Few people can say they produced their own film, let alone organise its on-demand release during a global pandemic! Fortunately, Zachary Weckstein – producer of The Host (2020) and founder of Pearl Pictures Productions – has taken time out of his busy schedule to talk about moving up in the film world, as well as the importance of creative decisions and representation in film.
Newcastle University is home to a lot of budding filmmakers, with some having already created their own short films. What challenges did you face making your own transition to a feature film? Is there any advice you’d like to give to our up-and-comers?
After graduating with my Masters in Film in 2016, I first returned to Los Angeles and met with some Production Companies to discuss working with them. Deciding I didn’t want to be a small fish in a big sea, I returned to Europe. After struggling to join local Dutch production houses, I was asked if I would be interested in producing a script still in its early stages. At that point, I decided to start my own Production Company, Pearl Pictures Productions. For each person, they must follow their own path here. Some are more comfortable getting on a production as an assistant in order to learn the ropes. Each person should follow their personal strengths.
Challenges I faced were many, and my advice is to become a very good problem solver. One difficult area of running a production is after hiring individuals for a specific role, and then having to let them go, replace them, and have their work redone. That decision doesn’t come lightly and also involves trying to save these individuals and getting them to care. To those filmmakers who are in the industry for money and or fame, this usually doesn’t work out.
Advice for new up-an-comers is to think outside the box, from raising finance, to getting sponsorships and focus on what you’re aiming for in your end results. Stay away from nay-sayers as they are the poison apple of the production and keep them away from your workforce. Make sure you are producing a story and a script that can be understood and relatable to your target audience. Find ways to be creative with your budget and get the most out of a limited budget, and take your time in planning and budgeting. Keeping a film produced on time will be challenging, so it is important to set up weekly sometimes daily tracking with your teams. Have an open door and availability for communication with all your managers. Always remember that filmmaking is a business, consisting of finance, marketing behind and in front of the camera. It’s extremely important to motivate your crew over the entirety of the film. And most important, be passionate on all your projects and never give up on your end goal. Be prepared to work long and odd hours, and answering your phone at 5AM after you just finally closed your eyes at 3AM.
At sixteen years old, you moved to the Netherlands to study International Business in the Undergraduate University in Rotterdam. Did that experience influence the darker depiction of Amsterdam in the film? Is Robert Atkinson’s anxiety in moving from London to Amsterdam something you could relate to?
The film’s storyline as well as Robert’s character and his travels were not inspired by my personal experiences, but were formulated from true stories that I read about as well as the initial story elements. The characters activities in The Host and the incidents in the storyline are all incidents that have happened around the world. It was taking things in real life as well as inspirations from true events and applying them to the storyline and the scenarios that occur throughout the film.
Personally, I had no anxiety moving from London to Amsterdam, and I continue to spend much time in both cities. I chose to show these two unique metropolitan beauties in my first feature film for several reasons. Holland is really welcoming to filmmakers. Most importantly, I wanted to appeal to an international audience by showing both London and Amsterdam in a different light than they have ever been filmed in before.
With such environmental ties to your own life, having also completed a masters at London Film School, and having directed your own short films, what made Andy Newbery the best choice for director?
I was in discussions with several directors, and wanted a director who could take the Vera character and do her justice. With the film’s female lead character who suffers from an abusive parent, I was looking for a director that was able to be sympathetic to her role.
I brought on Oona Menges the cinematographer in the meantime as she is a good match with my philosophy of film production. As it’s so important for the director and cinematographer to have good collaboration and communication, I spoke with Oona about directors that she worked with in the past and knew. I decided on after a few meetings, Andy Newbery.
The Host (2020) is the first English language, Dutch-produced film to be released globally. How did you balance Dutch identity with appeal for the domestic market? During production, were you ever worried that a large cast of English/American/Chinese characters would overwhelm Dutch authenticity?
The Host is a Dutch feature film because it was produced only by a Dutch production company, Pearl Pictures Productions. Also, it was half-filmed in the Netherlands. All of the Dutch characters in the film are from and live in Holland. The Dutch roles were not substituted by cast member from other nationalities, nor were any of the other characters.
Additionally, what is important to me and what I was trying to do with The Host is bring Dutch film into the global arena of film, creating an international Dutch look with Dutch casting.
The Host has been described as a Hitchcockian thriller with a European twist. Was Hitchcock’s celebrated appeal a driving motivation throughout production?
I was offered a script in its early stages and adapted the story for The Host. The initial story already had a Hitchcockian twist, and I adapted Hitchcock’s style of onion layers in a film, as well as having other inspirations.
Watching the film, I felt that it was also reminiscent of Eli Roth’s Hostel (2005). Was this intentional and were you worried that The Host would receive similar complaints from the Dutch audience that Hostel received from the Slovakian audience?
There are so many films out there, along with Hostel, that gave inspiration for different characters and scenes in the film. The Host is nowhere as gory as Hostel, and the film shows all different types of characters in their different lights throughout the film. The Host has good and bad characters, and portrays the wealth of both countries, as well as positives and negatives about the people in those countries. Like every country, there are positives and negatives, bringing the reality of people’s behaviour to the screen.
COVID-19 has buffered a lot of the film industry, but that hasn’t stopped pre-production! Can you give us a tease of any of your future projects at Pearl Pictures Productions?
Next big project, well I just finished producing The Host and it was released in America on 17 January, with a release in the UK on 17 April. So for me, I’m concentrating on that, as well as at the moment I have a pile of scripts and deciding what’s going to be the best fit for the coming years. I am finalising this at the moment, as well as concentrating on the marketing of The Host and the rest of its worldwide release.
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Last modified: 28th April 2020