Michaël R. Roskam: “You become more creative and more focused when there are restrictions and limitations”

Although he only has three features to his credit so far, filmmaker and screenwriter Michaël R. Roskam (b. 1972) was the creative brain and the driving force behind three highly acclaimed films, debuting with Academy Award-nominee “Bullhead” (2011), followed by “The Drop” (2014) starring Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace and James Gandolfini, and “Le Fidèle” (2017, a.k.a. “Racer and the Jailbird”), all three with Matthias Schoenaerts in a leading role.

Obviously, Mr. Roskam is a top-notch craftsman. His films are mesmerizing, clever, engaging and imaginative, his direction is always spot on, and he’s not afraid to steer his work out of traditional nor conventional territories (watch here the trailers of “Bullhead,” “The Drop” and “Racer and the Jailbird“). Hence his latest screen effort, the Dutch-language short “Een Verkeerde Toekomst” (a.k.a. “A Wrong Future”), set in 2043, with a former politician (played by Jan Decleir) as the leading character who has to justify to his granddaughter (Romy Louise Lauwers) why he simply didn’t do more in 2019 to avoid some of the worst effects of climate change and global warming by curbing global greenhouse gas emissions.

If you’re trying to capture what the future has in store, Richard Fleischer’s “Soylent Green” (1973) with Charlton Heston and Edward G. Robinson has always been a solid point of reference which—film wise—even today still lives up to its promise when it comes to what New York might look like almost forty years later, in 2022. And now, with 2022 just around the corner, Mr. Roskam projects 2043 on the screen, and in his tight but brave and courageous twelve-minute short, he focuses on the consequences of the choices made by today’s political leaders in terms of climate change and global warming.

Film director and screenwriter Michaël R. Roskam with actress Romy Louise Lauwers in Brussels to launch their short “Een Verkeerde Toekomst” (a.k.a. “A Wrong Future”). Photograph: © Leo/Film Talk

Presented at the Brussels Palace Theater, followed by a press conference with Mr. Roskam and Romy Louise Lauwers (a.k.a. Romy Lauwers) and multiple one-on-one interviews, “A Wrong Future” covers various layers in its narrative, including economic growth and financial interests versus greenhouse effects, sea level rise, and climate refugees—with a common denominator that ‘we didn’t do enough to prevent it’ which also resulted in a family tragedy for the film’s leading characters. So who’s to blame, who is responsabele for what went wrong? Once you’ve reach the point of no return, there’s no time for regrets, as in “A Wrong Future,” everybody has paid a high price for decisions that were and weren’t made.

Mr. Roskam assembled an impressive cast with Jan Decleir, Natali Broods and Romy Louise Lauwers, portraying three generations within the same family. Ms. Lauwers, whose screen credits include “My First Highway” (2016) and “Het Leven Is Vurrukkulluk” (2018), is also one of the founding members of the theater group Kuiperskaai.

Michaël R. Roskam and Romy Louise Lauwers at the Brussels Palace Theater. Photograph: © Leo/Film Talk

“A Wrong Future” is produced by 11.11.11 (a coalition of NGOs, unions, movements and various solidarity groups located in Flanders), and confronts politicians with the legacy they will leave behind once their political career is over, what achievements they may be proud of and what regrets they might have. Since climate change and global warming are a matter of urgency, politicians have a huge responsibility now, and to speed things up, cast and crew collaborated on this short strictly as a labor of love. Timing was very crucial—with the 2019 European Parliament election coming up later this month, along with federal and regional elections in Belgium on the same day—so there was no time to lose. Time’s up, in so many ways, unless of course we’ve reached the point that common sense doesn’t make sense any longer.

Here is the one-on-one interview with Mr. Roskam, talking about “A Wrong Future,” and considering the subject, this may be his—or anyone’s, for that matter—most significent work up until now, because what the world will look like tomorrow, depends on what today’s politicians decide to do. Or refuse to do.

Mr. Roskam, as a renowned filmmaker of feature films, is it easy for you to put all your creative energy into a twelve-minute short?

I think restrictions always make us creative. Not freedom, that makes us a little but lazy and it makes me panick. Like most people you become more creative and more focused when there are restrictions and limitations. So I’m good, I like it. Making a short is another way of working compared to making a feature, but I had already made four short films. So this is now my fifth and I’m very happy it hopefully has a political and civil impact.

What did the shooting schedule look like?

We shot it in one day, it was a one-day shoot from six o’clock in the morning till nine in the evening. Fifteen hours. But we just had a good script. I also had a one-hour conversation with every single actor upfront, we went through the script, I pointed out exactly what I wanted, I know [DOP] Nicolas Karakatsanis very well, so it was like boom. We only had one location, so we needed to be very creative; the second unit also did one shot on another location, but that was it. The little studio house where the young woman is recording her talk was a room in the basement where we put some light, and that’s how we pulled it off in one day. I’ve never worked this fast in my life. But we had no choice, and the crew was fantastic. There was this almost cerebral focus: we all believed in it, it had to work out today. There was a healthy pressure, hyper focus and no stress. And the actors are fantastic. I had three generations of actors, three generations of the best talent of Belgium on one set, and Romy was wonderful. It was like we were flying. I never felt that before [laughs], it was crazy.

And how did you do your casting?

We were very lucky: I just called them and sent them the script, that was it. I think it helped me that my track record gave the actors the confidence that this was the real thing, and that we would do something that was respectful to the subject in general and to the people in general. I absolutely didn’t want to push this duality—wrong or right—that we are facing. Everybody is claiming that they’re right: climate realists say, ‘It’s only a flu, take it easy’ versus the climate activists that say, ‘No, this is pneumonia, we need to take care of this.’ And who’s right here? Because first of all, I’m not a climate activist. There’s too much that I do that’s part of the problem, but I would like to change it. If we can this together, that would be perfect, and then I will gladly say goodbye to my dear habits that I love so much and that I can’t have any longer, if it guarantees a good future for my son. That’s a very small sacrifice to make. So then I started to think, ‘What side do I want to be on if they’re wrong?’ Like, do I prefer to be wrong, thinking it was a flu and it isn’t? Or do I want to be wrong, saying, ‘Yeah, you’re right, it wasn’t a pneumonia, it was a flu.’ I think I know which side I want to be on! I’m gonna be pragmatic here, I’m not going to be ideological anymore. So to be honest, politicians… look at the scenario, look at the consequences, and then decide what you want. Which regrets do you wish to have? Because in the end, there will always be regrets, so decide which one. You want to be a realist? That’s more comfortable, because it’s reassuring, like on the Titanic when they said, ‘Hey guys, take it easy, have a drink, everything is okay.’

Romy Louise Lauwers in “A Wrong Future” as the politician’s granddaughter who is questening the climate decisions he made in 2019.

When you wrote the script, was it easy to find this perfect balance?

It never is. The balance is always a tricky thing and it goes on till the end. But in this case it went very naturally because it’s a short, and it’s like a fragment out of people’s life. It’s not like a real whodunit or like a plot rhythm element, it’s more like a character development. It’s a technique that is known, you just replace a known structure, you change the subject and let it play out naturally. And the dialogue went pretty smoothly. But we had a totally different approach in the beginning: we were thinking of doing a sort of fake documentary, like a mockumentary from the future where a journalist is talking to all these people, but that just didn’t work—it was on the metalevel of sci-fi and the metalevel of the fake documentary. That was too confusing, and then I came up with the idea to go with full fiction about this young woman who’s making a vlog about her family history, so things can be discussed. And then you get this recognizable situation, because interviewing in thirty years is still the same as interviewing today, the regrets are still the same, and that gave me the opportunity to create something very intimate and nuanced—we’re not talking about an evil guy, because it’s more like, ‘You’re right, I should have done this and that.’ That’s why the title is “The Wrong Future.” I hope it’s the wrong one, because if one day this becomes the truth—which I hope sincerely not—but if this really happens, a lot of politicians today better get a lawyer. They will have to defend themselves and represent themselves for the legal charges that might come from a generation that is tired of waiting. Now, a lot of people still think it’s okay. And every revolution comes out of nowhere… If all these youngsters today decide they’re not going to wait, suppose they become politicians, they have a political majority and they don’t have this kind of nuanced understanding of what went wrong in the past because they’re young, it can be scary, it can become violent. So we have to make sure that we don’t make them too angry. We don’t want to deal with angry youngsters. That’s why nuanced thinking is needed to make any kind of decisions.

Brussels, Belgium
May 2, 2019

[The short “Een Verkeerde Toekomst,” a.k.a. “A Wrong Future”]

[The making of Mr. Roskam’s short]

1. FILMS OF MICHAËL R. ROSKAM

RUNDSKOP, a.k.a. BULLHEAD (2011) DIR – SCR Michaël R. Roskam PROD Bert Van Langendonck CAM Nicolas Karakatsanis ED Alain Dessauvage MUS Raf Keunen CAST Matthias Schoenaerts, Jeroen Perceval, Jeanne Dandoy, Barbara Sarafian, Tibo Vandenborre, Frank Lammers, Sam Louwyck, Baudoin Wolwertz

THE DROP (2014) DIR Michaël R. Roskam PROD Mike Larocca, Peter Chernin, Dylan Clark SCR Dennis Lehane (also short story ‘Animal Rescue’) CAM Nicolas Karakatsanis ED Christopher Tellefsen MUS Raf Keunen, Marco Beltrami CAST Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace, James Gandolfini, Matthias Schoenbaerts, John Ortiz, Elizabeth Rodriguez, Michael Aronov

LE FIDÈLE, a.k.a. RACER AND THE JAILBIRD (2017) DIR Michaël R. Roskam PROD Bart Van Langendonck, Pierre-Ange Le Pogam SCR Michaël R. Roskam, Noé Debré, Thomas Bidegain CAM Nicolas Karakatsanis ED Alain Dessauvage MUS Raf Keunen CAST Matthias Schoenaerts, Adèle Exarchopoulos, Eric De Staercke, Jean-Benoît Ugeux, Nabil Missoumi, Thomas Coumans, Nathalie Van Tongelen, Sam Louwyck

2. FILMS OF ROMY LOUISE LAUWERS

LITTLE BLACK SPIDERS (2012) DIR Patrice Toye PROD Antonio Lombardo SCR Patrice Toye, Ina Vandewijer CAM Richard Van Oosterhout ED Damien Keyeux MUS John Parish CAST Line Pillet, Charlotte De Bruyne, Dolores Bouckaert, Ineke Nijssen, Nathalie Marie Verbeke, Romy Louise Lauwers (Mia), Sam Louwyck, Lynn Van Royen

MY FIRST HIGHWAY (2016) DIR – SCR Kevin Meul PROD Geoffrey Enthoven, Mariano Vanhoof CAM Menno Mans ED Thomas Pooters CAST Natali Broods, Ruth Becquart, Romy Lauwers (Annabel), Mathias Sercu, Victor Solé, Aaron Roggeman

HET LEVEN IS VURRUKKULLUK, a.k.a. LIFE IS WONDERFUL (2018) DIR Frans Weisz PROD Matthijs van Heijningen, Guurtje Buddenberg SCR Theo Nijland (novel by Remco Campert) CAM Goert Giltay CAST Willeke van Ammelrooy, Nick Golterman, Tine Joustra, Anniek Phierfer, Geza Weisz, Stefan de Walle, Romy Lauwers (Panda)