INTERVIEW: Margot Van Mol discusses her latest short film ‘Lazarus’, the importance of a good script and sci-fi influences

Margot Van Mol is a 20-year-old film student at LUCA School of the Arts in Brussels, Belgium. Her twitter account (@lNCEPTl0N) has over 15k followers where she tweets about her favorite actors, posts funny memes, and talks about her experiences at film school. Though when she’s not on social media, she’s on set bringing creative ideas to life. Her latest short, Lazarus, filmed in April of 2018 is her most recent work, accomplishing being eerie, emotional, and captivating all within its ten minute run time.

 

SQ: Hi Margot! Let’s start with some general questions. How are you? How does it feel to have people watching and enjoying Lazarus?

MVM: I’m good, thank you for asking. How are you? Oh man, it feels absolutely incredible. I had no idea the response would be this positive! It’s crazy to me that people take ten minutes out of their time just to watch something I have made together with a fantastic cast and crew. Seriously, give them some love because without them Lazarus wouldn’t have happened. Everyone from the runners to grip to the D.O.P; everyone threw themselves into this project and gave it their all every single shooting day and that, to me, is simply amazing and what film making is all about. I’m glad people appreciate my short film and take their time to talk to me about it and ask questions, that’s all I ever could’ve wished for. Of course I still have to learn and grow as a filmmaker, I’m not even close to where I want to be, but people liking Lazarus is already a big accomplishment and I’m super proud of everyone involved. Thank you so much guys! On to the next one…

 

SQ: What films and/or directors have been the most inspiring or influential to you and why?

MVM: This is no surprise: Christopher Nolan is one of my favorite directors out there. The way he manipulates time and creates worlds beyond our imagination is his speciality and he does it with such ease and elegance. I catch myself watching his movies over and over again because he takes you in from the very first minute, and keeps you in his grasp until the end credits start rolling. I love how he isn’t afraid to do his own thing and just sticks with it, no matter what the critics say. You either hate or love his movies. Also Denis Villeneuve, Wes Anderson, David Fincher, Martin Scorsese, Tom Ford and Guillermo Del Toro are on my list as well. I love them all for different reasons obviously, but one thing they have in common is that they have this unbelievable eye for detail and storytelling. You can totally immerse and lose yourself in the worlds they create and they aren’t afraid to do the exact opposite of what the audiences expect and/or are looking for. That’s something I want to do with my own movies as well. They all inspire me to just follow my own path and make what I want to make, not what the general audience wants to see. That’s something I’ve always stood behind in school as well. My style isn’t very “artsy” or “experimental” and that seems to be the go-to genre at school, which is okay of course. I admire people who can make movies like that, but it’s not my style at all and for months on my teachers tried to change that. It had gotten to the point where I lost my passion for film making because I thought I’d never fit in or never make the quality films like my fellow peers simply because what they made wasn’t something I wanted to do. But, in my second year at film uni the teachers seemed to realize that I wasn’t going to change and now I’m not ashamed to do my own thing. All the directors I admire pushed me to believe in myself so I’m forever thankful for their existence and their work.

 

SQ: What makes a film great for you?

MVM: When you’ve felt something. Whether it’s anger, happiness, anxiety, sadness… When a moving image can make you feel something then you know you’ve succeeded in telling something to the audience. Again, whether that feeling is positive or negative doesn’t matter in my opinion. If I watch a movie and I feel no empathy towards any of the characters or hatred towards the villains then why am I wasting 90 minutes of my life? Films are there for audiences to forget about the real world, to shove aside all of their own personal problems and frustrations and to immerse yourself in a different world for two hours. Time shouldn’t exist while you’re watching a movie. And that is something you can only accomplish when the script is good. The script is everything, it should be right from start to finish. The characters all should have their own background, their mannerisms, their tics, their mainsprings. If the characters feel flat then chances of audiences to relate to them are small. We are looking for people we can relate to, and the feelings we feel on a daily basis as well. Plot holes are another thing that’s important to think about as well. If the world you created has too many plot holes, everything collapses. The script comes first.

 

SQ: Being a female filmmaker, how do you feel about entering an industry that is purely dominated by men? Is there anxiety, excitement, a little bit of both?

I never thought “oh wow I’m doing something fearless, I’m entering an industry that’s mainly dominated by men!” But that changed last year when I entered film uni. Even though everyone’s always preaching that things have changed and we’re on our way to equality in the film industry, you can still clearly see that it’s dominated by men. Name five male directors within ten seconds. Easy, huh? Now try naming five female directors within ten seconds. A bit more difficult, right? Almost all of my professors are men and whenever I’m helping on set most crew members are men too. My class is nicely divided though, we have the same amount of women as men in my class which is great to see! But the first year has like five girls and 40 boys in their class which is insane. There is simply a gender imbalance in the film industry and that’s a fact.

What I hate the most is that men think that when a woman directs a movie it will be a romantic comedy or a drama, but what they tend to forget is that movies like Mad Max, Inglorious Bastards and Fast and the Furious are edited by women. We already have some powerful female influences in the industry, but it seems more difficult for a woman to break through as a director. In the majority of films I watch, I don’t see complex female characters, and rarely are there women I can relate to, which is a shame. I think there are some male writers and directors that are capable of writing interesting, complex, strong women, but we need to pass the baton to female creators who have first hand experience in you know…being women. It just makes sense.

I don’t really feel anxious, if anything, I feel more empowered to make it and break through as a film director. Us women have stories to tell as well. Important stories. Girls and women simply don’t get the same chances as men, that’s a fact. At the end of the day, all we need and all we want is equality. I’m not saying that in my perfect world the film industry is dominated by women because the truth is: you need both men as women on a film set in my opinion because men and women think differently, we act differently, we work differently. You need both estrogen and testosterone to create this interesting workflow. I’m not 100% pro-all-female set and I’m not pro all male-sets, what you really need is a combination of both. Choose the person that is right for the job, don’t look at the skin color, the hair color, the gender, or the sexual orientation, choose the person that will give it their all and lift it to the next level because they’re passionate and driven. It’s as simple as that.

SQ: Can you talk a little bit about your conceptualization behind Lazarus?

MVM: I’ve always been highly interested in the afterlife and “in-between.” One of my favorite things to do is read articles or watch videos about people that have died and talk about what they saw or what they felt. It’s just so incredibly fascinating because no one will ever be able to tell accurately what dying feels like or what happens after we die. Do we just vanish or is there actually something like the ‘afterlife’? Something that blew my mind is when I read about the reason we wake up whenever we die in our dreams: our brain has no clue what happens after we die. We cannot fill that in, so we wake up. One of my favorite TV shows is The OA and evidently, it became a huge inspiration source for Lazarus, not only concerning the subject but also the cinematography and color palette. Movies that also inspired me were The Lovely Bones and Flatliners, the original of course.

Okay time to get emotional. Are you ready? One day, while I was writing Lazarus with my co-writer and lead actress Charlotte Christof, I got the news that one of my friends died. He jumped in front of a train. That news hit me like a truck. I just knew I had to make this film even more now. The subject of suicide is so relevant these days and if I can help in any way to put that subject in the spotlight, to get more people talking about it, then I’ll gladly do so. I have struggled with my own mental health for so long. Just some months ago I was probably at my lowest mental state ever. Every day I would cry myself to sleep because I just felt so weirded out by myself and felt like I was not worthy of love or would never achieve anything in my life. Thankfully, I’m doing much better now thanks to an amazing support system. I can’t imagine what it must feel like for people that have a labile mental health but have no support system whatsoever or feel like it will never get better. I wish my arms were long enough to reach out to all of those people and give them the biggest group hug ever. Suicide is a thing and we should talk about it. NO ONE, deserves to feel like they’re not worthy. So please, whoever’s reading this: please know that you are loved and appreciated and if you ever feel like no one cares about you, I care about you.

 

SQ: Lazarus gives off a sort-of sci-fi vibe. Was this intentional? If so, why did you decide to go this route?

MVM: Very intentional. Lazarus is set in the in-between, the place between life and death; I wanted to make it out of this world, another dimension. Whenever I’m writing scripts I always have movie soundtracks playing in the background and one moment the Blade Runner 2049 soundtrack came on and it just clicked. That was the vibe I was looking for. There are some Inception and Stranger Things vibes as well. It was important to me that the music felt off and not fitting with the movie because I didn’t want people to (as weird as this might sound) connect with the character. I wanted it to feel like you were watching her from a distance, to just listen to Vera and hear what she has to say. I didn’t want it to be melodramatic violin music, not that there’s anything wrong with that, but the subject is already heavy and I didn’t want it to be emotionally draining. So, unwittingly, the music became kind of sci-fi and, in my honest opinion, it just fits. The cinematography, done by the incredible Loïc Dillen, is very tight and clean. We had a clear vision about Lazarus and that was to make it neat and dreamy to fully immerse the viewers in the in-between to show the contrast between the chaotic life. There’s close to no sound in every in-between scene, but once she’s catapulted to reality (on the bridge and at the end), you can hear more background noises like car traffic, the ambulance radio, the water splashing, people talking, etc. The contrast, together with the music and cinematography turned it into more of a sci-fi rather than a drama, which I love.

SQ: What makes Lazarus different from your previous projects?

MVM: It’s probably the most personal film I’ve made so far. Not only because the subject suicide was suddenly part of my world and circle of friends, but because Vera, the character Charlotte portrays, is me. The sarcasm, the hidden pain, the questions she asks, it’s all me. The struggle of not knowing who you are or what to believe anymore, the doubt of whether you’re good enough or not…oh man. All me. That’s why I was so scared but also excited to share Lazarus with the world because if people hated it, they would unknowingly hate a part of me.

 

SQ: In the future, what are some genres or concepts that you are interested in exploring in your work?

MVM: This is something that always surprises people because I always say I don’t watch horrors simply for the fact that I can’t cope with creepy stuff, but I love making creepy stuff. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a sucker for documentaries about haunted houses or serial killers. I even listen to ghost stories podcasts but I cannot, for the love of God, watch a horror movie. But making them is something that’s in the pipeline. My next short film will be a psychological thriller/horror and I’m so excited to start working on it. I’d also love to make a film about divorce but from the child’s point of view. This is a subject close to my heart and I feel like it has never been done right in movies. They either make it completely “Hollywood” or just don’t portray the emotions in a realistic way. I have lots of projects coming up and I’m so ready to share them with you!

 

By Isabelle Miller

Isabelle Miller is from the sunshine state of Florida. She is currently a student at Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada studying creative industries. Some of her favorite genres of film are LGBTQ, foreign cinema, and anything starring Amy Adams. Her top three directors are Sofia Coppola, Wong-Kar Wai, and David Fincher. She also loves photography, vintage clothing, and all things butterflies. You can find her on Twitter here @isabellekmiller.

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