17 Feb 2015

Confessions of a Shooting Stars Juror

The 2015 Shooting Stars award ceremony nearly didn’t happen for me, as what started as a brief trip to Colorado to visit the set of Quentin Tarantino’s new film The Hateful Eight turned into nearly week in the skiing town of Telluride as the production waited in vain for snowfall. As time passed, I recalled a previous visit to one of Quentin’s sets: a Café Einstein in central Berlin had been converted into Maxim’s Of Paris for a key scene in which former Shooting Star Daniel Brühl, as Nazi war hero Fredrik Zoller, brokered an important meeting with Germany’s head of propaganda, Joseph Goebbels. It reminded me just how far these Shooting Stars go; I’ve seen a lot of Daniel lately, not just on screen in the acclaimed dramas Rush and A Most Wanted Man but in the flesh: two winters ago he was in London shooting Michael Winterbottom’s The Face Of And Angel, and last summer I ran into him in Cannes, where he presented the Prix De Jury.

Shooting Stars Press Photocall © Markus Nass
After a brief stopover in London to drop off my winter clothes – I didn’t think the rest of my Shooting Stars jury would see my muddy boots as a fashion statement – I sped to Gatwick Airport in a panicked cab, since all available trains were either cancelled or running late. I arrived with ten minutes to spare, and after landing at Schönefeld Airport I was whisked to the 25Hours Hotel in the old west of Berlin’s city centre, which would be the base for the next three days’ activities. My first encounter was with fellow juror Natalie Cheron, enjoying a quick cigarette en route to the Annual Meeting of the International Casting Directors Network. Natalie told me that all was going swimmingly, that our Shooting Stars were hitting it off and had already become a tight little unit.

I saw this myself when, an hour later, I arrived at the Press Photocall. I’d hoped to catch a few words with some of our chosen few, but everyone was flitting between rooms. The Ritz Carlton was in a state of flux, TV crews and photographers streaming in and out, but our Shooting Stars kept their heads and all had dressed for the occasion.
  Moe Dunford and Debbie McWilliams at the
Actors Industry Network © Markus Nass
From here, we went back to base and over to the Waldorf Astoria for Actors Industry Network. This was where the real work would be done; each actor staked an area and held court as Europe’s best-known casting agents table-hopped to speak to them. From the UK alone I saw major players such as Leo Davis, Dan Hubbard and Debbie McWilliams, who has cast every Bond film since For Your Eyes Only. From Prague, I bumped into Nancy Bishop – just these four might be enough to change one actor’s life forever.

At the Tesiro-sponsored cocktail later that night it was clear that our Shooting Stars had bonded, which was proven at the following morning’s press presentation. Introducing the event, our fellow juror Eva Röse got things started by recalling how much her own experience as a Shooting Star in 2006 meant to her. “Of course, it was a great honour,” she said, “and I felt that my work was being recognised. I was now part of something bigger, and it was definitely a door opening for me. It helped me to expand my horizons. And it’s been interesting to me to see how the Shooting Stars programme has evolved from 2006 to this day. It started out as a spotlight, but now it’s a valuable stepping stone to help actors find their way internationally. So I’m really excited for these guys and I wish them all the best.”

Shooting Stars Press Presentation © Markus Nass
Interviewed onstage, the Shooting Stars proved comfortable in a room filled with cameras and recording devices. Denmark’s Joachim Fjelstrup offered us an insight into his research for the rock’n’roll biopic Itsi Bitsi, while Finland’s Emmi Parviainen (The Princess Of Egypt) gave us tips on being truthful in performance. Jannis Niewöhner (Sapphire Blue) informed us that genre films were just as much fun as dramas; Iceland’s Hera Hilmer (Life In A Fishbowl), talked about her experience on the major international TV shows such as Da Vinci’s Demons; and Ireland’s Moe Dunford (Patrick’s Day) spoke movingly of mental health issues in his native Dublin. Lithuania’s Aistė Diržiūtė unexpectedly revealed that her co-star in The Summer Of Sangaile was on old friend that she’d met online, enabling her to be extra comfortable in the role; Spain’s Natalia de Molina spoke emotionally about her Goya win for Living Is Easy With Eyes Closed; while Switzerland’s Sven Schelker (The Circle) assured us he would never swap the stage for the screen, or vice versa. The Netherlands’ Abbey Hoes (Nena) charmed everyone with her story about making her debut as “the winking girl” in a TV commercial, and the UK’s Maisie Williams (The Falling) amazed us all with the fact that, at 17, the Game Of thrones star already has a million Twitter followers.

In the afternoon there was a run-through of the ceremony at the Palast, at which, for a brief moment, my co-juror, producer Danijel Hocevar, and I were not deemed sufficiently stellar to play ourselves as the camera team blocked the show. Common sense soon prevailed, however, and Eva plus fellow juror Malgorzata Szumowska – whose very well-received new film The Body was to premiere in the Berlinale that same night, later winning her the Silver Bear for Best Director – made excellent MCs. The run-through went smoothly and we returned later for the real event, which went just as well until a technical hitch saw Moe Dunford’s face beamed onscreen just as Eva was paying tribute to Hera Hilmar. Without missing a beat, and with a wry joke, Eva calmly started again – a reminder of the star quality that first brought her here in 2006.

Shooting Stars on stage at the Berlinale Palast © Isa Foltin /Getty Images for European Shootings Stars
The appearance of Black Swan star Natalie Portman as this year’s patron sent visible shockwaves through our Shooting Stars, and she was a gracious host, handing out the distinctive silver trophies. Not only was this seen on TV3, these images soon went all around the room, gracing Twitter feeds and Facebook pages before the night was even over. From the Palast it was back to 25Hours Hotel and the Monkey Bar, where our Shooting Stars were finally able to let their hair down, partying long into the night in a city that certainly knows how to party. It had been an extraordinary few days for all of us, but although it marked the end of the road for me, for our Shooting Stars the journey is just beginning.

5 Feb 2015

Meet our sponsor

Tesiro has been a Berlinale partner since 2009 and has created the Shooting Stars award since then. So what drives this unusual intercontinental collaboration?

In 2015, you don’t have to be an expert on economics to know that the luxury goods industry is firing on all cylinders, or that China is one of the most dynamic markets in the world right now. Which is all good news for Tesiro, the high-end jewellery brand that is famous in its native China for its diamond and jade designs.

Carey Mulligan (Shooting Stars 2009) wearing TESIRO
Outside of China, you’d be forgiven for not realising just how big a brand Tesiro is. Founded by Mr Richard Shen in 1997 and headquartered in Nanjing, eastern China, Tesiro has now opened nearly 400 franchised stores in cities across the country – including, of course, Beijing and Shanghai. In 2006, Tesiro attracted significant investment from Eurostar Diamond Traders (EDT), the leading diamond-cutting trader from Antwerp, Belgium.

Tesiro began its partnership with the Berlinale in 2009, providing its signature Starlet jewellery to international stars attending the festival, including Ziyi Zhang, Uma Thurman, Andie MacDowell, Scarlett Johansson, Jessica Chastain and Shooting Stars such as Carey Mulligan, Andrea Riseborough and Alicia Vikander. In 2014, Tesiro expanded its association, becoming a principal partner in a three-year deal extending to 2016.

Although famous in China for its patented, exclusive and award-winning Blue Flame diamond, Tesiro remains connected to its Chinese roots via its association with another precious jewel: jade. Mr Ma Chongren, respectfully called “King of Jade” in the jade industry, serves as chief expert of Tesiro’s Jade For Future Generations brand. Jade has been mined in China since 6000BC.

Richard Shen has postgraduate qualifications in business and business administration from Nanjing University, Macau University of Science and Technology and Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. He has been the supervisor of graduate students at Nanjing University, and is the author of Organizational Intelligence: The Rise-and-Fall Secrets of 21st Century Enterprises. It’s hard to think of many western entrepreneurs that share similarly strong links to the world of academia and publishing.

Asked just how typical in China its partnership with the Berlinale and Shooting Stars is, Tesiro commented. “We have to admit that there haven’t been many Chinese fashion brands engaging in such high-profile events abroad yet. But with the acceleration in globalization, we believe there will be many more Chinese brands or joint ventures finding their way to going abroad and getting involved in high-profile projects, just as Tesiro has long been doing.”

2 Feb 2015

The casting veteran

A record 60 international casting directors are heading to Berlin this week for Shooting Stars. We talk to one of them: Britain’s Leo Davis.

Marwan Kenzari (Shooting Stars 2014) with Leo Davis
Leo Davis began her career in casting more than 30 years ago. Having worked in theatre in both Liverpool and London, she tried to persuade casting director Susie Figgis to take her on as an assistant. Figgis felt she didn’t need one at that time, but changed her mind when she landed Richard Attenborough’s epic Gandhi. “It was such a huge film,” says Davis, “there was no way she could do it on her own. I went in as her assistant, and stayed about ten years, I think. And then I branched out on my own.”

Davis has enjoyed a particularly close relationship with director Stephen Frears, working with him on ten feature films, including Dirty Pretty Things, The Queen and Philomena. As Frears tells it, the casting team were so determined for him to cast Chiwetel Ejiofor in Dirty Pretty Things that they remained deliberately vague about the actor’s age (he was only 25 when the film came out – significantly younger than Frears had envisaged for the role of a qualified doctor living illegally in London, with a wife and children back in Nigeria). The picture went on to earn huge acclaim, winning Best Film, Actor, Director and Screenplay at the British Independent Film Awards.

Davis has been attending the International Casting Directors Network in Berlin since its inception in 2005, an event that is programmed so that the attendees can meet and interact with the Shooting Stars each year. This year, a record 60 casting directors from all over the world will attend, including heads of casting from Hollywood studios Paramount and Warner Bros. Opportunities for the casting directors to meet the Shooting Stars have been expanded, with two separate networking sessions for the 2015 edition.

Although Davis explains that challenges remain with producers forever seeking star names not just in the lead role but also in several supporting parts, even for low-budget films, one positive is the growing international nature of casting. “Yes! That’s great news,” she says. “I would think Shooting Stars has had a huge deal of input into that.”

Tusse Lande, Leo Davis and Debbie McWilliams at the annual ICDN meeting
Davis, who served on the Shooting Stars jury in 2010, has personally cast several of the actors she’s met through attending the networking sessions in Berlin. For example, when director Stephen Knight (Locke) was looking for a young East European actress to appear in his London-set drama Hummingbird, Davis knew immediately who to cast. “He described this nun, and I thought, I’ve just got the perfect person, she’s unbelievably nun-like, she’s Polish, and we cast Agata Buzek (Shooting Star, 2010).” 

In upcoming film The Ones Below, directed by David Farr (co-writer of Hanna), Davis has cast Finnish actress Laura Birn, a 2013 Shooting Star. She has also cast Dutch 2006 Shooting Star Mimoun Oaissa in the Hanif Kureishi-scripted short Weddings and Beheadings. Earlier, Davis cast Danish 1999 Shooting Star Iben Hjejle in High Fidelity (2000), opposite John Cusack.

“They’re so exciting, the European actors,” says Davis. “They’re ambitious, they want to make it, and at the same time they’ve got great taste, so it’s a good combination. They’re not looking for the giant American TV series, or their heads aren’t into the massive American lead role. They want to do good work.”

Leo Davis with Shooting Star Mikkel Boe Følsgaard at the 2013 Casting Breakfast
As for the private sessions with the ICDN, Davis reveals that the discussions are important for sharing information and comparing challenges faced in different territories. “We’ll spend time discussing why, until quite recently, the French didn’t give casting directors credits. Well, we’ve always had credit [in the UK]. It’s different things, about issues like payment. If I go and see a Russian film, and I think an actor is superb, I can always go to the Russian casting director and say, is he [consistently] superb, have you seen him in the theatre, give me more information.

“It’s become a kind of help network. If I’m doing something in France, instead of casting it myself, I’ll always say at the beginning, ‘Why don’t we employ a French casting director? I know three or four!’ And you try and get them jobs as well because they know what they are talking about. Having said that, it’s a challenge, because producers rarely want to fork out more money for an additional casting director.”

Casting remains the art of the possible: finding actors that are inspired choices for the role, while working within the star-driven constraints of the film’s financiers. For that reason, working with Stephen Frears on his 1993 Irish film The Snapper endures as a cherished memory for Davis.

“In an ideal world, you’d like to cast a film with a whole pile of unknown people, so that the audience goes to the cinema with no baggage, they’ve never seen them before. And it’s only happened one time in my entire life, which was doing The Snapper. I was allowed to cast perfectly, because there were barely any Irish names [known internationally] at that time that could be cast.”

This preference for fresh faces means that US producers have tended not to come calling for Davis’ services. “I don’t think I ever get Hollywood films,” she chuckles. “They think I’m a pain in the arse. Because you’re saying things like, ‘Let’s cast it properly.’ The job’s gone immediately once you say that. They only want to hear about Bradley Cooper.”