago we were glad to hear that independent filmmakers from Sopron, Hungary had started a serious work, and, as the fruit of years' diligence, now, the filmed version of a Lovecraft short story is near to be finished. What does it mean to choose the short story From Beyond as independent filmmaker nowadays, why is it worth building a real 6-meter tall steel monster? I asked the creators about the beginnings, the efforts and the production processes.
Gothic.hu: "The Ixtlan Artworks was established in 2010. Our current topic is the Lovecraft adaptation, the From Beyond production, but to make it clear, please, tell me about your earlier works, which included commercials as well as documentaries about the Hungarian organic architecture..."
Gabo: "The I. A. was really founded in 2007, the roots of the project From Beyond come from 2010. At the beginning we tried to realize our thoughts by making video clips, which helped us to be able to work as one team, to get to know each other's working method, and all these made it possible to begin a filmmaking task together.
The next step was making commercials, though, to be honest, because of the working circumstances coming with it, we were not so glad to do it. The exciting part was to pick only the most important things and make the whole thing still attractive. Every invitation was a pleasure for us, since the team was more and more effective after every completed task, and it was obvious that our own resources were hardly enough to buy professional film making equipment. Without it, we would not have the chance to make films we had imagined; it didn't seem practical to hire permanent equipment. One job brought the other, and despite we had orders from big international companies, and after spending a huge amount of money the business started to produce profit, those periods were very stressful. Not only the short deadlines, but the circumstances of the commercials tried all of us very much. In spite of all this we tried to do our best, though we all knew it was not the kind of filmmaking work we would like to do.
When all of us started to be fed up with this, fortune offered a solution. Our friend, the excellent architect, László Kuli asked us to make a documentary on behalf of the Hungarian Art Academy, about the most dominant representatives of the organic architecture, their best buildings. This topic was much better, and the stress factor decreased a lot, too. In our opinion, architecture is the most valuable among arts, and to make a film about an art in which people can live or exist, was a very attractive task for us. We travelled throughout Hungary, filmed in wonderful buildings, made interviews with the architects. True people, deep thoughts, nice music, rooms full of energy. After completing this work, we stayed with organic architects, received some further orders from them - it is very sad e.g. re-watching one of the last interviews of Mr. Makovetz. This excellent work relation with architects led us towards a productive direction. In the end, all the income from all of our work was invested in buying equipment, so we at last had the opportunity to make a film of our own."
Gothic.hu: "The myth created by Lovecraft attracts many people, his popularity in the form of video games and film adaptations gets far beyond literature. Why did you choose the author?"
I. A.: "There already was a script titled In the wake of Something we wrote together, and, since we wanted to film a short sci-fi as the first project of our own, we used this script to start with. We rewrote it completely, improved it, and made some spectacular scale-models, but as the story began to shape, the increasing amount of ideas claimed much more than just a short film. The title was the topic itself: Suspend the inner conversation. This is a philosophic though spectacular and exciting, vertical road movie, which takes place in the last tower-city inhabited by humans, surrounded by an ocean of garbage. The plan of the feature length film seemed too ambitious comparing to our scope, and it had not been worth making it in return for a thousand compromises, so we had to put this project aside for later completion, and find another theme. (If the public like the film From Beyond, we may have another chance to return to this film.)
This was how we reached the point when we needed a story to make a film of, which has deepness in it, which has really dark mood, and last but not least, suggests worrying questions. We are all H. P. Lovecraft fans, his stories had got deep inside us, so the solution seemed clear enough to adapt a story by the master of horror. The production aspects showed this direction worth going on. HPL's works are often considered to be inappropriate for the screen, still, there are many film adaptations. Seeing these we believe that we may be able to make an adaptation, which is more HPL-like, than the others made so far. We would like to salute with a really impressive and disturbing film in honor of the author's memory. It is another thing if we have managed to do this; time and the public will decide."
Gothic.hu: "An independent filmmaker company is producing a self-financed costume sci-fi horror in Hungary... This seems a huge task for even a layman! Will you outline the chronology of the last years from decision to realization?"
I. A.: "It is not a challenge to film a story playing in the present world, a costume sci-fi horror is a much more exciting task. We were prepared to work on the project for years, since the self-financed films can only be made step by step. If all financial and other conditions are available at once, the production is proceeding much faster, but in that case, the producer controlled medium may be needed. In our case, we could work freely, everyone of us could try out his ideas, which then we sorted out together, and we tried to widen the financial limits with creativity. The I. A. financed one part of the film, the other part was provided by Viktória Bella, who undertook the producer's tasks. Besides, some private persons gave smaller amounts, helped, provided locations or equipment for the work, which, hereby, we would like to thank. The different work processes done during the long years of production and the main events in relation to them were put down in the production diary. The diary itself is an abridged version of the events, so it would be difficult to shorten it further; it may be easier to click on this link and read the diary":
Gothic.hu: "From Beyond (1920) is a popular short story by Lovecraft written at the age of 30. It is not at all a long writing, the metamorphosis of Tillinghast and the revealing dimensions can make serious challenges for the actors and the filmmakers, too. Beside the digital techniques, you used scaled models, as well, and even a 6-meter tall steel monster was built. Will you tell me about the backstage secrets?"
Gabo: "Really, it is not a long writing (among others, this is why we chose this short story), still, it goes way down into the deep, and awfully upsetting, though this can be true to all of HPL's writings.
Our objective was to make the film authentic through the actors' play, the effects should play a secondary role. According to the story, the character development is itself a big opportunity for the actors to reveal their talent, but going deeper inside, we faced new layers all the time. A short story is of course quite different from a film, and, if we filmed exactly what there is in it, the characters still remain 2D comparing to a film experience. So we had to think the path of every character over, where from and where to it goes, where and how it connects to the main track of the plot. Even the clouds, the revolver, or anything that appears in the film, were considered as characters, even if they are not persons. We hope, we could transform the short story into a film without making too many changes in the text of HPL.
We do not like to use only digital effects, because they often seem weightless in the films, therefore, we also build what we can in reality. Anyway, the best part of the filmmaking work is building scale models. A lot of conception sketches were made, 90 percent of which do not appear in its final version, as they are only steps on the path towards the last version. The biggest model made for the film was built by the director - Balázs Pál Nagy. First, it was only a 2-meter tall construction with a control panel, but Balázs followed his vision and asked us to plan one that would fill the inner height of the shooting location. So it became a huge monster, which was mainly created by him, giving an example, which inspired us in our work and last but not least, the machine helps a lot in the catharsis scenes of the film, too. At the moment, we are working on the models of the alien lands, and then come the monsters. We hope, with the help of these, we can create something very unique, something in which the viewer can sink, when seeing a film is not a daily routine, but real cinema magic. In other words, we would like to guide you into the lands of the Lovecraft-horror not yet discovered."
Gothic.hu: "Thanks to our long personal relationship, I know that the Ixtlan Artworks covers a team coming from Sopron, Hungary. Who are they, what is the task of each of them, how was the actors' team organized?"
"We have known each other since we were teenagers, and all of us have been interested in filmmaking, and become an expert in different segments of film production. So when we organized ourselves as a crew, the tasks were obvious for all of us. As we are a small team, everyone has more than one task: Róbert 'Robertsch' Schneider, who is the owner of the Hi-Tech Coffee Sound Studio, is responsible for dramaturgy, cutting, sounds and music. The cameraman, László 'Tata' Tarnai, is a cameraman in I. A. too, and also lighting belongs to him. Gábor 'Gabo' Erdélyi performs the tasks of director and producer, and, he is responsible for the visual effects. This film naturally needed much more work than usually, therefore, some more people have to be there behind the scenes. The crew of the effects are completed with the artists Henriette E. Gruber and György Szűcs, the management of the things related to promotion is due to Viktor Wallon-Hárs. The cast and behind-the-scenes photos are taken and prepared by The Obsolate Photo Lab.
In our earlier, abstract, sci-fi short film we worked together with an excellent, ambitious talent, Balázs Pál Nagy, and when we had to change theme, it was obvious, that he would play the negative main character of the HPL adaptation, the dark sinister, but genius professor. Later, this decision saved the film, since there was a point during the long years, when the project stuck. On one hand, the casting for the other main character had no result, on the other hand, the work seemed to become endless, putting heavy loads on every participants. In addition, production started to be a boring routine, which had helped us precisely and quickly fulfil the orders before, but now, it was a real obstacle, as we needed a much looser schema to make progress. The project got over this almost lethal period with the help of Balázs, who took over the director tasks on the basis of the script written together, so the load was split, and the task seemed executable. The director and the producer could concentrate on the characters, the locations, the costumes and the other million things; the I. A. could form the main audiovisual direction of the film, and then, could start elaborating the effects. The project gained its balance, the work started to make progress again, so the professor got closer to the time when he opened the door to the horrors."
The characters (Notes of Balázs Pál Nagy)
Prof. Tillinghast: Balázs Pál Nagy
Friend: Géza István Nagy
Gregory: Sándor V. Sz. Nagy
Servant of the Friend: Jenő Tibor Tóth
Detective officer: László Kuli
Fortune-teller: Viktória Bella
Military surgeon: Dr. Őrs Pécsi
Guards: Tamás Kiss, Zoltán Katona, Csaba Bene
Gendarme: Gergely Németh
Coachman: Gábor Fodróczy
Housekeeper of Tillinghast: Katalin Mária Faragó
The disappeared painters: disappeared...
By 2013, there was only me out of the originally planned cast. My girl-friend, Viki, helped me a lot to choose the appropriate people to play the different characters.
The very first step was to find an actor who would play the character of the Friend. We had several people to choose from, but some did not undertake, others did not fit in the film. At last, Viki had an idea to ask my brother, Géza István Nagy. He seemed to be the best choice seeing the rehearsal opportunities and his acting talent, and as he felt like working with us, after the promising rehearsals he finally got the character. Earlier he played in a drama school, the character fits him very well, because in real life, he is also friendly, helpful and lifesaving. He is an ambulance man.
I asked a dear friend of mine, whom I had the chance to work with, to play the military surgeon character. He is a very friendly, good man. He accepted my invitation at once and immediately started to grow authentic sideburns. Here I want to mention, that the blood that appear in the film is real, so you can guess, how much we tried to be authentic!
At that time we regularly went to do exercises in the gym nearby, where I saw two strong, interesting-faced young men, who seemed appropriate to play the guards. I went up to them unknown and asked them if they felt like playing a short role in the film. They were a bit surprised of course, but gladly said yes. Unfortunately one of them could not come to the post-shootings, because he moved abroad, so we asked Csaba, whom we also met in the gym, to substitute him. He, shortly before we started, tore a muscle, but he undertook acting, after all.
Since we did not have the appropriate person to play the detective, but we had to continue filming, I decided to play this character myself. I myself could not appear as two different personalities, so the detective, in these takes, is a roaring, threatening figure in the shadow. During the post-shootings these shots will be replaced by the ones played by László Kuli chief-architect, so at last the detective officer can have his own figure.
An authentic, horse-drawn cab can add a lot to the feeling of a film, so in one of the scenes of the film, the Friend flags a cab to travel to the professor. We invited an old acquaintance of my family's, who had long been dealing with horses, to play the role of the coachman. He had several carts from which we could choose the most appropriate one. He had already played utility in some Hungarian costume films, so he had the routine to do it perfectly, now. He also helped us choose the appropriate locations. Thanks to his connections, we could get in the park of the Eszterházy Castle in Fertőd to make the shots with the cart. Unfortunately he had passed away before the film could be finished.
The role of the Fortune-teller was the extra line that is not at all included in the short story. Although the I. A. had not planned to include female figures in the film, I felt that female characters were necessary to appear - to have a complete experience, even if for just some short shots. I wanted Viktória to play a dreamlike character that fits her determined personality. Since there are no classic female beauties in HPL's short stories, her character - from the Lovecraft point of view - can be defined with difficulty, but when the beauty appears, the evil gets a deeper meaning for me.
Besides encountering different worlds, these two extremes also encounter in the film.
It was a great challenge to find the appropriate person for the character of the professor's servant. After a long period of search, again Viki was the one who had an idea to invite Sándor V. Sz. Nagy, the owner of our main shooting location, to take part in the project as an actor, too. She noticed during filming that he is not only a humane artist and an excellent restaurateur, but he could also finely play the character of Gregory with his natural aptitude and humanity. Luckily, he gladly accepted the invitation, and he added a lot of good ideas to the quality takes.
We asked our backstage photographer, Jenő Tibor Tóth, to play the character of the Friend's servant, who gladly undertook the task, so in the end, the most important characters were cast.
The location of the experiment that gives the main catharsis of the film was arranged in a huge, old attic. We were working on it for 2 months. As it turned out, the same period is also mentioned in the short story - professor Tillinghast needed the same duration to build the machine in his laboratory and to get to the last decision...
Gothic.hu: "My personal connections to the Town of Fidelity (Sopron) do not leave me without question. How much could you take advantage of this beautiful small town when you searched for locations - if it is public - , which parts of the town did you use as shooting locations?"
Gabo: "Sopron is not Providence, but after considering a lot of things, Sopron seemed an excellent location. On one hand, most of the films based on HPL stories take place in the present, they were adapted into modern conditions, on the other hand, the author said he would have lived a century before his era. This dichotomy was a good start. In addition, though the author is American, some kind of Europeanism (Poe) can be experienced reading his writings. So we thought we could move from his real era backwards in time, following a more gothic direction, and Sopron is a great place to do so. We tried to give the most locations possible to the film as for the development of the characters and the story, to make it cluttered enough without effects, too. I can say we filmed throughout Sopron."
The locations (Notes by Balázs Pál Nagy)
We wanted to choose the locations that reflect the feeling of the era best. We wanted to film the first main scene at a perfect place, which reflects the financial conditions of prof. Tillinghast, the higher rank in the society he earlier enjoyed. Using the connections of Tata we managed to get in touch with the owners of the house, the Szemerédi family, who made the rooms - see also the photos taken during shooting - available for free. They supported the production merely because they are committed to art. Three important scenes were filmed in that building.
One of the main shooting locations was obvious from the beginning. The I. A. had already organized the many kinds of rooms in the Magtár with the owner, Sándor V. Sz. Nagy, who helped a lot from the beginnings. He provided the rooms, furniture and accessories, and helped the work of our team with his creative ideas.
Further locations were: Festőköz, Várfal sétány, Új utca, Deák tér, Orsolya tér, the Monastery and forest of Bánfalva, Fertőszéplak, the court and the park of the Castle of Fertőd. There was one place where we guerilla filmed, but let it be a secret now, and do not forget that the camera visits alien worlds, too.
Gothic.hu: "The Ixtlan Artworks promises to finish the film by May 2015. What possibilities can you use to make your film available for the public in Hungary and abroad? Is there prior interest, or you will set off from the gloom of anonymity?"
Gabo: "All our effort is concentrated to finish the film, which has just reached the state when we feel to publish some news about it, and we are grateful to have the opportunity to do it here. Unfortunately, the works of HPL are not so famous in Hungary to bring wider popularity to the film, therefore, we must think of foreign opportunities. Fortunately, the prior interest from the media connected to HPL is promising. In his home country several festivals are held in his honor every year, to one of which we have already received an invitation. To present the film across Europe the best medium seems to be the television, so we try to step forward in this direction."