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„Out of the niche”

[ Filmpro 1(25)/2016 ]

Interview by Irena Gruca-Rozbicka with Ewa Martynkien.

In your case the source of interest in the film was a creative work.
I worked at school as a teacher of German language. I made up I would record the movie scenes with the children what was meant to be an educational tool. The results were good, so more I became interested in a film and in the end began to study the film.

I graduated from screenwriting and directing at Film and Television Academy. At that time also I worked at school on the original project which I called Cinematic. It was my own method of teaching German language. The project received an award – the European Language Label from the European Commissioner and the Minister of Education. Then I received a proposal to participate in the competition for an educational program for children aged from 4 up to 7 years, organised by the TV station MIMINI+. So, I created the character of Stalk Detective and his story. The topic was related to ecology and Stalk Detective explained to children everything about the environment.

For the next contest I wrote Meme Goat, which lived in the Lost – and – Found Office. And later it simply worked out: Sleepyhead Cat, Striped Mouse for MiniMini+ and a cooking show Snack Laboratory for TeleTOON+ and the first comedy series for children School Radio 13 and half.

Let’s talk about the genre that is the educational series.
The inspiration for me was The Sesame Street, which was created in the 1960s. That was the first educational series that was made on such a high level. It kept the attention of even small children in front of the TV.

How do you write an educational series?
The most important is the subject – science, ecology, etc. The next step is coming up with the main character. It must combine the topic with the corresponding age group. There is
a huge difference if I write for a three year old children or four year old children. Then, I visualise the main character and draw it, because I like to know how it will look like.

Are the drawings used in the production?
They are very often the inspiration for a graphic designer but not always. Later, I think about the next characters. I have to decide how many children will be presented as well as if they are brothers and sisters or friends. The location is also very important – whether it is a kindergarten or a flat. In Meme Goat the children come to pick up their toys to the Lost – and – Found Office. In the episodes Stalk Detective, Meme Goat and Sleepyhead Cat there are acting puppets scenes and cartoon. This type of communication is well understood by children.

When do you start the production process?
If the project is accepted we focus on the details and I might change something. If I work on the script I also cooperate with a psychologist and methodologies. We avoid violence and drastic scenes. Each image animation must be described by me, what sometimes causes problems. For example a child in the story falls and has a nosebleed.

The producers trust me as I worked for a few years at school and had contact with children. I also graduated from Children’s Diagnosis and Therapy and I work with children as a coach. I broaden my knowledge of new methods and ideas and increase my skills.

The main character in my programmes is also a role model and inspires children to think for themselves, in addition he shares the knowledge with them. Each of my programmes has a fixed structure which must comply with that whole idea. In the program Stalk Detective, the children try to respond to the problem by scientific experiments. I choose topics which are also interesting to me. This is an additional advantage of working on scripts.

Are the children’s reactions surprising to you?
During workshops the story of my feature film was told by a storyteller. In the script there is a part about the guinea pig, which the main character hides in the pocket of his hoody. The children suggested that the guinea pig is to large and does not fit in pocket and it should be a hamster.

After a series of programmes for MiniMini+ and TeleTOON+ you decided to write a screenplay for a feature film about the adventures of a child detective.
Stalk Detective drew attention of a producer Magda Rychła from Begood Films. Magda attended the film production course at the Wajda School and was interested in films for children. She brought the book about Detective Kefirek written by Małgorzata Strękowska – Zaremba and so began our cooperation on the adaptation. It was 2013.

I wondered whether the script was from the beginning like the original story?
I had the opportunity to consult the first draft of my treatment with the script doctors and producers at the Wajda School. After that meeting I made the decision that I have to give the main character some psychological characteristics. It is not typical of the genre of detective fiction but in the film for children the main character needs to learn something. We applied with the new draft of the project for the Film For Kids Pro workshops. We were chosen by a the Danish script doctor Kirsten Bonnen Rask who understood our project very well. The great adventure began.
During the first session of the workshop in Poznań I was asked if the treatment is very similar to the original story. I analysed once again the book. Then I understood that some additional details could make the story more interesting. We are pleased with the latest version of scenario. The balance between the book and film was maintained what is very important for readers and viewers.

Did you know from the beginning that this project would be an acting film and not an animation?
Yes, that was the plan from the beginning. Although in Poland then it was not so obvious. The Film For Kids Pro workshops organised by Nowy Horyzonty and Film Association 1, 2 were very important to us and gave us hope.

How did you get along with the script doctor Kirsten Bonnen Rask? Such a cooperation requires compromise.
I am used to the fact that many people read my scripts. They often ask me if can change the plot or if I can express something different. The work on the script is a teamwork. The cooperation with Kirsten gave me more courage and confidence. I am glad that I could work with Kirsten and Norwegian colleagues. They are more experienced because in Scandinavian countries the film industry for children is well developed. Thanks to them I have learned what is important in the cinema for children. When I write scenes and dialogs I have to remember that I create for very demanding viewers.

Unusual at the workshop Film For Kids Pro was the teamwork of writers and producers at the initial stage of the project work.
The cooperation between Magda and me developed. We decided to become business partners. As a co-producer I will have an impact on the result of our film. We have a shared vision of the project.

What are your next steps?
We work on the development of our film.

Do you have plans for a whole series of books about Detective Kefirek?
We would like to adapt at least two parts. During the last workshops with Kirsten we discussed the treatment based on the next book. She inspired me saying that a screenwriter must have vision and has to think about the next film.

What was the most important to you in the workshops with Kirsten?
Certainly the way, she works as a tutor. Thanks to her I believed in myself and what I do.
She encouraged me and confirmed that I am going in the right direction. I realised that I was doing an important thing and I do it well.

Your professional development shows that you used opportunities that occurred.
If you focus on the positive aspects of life, there are new opportunities. I am freelancer and I do not teach at school any more. It is sometimes very difficult to make a living by writing. But there is more joy and satisfaction, endless ideas and contact with people. I am also lucky because great people work on my projects.

I hope that will restore the prestige of the cinema for children.
It is important also that there is a huge amount of viewers who want to engage in this kind of cinema.