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CANNES FUTURES | Rookie Director Mikael Schleinzer Wants to Provoke With “Michael”

CANNES FUTURES | Rookie Director Mikael Schleinzer Wants to Provoke With "Michael"

Fun Facts Although Schleinzer has made his directorial debut with the divisive Cannes competition entry “Michael,” he has more than 60 credits as a casting director working with some of Austrian’s biggest names, including Michael Haneke and Ulrich Seidl.

Why He’s On Our Radar: The gripping tale of five months in the life of a pedophile (Michael Fuith) and the young child he keeps in his basement, “Michael” took Cannes audiences by surprise with its provocative story, which the festival did not reveal in advance. While critics were mixed, there’s no doubt that Schleinzer has established himself.

More About Him: Schleinzer launched his career in the film industry 17 years ago, when he took a part-time job working for then-casting director Daniela Stibitz. “She asked me to help her out in her office for two weeks and the two weeks turned into 17 years,” Schleinzer said. “I sort of grew into it. It was learning by doing. There was always an interest in film for me, but you can be a filmmaker no matter what else you do.” Eventually, that outlook led him to make “Michael.”

He was completely taken aback when his directorial debut landed a competition spot at Cannes. “It was a wonder shock because I didn’t expect it,” he said. “Nobody did. It’s not like such a normal thing to be selected for Cannes as a first-time filmmaker, so there’s a lot of happiness about that. It all happened very fast.” Still, he claims the experience has been secondary to the satisfaction of completing his project. “This was never in the back of my mind,” he said. “It would be incredibly arrogant, especially with a subject matter like this, to expect a festival life for the film. I made this film because I wanted to make it.”

indieWIRE Asks: How did you wind up making the transition from casting director to filmmaker?

Working as a casting director, there were a lot of directors who thought I should do my first feature. I was a little lazy in that respect, but they finally tackled me and I did sit down and research a number of subjects, which I presented to a work group of friends and filmmakers. This was two years ago. This particular issue was the one that raised the most interesting discussions. After that it was clear to me that this was going to be the one. I sat down and wrote a script very quickly. Since then, the subject just stayed with me. It’s been something that has interested the media for quite some time, and it’s not something as a normal person who reads the paper you could just ignore. It’s a very broad issue that interests the whole world. It’s just something that was sort of there.

How big was the big learning curve for you as a director?

The job of a casting director really has a strong connection to the mise-en-scene: You work with text and actors. You prepare actors to be able to sell them to a director. I just swapped that for the end consumer being the public instead of the director, but I did the same thing, working with actors and text.

Was it hard to convince Michael Fuith, whom you recently cast in the zombie movie “Rammbock,” to play this difficult role?

I don’t know if it was difficult for Michael, but he was very honest about it. When I gave him the script to read, he was quite taken aback and shocked. I liked that. He very honestly said, “I have to consult with friends and family about whether it would be right for me to play a character like this.” And then he told me yes.

Did you have any trouble getting funding for the project?

It actually wasn’t difficult. The project got through nearly all funding bodies on the first pass. The only thing that happened, and I’m grateful for this, was that there were a lot of discussions about what my approach to the subject would be. If I were someone sitting in a funding body I would have the same thoughts. They wanted a very detailed description of my approach and how this approach would translate into a vision and into images–what we would see and what we wouldn’t see, how we would use the issue of abuse in working with people. The project was checked in every detail, which was a good process, because I had to check it carefully as well.

What sort of impact do you want the film to have?

To tell you the truth, just dialogue, discussion, thoughts. That’s what I wish for the film to provoke. It’s not a film you can reduce to a one-sentence synopsis. It’s not very consumable. It doesn’t give people a pre-structured thought about the subject matter. The only thing it can do is get people to confront themselves about the subject and discuss it.

What’s next for you?

I’m not working as a casting director anymore. I don’t really have a new project yet because I finished the film a week before the festival. I’m just not really able to focus on the future. As soon as I get a bit of the present out of my head, I’ll know.

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