David Tomaszewski is the writer/director of a short film which also serves as a proof-of-concept for a feature film he intends to make. That short film Cobalt is equal parts gorgeous (to look at) and terrifying (right from its protagonists to their actions) and I had to get in touch with the filmmaker to try and learn more about the film, his process, and what he hopes it will lead to.
Here is the film again, and the interview follows the film.
Tell us, what inspired the desire to make this film.
In 2008, I went to the Cannes Film Festival for the first time. After seeing all the craziness everywhere, and attending a lot of parties, day and night, I started to have visions for a film. Cannes, to me, was like a certain vision of the apocalypse, where the only survivors would be beautiful, and rich people, living the life of a perpetual night party. Like Mad Max, but made with bling, glitter, high fashion. Everybody would be famous, and beautiful. And they all would be the villains.
I was also deeply influenced by Bret Easton Ellis literature, especially Glamorama, Less Than Zero, and American Psycho, of course.
And I love gang movies, and always wanted to make one. I think “gang films” is a genre itself.
I felt like Cobalt was an update of A Clockwork Orange, my partner feels like it has shades of American Psycho in it – is that accurate?
To continue what I was saying above, Cobalt is deeply influenced by gang movies. The Warriors (dir: Walter Hill), even if it’s very different, was the main influence, when Jeremie Guez (my co-writer) and I started writing. The idea was to make something colorful, fancy, violent, satirical, and that would look like it was based from a comic book. I always had fantasies about creating things that don’t exist in Paris, France, where I lived for 10 years.
A Clockwork Orange is one of the best films ever made, and one of my favorite. The reference seems obvious, because the youngsters wear fancy clothes, carry fancy weapons, and evolve in a parallel universe that looks like ours, slightly more futuristic. But it’s not a direct reference. And the story is very different. Where A Clockwork Orange was about the manipulation and brainwashing of youngsters by politics and greedy men, Cobalt is really about the dictatorship of beauty.
Your partner is right when she says it has shades of American Psycho since Ellis remains a big influence on my work. And also because you see beautiful people wearing Armani or D&G suits, and doing awful things. But Glamorama, by the same author, is probably more similar.
I would say it’s a mix of Clockwork, Glamorama, The Warriors, American Psycho, The Riot Club, N.E.D.S., Bully and Spring Breakers, all combined, with a French touch. A friend told me, after the very first screening: “it’s A Clockwork Orange meets Zoolander.” I like that a lot!
How long did it take for you to refine the idea of Cobalt?
Three years. First ideas came in 2008, but it’s when I met French novelist-screenwriter Jérémie Guez in 2011, that I started working on the project seriously. And it took us three years and a dozen drafts and treatments, to achieve a solid 100 pages script.
Let’s start at the beginning: How did you become a screenwriter and filmmaker (also, which came first, the writing or the desire to direct people inside a well defined frame)?
I started directing videos, short films and experimental films when I was 15 years old. I come from a family of painters and musicians. My mother is a painter and illustrator, and my father is a pianist and composer. So I first had a visual approach to directing. It is just the continuity of what I learned at home since I was a kid.
The desire to write came second. You can’t just shoot a beautiful picture. You need a story, and you need a strong one. And I believe the beauty (or ugliness) of your picture is determined by the script, the concept, and the characters.
Did you go to film school?
At the time I graduated from high school, film schools in Paris were super expensive, and I was mainly told they didn’t have a good reputation anyway. Luc Besson’s free school wasn’t created yet, and the only option for me was to go to free college, we call “faculté”, here in France. So I went to study cinema there, at La Sorbonne. Not only I was disappointed there was only 5 hours of cinema classes, on a 18 hours week, but it was also the poorest college in Paris in terms of equipment (camera, lenses, etc…).
After 3 weeks there, I dropped out, and went to find a job in the visual effects industry. After 4 months of struggle and research, I was hired at the prestigious Mac Guff Ligne (now Illumination Paris) as a digital artist. This is how I started working in the film industry, but also working on commercials, and music videos.
Mac Guff was my school for more than 5 years, except I was paid for that, and with the money I earned, I self-produced my own short films. And I had the privilege to work with such directors like Jan Kounen, Gaspar Noe, or Jean-Paul Goude, and going on set, sometimes as a VFX supervisor.
How did you develop your visual aesthetic?
Watching movies, reading, going to museums, exhibits, working with inspiring artists and directors, drawing, painting… But also looking at the world, observing things, people, moments, while riding my skateboard, travelling, listening to music.
I don’t know how to answer to that question precisely, but I’m always looking for a thrill, an emotion, if it’s in a film, a song, an album, an exhibition, a book… And always looking for something new and original. If I can’t find it, I try to create it.
In our day job we have worked on the fringes of the fashion industry, and through Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook we cannot help feeling like the (conventionally) unattractive have a harder life. My question is two-fold:
a. How did you get such an attractive cast to come together for what is essentially a ‘proof of concept’ film
I spent weeks looking for talents and faces online, on actor’s agents’ websites, and trombinoscope. I did a first selection, based on their looks.
Then, with the help of my girlfriend Lila Victoire, who is an actress, we organized casting sessions, and auditioned about 60 actors, some professionals, some amateurs, but also models, from modelling agencies, who were interested in acting. We also received a lot of auditions on video, via email.
In Paris, it’s not like in LA or NY, where it can take you forever to cast an actor, since the choice is large.
In Paris, since you don’t have a wide range of actors and models, you also have to compose with what you can get.
I’m not sure all the cast wanted to be a part of Cobalt because of the subject. I think most of them did it because they thought it was a lot of fun.
b. What kind of production resources did you have at your disposal to make a film of such high production values?
Between 2010 and 2012, French producer Thomas Langmann (The Artist) helped me producing several music videos I directed, for French singers, through his company: La Petite Reine.
Thomas helped me funding the Cobalt teaser, and allowed his company to produce the shoot of the teaser.
For post-production, I did most of it myself (editing and visual effects), and had a lot of help from friends: Rodolphe Chabrier, my mentor, with his companies Mac Guff and Small Studios, sound editor Alexandre Poirier, colorist Robin Risser.
How long did it take you to film this Cobalt short? Also, what was the biggest challenge?
It took us 4 days to shoot the teaser.
I think the biggest challenge was to keep the 11 young actors focused and not too distracted during the shoot. Sometimes, it was like kindergarten, or summer camp. And the worst thing that happened during these 4 days: I lost my voice. I literally couldn’t speak (loud). It was like I got a cat in my throat (that’s what we say in French). I can’t say if it was a cold, or psychosomatic.
Do you already have a screenplay for the feature length version of this film?
I have a full 105 pages screenplay, ready to shoot.
What are you hoping to achieve by putting this short film/demo tape version of the film online?
1. Finding a motivated producer that understands the project, and who’s willing to develop the feature film.
2. Finding financiers, investors, so I can start working full time on the development.
3. Make a lot of noise.
What have been the most interesting reactions to Cobalt so far?
I’m actually thrilled that the Cobalt topic has affected so many people, and that most of the reactions, whether positive or negative, were intense, because people feel concerned.
Some people thought the Cobalt phenomenon was real, too. Mostly in foreign countries, and overseas.
What would you be if you were not a filmmaker?
I don’t know. I can’t do anything else, really.
A full time dad, probably.
David’s official website