(Photograph copyright Kafischnaps/Facebook)
You never know who you’re sitting next to unless you talk to them.
If you want to meet new people, you need to be open to talking to strangers. I think I have read somewhere that a stranger is just a friend you haven’t met yet. (It’s probably a Canadian expression.)
I like talking to people I don’t know. Each conversation is a peek inside another world. On New Year’s Day, I was having a beer with a friend at Kafischnaps in Zürich’s quickly gentrifying Wipkingen neighborhood. I recall that when I first moved to Zürich ten years ago, I said that if I had enough money, I would invest in real estate in Kreis 6.
Now, it’s too late. Despite being hip, Kafischnaps has been a local institution for years. There, you will often spot students, journalists, and other creatives having coffee and reading the paper. So on January 1, I started a conversation with such a young creative: Frederik Maarsen. Toying around with Facebook, I thought he was another marketer helping out a friend launch a small business, which was how the conversation started.
Turned out, though, that Frederik is a film director:
(Photograph copyright Jasmin Schuller)
As a film aficionado, I welcomed the opportunity to speak with someone who makes films. He showed me a few snippets of work, and we decided to catch up for coffee a few weeks later.
Before meeting up, I watched what was then Frederik’s first professional short film which he wrote, directed, and produced: “Auf der Flucht” (On the run). The story follows two would-be robbers on the run after pulling a heist.
Frederik Maarsen: from LEGO to film
Over coffee, I found out from Frederik that he started making movies at age 7 with his LEGO figures. Yes, LEGO stop-action movies like the ones you see on YouTube now with scenes from Star Wars and other blockbusters. Such videos require a high degree of attention to detail, and for a seven-year-old, this is not the norm.
However, much like a young Jacques Tati, a director Frederik admires, Frederik caught the film bug. And from that point on, he kept writing and making films at home and at school. Not one to brag, he tells me that the word spread, and as a teenager, he was eventually asked to direct corporate films.
His passion for film took him to Berlin where he would direct on foreign soil. While writing a script, the self-taught filmmaker also took a six-month course in directing and camera work, honing his skills.
With his new insights, Frederik knew that he wanted to concentrate on creating and telling stories. And he knew that writing and directing was the best way to do that. In 2016 at the age of 19, after finishing his script, Frederik directed Auf der Flucht which has been on a film festival tour through Europe.
Here is a key scene from “Auf der Flucht”:
“He is watching you as much as you are watching him.”
With the motivation of writing his first full-length script, Frederik moved to Holland for a year. While writing a longer script, Frederik was inspired by the people and things he saw and read to write the script for “Durchschaut” (Understood), another short film.
A keen observer of people, Frederik always carries a notebook with him where he scribbles down ideas and potential characters. Perhaps, it is a couple arguing in a tram, or a young man walking with a limp. Or an impeccably-dressed, elderly woman with red lipstick, a cigarette, and a small dog.
When you talk with Frederik, you get the feeling that he is watching you as much as you are watching him. In fact, despite my wanting to learn more about him, he seemed to ask me as many if not more questions.
“Durchschaut”: Trust in yourself and your talents
The thirty-minute short film “Durchschaut” deals with issues of automation, AI, unemployment, desire, and the monotony with which many people live their lives. To play the lead role of the unemployed and eventually convicted lead character, Albert, Frederik was able to attract Swiss A-list actor Anatole Taubman. You may know Taubman from James Bond “Quantum of Solace”.
How does a 20-year-old with one film to his name get such a prominent actor to star in his movie? The story. Frederik sent his agent the script, Taubman found it original and agreed to play the part. What this incident taught me is that sometimes, you need to trust in yourself and ask for things if you want them to happen.
Unlike the self-doubting Albert, Frederik is actively writing his own story. Have a look at the trailer of “Durchschaut”:
As the setting for his new short, Frederik returned to Switzerland and decided to film in the Baroque city of Solothurn near where he grew up. Frederik and his team built three stages inside a studio on the campus of a medical device company.
Along with footage shot in the old town, the film has an atmosphere between past and future. To show his gratitude to the city of Solothurn, “Durchschaut” is also set to premiere there.
About film financing
Along with writing and directing, Frederik also takes responsibility for project management, including finding financing. I asked him about the financing and what type of fundings or subventions are available for Swiss film directors. Frederik told me that because he did not study in Switzerland and is not networked with many in the Swiss film industry, getting funding here is quite difficult.
There is a Swiss school of film to which he does not subscribe. The money for “Durchschaut,” which needed 40 people for filming and an additional 20 for post-production, came primarily through donations, sponsoring, and assistance from foundations. On top of that, many of those involved in the film worked free of charge. The donated time and passion of all those involved helped to keep the budget to around 90’000 francs.
What’s in store for the future?
With “Durchschaut” currently in its final phase, Frederik has pulled that full-length feature film script he started in Holland from the shelf to continue working on it. It will be in German and most likely produced in Germany. However, in the long run, Frederik sees himself directing films in English.
After my discussions with Frederik and seeing his work, I know that this observant, friendly, optimistic, and talented man is going to make a big name for himself. You can also follow Frederik on Instagram.