A man talks about 5 WOMEN
Interview with Olaf Kraemer
Olaf Kraemer is a best-selling author, screenwriter (EIGHT MILES HIGH!) and now debut director with 5 WOMEN: A feminine-feminist psychothriller on psilocybin, filmed in a seductively sweltering summer in Southern France, with an irresistibly deadly ensemble consisting of Anna König, Odine Johne, Korinna Krauss, Kaya Marie Möller and Julia Dietze. We spoke to Olaf Kraemer about writing books and screenplays, and then directing them, and about beautiful women doing naughty things.
You lived in the United States from 1987 to 1998, where you met Timothy Leary und Uschi Obermaier. Sounds like an interesting time…
I went to L.A. as a writer and musician, where I worked on a lot of film productions, and met the Coen Brothers, Viggo Mortensen and Sam Raimi. Finally I made a documentary together with director Wolfgang Büld about the life and death of country singer Hank Williams on 16 mm. L.A just lives and breathes film, and I was bitten by the film bug there and wrote my first screenplay. I came back to Germany to work on my Uschi Obermaier movie, and because I became the father of a boy.
Your friendship with German 1960s hippie icon Uschi Obermaier led to the biography “High Times” which you co-authored with her. How did that collaboration work?
Uschi and I spent a month together in Los Angeles, during which I could ask her whatever I wanted. I was shocked at the time that a woman would speak so openly about her motives, her egoism and her ruthlessness, while I admired it at the same time. Her interlude with pimp Dieter Bockhorn and her courage exploring new worlds and social circles, together with her beauty and refusal to subjugate herself to a man, fascinated me. She’s a unique woman who risked a lot.
Matthias Schweighöfer and Natalia Avelon in DAS WILDE LEBEN
The book became a best-seller, out of which you developed the '60s biopic EIGHT MILES HIGH! How hard was it to get the script greenlit?
For six years, 40 German publishers rejected the manuscript: it was too crass, too unsympathetic. Everybody was like, how could you? But Dietmar Güntsche at Bioskop Film immediately saw its potential as a big blockbuster. Still, we spent almost eight years in development with various approaches, writers and directors, until my friend Achim Bornhak took over the film again 2005, I rejoined to project and we actually shot it a year later.
Producer Eberhard Junkersdorf was a fellow traveler in the 1960s, and had a lot to say about the production. Achim Bornhak was unhappy with the final version. What can you tell us about the journey from talking to Uschi, to biography, to screenplay, to finished film?
Eberhard Junkersdorf made the financing possible in the first place. The book is much more out there than a mainstream feature film can ever be, addressing an adult audience that sees Uschi as an icon of sex, drugs & rock´n roll, of breaking with established conventions. But the distrib decided to release the film with a PG rating, and edit it that way. Uschi didn’t approve of the final cut, and twelve-year-olds didn’t know who Uschi was. The press tore it apart. The big loser was the film. Nonetheless, EIGHT MILES HIGH! travelled around the world and has achieved cult status as a stoner movie, especially with young women, some of whom can quote the film by heart. So you can’t always predict your audience.
You wrote the novel "Ende einer Nacht" (End of a Night) 2008 about the last hours of Romy Schneider’s life, which isn’t avaialable due to a court injunction. What happened?
Some woman from East Germany who imagines herself to be Magda Schneider’s “good daughter” and spooks around the Obersalzberg wearing Romy Schneider’s original dresses, but never showed up in court, filed suit against me in the name of Magda Schneider’s widower. It’s a whole bizarre film of its own.
Odine Johne in 5 WOMEN
Uschi Obermaier and Romy Schneider are female icons of our time. In 5 WOMEN, you deal with women in the here and now. Why always women?
Women has a move invisible history, and communicate it differently than men. Maybe they can sense men are afraid of the power the women wield. Women are the winners of history, they are widely considered to be better at a lot of things than men today. Still, or perhaps therefore, they are under intense psychological and social pressure: Perfection vs. humanity, career vs. biology, female vs. male survival strategies. Add to that out modern times, in which everything is discussed superficially in public on social networks. Where everything that is truly private, dark, archaic, is brushed away from the surface of the interface. I’m interested in the conflicts that result out of a constellation like that.
What about the men?
The male equivalents of the women come across as more human than in previous generations, but extremely domesticated and hipsterized. You can see that at the start of the film, when they all arrive with their unresolved conflicts, and the women gather after the men’s hurried departure to finally be among themselves and celebrate their friendship.
But then something odd happens...
A man shows up, and the strange intruder more and more becomes a reflection of each character’s suppressed aspects. They react to the stranger with lust, wish for redemption, hate and misanthropy, which drives them and him inescapably into a fateful corner. I was mainly interested in how far they would go to defend and preserve their individual approaches to life. I was amazed to see how the actresses dealt with that violence.
How did you get 5 WOMEN from production company and film funding to a finished screenplay? Did the screenplay change during shooting? Was there a TV network involved?
There was an early attempt by producer Rainer Kölmel and myself to produce the film with a TV network, by the network executives’ reaction to the subject matter was so lacking in courage, so full of narrative clichés, than we preferred to shoot the film with a very small budget independently. Producers Wasilliki Bleser, Stefan Elsenbruch, Raphael Wallner and I went to see Nikolas Prediger at Bavarian film fund FFF, and pitched the film to him with a mood trailer. He immediately got it, and helped us make the film for a modest budget without a network involved. Everyone on set got paid the same thing, which made the atmosphere very pleasant. Some of our crew coming from traditional-style productions at first couldn’t figure out what was going on. But after a week, we were all living together like a commune. The lion’s share of the budget was spent on travel costs to Southern France, and for the right anamorphic lenses, which give the film its dreamy quality. It was a wonderful experience for me.
Stefano Cassetti in 5 WOMEN
What was it like to switch to the director’s chair for you as a writer? Is it hard to get a grip on physical reality, working with actors and the camera equipment?
As a director, I had to learn how to think in three dimensions, with movements and blocking that made sense, and to communicate these ideas to other people instead of just carrying them around in my head and changing them whenever I wanted to. Plus, you have to do all that under time pressure and sometimes difficult circumstances. I worked very closely with my DoP Clemens Baumeister on the visuals, and spoke intensively with the cast about their characters, paying a lot of heed to how they perceived their roles. As screenwriter, it helps to have a monopoly on understanding the characters’ psychology, of course.
I’m sure you worked a lot with the ensemble in Southern France. How much did the film change from your original vision on set?
We didn’t improvise a lot, just adding two or three scenes. I mostly changed the story by substituting actions, looks and gestures for dialogue. The first few drafts are really written to help you and other people understand the story. I already had ideas for images capturing certain feelings and states of mind, and Clemens and Alex Bloom tried to go out and catch them with their cameras each day, like a hunter on safari. We had already done the blocking and camera angles ahead of time, which gave us a sense of security for the big scenes with five or six lead characters
Isn’t working with a cast of five talented young actresses enough to make a debut director’s head spin?
Watching the dreamy and nightmarish images of these beautiful and very different women on the monitor always made me inexplicable happy. It’s a feeling I still have watching them on screen. I don’t know if it has to do with the fact they’re women. But I do know my next film LILITH will be about two women, too…
- Interview: Collin McMahon