|Stalking the Halls with Writer/Producer/Director of SAINT, Dick Maas|
|Written by jmauceri|
|Monday, 25 April 2011 00:00|
In medieval times, St. Niklas is a bishop fallen out of grace and traveling with his gang of robbers and thieves, raping, plundering and killing through the countryside. While raiding a small town the villagers take the law into their own hands and murder the bloodthirsty bishop and his thugs by setting their ship on fire, Niklas vows revenge and the curse is born. Now every time there is a full moon on December 5th, the anniversary of his death, St. Niklas and his helpers will rise from the dead and take revenge in a horrible way. In present day Amsterdam, the only ones standing in the way of St. Niklas’ murderous evening is detective Goert, who lost his family to Niklas when he was just a boy, and young Frank.
Writer/Producer/Director Dick Maas’ career spans movies, television series, short films and award-winning music videos; commercially he is the most successful director of the Netherlands. The three “Flodder” film did very well all over Europe and films like “Down”(aka “The Shaft”), featuring Naomi Watts, and “Do Not Disturb,” featuring William Hurt and Jennifer Tilly, are still playing all over the globe. Other movies, including “Amsterdamned” and “The Lift,” are still being shown on television everywhere. Maas is also known for his broad range of music videos and has a longstanding relationship with Golden Earring, one of Holland's most famous pop groups. Recently he shot a music video for Marco Borsato, Holland's most popular singer. In television, Maas has produced a long running comedy series featuring the Flodder family, and for George Lucas he directed one of the episodes of the “Young Indiana Jones Chronicles,” called “Transylvania.” Maas received several national and international film awards, notably the Grand Prix at the Festival of Avoriaz (France). He is working on several new films in the Netherlands and abroad.
FEARS: We've had several films about the Santa Claus/St. Nicholas myth. The end of last year we had "Rare Exports" and now your film, saint. What was the spark that gave rise to your film?
Dick Maas: I'm not sure what it was for “Rare Exports,” and I think it's kind of a coincidence. I wasn't aware of “Rare Exports” when we started shooting, and I haven't seen it yet. From what I've read it's a different take on the Santa Claus myth then our film. There movie is based more on Santa Claus and my movie is based on St. Nicholas. Of course there are some similarities, for example St. Nicholas was also a mythology that started in Europe and was transported to the United States. From there it was reshaped into Santa Claus, and that's what they use for “Rare Exports.”
The idea to make Saint Nicholas into a murderous bishop was something that was on my mind for a very long time. The idea first emerged some 10 years ago and the first drafts of the screenplay date back to 2002.
St. Nicholas is the biggest tradition in Holland and he is more famous than the Queen. It's very important in Holland and I thought it would be fun to play with this tradition. He's always portrayed as being very nice and a friendly man who gives presents to all the children. I wanted to turn it around. So I turned him into an evil one and I created a back story that isn't all that historically accurate, and I invented most of it myself. I made him into a pirate who didn't give presents but took stuff from people. What I did was flip the conventions that had been around.
FEARS: When you consider that St. Nicholas was actually a Bishop and some of the abuses that were going on in the church around that time there could have been a Bishop that was like your character in the film.
Dick Maas: I think some of that could have been true, not necessarily with St. Nicholas. It's funny to have all these things taking place throughout Europe but in a different way. So we have this stuff based on one historical figure but every part of Europe has done something different with him. We have a fairly brave St. Nicholas in Holland and Belgium, before in Germany and Austria he's much grittier. In that mythology he has helpers that wear strange masks and their scarier than in Holland.
FEARS: The majority of foreign films receive some funding from the local governments. Because St. Nicholas is such a beloved character in Holland did you come up against any resistance when you began to show your screenplay around?
Dick Maas: I always have problem getting money from the government. It doesn't matter what your scripts about. In this case I don't think that it helped but it wasn't the motivation for turning me down.
Many people were offended that I was portraying Saint Nicholas as an evil child murderer and not as the good-hearted children’s friend he is supposed to be. Before and during filming, we got a lot of flak from the Dutch and Belgium Saint Nicholas societies and other religious groups who tried to ban the film from the theaters. Even the poster couldn’t get their approval and a legal complaint was filed, requesting the removal of the posters. All attempts were unsuccessful.
FEARS: SAINT is an immersive film and I was caught up in it watching it. As I started to think about it after I thought it had a very 70s horror feel. Especially with the prologue, it brought to mind John Carpenter’s “The Fog.” Was that the kind of look and feel you were going for and did you discussed that in the development process?
Dick Maas: Not really. It's very difficult to be overly original. I needed fog and it was an important element in the last part of the movie. I can understand between that and the prologue how you would have these comparisons to John Carpenters “The Fog.” Of course if you had three girls walking home from school in a steady cam shot you might be reminded of “Halloween.” Obviously we were aware of these films and similarities, and I played a bit with that. I'm not trying to hide it and try to shoot it some other way. I like Carpenter and I know shooting it this way works.
FEARS: SAINT has some impressive special effects sequences. Your film’s tone strikes a balance between a foreign film and an ambitious American independent film. It also balances the physical and computer-generated effects. Some of that technology has come down in price and is accessible to more filmmakers. However, as you were planning your film how did you decide what would be physical and what would be computer generated effects?
Dick Maas: That was a main concern. For instance, when we were shooting the biggest and most difficult scene in the movie, the horse chase on the rooftop, we didn't have anything to compare that to. It had not been done before. Believe me, we did our research and we didn't find anything that told us the best thing to do. Should we do it all CGI or with a real horse? Of course it's a money issue. All our resources were limited and if I had had a bit more I might have gone totally animated and create a three-dimensional horse. We just didn't have that in the budget.
If an American studio would've done this they would have done it by creating the horse and the rider all in the computer, in three dimensions. At that point it would've cost millions in visual effects. So we had to do it another way and 99% of the chase is with a real horse. We did a lot of research into how to shoot a running horse against green screen. Again, we couldn't find anything that had been done before. We had to invent how to do that. We began with a horse on a treadmill against a green screen and we shot him galloping. We had scaffolding built so we could shoot the horse from different angles and then combined that with plates we shot in Amsterdam. We treated that shoot as a real shoot. We shot everything except for the horse running. That was a rather big shoot high on the rooftops and it was 21° below zero. It was a difficult shoot and we had two weeks to get it all. Then we combined it all. It was always about coming up with the most cost effective way to do it. I'm pleased with what we were able to come up with considering our moderate visual effects budget.
FEARS: Here in the States the film industry is always on the lookout for new franchise. The mythology of your film lends itself to that. Is that something you were thinking about as you were creating the film and is it something that you would be comfortable doing, creating sequels?
Dick Maas: It wasn't on my mind initially, but we left an open ending to the film on purpose to maybe have a sequel. I now have a story outline for a potential sequel. That all depends on the type of response we have to the film here in the States and worldwide. The film did very well in Holland and I'm not sure if I want to do a sequel that's only based on that myth. This was a very expensive film to make and a sequel would be even more expensive. We really need to see a return in foreign sales to see where we go from there. I want to see how well it does outside the Netherlands and then see if there is a demand for a sequel.
FEARS: SAINT is having its premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival. What was your initial reaction to hearing that the film had been accepted to the Festival? What are your hopes for the film as a result of being accepted?
Dick Maas: At first I was a bit surprised that it was chosen by the Festival. I didn't know that much about the Festival and I didn't think that they were that interested in genre movies. I wasn't even aware that they had a section for those kinds of movies. Even then I was surprised that they picked it. For me, and the perception of people outside the United States, the Tribeca Film Festival is one of the very important film festivals here in the States. For me, I'm honored and I think it's very important that the film is being shown here. I think people in New York, in a strange way, can relate to a movie like this. I think it's a good audience here. We've already had one screening and a second one coming up at midnight. I don't know if that's a very good time, it's a bit late I think. However, the response to the film has been very good so far.
FEARS: Have you had a chance to watch your film with an American audience? Were you surprised by some of the reactions to your film?
Dick Maas: To tell you the truth, I haven't sat through a whole screening with the audience. At the last screening we just saw the first 10 min. and the last 15 min. I knew there was some real gems and scares at those points in the film. The audience was reacting and I don't think there was any real difference in the audience reactions here as there was in Holland. Everyone jumped out of their seats at a certain moment. I was pleased to see that it was effective here as well. I think there a lot of details in the film about the tradition of St. Nicholas that only people in Holland get because they know it, they grew up with it. Some of those details are lost on a foreign audience. I tried to put in as much as I could to explain those traditions. That's why I had the shot in the film where the guide is leading the group of tourists through the red light district and he is explaining some things about the myth to the group in English. That was specifically put in to give some background information to people outside the Netherlands. Also you lose something in the translation, you can't translate everything.
FEARS: So what you get back home in the Netherlands and you had a chance to recover from the Festival, is there another project waiting for you? Would it be another genre film or are there other things like comedies and dramas that you're more comfortable with?
Dick Maas: I've done other films, like comedies and action films. I like horror movies and thrillers. The next movie we are working on now is a thriller called “Quiz.” The story is about a famous game show host who is harassed in a restaurant by a strange man who claims to have kidnapped his wife and daughter. We’re casting it right now. Hopefully we'll be shooting it July or August of this year.
FEARS: It's interesting that in addition to the St. Nicholas myth we've seen some foreign films reinventing other mythologies from filmmakers’ homelands. You don't have to tell me and giveaway any of your ideas, but are there other stories, other myths, that you're thinking about which would make an entertaining film?
Dick Maas: None spring to mind immediately and I haven't been thinking about that. However, my producer and I were kicking around the idea of maybe doing something with the Easter Bunny. Still, St. Nicholas was one of the most important traditions/icon that we could tackle.
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|Last Updated on Tuesday, 17 May 2011 04:59|