“I am an eternal pessimist“

– Interview mit Regisseur Robert Putka und Hauptdarstellerin Eilis Cahill von „MAD“

Dem Regisseur Robert G. Putka ist mit „MAD“, seinem Spielfilmdebut, ein Film gelungen, der zwar wehtut, aber auch sehr berührt. Zusammen mit Eilis Cahill, die eine der Hauptrollen im Film spielt, besucht er das Oldenburger Filmfest. Phyllis Frieling und Liv Stephan haben die beiden getroffen.

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Are you excited to finally show the film in Europe?

Robert Putka: Yeah, I am thrilled to see how a European audience responds to it, because the film is mostly screened in the U.S. to this point. It hasn’t screened anywhere in Europe. I was at a premiere from my friend’s film „Are We Not Cats“ by Xander Robin. His film got a really interesting response, because it’s not necessarily a funny film. There are funny moments, but the audience was responding to the comedy more so than probably other audiences had up until this point. So I am curious just to see what the audience response is like. If it’s more amplified than what I am used to in the U.S.

What is the difference between the Oldenburg Filmfest and other festivals you have been to?

Robert Putka: Oldenburg has got a great reputation with American filmmakers. They really caught on with the Independent American Filmscene. They have a very small program, but they show a good number of underrepresented American Films. 

People in the US talk about Oldenburg with a lot of regard and respect.

It’s one of the premier independent film festivals in Europe. That’s just an attest to the quality and the work that the programmers here are doing. The festival is way more relaxed than American film festivals, I think, even though I’ve been only here for a day.

American film festivals are more amped up. There it’s more about this idea of “I’ll catch my big break, maybe I’ll be discovered.”

It’s much more business-minded. But here in Oldenburg it just seems more like “Let’s just go watch and enjoy movies and have a good time.” It just feels more relaxed, the pace is slower, and there is less pressure.

Eilis Cahill: I love it. The athmosphaire is really wonderful. I love Deborah and Torsten.

Just their perspective on art and how important it is. And showcasing underrepresented things is just awesome.

The peoples ambition really radiates from them sometimes at festivals in the U.S. and here people just seen to want to talk about art, which is really nice. This city is really beautiful, really charming. And the fellow filmmakers are great.

Robert Putka: In Oldenburg I don’t feel like someone is gonna scoop my eyeballs out of my head when I am walking down the street late at night. It feels safe here.Which is always nice when you’re visiting a foreign city for the first time. It’s the first time I’ve ever been abroad in my life.

Will you stay a little bit longer?

Robert Putka: This is kind of a dipping-my-toes-in-the-water-type of thing. I will try it for five days and then go back to the U.S. If this is a small microcosm of what Europe is, I will be back, because I want to explore more and especially because I feel safe here. It’s a cool vibe about Oldenburg. People ride bikes here. There are no cars allowed downtown. I like it. I am charmed.

When did the idea of the whole story of “MAD“ first came to your mind?

Robert Putka: It’s a personal story, based on my relationship with one of my own parents. And the story grew out of wanting to understand that more, and the feelings that it was dragging out of me, and the emotions. So I felt the best way to try to understand those is through a prism of writing about it. So I turned it into a screenplay. I turned those feelings into a screenplay. Of course I messaged the elements of the story to fit the needs of a feature-length film. But it all came back to just emotions. Writing about what I know, what I feel and felt and trying to expand those emotions and feelings.

When did you decide it’d be a film, but not a book?

Robert Putka: Immediately. I have just been making short films and I was looking for a feature for a couple of years now to make. As soon as I was able to find this very personal idea I knew I’ll just try to do the film. They say “Do write about what you know.” So I asked myself: “Okay, what do I know most intimately about?” My own experiences and my own emotions. So why not make a movie about that? At least I’ll know what I’m talking about, and what I’m doing.”

I think a lot of times filmmakers maybe stretch themselves too thin or too far trying to make a film about things that they have limited knowledge about.

And I think sometimes that doesn’t feel as authentic. So I wanted to make something that I knew I could make feel more authentic.

You said that it was born out of the idea of a better understanding for your parent. Did the film actually improved your relationship?

Robert Putka: Yeah, definitely. It allowed me to see things from a removed perspective. When you’re in the moment, when you’re living these things and these feelings, it feels much more intense. It feels much more vital. And being able to see it with remove I was able to look at it with a bit of absurdity. And it has since shaped the way that I interact with this family member, because there are things that I never was able to see up close before.

It’s helped me become a better person, because now I am able to see just how cruel some of those interactions were. And in that moment I didn’t see them as cruel.

It was purely an emotional reaction that felt right, it felt just in the moment. And now, some of those things don’t necessarily feel just anymore. Or if they do, I can step back and think “What kind of damage is this causing to my relationship and to the other person?” Now I interact in a much more mental way, rather than emotional. I’m able to check my emotions with this mental knowledge of the potential damage to my relationship with this person.

Eilis, how did you get involved in the project?

Eilis Cahill: I was in a few of Bobbies short films, so we had a relationship. And we developed a few projects together. And when he was working on his first feature he wrote me into it.

Robert Putka: Cause I like Eilis so much.

Was it at a time when the screenplay was already set or did you have the possibility to talk about the characters?

Eilis Cahill: We talked while he was writing the script. He would call and ask what I thought the character would say or do. It was mostly what I thought was bothering her in life, what her fears were, her challenges. And what hurt her in the world.

Robert Putka: We were talking about things for the character to do early on in the scripting phase, and Eilis was like “I really want that character to be in a writing group.” So I was like “Alright, let me see how I can relate this to the film and the character.”

Why did you want that, Eilis?

Robert Putka: More lines. (laughs)

Eilis Cahill: Yeah, more lines, more screen time! (laughs) No, I thought that would be a place to show her vulnerability and how clueless she is. How out of touch she is with the way she might be preceived. She is very comfortably everywhere and doesn’t realize the way she comes across. In that scene she has a reality check.

And than everyone gets roused?

Robert Putka: Yeah, we had established that she was a camgirl, and I was trying to figure out “Okay, what makes most sense for this character?” She’s sexualized, so if she lives in this world of sexuality as a camgirl, she’s maybe gonna write a first person narrative and make it sexualized. In her head it makes sense to bring the sexuality into her day-to-day life, but they rub up against each other, in a poor way that, for me, would make it so great for her to be sexualized, even when writing. It’d be great because it’s just out of place in the real world. And it then further removes her from this sense of what normality is, and isolates her even further. This is kind of a catalyst for her to want to try to change and become a better person. And in her head she’s just taking on another project, which is her mother. Which is a misguided attempt, in my opinion. Because she’s gonna ruin both of their lives, basically. I’ve said that a few times.

Some people disagree with me and they’re like “There is hope in this film!” And I’m like “Yeah, for like a second.”

I think it’s not a happy ending, but there is hope.

Robert Putka: It’s a moment of hope, and people want to perceive that as an extended reconciliation. That’s fine with me! If it makes them love the film more if it ends on a happy note – that’s great! I just don’t see it, cause I am an eternal pessimist.

Eilis Cahill: But I think even if they cycle back to anger and rage it means that they will also cycle back to a nice moment. Even if people don’t change and continue in their bad habits, there can be these miraculous, small moments.

Robert Putka: Life’s about finding these small moments of hope. That’s all we have to hang on. The time in between those hopeful moments are often excruciating.

We go through life and it’s excruciating and painful, but we find little moments, little pockets and nuggets of happiness.

They get us through the next ones, which may be a week or a month or a year down the road. And we remember those tiny moments, because they are so rare.

You’ve done seven short films before. What is the biggest difference between doing short films and feature films?

Robert Putka: The biggest difference is – obviously – the scale. Just the logistical scale: We have to account for so much more. The short films could mostly be done in a day. Two people, talking in a room.

The length is a grueling process. Instead of being able to write something in a month, shoot something in a day, and edit it in two months, it took me a year to grind out the writing process, took us three weeks to shoot – which, in retrospect, was the easiest part – and took us nine months to edit.

Editing a feature like this, where you’re mixing a lot of scripted material with improvisation is very difficult. We didn’t know what we had on our hands up until we screened the film. It just never felt right, because we were doing a lot of improv in the editing – restructuring and reshaping everything. There was so much uncertainty. Physically, emotionally and mentally making a feature is not for the faint of heart.

Would you still like to do it again or do you want to go back to short films?

Robert Putka: I never wanna make another short film, ever in my life again. Never. You make shorts and those get you in a place to make a feature. It’s like a launching pad for a feature, and I don’t wanna take a step back.

Do I wanna make another feature despite it being rigorous?

Yes. Cause I hope to be able to make some money of them, eventually. I just wanna work in that platform. The rewards of making a feature are great, not just in terms of what it can do for your career, which is limited. It’s done some things for me, but the reward of making a feature, the impact that it can make on an individual, the way you can connect with an audience with a feature – that stays with them. Shorts – most people forget the shorts they see. They might remember one short. If you’re a film buff and you watch shorts, there might be one or two shorts that you remember for your whole life. But features live on. They stay in your head and you take those to your grave. They leave a legacy. And I wanna leave a legacy. I might not. And this may be the only feature I’ll ever make, but it’s a hell of a swansong and opening act.

Is it more challenging for you to write something about someone with the mental disorder than someone without?

Robert Putka: I get personal, because I witnessed it. A lot of things that the characters say to each other are things that I just ripped from real life and maybe I messaged it a little bit to fit in the screenplay. It’s all really based on a very real relationship that I’ve had to live. So it’s not hard, because I know intimately what it’s like to live with a person with a mental illness. And I hope it feels authentic. Cause it is authentic to my experience.

Its not the “Silver Linings“-playbook “Bradley Cooper on cocaine“. What is not what mental illness is like, but it pictures like it is.

Especially bipolar disorder is a very sneaky disease. You are not always on if you have a bipolar disorder. You’re just a normal, regular everyday person basically. And that’s where the devastating factor comes in with it. Because its sneaks up on the people. And its stunning how quickly it can come from nowhere. But no, it’s not challenging. I imagine other things would be more challenging for me. Trying to write about things I dont know. So I am always gonna try to write about things that I have an intimate knowledge of.

Eine Filmkritik zu “MAD“ gibt es hier.

Das Gespräch führten Liv Stephan und Phyllis Frieling.
Foto: Offblogger.de

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