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netribution > features > interview with ben hopkins > page one

Ben Hopkins is the sort of person you invite to your grande bouffe at News Years, when you've reserved places for one too many happy couples. Nic met him at some festival or other last year and after hearing of his talent but having missed Simon Magus, he had a pop at interviewing him anyway. Months after transcribing that half hour of garbled crackling (and after evidence of an odd cult following) Ben sends us an email trying to drum up publicity for his latest film The Nine Lives of Tomas Katz without realising the connection. This is the film that people love or hate, the director that many have derided at cliquey parties whilst others claim he's the resurrection and the light.
Netribution's vote?
Genius. We keep watching it and we've both agreed that this film, an enormous exotic main course with tiredness and drugs on the side and a huge mint julep, is the most daring and successful British film for a quarter of a century. Bold words huh? Well the trade reviews are listed after the interview - just to show you what 'the experts' thought - but they could never come close to persuading or dissuading potential viewers accurately. It's just one of those films that demands exhibition and gets piss all. This isn't Bridget Jones or even a Lean epic, this is The Wicker Man and 2001 on 400,000.
Please go and see this film. Go and hate it, walk out and blame me or chew sodden blotter with your popcorn and have your wits walk out instead.


| by tom fogg |
| photos by nic wistreich & courtesy of esu bam |
| in north london |

What were your influences for Tomas Katz?
Well I watch everything from the sloppiest Hollywood pic to Armenian Animation. I'm a real anorak for film, I will watch anything. When it comes to influences, it's very difficult to sort of unpick the film to answer that, obviously I've nicked a few things but that's not quite the same as influences. I've nicked stylistic things from the German Expressionists like Murnau and Lang. The film has a mixture of styles from silent film through to MTV.

Lets talk about the silent stuff. Was there some hidden meaning to Katz dancing around the playground and getting bullied almost apathetically?
I don't know, I think that stems from the time when Tom played a child in front of me.

It's about as unconventional as it gets in a feature.
With the silent movie, inter titles and everything? Well obviously there is the kind of old fashioned film style and a contradistinction to the style of the tamagotchi, so it's hilarious.

It's funny but I hope the sequence is vaguely haunting as well.

It's eerie.
I like to have two things going on, two different moods at the same time where possible. Have chilling and funny at the same time - that's kind of the ideal.

I suppose people try to associate you with Gilliam in that way. Although the narrative exists, it's pretty fucking all over the place. How's that comparison sit with you?
With this film is interesting because everyone has their own point of reference - that people can say "yes - this is reminding me of…" The thing is that there are so many points of reference. The film has reminded so many people of so many different things, it's quite clearly not derivative of any one thing. I challenge anyone to come up with a film that it is really like. There are moments when it's like other films but the overall thing is entirely unique.

This is your second feature isn't it?
Yes it is.

It was a great deal cheaper than the first.
A ninth of the price.

Was it a very personal project from the beginning?
Simon Magus is more conventional. I thought it might cross over art-house and mainstream film. But by the time it came out the trend had moved so far to the right they could only argue it was quite clearly an art house film. It's not conventional. Nothing I do is conventional.

You got an art school background?
Well I went to the Royal College of Art to do film.

What's your beef with London? You got the cabs but you didn't attack mobiles when you obviously hate them?
Well I would like to have somehow put mobiles in the stocks and killed them off but I didn't get round to it in Tomas Katz. I don't know why actually, I should have done it.

What you working on now?
The distribution of Katz

You've got to do that yourself?

Was it the same with Magus?
No, Magus was released, albeit half-heartedly, by FilmFour. No, I mean it'll be a total one-man show. It'll be me putting out all the postcards in the bars and the cafes. I'd quite like to hire someone to do it but I've no idea how to, can't hire anyone to do it, I don't know anyone who would do it. It's such a boring job, I have to do it myself.

Oh fuck no! (laughter) What I need is a fourteen year old nephew or someone like that but I don't have one.

The one section that particularly got to me was the way the record stops in the emergency broadcast. It's something I've always quite wanted to see, it was like Romero in one of the Zombie flicks - that was equally absurd, betrayed the hopelessness of the situation and invoked fear in the audience.
I know the movie you are talking about. I think that was quite probably a starting point towards… that's a good point, I think it was the Romero film that engendered that kind of emergency broadcast. The other one was of course the Moral Maze which was a Radio 4 programme

Oh I didn't know that.
It's a load of pompous twats pontificating but the characters who speak about the Abdominal Gaze were based on the people who did the Moral Maze.

The time when it gets stuck: There are several Avant Garde films where people have experimented with the same but a lot of Tomas Katz is experimental and/or Avant Garde but most Avant Garde films are really boring. You see someone waving their camera around their garden. This is an experimental film, which intends to entertain and amuse.

It does run a course, and I didn't think it would at one point.
It does have a narrative but it's a narrative that has hundreds of digressions, It wonders off in one direction and comes back again. It's in no way a traditional narrative in the way that a person in this industry would recognise it

And it really, really does suit drugs more seeing it sober, I have to say.
I think it probably is a good drugs film.

That's not such a bad label is it?
It's a perfect way to begin a drugs evening or it's er…..well why not?

Who do you think your audience is?
Well the film has done very well in Germany where it's played to generally a young, art schooly, druggie, clubby style public. Which is probably the second most sought after public after teenagers. I've been really pleased with the success in Germany in a market place that people making shit gangster films are trying to conquer. Despite the fact that it's done in black and white I think it's really got quite a wide appeal but that's 'cause it's funny basically. And people can excuse things when they're laughing. They can excuse my indulgences in German Romanticism. It's a very indulgent film, the thing is that when you indulge yourself and take yourself too seriously then it's rather painful to watch. I'm indulging myself quite a bit, yeah sure, whilst having a laugh, which is far more watchable.

Have you got plans for another feature?
I was planning to shoot one this summer but it fell through - it was a horror film. It was quite comical but it was too ungeneric and it didn't sufficiently resemble a horror film for the financiers. At the end of the day they wanted it to be a teenage horror film.

Can I ask you about how you met Robert Jones?
He's a great guy. How did I meet him? He read the treatment and rang me up.

I would much rather Robert was working as producer because I think he's a very good producer and we don't have enough of them. But given the choice of people who could be running the Premier Fund I'm glad it's him because he's got his head and his heart in kind of the right place - and it could be in a lot worse hands than Robert's. But it's a shame, every single producer that I've worked with so far has had to take an office job in order to survive. It's kind of untenable to be a producer in this country without having to give in and go and sit behind a desk after a little while, which is kind of depressing.

What would you say to young filmmakers who want to go out and shoot their own feature and they really wanted to do it their own way. Would you advise it or not - after your experiences?
Well yeah. I mean the worst you can do is fail and end up making bollocks but you can equally spend three years planning it, raise five million and end up with a pile of bollocks as well. Simon Magus was 3m and was very carefully planned, very particular and very ornate. Tomas Katz was very cheap - shot in three weeks on a small budget - really knocked together. I kind of prefer the Tomas Katz way of making films because it's much more exciting.

I think you can but fail. You can make a masterpiece on a DV camera with a couple of unknown actors in a room and you can make a total piece of shit with $120m and all the help in the world. There's a magic thing in filmmaking, a sort of alchemical process where something is either working or it's not and it's very difficult to get into that realm - there's no formula to that. It either works or it doesn't.

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