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Dennis Gansel • Director

Riding on the crest of the wave

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Dennis Gansel • Director

He’s tall, Dennis Gansel, at 1.84 m. Whatever his parents did, they certainly fed him properly. And the California sun has definitely done him good (this being before the summer heatwave hit Germany). Back from a tour of Los Angeles and a round of meet’n’greets with various producers, agents and heads of production at the likes of Warner Bros., Columbia and Universal, Gansel has been enjoying the success and interest stoked by his most recent film, the pedagogical experiment goes horribly, tragically, wrong drama and audience hit that is The Wave [+see also:
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“I had 80 meetings,” he says. “It was quite a whirlwind. But I want to work in L.A. and that means starting again from zero. My agent, David Gersh, set it all up.”

He’s aware of the pitfalls awaiting European talent which is taken to Hollywood’s bosom and then smothered. “It’s important to make a US film when you’re ready. They have a studio system and it’s about making your own film within that system. They don’t just want good work but something special with its own signature. I was astounded at how young they all are,” Gansel continues. “Vice President of Production at Warner Bros., Sarah Schechter, is about thirty. She was totally open, highly intelligent, and had seen The Wave. I didn’t encounter the cliché of evil Hollywood at all! If anything, there was a great curiosity and readiness.”

Not surprisingly though, he is still very busy with The Wave. “I’m now making the video diary for the DVD,” he explains. But, as with all filmmakers he’s hoping to get going on something new. “A director always starts again from the beginning. I don’t want to do Napola 2 or The Wave 2. I hope to get some partners together and go from there.”

Go where, exactly?

“I want to make my own things. I have two scripts, one with vampires, the other is a political thriller about the links between terrorism and the state. I love vampires,” Gansel enthuses. “It’s a love story in contemporary times – with vampires! It’s been my dream project since my twenties. The time could be ripe! I’m so looking forward to German genre films, like horror, thrillers, love stories. They’re undeveloped at the moment and I’m hoping for more.”

Aged just 34, Gansel’s track record is impressive for his ability to deliver quality films whose depth doesn’t exclude them from being popular with a wide audience. “It’s very important to entertain,” he says. “You don’t want the audience falling asleep.” At which point his button has been pressed and he cites his influences; films, books, writers, directors, actors.

“As for films that I love and which have influenced me, there are so many! Three Days of the Condor. Fight Club. The Big Blue.” Gansel glances over at his extensive DVD collection. “Seven, Boogie Nights – what a great character study that is. It’s incredibly worked out and directed. City of God. Trainspotting. Brazil. Rosemary’s Baby.”

I manage to break in with a question. Where did it all come from?

“From my father,” Gansel replies. “He and I would watch late night cinema on TV. We saw the French classics. Jean-Pierre Melville, Godard. I grew up with them and that’s where I get my love of film.”

Coming back to something he’s mentioned previously and is a common thread throughout his filmmaking career to date, Gansel again stresses “how important it is to entertain. I am very influenced by the New Hollywood from the 1970s. The Godfather, Apocalypse Now, All the President’s Men – they all dealt with very big themes but were also entertaining.

The biscuits are finished, it’s time to go. Gansel’s wearing blue jeans and a white t-shirt. “James Dean?” I ask. “No,” he answers, “Shia LaBeouf in the new Indiana Jones!”

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