Ep 27 | Baltasar Kormákur - Director: Beast, Everest, 2 Guns

Credit: Universal


Note: Please be aware this transcript is generated by AI, there will be small inconsistencies with the published podcast.

Mike  0:00  
Hi everybody, Mike here. I'm back. It's been a while. There's been some exciting movement going on with my career of late that has taken up most of my time. I will divulge details when the ink is dry. But don't worry, I haven't been slacking on red carpet rookies, I actually have a secret. I've been storing up some pretty amazing guests to release to you in the coming weeks, I just haven't had time to edit and release them until now. Today's first one back is special not only due to the guest, but due to starting the podcast in COVID. It was actually my first ever in person interview. listening back to the recording, I've learned that live podcasts have more of an atmosphere to them, I think and aren't quite as clean to edit as a zoom recording. So this episode is rora. With more of largely my fumbles left in, there's a very little amount of static in the first few seconds which subsides after about maybe 20 seconds. So I hope you enjoy it. Here's Balthazar. When beast is offered to me, in the middle of the COVID and you know, the idea is to go and shoot Idris Elba and Africa and create a full lion. I just like there's nothing in me that that no one did that way it was nothing resisting that idea.

Hello, and welcome to Red Carpet rookies. My name is Mike battle, a film crew member turned screenwriter working in London. Each episode I bring you life lessons and stories from the people behind your favourite movies and shows to help demystify the business for aspiring filmmakers and fans alike. Thanks for joining me. Let's get started. Today's guest is quite the jack of all trades, a director, producer, writer, actor, and even studio owner. He is one of the rare people to straddled both of Korea in his native language, all the while succeeding in Hollywood, beginning with Icelandic homegrown fair, he has since directed the likes of two guns with Mark Wahlberg and Denzel Washington. Everest with Jake Gillen Hall. And most recently, Idris Elba versus a fully grown lion in beast. Our guest is about the Tsar call Marco, how you doing today?

Baltasar  2:09  
Very good. Thank you.

Mike  2:10  
Thank you for being here today.

Baltasar  2:11  
My pleasure.

Mike  2:13  
I ask all my guests the same first question. And that is what did your parents do? And did it affect your career choices moving forward?

Baltasar  2:21  
Well, my father is a painter from Barcelona, Spanish. And my mother is Icelandic and she is a colorist. So I don't think that affected my career choice, because there is no actor or filmmaker in the family in any way. But it did allow me in some way to think and traditionally about, you know, my career I didn't wasn't forced into any or pushed into anything like more academic or so I think it was just an accepted fact in my family that you do whatever you love to do. So that's that's probably affecting me in that way.

Mike  2:56  
Artists following artists. I like it. Was it your father that taught you about horse riding?

Baltasar  3:00  
Yes. My father and my mother, but, but my father had horses from very early when he came to Iceland in the 60s. And actually, the first memories of what I'm told my first horseback thing is that I was standing on a fence, two years old, waiting for a horse to pass and jumping on the horse and then riding it into the stables as my father will have finished cleaning the stables you know, I was just sitting on the horse. So that's I of course, I remember that. But that's how my parents explained my passion for horses. It was already and I still have and a lot of horses I was competitive horse rider and, and breed horses and, you know,

Mike  3:38  
should be a character in your own films.

Baltasar  3:42  
It was actually when I was in and this sounds terribly cheesy, but when I was in theatre school, I supported myself by breaking horses and dancing tango.

Mike  3:51  
Wow, there's a combination with that, yeah. I mean, you had quite an adventurous childhood in you because you're also playing on icebergs at the end of your garden or something like yeah,

Baltasar  3:59  
your your your little looked at it, you know, there was we live by the sea. And this was the terror to my mother. So when we're in Iceland, when they see would freeze, it breaks up towards the coastline. So that is to call the yada yada, like, so the breakup. So you run on the breakups, and of course, it's extremely dangerous because if you make a mistake, you can fall under the ice. So you're trying to get on to the ice, which is further out, which doesn't break up to the coast. And every time I would come home with a wet wet feet, my mother would put me down in bed for a day because she was so scared, I would kill myself by doing this,

Mike  4:36  
so what led an outdoorsy kid like that, you know, riding horses, jumping on fences, swimming in freezing water, interacting it I imagined in Iceland with a population of 300,000 people, it probably wasn't at that time, the easiest choice and

Baltasar  4:50  
no, it wasn't an absolutely it wasn't my chosen path. And funnily enough, I was very much into animals when I was a kid and you know, not only horses but but I was I was going to be a like an animal, some kind of researcher, you know, in Africa actually, funnily enough, and I can tell you later that I had forgotten about that. And then it turned into more practical to be a veterinarian, I actually was accepted into school in Liverpool, as in the UK, yeah, that as a rat. And then, you know, six years of that, and six years in Liverpool, in old respect, you know, it wasn't quite there. So at the same time, there were, there were auditions for the theatre school. And I had been doing quite a little bit, a lot of acting in school. But, but I wasn't, you know, one of the issues I had was, I didn't have a very clear speech, I don't have, you know, I'm mumbling in my, you know, in my, in my speaking, especially when it comes to Icelandic, I speak a bit fast. And so it was I wasn't the typical actor's kid, I had no background to it. But I did get, you know, like, from directors that were working there said, you know, I obviously have talent, and I should pursue it. So I kind of lazily went to the theatre school. And when I was graduating from my, my duties in school, and I was accepted right away. And I spent four years in the Icelandic drama Academy. And then I actually became one of the most successful actors in Iceland at the time, you know, kind of a movie star, and you know, like, yeah, like a new generation of actors. But it didn't quite fulfil me, to be honest, you know, I didn't, it didn't quite give me what I was looking for. And very early on, I started directing in theatre, and then eventually, I started directing my own movies.

Mike  6:37  
What lessons did you take from directing theatre that you take into your film?

Baltasar  6:40  
Well, I do think there is a great lesson, which is that when you're working on stage, you have a lot of time to rehearse. Therefore, you do not have to decide everything, however it is going to play out in the end of that period, you allow things to come to you, and you allow the process of creation, you know, because an actor is never going to do exactly or be best at what you expect him to do, he might bring something else interesting to the table. And so you learn to open up in that process and trust the process. And I've tried to bring that into films as much as I can, because I do think it is a downfall when you try to make a movie in your head and then repeat it on set, you have to allow the process to give you the gifts that might come to you on the way and I am repeating one of the masters, Bergman, he, this was a great revelation, when I read this, or heard him say this is, the more you prepare for what you can do, the more you're free to let it go once you're there. And it's very, it's a very interesting thing. Because basically, by by prepping everything, you know, you have built your pole, something to hold on to, you know what you're going to do. But now, if nothing comes on the set, you can, you can do that. But if something more interesting, and because you have that whole Hold on, you know, to know what you're going to do, you can let it go and do something more interesting and build on that. Instead of, you know, if you don't have no clue what you're going to do, and then you're like, make it happen, you might be in trouble. Because there might be a day nobody brings anything to you. So it's not that you don't prep you crap more. But you have to have the the self assuredness there as you know, to let go and trust the process and trust your instinct and decisions because because films are made by decisions from when you you know from way back in writing process is not only made from strategy of thinking is instinctual in many ways and every decision what actor you're going to work with what everyone in the crew down to waitwait shooting it and you know, so it's there is apart from the obvious choices of scene, what scenes are you going to use to tell the story when you're writing it? So I you know, I come from as he said, You know, I come from many, many angles into this production, but most of them if not, it's more we have the saying nice loving words. I'm gonna give you a very bad translation of is like,

Mike  9:17  
is this a naked woman? Yes.

Baltasar  9:20  
naked woman is a fast learner of knitting. You know, Susan, you know, Nathan can actually call a spinner. So when I'm starting in Iceland, there is there are no producers really to take your thing. So I stopped producing. There are no screenwriters, really working screenwriters. So you just have to write your own screenplay. And so it comes from that of course, it's not only from that it also for me to do things. I really enjoy writing screenplays, but I don't look at myself as like, I don't write I'd rather adapt. You know, that's where my strength comes in, and the shape and form and all that. But I do like to work with those writers well because they might be better at You know, some things that I'm not? Yeah,

Mike  10:02  
I think you're brilliant example of, you know, making that work getting it done in your home country and then going out there for anyone listening who doesn't necessarily live in Hollywood, London, New York, what would your advice be for someone who may be living in a small town? How do they get out there? Do they just make work themselves? The iPhone filmmaker?

Baltasar  10:19  
Yeah, I think in the end of the day, you just got to do what, you know, what was available to you. I had, you know, some help. Because I created a name was an actor, I didn't have anything. When I started as an actor, I just got creative, you know, by by working. And then when it came to filmmaking, yes, my name was somebody which I could kind of abuse for my own production. But, but in the in the end, but in the end, you just got to take what is available to you and make a difference from those days, when I'm starting 9199 I think I made my first film that will last a technical advantages in the sense that you you can make on almost like a camera, it doesn't have to be an iPhone, it can be a camera that cost you maybe $1,000, or something, or 1000 pounds, you know, and you have almost the same quality of image that Hollywood movies have, you know, now it's now there's no excuse that you can't afford it. It's just like, No, you just got to write and create your project. And and of course, you don't have available or the greatest talent, but neither did I at the time, you know. And so yeah, I think I think that's what you do, you just build on that, if you're lucky, you can build on that and continue here.

Mike  11:31  
Interesting. I read in one of your interviews,

Baltasar  11:34  
sorry, I really want to add also, because you said like a filmmaker from wherever the what happened in my time, which is, you know, it's just about happening, when I'm starting is that you don't have to live anywhere. You know, I still live in Iceland, I have my home base in Iceland, and I want more than maybe most American filmmakers, you know, and other of Hollywood at the same time, you know, but I also do my starting projects, so I never put all my eggs in one basket and set, you know, like gonna go full in Hollywood and wait for them to know, I just kept on making movies, I mean, make movies when they know, when they thought I was because they were pushing, you know, my first Hollywood feature, just the deep in the shadows, that didn't tell anyone because I'm not going to wait for them to decide what my life is going to be. So I kept on working. But I've never had to leave only leave for projects. And but but but in the end of the day, with, with the technique with now with the Skypes, and the zooms and everything. You can almost you know, unless when you're shooting, you don't have to leave home, you know,

Mike  12:37  
amazing. That's pretty and I love that you're, you know, you just, I'm going to make this happen. I'm gonna have both, and you can have both.

Baltasar  12:43  
Yeah, let's say that there was no, there was no model in front of me. I just decided I'm gonna, you know, I'm making those films, I don't have to give that up. I go and make those and I can continue doing it. And I build up a studio in the meantime, because I also use the money that I've gained in Hollywood to build up a real industry in Iceland. They're shooting, you know, to detector material. No, you know, the force isn't

Mike  13:04  
very cool. I love that and to take a bit of a gear shift. In one of your interviews, you mentioned about how Jon Krakauer is writing is part the reason that you want to do Everest, in part because of the commercialization angle of the mountain. Is that part of the reason that you chose beast, because of the poachers angle, commercialization of nature?

Baltasar  13:21  
You know, here's the thing, when beast is offered to me, in the middle of the COVID, and, you know, the idea is to go and shoot Idris Elba and Africa and create a full lion. I just like, there's nothing in me that said, no wonder that was nothing resisting that idea. And I had, you know, not on similar things happening to me in my life. And, you know, it was a divorce rather than somebody dying. But it was a family time, that I needed really to get my family together and going and making peace kind of brought my family together, like his journey. So it's always always mirroring something in yourself in a way. So I found that, you know, both extremely interesting and challenging, and I'll take a talent and, and also, I found out I mean, when I make Hollywood movies, I'm not looking to make a satire about American politics, you know, suburbian American movie, I made movies, they usually happen. A lot of them happen outside, you know, America, or they are, they are not, you know, so So because I feel like I'm more capable or as capable of my colleagues in America to deal with us because I have been in the nature I've been in the world as as maybe I'm not as versed in American politics as they might. So I choose to protest what I my strengths can come through, you know,

Mike  14:46  
it's interesting for people who are listening who aren't necessarily filmmakers, because what they might see as a fun, scary movie to watch in the cinema and beast. You have got your own whole life going on behind it and bringing in your family into that and often people don't realise that do they? They're not something that seems like a big Hollywood movie has got that nuance to it, do they?

Baltasar  15:07  
Yeah. And for me, it's also it's what you make of it. You know, I also thought this is a great opportunity to cut my teeth and a different style of shooting. So I decided to make the long one shots. Because the story a lot is not plot driven and heavy, and that it's a, you're moving through its momentum. And I'm trying to make the most of the momentum. I created intention. Yeah. And so that's, that's also like, there are so many reasons not to make film, or there's so many reasons to make film. And there might be some of them very personal, as I said earlier, about father trying to build a new family or future for his family, you know, or the challenge of creating a digital lion, you know, in full shape, you know, which is which has never come to me before. And I'm a challenge junkie, I've said that, you know, and I've been caught him. And I mean, it's funny because people you know, I was like first I'm cold, like when I did one on one Reykjavik, you know, boy back in the days, like, they call me a motor on ice. And then they call me when I do this, see, like, I started Bergman, and then you become the action guy when I do the or the Mark Wahlberg action filmmaker, and then I do a couple of survival. Those final one you name for me? And I'm fine. I'm just next thing. I'm doing a love story in Iceland, England and Japan, you know, so. So it's, it's like, I don't I mean, I, we have all kinds of, I'm an adventurous guy. But I'm also a family father. You know, I'm also a lover, you know, and so I have many, many different faces.

Mike  16:45  
You mentioned the CGI line there. And I thought it was really impressive. And as you mentioned, some interviews the gravity of it was very, you know, you've got that slobber on you. It reminded me almost a bit of the bear scene in The Revenant did you look at that when

Baltasar  16:59  
you could not not look at that. And it's right in front of your nose. And when you see a script like that is okay that that's the barrier that's the barometer I have to reach that kind of a level of detail in the animal in so so you take that but of course, in the end, I actually spoke to in a reader about it, he you know, he was very generous, you know, kind of asking him what what what is you know, what, if you had any recommendations or any help and and he actually did say he's told me that if you can have a lie on site just for references, I would have done that with a beer but I couldn't. So I I did that I went and asked for Alliance you know, but But of course, I got it, you know, it was a reference line, but my son was 33 years old and becoming a DP from an actor to dB Balthasar Jr. The bulk is a break here. Yeah. And he shot the second unit on this, you know, on this film and the right to that and so he was in a lion in a cage shooting a lion most of what I'm that he loved it by the way, he's there his life, you know, like father like, son. Yeah, absolutely

Mike  18:05  
interesting. When you are directing something like that, obviously, as as a non actor, I can imagine it's very difficult to be introduced or whoever and imagine that line is really there. I remember one of my first ever jobs I worked on Fantastic Beasts funnily enough shot by Philippe and I remember them running around with this little teddy and run and trying to get away from the madness there. How did you coach your actors with something so scary as well? Yeah, well,

Baltasar  18:29  
first of all, you know, we had to be very precise about what was happening because it's all shot in long takes you know, so it's not like we can cut around so there had to be right in the shot. We did have you know, men integration with a big hat, you know, which was actually a cold oven and he was he was raised on a lamb farm in Africa so it did help but he's scared them well no, it's more like they know the pace and how they act so it was you didn't have to kind of you know, explain everything to him he could be very helpful and understanding what we were trying to achieve but I think like anything you know if you play in grief you are Kermit much in it you know you playing skier you gotta imagine it you know, it's more I don't good actors I don't have you know, don't have a problem with that it's a it's a calibration rather because I don't like kids screaming in a movie for two hours you know, so I rather you know, kind of break them down and create this kind of inattention and and drama instead of like having them yelling you know, fully loud every time but it's it's more when it comes to timings and especially when it's physically like when when the touching and the get the gravity and the weight like when he pulls him it needs to be the right way because often if you if you wire them they just fly like in a Marvel movie. And it just feels too much you know when you see people punching each other the flight to the wall is but that's that's for final whatever it is, but it's gravity doesn't work that way. So I was trying to be because I do believe that the scares are based on gravity as well. Our reality we that's what scares me the most is something that you can connect to

Mike  20:01  
now Baltasar I wrap up on red carpet rookies with a quick fire question round, which is my own Ode to any actor studio. So number one is what is one of the best pieces of advice you've ever been given? Sorry,

Baltasar  20:12  
best piece of advice. You know, it's to know where you stand in the room. It's to basically to understand, not underestimate yourself. And don't overestimate yourselves. I think that's the best advice I can give.

Mike  20:28  
Thank you. It's a good one. Number two, do you have a favourite film at the moment?

Baltasar  20:32  
I have. Yes, I do have a favourite film called the very old one could come and see. It's just the most visceral movie ever made.

Mike  20:40  
Okay? Can we check it out? Number three, what gives you a reason to get out of bed every day for a day of directing

Baltasar  20:45  
the love of storytelling?

Mike  20:46  
Number four, which job in the industry? would you do if you weren't doing yours? And you've done quite a lot. So I'll be a DP number five, if you can work with one person living or dead? Who would it be? That's a hard one. Sorry.

Baltasar  20:56  
Oh, that's how we'll probably go with maximum settle.

Mike  21:00  
Number six. What is a book that everyone should read?

Baltasar  21:02  
Touch by all of you on all of them?

Mike  21:05  
And finally, if you want an Oscar, who would you think?

Baltasar  21:08  
I would thank Iceland.

Mike  21:10  
I think that's a very good one. And on that note, our time has come to a close taqueria developers are for joining me today, the best horse riding director combo that I know. Thank you. Thank you for listening to another episode of red carpet rookies. To help us grow and be able to interview more amazing film and TV professionals. Please do subscribe and drop us a rating on the Apple podcast store on your iPhone or online if you're an Android user. If you're interested in regular updates, the best thing you can do is to join our mailing list at red carpet rookies.com. Or alternatively, find us on Instagram at Red Carpet rookies or Twitter at RC rookies pod. I also tweet regularly about my own learnings in the business, Mike battle on Twitter. So please do come and say hi, thank you again for listening. We'll see you next time.

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