A film DN first encountered (and covered on our podcast) back in 2014, Christoph Kuschnig’s award winning short Hatch, tells the emotional story of a newborn baby whose fate hangs in the balance between two desperate couples on a wintery Vienna night. With Hatch finally making its way online, we revisit our interview with Christoph and discover how he navigated the challenges of lost locations, babies on set and crafting compelling character progressions over a short running time.
The baby hatch itself is an intriguing concept for a film, was this always a story which compared the lives of these two very different couples through the fate of the baby?
It started out with one story. There was always the idea of the second couple in that original story but throughout the writing process, I became more interested in the second storyline as well so I started treating them equally, with different wants and needs and found a moment when both stories would intersect with each other. Hatch above all is about a baby and two couples on different ends of society, one of the couples are illegal immigrants trying to make it in Austria. They have a baby but they don’t have the means to take care of the baby. On the other side of town, there’s another couple who has the means to take care of the baby but is not allowed legally to take care of the baby. So to me Hatch is about the juxtaposition between those two couples.
The writing process for Hatch continued all the way through to rewrites on set, was this a particularly hard story to pin down or is that just your method of working?
I co-wrote this piece with a friend of mine, Karl Goldblat after we’d been talking about it for a couple of months, throwing ideas back and forth. Once we sat down and wrote the first draft it was more or less what the final movie was about. I continued making the characters stronger and the storyline a little bit more poignant but I think once I had it down it was pretty much what I wanted to tell.
It was very unusual because a lot of people said, “Why don’t you start with the baby being stolen or the baby being dropped at the hatch?” But I needed the time to introduce one couple so we could move on to the next couple and I didn’t want to use flashbacks. Once we were ready to shoot we lost a location so we had to do some rewriting then which was kind of stressful but also worked out. I’m glad that we could really tell what was meant to be and what wasn’t meant to be from the get-go.
We built our shooting schedule around the baby.
How much did having a baby on the set impact the mechanics of how you shot the film?
Basically, we built our shooting schedule around the baby. We had two babies, one that was on set each day for 2-3 hours and the other one for like an hour or two. So we had one main baby and a secondary baby. Obviously, a lot of people don’t see the difference but I knew that the babies were different so I was making sure that, “Okay this is a shot where you can see the baby’s face”, so we started scheduling those scenes around that baby.
To me, it was very important that even if you couldn’t see the baby’s face that the baby was moving. That you see it clasping its hands or yawning or making a sound or whatever. And then there were a few scenes where we just used a doll which was obviously the easiest. It’s like rain or wind, once the baby’s hungry it starts to cry and then we just had to wait until the baby is done crying to continue shooting so you don’t plan too much, you plan little less.
Instead of the three nights you wanted to shoot at the baby hatch you only got permission for one, how did that affect production?
That’s what it I was referring to earlier, we had to tailor the script after that happened. The scene where the police stop when Mila runs after the car was meant to be in front of the baby hatch. I was trying to create a visual of these illegal immigrants in the middle and behind them is what just happened, in that their baby got stolen, while in front of them are the police who they can’t tell what happened because they would get deported.
Because we were only able to shoot for one night it was a hell of a night! We had 24 – 26 camera setups! There was a lot of traffic so we had to Foley the entire scene. It was only around 2-3AM that we were able to shoot all the street scenes outside the baby hatch within a two-hour window before the heavy traffic came back so we made sure everything was pre-lit.
We had the actual baby on set which made it even harder because once we got to the scene where Milo drops the baby at the baby hatch, the actual mother of the baby was watching from a monitor and started freaking out which I totally can relate to. She wanted to go home and didn’t want to continue shooting so I thought I was going to lose the baby for that day. I managed to talk her into staying for another half an hour so we got three more shots with the baby and everything worked out fine.
How did you cast the babies?
Our producer reached out to acting agencies and one of them told us that there was a woman who was just pregnant who might be interested in doing it so we met her when the baby was about 1 or 2 weeks old. It was really cute looking and she was game so really, we just grabbed the first one we found and liked so there wasn’t much of a casting process. But then a friend also had a baby around the same time and her daughter was the same age as the other baby so it was like, “You know what? It’d be great actually having two babies instead of one.” I remember reading about the Dardenne Brothers’ L’enfant and I think they had 13 or 20 something babies on set so I thought we should have at least two.
Did you find the rest of your cast through more traditional routes?
Not at all. The baby’s mother Tina Keserovic was introduced to us by another actor. She was studying at a very prestigious German film school at the time and we tried to reach her through the school but they wouldn’t let us talk to her because they thought the students were too busy studying. So I found her on Facebook, said hi and sent her a script. I got a phone call an hour later and a few days after that we met in Vienna.
Vedran Kos who plays her boyfriend, the child’s father, is not an actual actor or wasn’t at the time. He was supposed to be my translator on set because I don’t speak any Serbian but once I saw Vedran I offered him the part because I thought he just was right for it. He felt right, he looked right, everything about his persona was how I imagined Milo when writing him. He didn’t want to do it so I cast somebody else and it didn’t work out. Then Vedran kind of got interested in doing it so we had an emergency rehearsal five days before we started shooting with him and Tina. It worked out great so I went with the two of them. For the other couple, I’d worked with Andreas Patton on a previous short so I knew what I was getting which was great. Max Mayer is huge in theatre in Austria. I liked his looks. He always gets cast as a psychopath or a serial killer and I wanted to cast against type. We met and we hit it off.
I like it when my material polarizes the audience, it gives them something to talk about.
When it came to working with your actors what was your process for turning them into believable on screen couples?
With Andreas and Max in a way it was pretty easy. We did a lot of talking. We met a few times before we started shooting and talked about their lives. I let them spend some time together because they didn’t know each other previously and at the same time, I also communicated that it was very important for me to create a lot of the tension, a lot of the dynamics and the emotions between them through how they interacted with each other. So I allowed them to come up with things that they would do, how they would look at each other, how they would touch each other, just to explore themselves and they did an amazing job.
With Vedran and Tina, it was sort of the same thing but slightly different. They’re the same age but they also have sort of the same background. They both emigrated from ex-Yugoslavia and grew up in Austria so I think they had a lot in common that they were able to connect to.
I did shoot a short a couple years before Hatch where I was trying to tell the story of two very close friends and a friendship that broke apart. I found that there was no other way to do it other than casting two close friends in order to get that dynamic right. So getting into Hatch, I was a little hesitant and a little bit afraid of if I could pull it off and make it work but now through that experience, I’ve learned that you can also just create that feeling with the actors.
I enjoyed the way the film shifts focus as the story progresses. Was that flow between perspectives difficult to construct?
As stupid as it may sound I just went with my instincts. I was hoping that it was going to work but I didn’t give it much thought because to me the baby was the red herring throughout the script. I knew that the baby would give us an emotional connection to the characters because in the end what matters is, “What’s going to happen to the baby?” Of course I was using structural elements in order to create empathy for each couple, that’s why I decided to start with Milo and Biljana and tell their story, then have them drop the baby off and somebody else pick it up, but still go back to them and tell you what’s become of them without the baby. At the same time, I wanted to create empathy for Thomas and the reasons why he stole the baby, which you only learn later.
Character progression is an element often missing in shorts but you manage to accomplish that for multiple characters here which is I feel a major part of what made Hatch such a compelling watch.
Thank you very much. You know what helps is the right casting. I’m not necessarily a fan of, “Oh your characters not likeable, could you make your character more likeable.” I can have the least likeable character but if I cast an interesting actor or actress for that part I’m gonna follow that guy or that girl anyway. I’m kind of bored with too likeable characters. I’d rather have somebody intriguing, somebody I’d like to watch on screen and see what they do, what’s their behaviourism and so on. Be enchanted by that instead of you know, just making it pitch perfect from the beginning to the end. I like it when my material polarizes the audience, it gives them something to talk about.
This is an extract from a longer podcast interview with Christoph which you can listen to in full here.