There’s enough speculation about my Kvadrat documentary feature film. “The director must have been thinking” and “he surely was attempting to” and “obviously”… well, no. That’s all guesswork and conjecture. Here’s the real deal. My own thoughts about my own work.
OK, so why did I shoot a movie in the first place? Weren’t my still photography, art direction, web / graphic design and journalism enough to keep me busy and satisfied till the end of my days?
Sure, I’ve always been intrigued by cinema, the younger multi-talented brother of still photography. I’d watched all the classics, admire Tarkovsky, Nugmanov, Gilliam, Kubrick. Or, rather, their DPs. I still consider Tarkovsky’s “Sculpting in Time” one of the most articulate and realistic books on art and the artist, regardless of the medium.
However, I avoided being sucked into the film industry as much as I could, refusing to take on motion projects. And believe me, quite a few people tried to pull me into it, one way or the other. I just felt that running 3 full-time jobs already was quite a stretch. I also thought that my 14 years of published work in all these areas was just the start. Plus, the prospect of dealing with the money and politics aspects of cinema… No, thank you.
And then in February 2011, my friends from Hong Kong asked me to “just hold a video camera” during a private martial arts event. They’d helped me so much in the past… I could not refuse. So I shot a 30-minute short in Cantonese Chinese. 3 days to prep. 1 day to film. 10 days to edit.
That’s when I realized that, in my mind, I’d been always seeing things in motion. My brain is constantly inventing and playing movies. Narrative, dialogue, framing, sound… the whole thing. Even when I’d prepare for a still photography shoot, I’d visualize the location and how people would move. Then I’d arrive on scene and make stills.
So, I wondered… maybe, still photography had been always reducing my artistic work, cutting out movement, time and sound? The branches in the wind would go silent and motionless as I pressed the shutter button. Had I been wrong all theses years?
Major soul-searching. Fundamental introspection.
But you know, I’m a man of action. Abstract models and probability calculus are cool, but I prefer to experience things first hand. Test the theories. I could talk forever about cinema, judge others’ work, read filmmakers’ biographies, watch behind-the-scenes extras… from a bystander perspective. So I decided, what the hell, I’ll just shoot a serious movie and see what it’ll be like for real. Cook the pudding and eat it.
Kvadrat is the result of this experiment.
And, yes, it did confirm my hypothesis. Film is the closest to what I imagine in my mind. A pinnacle of my artistic endeavor, a point where all of my previous 17 years of photography, 13 years of writing and 15 years of design join together, to form the ultimate expression and transmission of beauty and curiosity in life.
It’s my still photography, but in motion. It’s my writing, but transcending into the visual. A lifelong passion for music. Decades of tinkering and product design. A knack for building and realizing the impossible. The utmost physical effort to move in space and time with the camera, made possible only after a lifetime of running, cycling, climbing and backpacking.
And of course, the pleasure and thrill of working with others on a bigger scale. And Kvadrat turned out to be the hugest, craziest, and hardest project I’d ever done. But, first…
I started with the most fascinating aspect of filmmaking: cinema is the only art form so dependent on money. No money, no film.
I’m not talking about getting paid. I’m talking about doing stuff and showing it to other people:
So, even before considering all the artistic and technical hurdles of filmmaking, the major question turned out to be: is it possible to make a feature film despite the extreme economics of the cinema industry?
Few people outside the film industry talk about ROI (Return on Investment). The idea. The script. The direction. The actors. The shoot. The editing. The sound. The visual effects. All these elements are carefully considered for money-generation potential. How much will it cost to make the movie? Will the critics like it? How many people will watch it? How many will buy it?
I wasn’t thinking about how many people would buy my photograph before making a photograph. Or about how successful my artwork would be before creating it. I just did my thing and then people started paying me to do more of it.
So I thought, OK, just making a first feature film is easy, right? Let’s make it more challenging!
Fortunately, I went to business school and could apply all the non-artsy stuff to a very artsy project. I recalled one of the basic principles: decide whether you want your first product to be super-cheap or super-expensive to make. No middle ground.
I went the super-cheap route.
My main reason to shoot a documentary film instead of a fiction film was cost.
What’s the largest component of a movie budget?
The other reasons to shoot a documentary were:
Instead of making a classical documentary, I imagined Kvadrat in a new, third category. A subverted mix-up of the conventions of both fiction and documentary films:
With Kvadrat, I wanted to play with tradition and illusion in cinema. If it looks like fiction, is it automatically perceived as fiction? Is the mere premise of a documentary enough to suggest the absence of fiction? Should I break the screen a few times when it gets too fictionesque?
The mix-up worked to a point where most people are unable to classify Kvadrat as either a documentary or a fiction. Which is:
As I mentioned earlier, I’d already shot a 30-minute documentary, although in a spontaneous, unconsidered fashion.
So I wanted to explore a full-scale cinema project – a feature film lasting between 1 and 2 hours – which requires more time, more money, more organization, more discipline and more endurance. And involves more complexity to market and distribute.
In other words, I was interested in a more complete picture of what it takes to be a filmmaker.
Also, I thought it would be far more original to debut with a feature, instead of a short. Most people in the cinema industry first shoot a bunch of short films before embarking on a longer feature.
I’d say Kvadrat is a modern-day musical. A techno musical. And because I wanted the film to retain the essence of non-commercial techno, which is mostly instrumental, there are very few “lyrics” (dialogue).
Kvadrat is also a mix of a road movie and a music video.
Electronic music is at my core. It has radically changed my life in autumn 1995. I wouldn’t have become a professional artist without it. My still photography started with it in 1997.
I listen to techno music all the time, except when I sleep, run, cycle, when I shoot stills and motion, or when I write.
So Kvadrat pays a tribute to my long-time inspiration.
The techno scene is also a world I know well, a world where I’d worked and photographed. A subject I could easily visualize and plan, without extensive research and location scouting.
A techno music composer (producer, in techno parlance), generally, avoids gigs in night clubs, and works most of the time in his studio. Which is not as cinematic as a constantly traveling DJ.
I also wanted to highlight the ambiguous reality of DJ work, which is often misinterpreted even by the frequent club goers:
Initially, my plan was to film the entire crew of DeepMix.ru internet radio, which was broadcasting deep techno from Moscow. So Kvadrat would include DJ Pushkarev, DJ Izhevski, DJ Lega, DJ bVoice, DJ Max Grabke…
But I’ve decided to focus on just 1 DJ for several reasons:
Despite what many think, it was me who selected DJ Pushkarev, not him selecting me:
When I had suggested the idea of Kvadrat to Pushkarev in the end of February 2011, he was actually quite taken aback. And nervously started washing the dishes. He later agreed, as long as we pursued certain goals.
Besides just making it happen against all odds, I had many goals set for the film.
The way techno DJs are perceived and presented to the public has been bothering me for a while and became one of the key reasons to shoot Kvadrat:
With Kvadrat, I decided to change all that. To show the real life and work of a DJ. To share the beauty of the music.
But to do it in a subtle way, so that people could form their own opinions. Unlike a technical drawing, I envisioned Kvadrat to sketch out a real person living a real life, open to interpretation.
I’m fascinated by the ability of cinema to trick the human mind into believing something artificial and constructed. A unique capacity to create empathy for people and actions a viewer does not know nor has ever experienced.
When filmed right, you believe in that projected reality. Your perception of movement, time, space and sound is transformed. Nothing I’ve done before cinema – photography, design, writing – comes close to the power of film to create such an experience in people I’ve never met.
To what extent can I create a model, a life, an experience, a sentiment, a perception of time, an atmosphere inside a person’s head – all in under 2 hours? How do I stretch real time into cinema time? 5 minutes into 5 hours? Project a sense of infinity? Trigger a precise set of emotions?
Rather than a story, Kvadrat creates a feeling of being in this DJ world. When you get to know a person, you don’t think of him or her as a “story”, with a coherent beginning, center and end, but as a mix of qualities, perceptions, interactions. How close to the real experience of a DJ could I get using just 2D moving images and sound?
So far I’m stunned that it worked beyond what I expected.
It’s borderline creepy. I open someone’s mind, someone I don’t even know or see, I manipulate his psyche, stir up emotions, often repressed and hidden… provoke reactions so much more powerful than I thought possible… without saying a single word or showing something explicitly.
In addition to living the experience, I wanted the viewers to ask questions:
I do have my own answers, but I never intended to provide them. Those are all open questions and it’s up to you to decide.
Although Kvadrat is my first feature, I wasn’t satisfied to repeat someone else’s film, to shoot a remake, however well executed. Moreover, I felt that cinema has lost a bit of its experimental edge, most probably because of its money predicament.
So, for a debut, I decided to avoid caution, tradition and staleness. I wanted to push cinema forward, as a medium, as a means of expression. To experiment with:
Cinema tends to select massively appealing subjects. Like, a man in love. Or a superhero. Or a spy. Or at least a cop.
But a DJ?
Sounds like a niche subject.
And a dub techno DJ? Who the hell is that? A niche in a niche?
Oh, a Russian dub techno DJ? Speaking bad English?
Can a film still work with a subject like that?
What happens to a film restrained by the boundaries of reality? A film that speaks about a simple profession in a complex way? That keeps all the dull parts? No glamour, no sex, no drugs, no violence… Is it possible to say the truth with a film, however boring it is, and still make something worthwhile in cinema?
The truth is that most watch a movie to escape their reality, to see miracles happen, to distract themselves from their problems, to dream about seemingly unattainable things.
And Kvadrat disappoints with a monotonous, unsolved, maybe even bleak slice of reality. Where’s the confirmation of the myth of the glorious, joyful life of a world-famous DJ?
If ignorance is bliss… should I contribute even more to it? No. I believe knowledge is power, and truth is more important than accolades and money.
The classical way to get a film financed is to provide:
So, the project was doomed, right?
Well, I tried to get the money anyway. By opting for private investors, personal debt and a ridiculously tiny budget for a feature shot in 5 countries.
We barely made it. And I didn’t come out unscathed.
Cinema is obsessed with classical storytelling. Conventions date from Greek theater. But a documentary is more about exposition than about a story. And I think there’s room to experiment, especially when drawing upon the metaphors of electronic music.
Kvadrat has a conflict, a problem stated early on. Traditionally, after a mighty struggle, a resolution should lead to a logical end. But in Kvadrat, that problem never gets solved. We may even wonder whether it’s considered as a problem by the protagonist.
Around mid-film, most viewers start to suspect there will be no surprise, no twist in the “plot”. The hero is an antihero drifting through life. There is almost no development arc, just a slowly accelerating loop, a repeating pattern. Exactly like in a techno track.
How can it continue this way? Is it all stuck in samsara? Was that really the end of the film? Was there ever a beginning?
You can watch Kvadrat in a loop from any point in the film, and it will loose only maybe 15-20% of its informational value. Some details will get skewed because the pace and intensity do increase with the normal progression. But it won’t break the film. And I know quite a few people who watch Kvadrat in a loop. A techno loop.
Another way to look at Kvadrat’s story structure is as if the director is flying from Paris to Tokyo by Aeroflot, with an overnight stop in the Moscow hub. And the Tokyo flight gets cancelled because of a sudden earthquake. So the director is stuck at the airport hotel. Bored, he gives a call to his old friend – the DJ: “Can I hang around for a couple of days?” “Sure, but I got work to do, I’m playing tonight, I won’t be able to entertain you.” And so the director just “hangs around” while the DJ works. Not much opportunity for quality time as friends, but it’s better than hotel TV. And then Aeroflot greenlights the flight. The director leaves as suddenly as dropping by. He gets a random slice in the life of a man. Can cinema work for that?
I modeled it upon real life, where things remain static and endings are awkward, unremarkable, abrupt. People rarely change in real life. Only in fiction films do you see people suddenly transform from feeble cowards into powerful heroes.
I opted to eschew the classical 12 pt Courier script. Instead, I wrote a 1-page synopsis readable by a no-cinema-expert, added a short business plan and started looking for financing.
With financing in place, I moved directly to the shooting script, but in the form of a wiki anyone on the team could modify and complete as needed. Each page would represent a concept / location with a list of scenes, their descriptions and production notes like clothing or permits. Pages were actively inter-linked.
I followed the same approach I’d been using in still photography: a precise outline, but a free list of details; specific shooting hours, but no predetermined camera angles… allowing for improvisation and experimentation. A huge plus on a restricted budget.
A budget so restricted we could not afford a camera crew. No focus puller, no 2 AC, no grip…
All video material was shot by just 1 man – me.
My assistants would sometimes carry my backpack. The rest of the time I carried all the gear, including lenses, a spare camera body to swap for a colder sensor, a MacBook Pro, data storage, chargers and clothing. Running from boarding gate to boarding gate.
All scenes were shot without additional lighting.
No dollies, no cranes, no jibs, no steadicams, no tripods, no sliders, no car mounts. No check-in luggage.
Is it still possible to shoot something resembling a fiction film in those conditions? I think – yes. But you better take a look yourself.
Maybe you’ll notice that I’ve experimented with all Hollywood editing conventions I could find:
The real hero in Kvadrat is the sound of music.
So I spent a lot of time recording and mixing on-location and ADR sound. 185 hours total.
In addition to that, we digitized 302 vinyl albums, out of Pushkarev’s collection of more than 5 000 discs that we all listened through together in Moscow. So we could work from a carefully considered 48 hours of techno tracks in Geneva.
Because Kvadrat’s music and video are so interlinked, it made no sense to go into traditional picture lock. Or sound lock. It all kept changing till delivery.
I thought about distribution even before drafting the budget and writing the synopsis. RuTracker immediately came to my mind. I could see my film pirated to the torrent networks. By my fellow Russians. Because Russian culture is a culture of stealing. And of course, it would be an over-compressed, wrong-gamma version.
Hence we decided to give Kvadrat away for free, but in a controlled, although degraded, half-resolution version, while we figure out distribution details:
We’ll see if the idea works out.
Kvadrat uses a simple profession to explore complex themes and ideas.
I intended the film to be several layers deep:
The second layer talks about the profession of a DJ, its purpose and goals, its pros and cons.
Even deeper, this layer describes and questions the person, Andrey Pushkarev. His actions and inactions, his attitudes and goals, his talents and realizations.
In a broader sense, this layer asks:
At the very bottom, Kvadrat considers the fundamentals:
I do not require the viewer to go deeper than the first layer. But if you’re curious and patient, there’s enough in the film to watch it several times and discover all these different aspects and details.
In a sense, Kvadrat is an ode to hard work to the detriment of everything else. Or a techno epic containing masochist overtones.
Some Moscow DJs are jealous of Pushkarev’s accomplishments, but they don’t work as much, even when offered the opportunity to deliver.
Logically, from all the hard work follows a simple but prevalent theme that when tired, you can’t easily enjoy the pleasures of life, such as the gorgeous Alps. Most overworked people, including Pushkarev, prefer sleep to sightseeing. Even in Paris. Ask any workaholic business traveler.
As a result, what happens to a DJ’s body and brain throughout his touring career? Even without taking any drugs?
Bad food, dehydration, overeating. Sleep deprivation and circadian rhythm disruption. Bent spine thrashing 23 kg of vinyl. Jet engine noise. Loud music without ear protection. Exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke. Time zones. Language barrier. Social isolation paradox: surrounded by crowds in clubs and airports, but lacking any intimate interaction. Non-existant physical exercise. Stress of being in unknown places, missing a plane. The anxiety of DJing performance.
I’ve lived through all of the above.
I’m technically an “in-shape” athlete, running at least 15K per day, climbing 5.11 / 6c / WI6… but while filming, I felt much worse than I had imagined I would feel.
Constant headaches, nausea, muscle cramps, intestinal spasms, time and space disorientation. I had to take paracetamol and even codeine to keep working. This is the DJing reality. And I hope it shows in the film.
Kvadrat starts with the main character sleeping. He’s woken up, dozing off and jolting back… what if it’s all just a dream? Or part of it is? Is his life a dream or a nightmare?
Pushkarev is from Votkinsk, a tiny town near the huge Kama river in the pre-Ural mountains region. But with a rapidly declining population of 98 000 and a depressing economic outlook, it’s more of a derelict village in the middle of vast forests.
Pre-industrial wooden houses. No sewers. No land phone lines. Most of the “city” roads are just dirt lanes that swell into mud pools after rain. The few asphalt and concrete patches crack open to vegetation. The highway and rail links from “mainland” Izhevsk stop there.
So if you’re a techno DJ vying for an audience… It’s a dead-end.
That’s why Pushkarev left at the age of 19. Out of necessity. For Moscow, which at the time was already 10 million and growing.
But he never liked the urban jungle, be it Moscow, Paris or New York. While close to his audience and within access to worldwide transportation, for him, living in Moscow is more of a self-inflicted misery than an ideal set-up. His dream is to live somewhere in the country, surrounded by forests, lakes and cows. To settle in a wooden house close to nature, a force that inspires his deep and melodic sound, quite the opposite of the more commercial dry minimal techno. But to somehow play the music to thousands of fans worldwide. An impossible dream?
I’ve tried to show all that, without speaking the words, or using archival footage. As the fatigue and pace increase, he lapses into moments of sleep, a mixture of peace and nightmares, shot in and around his hometown.
As Kvadrat ends, he finally connects the dreams to the reality and joins the nature, staring at the sea… if only for a brief glimpse of the setting sun, a pause before starting on the loop again.
I’ve always been fascinated by the absurdity of human behavior, its lack of rationality, logic and common sense, its inefficiency. And Kvadrat is a lot about that.
The music is great, but its social consumption is absurd in so many ways: too sleepy, too loud, too dark, too drunk…
And the logistics… Why fly from Moscow to Bucharest through Frankfurt? Because it’s cheaper for the club. The ticket is cheaper. But how can it be? Isn’t it more than double the distance, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions?
As a Russian with a Russian passport, Pushkarev requires a visa to travel to most places abroad. And, no, he can’t just freely relocate to a “nicer” place like Geneva or Berlin, for a better “work / life balance”.
In a subtle manner – like going through border control or showing a close-up of his Russian-red passport – I wanted to suggest the not so subtle chains that complicate his touring and limit his life choices.
And what about Kvadrat’s nationality? Is it a Russian, French or a Swiss film?
I imagined Kvadrat to be minimal, colorful, realistic, non-orchestrated, deliberate, slow, controlled, restrained, honest, experimental, tasteful, intimate, unconventional, hypnotic, atmospheric, beautiful and sad.
I was ready to sacrifice quite a bit of mass-appeal to satisfy those qualities.
For Kvadrat, I wanted to create an illusion that there was no director, no cameraman, no sound recordist… no one on set… only the DJ himself. All alone, as he is in his work and most of his life.
I think I’ve achieved that. But it wasn’t easy.
The feeling of loneliness is of course fake, because during the shoot Pushkarev was always with me. No language barrier, no isolation. He could talk to someone in his mother tongue, share a comment, crack a joke or grumble a complaint.
But to me, this “absent director” effect is much more important than the “director’s voice”. My own opinion about the profession and this particular DJ should not matter at all. So many directors tend to use their films as a pretentious megaphone, broadcasting their outlook on life…
However, Kvadrat does contain several hints of the cameraman, to remind that it’s still a documentary, a reality filmed, not a fiction played.
I directed Kvadrat to show and expose in a contemplative way, instead of investigate and explain in a pedagogical way. To encourage active discovery and to avoid passive lecturing.
Of course, the film requires the viewer to let go of the documentary clichés, to remain focused and intent to interpret what’s being shown without someone explaining how he should think or feel.
I consider my audience to be grown-up, patient people, able to make up their own mind about things, and maybe accept a few mysteries and lacunas.
I wanted the film to be as realistic as possible. Kvadrat is about a real person, a person still alive.
Unsurprisingly, I’ve bumped into the same wall that frustrated Kieślowski while making his documentaries – some things just can’t be shown with non-actors.
I’ve removed a lot of dialogue from Kvadrat. Even though extremely interesting and revealing, it concerned living, working people. All their rambles, dissing, unprofessionalism and bullshit on the wide screen would expose them to serious trouble, in the best case costing them their jobs. I know I could have shown the stark, terrible weaknesses of people, but my ethics just don’t allow me to do that.
I never intended Kvadrat to be a crunchy reality TV show.
When a person travels alone, he rarely speaks. It’s not something specific to DJs on tour. It’s the same for businesspeople, train drivers and even solo tourists. We don’t hear other people’s internal monologues that much. Unless you’re sitting next to a madman.
Hence in Kvadrat, Pushkarev remains silent in public spaces… And his bad English does not help when greeted by locals.
He does talk to his vinyl, though. It’s definitely a madman thing.
Of course, the common trick in cinema is to add a voice-over, but to my taste, it’s too artificial, grandiloquent and literary. Maybe fine for a fiction film like Fight Club, but not for a meditative documentary.
Besides, as I’ve said, the main character of Kvadrat is the music, so I let it do the talking.
Kvadrat’s music oscillates between club and travel scenes.
To appreciate the pulse of 120 BPM music outside of the dancing context requires a bit of practice. Once you let go off the a priori, you start to notice the much slower musical structure and development of techno. The mind tunes out the beats and hears the music around it.
With Kvadrat, I wanted to introduce this counterintuitive perception of techno music to a wider audience. It mirrors the lives of both Pushkarev and myself. Although we do have moments of silence in our lives, we constantly listen to techno as background music, without any dancing going on. Working, cooking, eating, traveling… it all happens to the hypnotic beat.
And justifies the editing in most travel scenes.
I wouldn’t like to overload you with the editing and sound design technicalities, which contributed to the post-production stretching to a whole year… But consider that:
All the while, Kvadrat is 1 hour 47 minutes long, including the end-titles. Notice anything fishy?
Techno music is about repetition, with slight variation.
The life of a DJ is also very much about repetition:
And repeat. The loop.
Same airports, same airplanes, same food, same hotels. Similar clubs. Identical Technics SL-1210 turntables and Allen & Heath Xone mixers. Lookalike audiences. Especially in the dark.
So for Kvadrat, I tried to repeat things as much as possible, while remaining watchable, using photography and editing. A tight balance.
To me, it was super important to represent the DJ’s life and work as accurately as possible. In a simplified form, the time and pace perception had to be:
Kvadrat as a whole was intended to give the impression of monotonous, repetitive beauty, heaviness, fatigue and length, which are the correct aspects of the cyclical work and life of a DJ. And the hallmarks of techno music.
To experiment, I did cut a shorter, much more dynamic, 60-minute variant of Kvadrat. Although the film turned out much more exciting and dramatic, a sweeter pill to swallow, it was no longer documentary, it was fictitious. So I took a deliberate risk to convey the correct feeling of time flow to the audience… and again loose a bit of mass-appeal.
I’ve also used pacing and length as tools to remain true to the unique characters of both the DJ and the director:
Kvadrat is a purposefully contemplative, immersive movie, a meditation. If, in real life, you can’t stare at the clouds during a flight, or at the landscape rolling by on the train, and just marvel at the beauty, well… maybe you might want to ask yourself why?
I believe each one of us is inherently unique. I believe deeply personal, authentic work turns out automatically original.
So, to create a one-of-a-kind film, I did my best to remain as close and as true to myself as possible. To be honest with the viewer, even though it meant to skip the sugar coating.
But the end result is, I hope, a film with a conscience and a presence, a jump into cinema without a safety net.
I use quite a bit of symbolism throughout the film. It’s something I’d included intuitively during filming and then discovered and amplified deliberately when editing.
Hopefully, most viewers do not consciously notice Kvadrat’s symbolism. Nor is it required to appreciate the film.
But I suspect there might be even more metaphors and symbols hidden throughout the film.
So I intended to shoot my first serious film with just a few days of prior filming experience, push the cinematic medium into unknown terrain and disregard public’s tastes and trends… thus removing any obvious navigation markers… What’s left to stay the course? Point into the right direction? Know when the film is getting better or worse?
Fortunately, I’m an internal-referenced person. Most of my inspiration, ideas and actions grow from the inside. It has always been like that and Kvadrat is no exception.
I had a clear picture in mind. As I’ve said, I visualize things as mini-movies, in full color and sound. Plus my ethics and aesthetics remain pretty constant in whatever I do. Moreover, I kept going through a huge list of things I wanted to avoid. The clichés, the plagiarisms, the overwrought preaching…
My quality control is pretty straightforward: before even considering the feedback of the public, the film would have to be excellent in my own view.
Before uploading a new version to Vimeo and shipping a blu-ray, I’d watched Kvadrat from frame 1 to frame 153 593 to make sure the rendering was right. If some detail made me cringe, I’d go back into the edit and improve it. To a point where I could watch the film over and over again without hating it. The moment I could watch Kvadrat hundreds and hundreds of times and go “wow!” instead of “doh!” was the indication that the pudding was ready.
Of course Kvadrat is not perfect and, if I could, I would have shot it with a different camera and a different rig and a different team, and on a different schedule, and etc. But if it passed my stringent standards, I could ship to a larger audience.
In other words, to me, the most important criterion for success or failure of Kvadrat is whether I like it or not. Over and over again. In a good mood, in a bad mood. With a headache. On an empty stomach…
Whatever the opinions of the audience, if I fail to like Kvadrat, I fail at the whole project. If I like it, I succeed.
All the other goals I mentioned before – information, experience, questions, experimentation – have always been hugely important, but secondary.
If you have read through the end-titles, you might have noticed I wrote, co-produced, directed, shot, sound-recorded, edited and designed Kvadrat. But I didn’t do so because of vanity. Or because I’m a total control freak (rather, I’m very precise and perfectionist about the end-result, but I’m OK if other people help me achieve it).
The only reason is money. I just had no budget to afford the team of the caliber I required to output high quality work during 2,5 years.
I would have been much happier, much healthier and I could have kept my hair if I had a professional team of executive producers, line producers, location managers, continuity supervisor, 1 AC / focus puller, grips, sound recordist, associate film editor, sound engineer, assistant film editor, digital imaging technician, rotoscoping artist, compressionist, lawer, accountant… and catering chefs.
Although the decision to shoot and direct has allowed to reduce Kvadrat’s budget, it’s not a money issue.
For me, working with the camera is a faster and more direct way to realize my vision. If you talk to Lelouch or Soderbergh, they’ll tell you the same thing. I also feel more connected and in sync with the on-screen talent, compared to say, sitting in front of a monitor in the video village. I’m with them, in the midst of their actions. And when they look through the lens, they look in the director’s eyes, not the DP’s.
Besides, I don’t have any issues with the technology or the technique. Anyone can shoot gorgeous motion pictures with a good camera these days, right?
Because the 2.35:1 aspect ratio is too panoramic to my taste. Composition-wise, the left-to-right rhythm of the verticals dominate in 2.35:1, there’s no room for bottom-to-top to express. Shoot a forest with 2.35:1 and it becomes a pattern of verticals.
The 2.35:1 aspect ratio throws away too much information. It’s just not how I see things in life. I’m not looking at stuff through a slit, like some medieval night in armor. I have much more data coming into my eyes.
I also think 2.35:1 reminds us too much that we’re watching a movie. A big-production, non-TV, Hollywood movie. Very artificial.
Kvadrat – pronounced /kvɐdˈrat/ – is derived from Latin quādra and means “square” in Scandinavian and Slavic languages.
We’ve chosen “square” for several reasons:
Although similar, techno clubs still differ by their design, scope, atmosphere, audience and excitement level. In Kvadrat, I wanted to show the super exciting (Midi) as well as the duller nights and locations (4 éléments, Supermarket). The plain (Terminus, Krypton) and the romantic (Mir). The grand (Korona) and the cosy (Barakobamabar). A real DJ’s work is not all constantly super-successful.
If the goals were to entertain and show how great techno DJing is, I would have removed at least 3 clubs from the film.
As described earlier, I planned the ending to be non-final. An awkward, real-life event.
Is it truly the end? The DJ is still alive. Has he attained his goals, solved his problems? No. Well, maybe in the future?
“Each new hour holds new chances
For new beginnings.
The horizon leans forward,
Offering you space to place new steps of change.”
The magic vinyls bag has landed on the beach. And now it’s the sea of waves playing the repeating and never-ending pattern of techno. It’s time for the artist to leave the scene. After all, art and nature are the important things that remain when we’re gone. Vita brevis, ars longa.
Honestly, Kvadrat has been the most difficult and destructive project I have ever undertaken. And I thought launching an advertising agency coop was hard. No, that was a walk in the park!
So, in the order of decreasing difficulty and health damage:
And, no, learning how to write a script, produce, direct, shoot motion, record on-location and ADR sound, edit video, color-correct, edit sound, edit music, deliver on Vimeo, Blu-rays, DVDs and DCPs was… well, not worth mentioning, compared to the real difficulties.
But, hell, I did it anyway!
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