Serbian filmmaker defies all odds

Serbian filmmaker Acim Vasic went the extra mile to make his recent short film "8" which has become a true success story. The film, a satire of two soldiers who cross each other on the battlefield trying to outwit each other to survive, has been an epic undertaking. Vasic, an up and coming film director spent over a year and a half making his film, facing incredible obstacles, trying to find money and bringing people on-board the project. When it came to filming in Switzerland, he was stopped at the border without a passport, and had to find a way to get into the country. The director wanted only the best outcome for his movie, and managed to not only get a 5.1 surround sound mix, but a soundtrack composed by Stribor Kusturica, the support of Mathieu Kassovitz and a contract with world famous production company Partizan. All this he achieved without any major film festival screenings.

Mathieu Kassovitz:

"Acim did exactly what any wanabee filmmaker should do: find a way to mix good story and cheap budget. It's the most important skill an independent director should look for when starting his career in this cruel world of cinema. His film is smart at every level and gives a hint of what he could accomplish in the future. That's what short films are all about. Good luck to him, he is going to need it, like we all did."

"8" directed by Acim Vasic

Interview with Acim Vasic

Iain: What inspired you to make this film?

Acim: Well I wrote a WW2 script about 4 years before this one, but I never managed to realize it, because of money and other smaller problems. So one day I thought about why don't I just do something cheaper, but still in the war...just 2 actors...simple conflict...and the idea came out.

Iain: Can you tell us about how you made the film in Switzerland?

Acim: A huge credit for this goes to Luc, the producer - the locomotive of the film. We did it there because he is based in Switzerland so it was much easier to organize everything. Although it was a very small budget, it took me about year and a half to collect it, and then start the Switzerland part. I'll never forget that it all started very tricky, because the Swiss border patrol didn't want to let me in when they saw I never brought my passport, being that I thought the ID is enough, but since I'm not French it isn't, and it took about 1h for them to check me inside out and for me to explain them I'm just an "artist" who wants to do a film there. And they let me in in the end, with a word saying "next time bring your passport and a winter jacket," (because I had 5 hoodies on me). It all had a very unlucky start, but over all, we were very lucky throughout the production, from the postcard of the forest and snow which was still waiting for Arnaud's focus in early March 2009, and without having no problems until the end of post production.

Iain: Where did you find the costumes and props?

Acim: Most of them I bought in the Paris market at Porte de Clignancourt, and a couple of things from a market in Serbia. It was great combining them all and making them look how they were in the film. The rifle was rented from Geneva and the parachute was a real WW2 German parachute from a friend of my father. Also a couple of things like the handkerchief and the fake barrel (for close up shot ) and the landmine, were all made by a few friends of mine. And in the end, Nicky and Guillaume, when they fit in the costumes, they just made them alive. I was really happy to have them playing these parts and work with them throughout these 5 freezing days. It was a great time and experience.

Iain: How did you get Mathieu Kassovitz involved in the project?

Acim: I met Mr Kassovitz about a year and a half ago. I tried to contact him in any kind of way and my persistence and his modesty made it happen. It was a half an hour meeting, where he gave me a few nice advices and suggestions. Then about a year after that I finished this short film and was persistent again to refresh the connection with him and show him the film. He was and still is before all a great person, because he could've just ignored me, being that I'm not a son of any filmmaker and was just one in a million who wanted to contact him or someone in his position. But on the contrary, he really liked the short and connected me with Fred, who did us a great color correction.

Iain: Was it important for you to have a 5.1 surround sound mix?

Acim: The sound design and mix were done by two Alexander The Greats from Belgrade. Well as for most of the film, it just added a new level to the entire project. It just put an air in the flat football and 5.1 made such a huge difference in the atmosphere that you can probably imagine.

Iain: Was it hard to get people on board to work on your film for free?

Acim: In a way it is always hard to ask someone to commit their hours or days for something of yours, and not to pay them anything. But if that is the case, it is much easier if they like the project. It gives them motivation and enthusiasm to do it all the way and give their best. That's our entire cast and crew basically. All the people on the set, who were freezing for 5 days just because of some 'silly story about 2 soldiers' - you know what I mean. Many of them told me after they were really happy to work on it and that it was a great time, I guess that's the most important, that people have great time on set, at least that if they are working for free. Then later to have the same situation in post production with the tireless Khaled, our editor, Jeremie the special effects man, and Fred who I mentioned, and also Stribor and Eda, and my sister Lena who all three made that beautiful music. Sometimes you work for money, and sometimes for passion. I guess if these both are possible that's the best combination, but it's a hard way to get to that stage.

Iain: How did you get the interest of Partizan?

Acim: Well again, it took lots of persistence to get in touch with them, and in the end they saw and liked the short and we had a meeting and decided to try and see how it goes in our new relationship. Hopefully it will be fruitful for everyone. And again it was important that people who I met there were before all very good people, who had time, and understanding and gave me a chance. Since we heard stories all around the industry that it's full of complicated personas, I guess it is great to meet some very cool and down to earth people.

Iain: Do you have any advice you can give to filmmakers?

Acim: I'm really not so experienced that I can give any very useful advice, but basically it should be a simple strategy. You just have to know what do you want to make, and why, and if you truly believe in it - that will hopefully give you enough energy to just keep pulling like a mule until you do it. And of course, always try to be yourself, that's the most important. That will give your personal stamp on your film or showreel. You will run into hundreds of different advice, you will get confused many times, and you will meet people that don't like your work - it is normal and you just have to accept it. And no matter what is your nature, try to put your ego in the drawer and not use it too much, and be able to listen and speak to everyone around you. You will be surprised how much you can learn from so many people that you never really imagined that could give you an advice, idea or inspiration. And what a friend of mine Merlyn says, never forget that before everyone else, you have to like your film. Then it is truly yours.

To find out more:
"8" will screen at the London Soho Shorts Film Festival this July.

film industry network members