A filmmaker in his own right and one third of electronic experimental three-piece Gudrun von Laxenburg, when Daniel Helmer decided to head into the rich cinematic genre of sci-fi for Revolution (the first track to be taken from the band’s debut album Panic!) he reached out to fellow film school colleagues Sebastian Mayr and Michael Podogil to help make that concept a reality. Daniel and Sebastian join us to explain how despite working with a limited budget, the team never shied away from the challenges of achieving a high production value base upon which they could build a larger dystopian universe.
Revolution unfolds in a bleak, totalitarian world, where cyborg love sparks an uprising. What’s the root of that idea and how involved were Gudrun von Laxenburg in shaping the narrative?
Daniel Helmer: The idea of this post-apocalyptic, dystopian universe, as well as the script was actually conceive by myself. I’m a third of Gudrun von Laxenburg and also a filmmaker – I studied at the Filmacademy Vienna. So basically GVL delivered the narrative and in the later stages me and the directors did the essential fine tuning of the concept. The initial idea for the whole video concept was based on wanting to create a whole universe for GVL in which we could tell different stories and create a unique mood and concept for the band – 2 more videos in this universe will follow soon. The science fiction genre was pretty clear for us from the beginning, because if you know GVL, you know that we seem to be from another planet, and it’s also a highly interesting genre for filmmakers. The creation of an entire world and society was very tempting as well.
The tagline for this whole project soon turned out to be “GO BIG OR GO HOME”!
The basic idea of this universe is that we are heading into a future where huge enterprises will dictate our world’s events. In this case, there is only one big company left called Drone Tech Inc that controls the executive forces along with all other aspects of society. They are the only supplier of food, jobs, living spaces and all other essential needs, so either you align with their system and work for them or you choose the path of an outlaw. When I pitched the concept to my Viennese Filmacademy colleagues, Director Sebastian Mayr and DoP Matthias Pötsch, they both were hooked immediately. The script was full of uber-ambitious scenes and elements and the tagline for this whole project soon turned out to be “GO BIG OR GO HOME”!
Sebastian Mayr: What we had in mind when we started working on Revolution was to tell a story of change. A single person’s decision sets a chain reaction of events in motion which eventually ignites some sort of turnover. Not only do the protagonists unintentionally start a revolution because their actions are driven by love…they are also cyborgs – theoretically incapable of experiencing emotions. On the other hand, we had to establish the universe in which all GVL stories are set…so let’s say we were pretty ambitious.
When someone comes up to you and says: “Hey do you wanna shoot our music video? It’s like a dystopic future-revolution-action-love story with cyborgs and a dog…” – What are you gonna say? It was 8 days of very intensive team work, shot in 2 countries, with kids, animals and some underwater shooting. Imagine organizing all those people you need to ‘fake’ a revolution…with no money. Thank god the band has loads of friends and fans and we had a hell of a team.
Your ambitions for the production value of Revoltuion were high despite the project’s low budget, how were you able to achieve what you wanted?
DH: All this was only possible because the whole team, who were working for free, worked their asses off as well! It was basically all based on manpower and the will of motivated friends and colleagues. Our Production Designer, Prop Master and Combat Gear Designer Zora Kats was working 24/7 and on almost no budget, but when she heard ‘science fiction’ she was in immediately. Producer Gilbert Kralinger did an amazing job finding cheap locations, and we basically spent hours in the car scouting locations. The underwater scenes were shot at night in a public pool in Vienna and the CGI was basically a gift from Arx Anima who we know personally. The support of the Filmacademy Vienna was essential as well. During the shoot, everything that was precisely planned fell in line, and as the brave are lucky we were too! The weather was perfect and everything just seemed to work out as planned.
What was the role dynamic here given that Daniel conceived the film whilst Sebastian and Michael directed?
DH: As I mentioned above, the concept was scripted by myself and then together with the two directors finished for shooting. In preproduction Sebastian, Michael and I planned everything together and made all decisions as a 3 piece. During the shoot I acted as a sort of ‘executive producer’, giving feedback and acting as a tiebreaker, whilst Sebastian and Michael staged everything on set.
SM: Now here is the special twist with working together with Daniel – he knows everything beforehand. So the job is to ask questions until you find a weak spot, that’s when things start to change and start to get interesting and a lot of the sentences in these creative meetings start with: “What if…” Then we spin ideas around and bit by bit build the background. The story is there from the beginning in one line more or less but the script itself is left until the end – when we know and agree on everything.
It is very hard to explain but actually we know everything about this world we created, even though it’s not in the film. We could start writing a feature set in this universe right away because the research is already done. So we wrote the script together and Daniel, who is also the editor, and actually cut the film to the music (he also rewrote) on paper, to make it clearer which parallel cuts would be needed so we could concentrate on making them as smoothly as possible. That was the moment when we asked Michael Podogil to join the team because we knew we had shitloads of work and crazy days of shooting ahead of us – that’s when you want Michael on your team!
Have you ever seen a Live Performance of GVL? I did. So I knew that its going to be epic to put all the energy that lies within that music in an video. And have you seen the video itself? Than you know that it was everyone of the team and cast who gave everything to make it happen. – Michael Podogil
From then on we basically tag teamed our way through the shoot. It was a very luxurious way of shooting for us because in order to get so much shooting done in one day we could just take turns directing. It can take a lot out of you working with huge amounts of people, non-actors, kids and animals. But then one of us could kinda ‘take a break’ behind the monitor while the other jumped in. So we also always had a third pair of eyes watching. (Daniel, Michael & me).
How will the next instalments fit into the world established by Revolution?
DH: There are two more videos coming this fall both telling stories based in our now established universe. The stories are not directly connected with each other but they will extend the complexity of this world. Moving Water shows the struggle of an individual who chose to play by the rules, while Just Can’t get Enough deals with the worth of life itself.