The Goethe Institute of Los Angeles will have a screening of a series of German short films on Wednesday, August 24, under the title “Low Budget – High Energy“. I was lucky to get ahold of Teymour Tehrani (Yes, we share the same last name, but this is just coincidental!), producer of Light Years, and have a chat with him about the Wednesday screenings and filmmaking in Germany.
Teymour was born on 1978 in Stuttgart, Germany. He has studied filmmaking at some of the top international film schools in the world and his films as director and producer have been nominated and won awards at several international film festivals. Teymour has worked with some of the finest German actors such as the Cannes “Coup de Coeur” winner Ursula Werner in his films. Teymour films as a producer have been broadcasted and co-financed by TV-stations of the ARD and on arte. His latest film “Lichtjahre” (Light Years, 2011) is just about to enter the festival circuits.
Bijan Tehrani: Please tell me about the event that you have this Wednesday and also about Light Years, the film that you have there?
Teymour Tehrani: We are holding a film screening event at the Goethe Institute, called “Low Budget—High Energy”, and it is a showcase from the renowned German Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg. I have a film called Light Years (Lichtjahre, 2011) in the program. It is a twenty-four minute long sci-fi drama. The story is about an astronaut who gets hallucinations prior to his long awaited space missions and he has to question his existence and his reality.
Bijan: Are you the producer of the film?
Teymour Tehrani: Yes, I am the producer and I worked on this film with the up and coming German director, Florian Knittel, who had a great sensibility towards the topic of the film while staging it. The film was not easy to write and also not easy to direct because the narrative has elegant nuances and tricky twists, which had to be timed really well. We matched pretty well as a team and we are still close friend, hoping to work together again in the near future.
Bijan: Was this a challenging project to deal with?
Teymour: It was absolutely a challenging process that we had to go through because in this case, we couldn’t team up with a TV station as I managed to arrange on previous productions. Nevertheless, this was the film I wanted to make and, with a motivated team of aspiring filmmakers, this was possible to pursue. We worked on a very tight budget, which was very difficult considering our story was set in the future. Another key problem was the organization of the postproduction, especially the visual effects. We have a great visual effects department at our film school, but nevertheless we had to get a lot of external vfx units on-board. This ambitious undertaking took us about one year and proved to be tricky on occasion, but we managed.
Bijan: Considering that there are a lot of young filmmakers working now as producers and filmmakers in Germany, how do you see the future of German cinema?
Teymour: We have a functioning federal funding system. Financial support depends on the region you are from, where you plan to spent a certain amount of your budget and shooting locations. On occasion our system can be frustrating because you might not get the necessary support, depending on the evaluation of a pending film project. On one hand, this federal funding system is very good for young filmmakers to break into the market and for German independent cinema; on the other hand it is a bit of a limited model in regards to the marketable side of filmmaking. I don’t personally see a major issue in language boundaries at this day and age. However, one can really have trouble getting a film financed outside of this federal system. Our limited budgets also affect the content and the genres we produce for the big screen. Co-production is one way to advance a project, with different parties sharing a “creative risk” and expanding the market of a film production.
One of my current goals is to extend more into genre film making and to expand the grounds of well-crafted German drama. Genre is seen as a costly and risky undertaking, besides being viewed quite skeptically in a cultural context. I can tell you from experience that you need to have clever narrative strategies to get around these vital financial issues. I think Light Years is a film which can prove this point. I believe that the German market is trending and forming into a better industry which can coexist alongside our successful federal funding system.
Bijan: Is it easier to finance a feature film or a short film in Germany?
Teymour: Short film funding is sparingly made available, maybe depending on the region. Where I am located, I have not heard of a funded short in recent years. Short films are produced within the public film schools and they have budgets. For people outside this educational system, it is not easy to attract attention in the industry, and filmmaking—as we all know—is time consuming and expensive. So I can clearly state that feature film funding is easier to find in Germany, to some extent.
Bijan: Have you thought of producing a feature film?
Teymour: I have planned a feature film but with more of an unconventional structure. This small project is set out as a “low budge” co-production and has a global appeal. Currently, I have created the first part of the project and I had the chance to do some production development through EAVE at the Dubai International Film Festival. I am in talks over this project with a Mexican film director to advance the project to the second stage. This project is very dear to me because it deals with important cultural issues of our time. This may stem from my German/Iranian background, because I am driven to tackle certain issues. We will see how it advances and how seriously we are taken as a new generation of aspiring film makers.
Bijan: What do you think about German Cinema now?
Teymour: First of all, it is hard for us to get screens for our domestic productions. We do not have a quota system, which guarantees us an x-amount of German films on the screen, unlike in France. Yet, I think German cinema in general has gotten better—not necessarily in terms of story, but definitely in genre and style, and manages slowly to demand more screen time. Often, you’ll find well-educated film school graduates in key positions making films and driving the industry forward with new approaches. I personally think that films are getting gradually better and they are now made for a broader audience. Present productions are not like the films from the 70’s and 80’s where you had a real topic driven cinema in Germany, which I also admire. Globally, cinema faces constant changes because of the digital revolution and we also have to make sure that the theatres will survive. They are the canvas of our larger-than-life art.
Bijan: Regarding your past, you have a very colorful background in terms of education: you have been in Prague, you have been in Britain, and you have been in New York. Tell us a little bit about your education and why you decided to go to so many different locations.
Teymour: I can tell you, in Germany it is very exclusive to get into this kind of film school. After graduating high school, I worked on several film sets and then I decided to apply for film school, which did not work the first time around. But I really wanted to make films and I really wanted to be a director, so I found this course in New York at NYFA, which entailed 16-millimeter guerilla style filmmaking—I was young and I liked to shoot films this way. I had a great time there and I wanted to pursue film making further on. Afterwards, I was accepted into a German screenplay writing program, a fundamental craft that I benefit from until today. I decided to go to Britain because I felt that an international education would get me further. I did my BA in Business Management and Film & Television Studies, keeping in mind I wanted to be part of the film industry. Looking back, this was also a great choice I made which I can still gain from. I graduated from the Northern Film School with an MA with Distinction in Film Directing. In between, I took advantage of an exchange program to the Czech national film school known as FAMU. I felt the need to return to mainland Europe to recharge my cultural curiosity. Prague was a good place because there is still a lot of artistic ideology going around the place and I was able to learn from some great masters. I was educated deeper into color systems, rules of aesthetics, linearity, and other important topics. They took us out on excursions that had nothing to do with film, but we could discover this beautiful city. After graduation, I directed and produced, alongside partners, a music show for the British TV Station ITV Yorkshire. Due to the first economical crises in recent years, I had to return home from the UK and started to produce. The award winning short films I was hired to make got acknowledgement right away in Germany and beyond our national boundaries. After three film productions, I felt that it was time to tighten up my basic production skills and I was fortunate that the Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg just introduced a new two-year program for producers, which I was accepted in. This also gave me the great opportunity to get on the scholarship to the UCLA-Hollywood Workshop, where I met an amazing variety of film industry personalities which influence filmmaking on a global scale. This is also the reason why I am currently staying in L.A.
Bijan: Have you decided to direct films?
Teymour: Yes; to be honest, I do not want to pigeonhole myself. I enjoy writing stories with people, I enjoy directing, and I enjoy producing—it is all about whom and what you work with. I consider myself a filmmaker.