In the midst of the fantastically busy Raindance Film Festival, director of ‘Kamper’, Łukasz Grzegorzek, came and had a cracking chat with James Baxter-Derrington & Elliot Burr. You’ll enjoy this one.
The weather’s held out well hasn’t it?
Raindance. [laughs] Sorry for my English, I haven’t spoken English for three months.
Not at all, it’s better than our Polish! So, Kamper, a really interesting film from my perspective. How did the story come together, how did you come to that idea, what led you to that film?
I wanted to make a film full of paradoxes, yeah? I wanted my main character to be full of paradoxes because his work is testing games, a games testing company and he has to make a lot of decisions. Especially when he plays games he has to make a lot of decisions. In his real life, he can’t decide what to do. So that was interesting to me and when I came up to my co-writer Krzysztof Umiński with the idea of a guy who was indecisive, but very decisive in work. We felt that it’s the way to make an interesting film for us. That was one thing. The other paradox was to create a story of here and now in Warsaw but with the perspective that the other countries or times, it’s still understandable and universal, so it’s up to you if it’s understandable or not. We wanted to create a film and we’ll know in 10 years if the story of the here and now won’t get old! So yeah, that’s the second paradox. And the third paradox [laughs] …I don’t know how it is in Great Britain but in Poland right now we have a lot of freedom, yeah, and when you flip the coin of the freedom there is loneliness, yeah? And we wanted to tell the story about this loneliness. And when you want to have some freedom you have to accept the loneliness. In the end you die. You’re born alone and you die alone. Sometimes, or very often, it might happen that you love alone. So it’s about lonely people in marriage.
“I truly believe when something is funny at the beginning you don’t have to build pastiche”
With the video games part of the film, was that an idea that you always had, a context you always wanted in the film? It’s not commonly done!
Yeah, from the beginning I wanted to tell the story of the video game aficionado. I’m a casual video game player, I don’t know if you play video games or not… I have a lot of friends who play video games. It could be another interview about stereotypes of video game players. For me, they’re normal people, not geeks. If you watch, you know, Silicon Valley or another TV series – it’s always ‘no lifeing’ and so on. But when I see my friends playing games… 50 years ago they played bridge or other card games. Now we play FIFA or NBA and it’s spending time, you know? I don’t know what you think, but I think it becomes an art. I don’t know if you know the games Limbo or Inside? They’re terrific games with beautiful graphics. For me, this is art. If you’re playing games, you should try Limbo or Inside.
Definitely, we’ll have to take a look at those. Video games were quite central to the casting too, I think you mentioned in the Q&A that you got a lot of the cast to come round to your apartment to play games. How did they react to that? It’s quite a different way to go about casting!
You know, for some actors, they play a lot but they didn’t do well in the casting! But the two main characters, Mania and Kamper, didn’t play at all. So, for them, they started with Limbo and fell in love. Piotr, the main character, when I chose him I gave him a console and two games and said: “You can try!” and I remember, I don’t know if you know the game The Last of Us, two days later I got the call at midnight “Woah, man! What a game! I cried at the end!” Yeah, he played for several hours and finished the game!
The two main actors, I think you said were quite big actors in Poland and the supporting cast were more debut performances –
– No, Sheily and Bartek were debuts, the other supporting actress, Dorota, the girl who is working with Kamper, she is also not a professional actress. I don’t know if you know the film Body, it won a prize – the Silver Bear – last year, she’s super natural and super fantastic, she won several prizes in Europe and all over the whole world. Another supporting actor, The Killer Chef, who had an affair with the girl, the little one, Killer Chef, yeah? I think he’s in the top 5 actors in Poland. These two actors, for them it’s their debut. I think, for instance, Bartek can be much, much higher if he wants to be an actor. He’s a director making adverts and documentary films but I love his sense of humour and improvisation talent. He’s the Polish Louis CK!
The improvisation was quite a heavy point in the film, I think you were saying that it was built from the actors improv-ing the thing. Was that something that was always planned or was it when you got the team together you realised you could do that?
Yeah, yeah. I prefer listening to Jimi Hendrix than Ludwig van Beethoven. I know that sounds stupid, but when you have the freedom to improvise you can get a lot of gems from actors that can improvise. When they know where we start the beginning of the scene and where we finish – we have a script – but when you improvise and search for these little moments, it might be much stronger when the energy of the actors come out, I don’t know what you think-
“I prefer listening to Jimi Hendrix than Ludwig van Beethoven”
It all felt very natural with the scenes of Kamper and his co-workers – it seemed just like a conversation. With the ‘Killer Chef’ scene, I really enjoyed the 5 minute detour from the film, watching a TV show. Are those shows you watch and take inspiration from? Ones that are quite farcical at times?
In Poland, they pay me for promos for such programmes, yeah? So I get money for this! [laughs] That’s why I know how to do it! Because, I don’t know how it is in Great Britain. I remember when I gave Jacek, who played Killer Chef, the script I gave him Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares and said: “Look how they do it in Great Britain!” After the shooting he told me, “I’ve never watched it Łukasz” but he was fantastic. I truly believe when something is funny at the beginning you don’t have to build pastiche to become more funny. We did it one-to-one, how we see these programmes.
You said you wanted to make a sad film, and it certainly was. How did you go about that element to it? Because, with two vastly different characters who you could sympathise with even though they make bad decisions, but to make you still sad when the ending comes?
We thought with my DOP, Weronika Bilska, I forgot to mention her yesterday. She’s fantastic, one of Poland’s best directors of photography, and she has a documentary style. We wanted to be very close to the main characters and when you are close to them, you’re going to show bright sides and dark sides of their mentality and that’s why we see them with tenderness. She’s also searching for the sense of humour. So when you’re close to the characters and you like them – we did like them – when you look at their bad choices with tenderness, their sense of humour I think is a receipt to get this. For some people our film is only comedy, without any further information but for others, for instance we had the Q&A at the National Polish Festival as we were at the main competition – there was one girl. She cried for ten minutes. She couldn’t say any words as our film much touched her.
You said you played video games a bit, do you have any other big passions that you’d like to put into any other projects that you do?
Yeah, yeah. I played tennis when I was a kid until I was 18 years old, so my next project will have tennis in the background! I don’t know how to make another movie…
Fantastic. Where do you see the life for Kamper after Raindance – is it more festivals or general release?
We had a general release, and we had a beautiful start because right now in Poland we started 15th July – the vacation, a good time to start – and not many copies of the film and right now 40,000 audience so… amazing score for us. I know a lot of people thought we were gonna have 5 or 6 thousand but we had a general release of this 40-45 thousand… but we are still in some cinemas. We have some festivals, right now we’re gonna be in France, United States and other… I don’t know. My wife, the producer knows better. She tells me, “you have to go two weeks later!” [laughs]
“You’re born alone and you die alone. Sometimes, or very often, it might happen that you love alone”
The apartment that Kamper and his wife lived in was your own. Was it easier as you knew the space well, or was it difficult letting everyone into your home in that way?
Both [laughs]. At first we tried to find another apartment, I think we saw about 15 or 20 apartments, but I wasn’t happy enough, I was convinced enough to put it there. And all the time the crew members whispered “Maybe we could crash in your apartment?” “No no no! It’s not the best idea!” But one night I couldn’t sleep and thought about this and, yeah, I thought it would be perverse to have a quarrel between wife and husband in my flat, in my kitchen… so maybe it’s not the worst idea! So we chose that. We could have played in other apartments, but this one is small and funny. We didn’t have a big crew. 25 people. Our main actor Jacek said we were “the Mujahidin”! We played in a lot of places, but 10 days in our apartment, we became very close. I wanted to leave Piotr and Marta in my apartment but… Piotr was scared, you know. I wanted to leave them my keys, Marta was better. But maybe next time.
Is there anything else you wanted to say about Kamper?
Maybe about what Kamper means because not everyone knows? Kamper is a person into video games, first person shooting, Counterstrike or Modern Warfare, avoids confrontation on the open battlefield. They hide, they don’t risk, they don’t confront. That’s why Kamper is a person who doesn’t confront his wife’s needs and his own needs. This is his route to become ‘not-Kamper’, ‘not camping anymore’!
And at the end he certainly does address that. Thank you so much Łukasz for coming and talking to us. Best of luck with the film, really enjoyed it yesterday.