An interview with Oren Stern on Funeral at Parc de France

Richard Raskin

How did you get the idea for this story?

The screenplay for the film was written with Resef Levi, the scriptwriter. We have been good friends since we were 12 years old. We decided to make a movie together, so... We held several meetings and started to discuss script ideas, and during this process, we remembered that while we were children we used to laugh while attending ceremonies and funerals. We decided to make film about this emotional situation and to add a little bit comedy.
Combining the climax of pain and sorrow with the climax of joy (a favorite football team that wins) gave us an interesting opportunity to develop an original dramatic situation.

Did the story evolve, change significantly from the initial concept to the final film?

The first draft of the script was much more comic and wild, but I decided to make the main character more real, so I made the story more restrained while trying to move the viewer.

How did you choose the actors for your film, both for the major and the minor roles?

The actor Shmil Ben-Ari, who plays Baruch, our hero, we chose even before we started to write. Shmil is a famous actor in Israel. In additional to Shmil, we have two other professional actors: Vivian (Baruch wife's) whom I chose after a long search and Shalom (Baruch fat friend). I saw Shalom on a local TV channel and I was aware that he is a very different person from the roles that he is usually given. I noticed that he had a great sense of comedy and perfect timing - two qualities that I think are very important in comic films.
The rest of the actors are non-professionals. Morris (Vivian's eulogist brother) was chosen for the part after I saw him at his own father's funeral. (This is a true story!) I saw him there and was very impressed by his ability to move everyone present with his speech. I knew that he is talented and was very happy that he immediately agreed to take a part in the movie. The other non-professional actors were members of my family and good friends...

How would you characterize the way in which you directed your actors?

That's a hard question for me. I think that I direct with simplicity. I explain the situation to the actor and describe his motives. The main instruction in the movie was in spite of the situation and the funny dialogues. The actors had to play the text seriously and had to believe in each word that they were saying.
Another very important thing: we didn't rehearse speaking the lines when we ran through the scenes before filming. It's very important that the actors say their lines for the first time in front of the camera. The most interesting things happen in the first take and it's a shame to waste them in a rehearsal.

How long did the shooting and the editing take?

We shot Funeral in five days and the editing took about half a year because we didn't have the possibility of editing more than one shift a week.

Funeral at Parc de France is clearly Baruch's story. Would you agree that it is easiest to engage the viewer's interest in a film if the story belongs primarily to one character, singled out from the start as having a special status in the film?

I think that the best way to interest the viewer is to make him laugh and to move him as much as possible. I could distribute the screen time to several actors in an equal way and create more than one main character, but I think that there is an advantage when you focus on one character who appears in most of the scenes - a complete and complex character. In this way it is easiest for the viewer to identify with him.

Your film is a bit longer than what I would call a "short film" strictly speaking. It's more a middle length film - what the French call a "moyen métrage" and we in Scandinavia would call a "novellefilm." I imagine that a film lasting 24 min. tells its story in a way that is similar to feature film storytelling. Would you agree, or do you feel there are significant differences between the two formats, with respect to storytelling?

In every movie there is at least one character that has to change. In a feature film, there is time to create complex characters and to let them change slowly. In a short film every thing is faster and this is why you must find original ideas that can compensate for the time that you don't have.
Today we see a lot of features that are written and directed like a short film, and the reverse is also true. I think that Funeral was directed like a feature that was directed like a short film.

Is there any advice you would give to student filmmakers about to make their own first short films?

One very important thing for students making their first films is to bring something from their own lives into the story they tell, something very specific and real. Then they have the best chance of making something original.

Is there anything else you would like to tell about the making of Funeral or about your views on filmmaking?

Any director who chooses a good story, a good scriptwriter, good actors, a good photographer and editor, will definitely end up making a good film.

October 15, 2002

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