Thanks so much for taking the time to speak with us Thorsten!
Before we delve into The Invitation, we’d love to know what drew you towards being a filmmaker?
Hi guys, first of all thank you very much for this interview. I am happy to answer your questions. I have been an actor for many years and have worked as such for German television. So the move behind the camera is obvious. Also because I love cinema more than theater.
As a ten-year-old, I regularly went to the movies and saw films like "Jaws" and "The Omen. It was movies that sparked my interest in acting. But I also always wanted to be a director. Later my professional experience as an actor helped me to direct my own films.
The social ladder of business being metaphorically deadly and cannibalistic is a very strong aspect of The Invitation.
Was this something you’ve encountered in your time as a filmmaker or in another job you’ve had?
It's interesting that you ask that. "The Invitation“ is indeed a personal film. I also wrote the screenplay. How I see life and my personal experiences naturally flowed into the story. In Germany, you can apply for state film funding. But horror is often passed over.
A filmmaker who wants to make a horror film is not taken seriously. It is overlooked how artistically demanding it can be to create suspense and real horror. Independent filmmakers without the support of a television station or a major studio have little chance of receiving film funding for genre material. I had to experience that. And if you question this, you are treated badly.
Not for nothing does the villain Birkenholz say at one point: "Did you honestly think that your pathetic project could have a future?" That would make you one of us? Poor fool!" I self-financed my film, "The Invitation." Fortunately, we were also sponsored by the well-known camera equipment distributor Volker Rodde in Cologne and got the locations for free. Today, 168 international festival awards later, I'm glad I invested my own money in the production.
Which idea came first: the idea of a vampire horror film or a film about an awkward man trying to climb the social ladder?
The boss of a company gets rid of inconvenient employees by eating them. That was the basic idea behind "The Invitation".
Vampires are a great conduit for several different motives in a film such as romance, guilt, and history. What compelled you to choose vampires for wealth and business savvy?
It's interesting that you see vampires.
But in my filmic imagination, it's more like demons of various kinds. Sort of a demon family that eats people. If I had seen them as vampires, I would have followed the vampire rules, no daylight, etc. The reference to the world of work is cannibalism.
What inspirations did you take from your favorite vampire film?
I love all Dracula movies. Whereby "Bram Stokers Dracula" by Coppola is my number one. I also like "30 Days of Night" and the "Blade" movies, but "Breaking Dawn" is a no-go.
Near the end of the film, Tom bites a servant of the manor to flee to freedom.
Is the act of survivalism a genuine attempt to become a vampire to survive or a mere incident to get away that results in a lifesaving and enhancing change?
Renner wants to escape. With the bite he defends himself, but thus begins his journey to the dark side. He uses the means of his enemy and in the end becomes a demon himself.
The message behind is: If you howl with the mob, you always pay a price for it.
The mob changes you. And the highest price is the loss of your own personality.
When looking for a screenplay to adapt, what aspect of a story really draws you in and makes you go “I have to make this!”?
It should have something special that you want to tell your friends about. A surprising twist maybe. And a deeper message wouldn't be bad either, with a reference to our time or society.
What part of the film, or even an experience that you had post-production or during production, feels like a huge victory or something that still excites you today?
That the film has been finished at all. Many small films with low budgets do not get finished. The crew is not financially tied to the project and someone may let you down.
One editor did and I found no one else. That's the reason I edited "The Invitation" myself. So I had a "directors cut" right away.
Some directors have their cast do research for their roles, listen to playlists to inspire them, or even try some method acting. Did you ask the cast to do anything of that sort to prepare for the film? If they did, how did that go and would you do it again in another film you direct?
I'll leave that up to the actor. He or she knows best which acting techniques he/she uses to prepare for the role. On set, we discuss the scene, how I see the character in general and in the scene, and then we go.
What was the most challenging obstacle you and your team had to overcome during production?
As I indicated, making a good movie on a very low budget.
Early in the film, Birkenholz has Tom show him his teeth and floss. It’s off-putting and hilarious, but also raises some red flags for Birkenholz’s character.
Is that a character quirk on Birkenholz’s behalf or more foreshadowing for Tom’s ability to bite hard enough to save his life and become a vampire successfully?
Birkenholz looks at Renner's teeth to gauge whether Renner is an easy victim, whether he can bite back. Birkenholz is cold-hearted, aloof, and calculating. If he were not a demon, he would be a psychopath.
By the way, people with psychopathic personalities are about three to four times more likely to be in positions of power than the population average, according to recent studies. That should give us pause for thought. Renner is naive, warm and reserved, a dreamer. Unfortunately, that makes him the perfect victim.
In your opinion as a moviegoer, what qualities are essential to a great film?
Good film score. In German films there is often uninspired piano strumming.
That drives me crazy.
In "The Invitation" I therefore placed special emphasis on the film music and found a great composer in Christian Reisert. But also Nicolas Mussell at the camera and cast and crew did a great job.
The community of vampires at the dinner party feels very class-related. Tom is an outsider as a non-vampire but also as someone who is more working class in a field where they are many who are very wealthy. Do you think it’s better to be part of a community that nourishes that kind of toxicity and fear or to be without?
We are told that it is desirable to be rich.
That money makes us happy.
Everything else has no value in a society that is only focused on profit. People make money their god and throw moral concerns overboard. They lose their innocence and their humanity.
Tom Renner also grew up with these false values. He wants to be rich and happy. But the price is the loss of his personality. So my answer is no. You should never deny your own personality just to belong to an elite group.
What movies or directors have influenced you during your career to date, and do you have any ongoing projects you might tell us about?
I am working on several projects at the same time and looking for film producers or film production companies..
I don't want to give too much away, but at the same time make producers curious. Therefore only this much.
A young woman takes revenge for the humiliation she suffered on a television show.
As well as "Carrie" meets "Saw" meets "Theater of Blood."
Then there's the story about the sinister relationship between a man and his dog.
As well as "Scott and Huutch" meets "The Omen" meets "Cujo."
"Downton Abbey“ meets German Nazis."
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