Exclusive Interview with Filmmaker Laura Hypponen (Live East Die Young, Quadraturin)
We recently sat down with the exciting and award winning director Laura Hypponen, who is currently shooting "Quadraturin" starring Jeff Fahey (Lost, Miami Vice, Machete), Branko Tomovic (24: Live Another Day, Fury, Red), Olga Fedori (Wolfman, Skins, Holby City), Neil Bell (Dead Man’s Shoes, Peaky Blinders) and Edward Franklin (Doctor Thorne). It's a darkly comical fantasy film inspired by the Soviet author Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky's long-banned short story from 1926 and tells the story of Sutulin, a young ordinary man living in a tiny room in a communal Soviet apartment, who is visited by a mysterious stranger offering him an opportunity to try out 'Quadraturin' - a miracle product that promises to enlarge interior spaces. Sutulin takes up the offer - with surprising consequences...
Can you tell us how you came up with the idea for Quadraturin? What is the inspiration behind this?
The film is an adaptation of a short story written in 1926 by a Soviet author called Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky. I first came across his story, Quadraturin, in a collection of Russian short stories some years ago, and was immediately inspired by its inventive, unusual concept and dark humour. Set mostly within a tiny room in a communal flat, the story grabbed me from the first words - not least because at the time, I was living in a tiny room in a London flat-share, and it struck me that there were many similarities between Soviet communal flats and flat-shares in London; peculiar characters, arguments over space, and shared kitchens & bathrooms! Even though written 90 years ago, Krzhizhanovsky’s story feels fresh, biting and relatable, and I immediately thought it would be a fantastic story to adapt into a film.
You had your feature film debut with the award winning "Live East Die Young". What is the difference between working on a feature and working on a short?
When you have a shorter time to tell your story, you have to be very economical in your expression. In some ways I find short films more challenging, actually, because you have to draw the audience in immediately- there’s no time for long introductions, explanations or detours. On the other hand, I find short form storytelling really liberating, because there’s a little more scope for the poetic. I think there are fewer constraints on what a short film should look or feel like, and I think people approach shorts with open minds. From the point of view of production, there isn’t much of a difference between a short and a feature, apart from the number of days worked, of course! All the same ingredients are required regardless of the duration of the film: hard-working crew, talented cast, the best equipment, beautiful locations and plenty of passion and preparation…and a bit of luck, of course.
You gathered an impressive cast for this film, how did you find them?
Casting is one of my favourite parts of filmmaking, and one of the most nerve-wracking, because the actors really make the film come alive. On Quadraturin, the process has been a little bit unusual, because the first person we cast was the veteran Hollywood actor, Jeff Fahey (Lost, Miami Vice, Machete). I met Jeff more than ten years ago on a film shoot and we’ve kept in touch ever since. A few years ago he was doing a play in the West End (Twelve Angry Men) and offered to give a day of his time for my film project. We decided to shoot the teaser for Quadraturin – and found our lead in the young and very talented London actor, Edward Franklin, who was on stage with Fahey at the time. I then reached out to Branko Tomovic (24: Live Another Day, Fury) and Olga Fedori (Wolfman, Skins, Holby City) who I’ve also known for a long time, and an up & coming French/British actress, Josephine Berry (22 Bullets, Benidorm), with whom I’ve worked recently – and to my excitement, they were all up for supporting the project. Emmy-nominated American casting director Nancy Bishop then helped us cast the roles of Speculator (Neil Bell from Dead Man’s Shoes & Peaky Blinders) and Mrs Tolstaya, aka the Landlady (British TV and theatre actress, Jo Cameron Brown), and a London casting director, Lennie Varvarides helped us find the Boss who will be played by Lucy Christy. I could not be happier with this wonderful ensemble!
What is the plan for Quadraturin once it is finished?
We are very lucky to have interest from a Finnish distributor to show the short in selected cinemas in Finland in front of features, but first we will submit to a selection of international A-list festivals and hope for the best! We’ll also approach broadcasters and online platforms like iTunes, as we’d like the film to be seen as widely as possible.
What do you hope people will take away from your film?
We hope to intrigue people with the story, and perhaps inspire them to find out about the everyday lives of normal people under the Soviet rule. At times of political turmoil and rise of extremism in all quarters, it never hurts to look back at recent history to remind ourselves what a difference a political regime can make to our lives – for the better or for the worse. In that sense, I guess the film is a call against apathy! We’d also love to help make Krzhizhanovsky’s name and work known to a wider audience. A Ukrainian from a Polish descent, Krzhizhanovsky moved to Moscow in 1920s where he worked as a writer for 30 years and died virtually unknown. His wonderfully inventive and allegorical writings were deemed too dangerous to publish during his lifetime, and they have only recently experienced a renaissance of sorts, after being translated into English in the 2000s – 80 years after they were written.
Laura Hypponen was born in Soviet Russia, brought up in Finland, studied filmmaking in Denmark and has been based in the UK for fifteen years. Her gritty and controversial debut feature film, Live East Die Young (2012) was set in East London’s party scene and nominated Best UK Feature at Raindance & Golden Hitchcock at Dinard. The film was picked up in Cannes for international sales by Paris sales agent, Reel Suspects and released globally by iTunes. Her subsequent ten-part monologue film series for a female actress, Ten Faces of Anna (2014) was presented as installation at Stanley Picker Gallery in London. Episode Dolly in the series, featuring Agent Provocateur, won Best Actor at the world’s leading fashion film festival, ASVOF at Centre Pompidou, Paris, screened in competition at the BAFTA-qualifying Aesthetica & other festivals internationally, and was featured in Vogue Italy & France. Laura’s recent teaser for Charlie (2016), a new British crime drama series, just won Best Teaser Award at Los Angeles Film Awards. She is currently developing a London set crime thriller with co-writer Alex Kilgallon, and is in post production with the feature length experimental sci-fi, Do Not Feed The Pigeons, starring Zoe Grisedale and produced by Ioanna Karavela.