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"You need a good dramatic structure to rely on, and to be able to get inspiration in the moment"

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Jakob, Tom Lass • Directors

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- German directors Jakob and Tom Lass talked to German Films about how they started in the film business and their working methods

Jakob, Tom Lass • Directors
Directors Jakob and Tom Lass (© Berlinale / Niklas Vogt)

Jakob Lass and Tom Lass are keen to clear up one question immediately: “We are brothers,” Tom explains, “but not in the sense of the Coen Brothers or Wachowskis, in that we don’t work together as a directing team.” To which Jakob adds: “We both have strong visions and support each other.”

Tom Lass, in his own words, “didn’t study anything!” What brought him off his original course of computer programming, was becoming an actor by accident: “I went to a casting when I was fifteen and after six rounds I ended up playing one of the leads in Ants in the Pants,” he relates. “I finished school, kept on acting, doing more theatre and film, and then we started directing.”

Jakob Lass also started his acting career “when I was nine! Then training when I was seventeen.” After young and wild years on the stage he applied to study film direction and “was turned down repeatedly by every film school in the country! So I decided to make my own film.” The result was short film Paul the Lifeguard (2007). The mockumentary won several awards, propelling Jakob to the Berlinale Talents, to studying at the Filmarche Kreuzberg and, “finally”, a place to study directing at the Film University Babelsberg Konrad Wolf.

“I first got behind a camera in 2005,” says Tom. “I started as a production assistant and driver, then unit- and location manager and eventually first A.D.” He then made a big leap with his first, improvised and low budget feature, Papa Gold [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
(2011): it won the Max-Ophüls-Award and the First Steps Award, amongst others, the Association of German Film Critics Award at the Achtung Berlin festival.

When it comes to their working methods there are more similarities than differences. Both have a great love of improv because they want to circumvent the limitations of a screenplay and utilize the direct impact of reality you get from improv. “You need authors, of course!” Jakob exclaims. “You need a good dramatic structure to rely on, and to be able to get inspiration in the moment: that’s how I made my last three films.”

Tom doesn’t “start with the idea but with reality. I look at what is around me, what interests me, what I can put together. When you start in your head, you can have all the ideas you are capable of, but when you try to reconcile them with what’s really out there, you have to make compromises, especially if you don’t have the money and means to manipulate that reality. If I don’t have what I want, then I only need what I have! This gives me access to much more honest stories than I could ever come up with when struggling to write a script. With my head. On paper.”

With both brothers “coming from acting”, it marks their working methods. They know the processes and technicalities and that is where their stories originate. As Tom explains: “I still act and the observation I made on these film sets led to our current method. You often have very talented people all working very hard, but that talent is wasted after 18 hours trying to cram all that script into a tight schedule. So instead we film only as long as we’re productive. Every take is unique so there’s nothing to repeat. If it’s good then you got it, and if it sucks you shove it. Sometimes I play in my own films because that way I can steer and influence the scene from inside.”

Jakob: “I guide my actors by often giving them secret tasks they get separately so I can steer the conflict, needs and goals of each scene where they have to react to their partner.” Yet, love of improvisation notwithstanding, both brothers believe firmly in the importance of the script because, as Tom says: “It takes a lot of preparation to improvise!”

Both are finishing their latest projects. For Tom this is Ugly and Blind [+see also:
trailer
interview: Jakob, Tom Lass
film profile
]
, his third feature. It’s about a guy who is ugly, who really wants a girlfriend. Then he meets a girl who’s blind and BAM! The film will have its festival premiere in the Munich Film Festival (22 June-1 July). After the success of Tiger Girl [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Jakob, Tom Lass
film profile
]
, Jakob is editing his new film So was von da, an improvised version of the novel of the same name.

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