Steen Agro • Director
The toughest project of his life
by Sakis Kontos
The director’s job is to deliver the film regardless of the obstacles put in his way. Steen Agro, a British commercials director, claims that he has done just that with his first feature film Shut Up and Shoot Me (o.t. Sklapni a zastrel me), a low-budget production to be released in Czech theatres December 1st. It is the story of British man Colin (Andy Nyman) who after his wife is accidentally squashed by a statue while in Prague, hires local man, Pavel, to kill him, but plans spin out of control.
Agro is convinced that this is a true British-Czech production. OK, it is in English and the creative team is all British, but the film stars Karel Roden and Anna Geislerova, who are top brass when it comes to acting skills in the Czech Republic and around the world. Roden has starred in Hollywood films like Fifteen Minutes or The Bourne Supremacy. Geislerova nearly won an Oscar with Zelary.
Cineuropa: How determined were you about shooting this film?
Steen Agro: I had a project that was just about to get the green light and it fell apart at the last minute. It felt like I had absolutely no control, so I decided to make a film that I would be in charge of. I wrote an ultra low budget script which turned into Shut Up and Shoot Me. The idea was to raise the small budget from family and friends but in the end I was lucky enough to find a Producer (Storitel) who was willing to step in and support me.
Would you say that, in its essence, that this is a British film shot in Czech Republic? Or are you happy with the UK/CZ label on it?
It is exactly what you say, British-Czech film. My wife is Czech and I have a long, happy connection with the Czech Republic so I'm more than happy the film is seen as a coproduction. I live in Prague several months each year but shooting here was a new experience. The local crews are so used to work on big foreign films, so there was no problem for them to communicate in English. The standard of the technicians over here is also very high so it was a pleasant experience too. But there were still some differences. Czechs seem to have an "it'll work some how" attitude. We were restricted to such a tight budget and with so little time for prep-work or shooting that such an attitude really worked out to our advantage. We certainly could have not shot this in the UK (not for the money anyway).
How good is it to work in the Czech Republic compared to the UK, when it comes to production?
I tried to push the production values of this film as high as I could. I don't think that a film should look cheap for the simple fact that it doesn't cost much. It is a story told in pictures and sounds, therefore the way you see and hear it contributes to the narrative. We got a lot for our money, almost an impossible amount really, which I believe allowed us to punch above our weight, in terms of how the film feels.
What is the balance of your work experience with a Czech cast and crew?
On the one hand, it was easy because they all spoke really good English. On the other hand, the only little problem came up when we shot in Czech. I obviously knew what was being said but didn't know how subtle it was. I had to check it with my first Assistant Director and trust the actor. But it all worked out in the end.
Would you say that your film reflects a modern trend which dictates that co-productions do actually mean "globalization" of European (and not only) productions, where nationalities and cross-border co-operation is so vivid?
It doesn't matter where you come from; if you are a filmmaker you should try to keep your work as much as original and fresh as you can. For me it was undoubtedly the hardest thing I have ever been involved with. I never expected that making a film would be that tough. Tough but great fun; I hope I will get to do it again soon.
Black comedy is big thing in Czech cinema these days. How would you rate the performance of your film in the Czech box office?
To be honest, when I wrote the film I wasn't aware the black comedy genre was that popular. I obviously hope it does well but you never know how people will react.
What was the production budget and how was the film financed?
I am not sure about the exact budget, but we didn’t have much money. I met up with Paul Sherwood, the producer, after he saw a short film that I had done in 2003. As the costs were relatively low he put up the cash himself. Some money came from a co-producer but the majority was Paul's. He trusted me, which was very satisfying but I felt a lot of pressure at the same time.
Do you plan to release the film in the UK/Europe/US and what steps have you taken towards this goal?
Moviehouse Entertainment is our sales agent. Getting them on board should hopefully mean we can get the film out there to more people. We decided to see how things went in the Czech Republic before we tried elsewhere. The UK and US are hugely important, especially for an English language film. It would be great to have some feedback there.
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