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Man of Mystery: Elisabeth Scharang talks about Jack

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Trevor Hogg chats with Elisabeth Scharang about exploring the mental state of a convicted murder who never was able to achieve the social acceptance he so desired…

ElisabethScharang_(c)_PamelaRussmannFor her sophomore feature effort, Austrian journalist turned filmmaker Elisabeth Scharang (In Another Lifetime) directs her attention towards convicted murderer Jack Unterweger who became a literary and societal sensation in Vienna during the early 1990s.  Research for the project proved to be difficult.  “The facts were about the case but not about the person,” remarks Scharang while at the 40th Toronto International Film Festival for the North American Premiere of Jack.  “It was not the story I wanted to tell.  When you take the life of another person how do you cope with the guilt?” Assisting with the character portrait was four real life encounters with Unterweger.  “I love to go to the movies so I am full of all these images of bad guys.  While I was writing I thought to myself, ‘Don’t go in this direction.  It’s too easy.’  The real Jack Unterweger was not so fancy and brutal.  I did a series of interviews with him when I was working as a young journalist.   We didn’t have a lot of personal communications but you get a feeling for the person.  I wasn’t scared when I met him.  He was a polite person who always tried to speak correctly in German.”

“Johannes Krisch [Labyrinth of Lies] who plays Jack was looking at number of photographs and videos from television,” remarks Elisabeth Scharang who wanted to learn about the personal nuances that could be incorporated into the character.  “I was much more about talking to people who were interacting with him.  There’s a scene with the hairdryer which came from me talking to one of the women who was living with Jack.  Reality can be more exciting than anything you can make up.”  Casting for the lead role was not a problem.  “I had my main actor who I worked with before on In Another Lifetime [2011] which was helpful.  Then I had to find the women.  I also really wanted to work with Corinna Harfouch [Downfall]. When you have lovers the audiences have to see them and believe.  Corinna and Johannes had never performed together before so I wanted to see them together and it was intense.  On our first shooting day we had the scene where they have their first meeting.   Johannaes and Corinna were in separated trailers; they were both so nervous.  I was wondering, ‘What is going on here?  They have played in so many movies.  Why are they so nervous?’  But it was good for the scene.  One of hardest characters to find was the female police inspector because I wanted to have a female Colombo.  We did a lot of casting and chose Birgit Linauer [Wir Waren Da].”

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Jörg Widmer (Pina) was hired to handle the cinematography.  “We decided to make a colourful and powerful picture,” states Elisabeth Scharang.  “Jörg and I watched a lot of movies in order to get a feeling as to which direction we should go.  For us colour was a big thing.  We painted the walls to have a strong and powerful look.  There wasn’t much colour correction.  Jörg Widmer is wonderful to work with because he can do anything.  He is one of the best Steadicam operators and really dances with the camera.  Jörg can also do the close-ups.  It was great to have all of these opportunities.”  Scharang observes, “When you are choosing a camera you have to keep in mind if there are a lot of night scenes.  We did.  At the train station and bridge there were nice lamps there.  I wanted to work with them.  We were shooting with ALEXA.”

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“The most difficult location to find was Jack’s apartment because I wanted to have it high up and away from the rest of the world,” notes Elisabeth Scharang.  I also wanted to have this shot from above so I needed it to be high.  Shooting in a city like Vienna there isn’t much space with the streets.  For the winter scenes we had a break in the schedule because there was no snow.  There was no chance in post-production to do produce fake snow because the location I chose was so detailed.  We went to sleep and the next day there was snow!  I don’t like shooting in the studio too much.”  An elaborate tattoo adorns Johannes Krisch.  We wanted to do the original one so we had a Dutch company make it.  The tattoo lasted for two days and then we had to do it again.  It worked well.”  An important element that accompanies the visuals is the music.  “I didn’t want a classic score.  From the beginning it was clear that I wanted to have songs for the music and I had worked with Naked Lunch before.  I knew that the voice of the singer Oliver Welter was the inner voice of Jack.  They made the songs for this film.  The music has a lot of space to tell its own story.”

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Changes occurred in the edit suite.  “It was quite crazy,” admits Elisabeth Scharang.  “I did a portion of the film where Jack is very guilty and I did portion of the film when he is a victim.  You can switch two pictures and have a totally different character.  It was hard to find the right balance.”  The past comes to haunt the protagonist. “The arrival of the mother of Jack is where the story turns.  You come with this wonderful woman from a great party and you’re your mother is sitting in front of your door.  That’s not so sexy.  She is also bringing back all of his past into his new life.  He wanted to forget it.  It’s painful and necessary for the audience to understand the character better.  What’s his background? Why is he such a control freak?  Why does he have less confidence?  When you see what is going on with the mother you understand that there is no one in his life he can trust.” Happy accidents occurred during the principal photography.  “It was an intense shooting day for Johannes and he suddenly broke down.  I just let it run.  It is disturbing in some way for us and the audience because they’re wondering ‘What is going on here?’”

[youtube https://youtu.be/dY87fXXuI5w]

“I love the scene when Jack buys his car,” reveals Elisabeth Scharang.  “Sometimes when shooting, you think, ‘Maybe it’s too much.’  But usually with movies it is never too much.”  The biggest challenge was not to make anything compromises. “With this production company I’m working with now we’re doing a fourth film together so we know each other quite well.  I had seven years from writing the script to the first day of shooting.  Seven years is a long time and I was so into the story.  It was so easy on the set.  I said, ‘Okay.  Everything is here.  Now we can play.’  I had a good team and a cast of great actors.  There were no compromises with it.  Also, with the shooting we did not have much time. We had six and a half weeks.  I was so concentrated and we didn’t have to discuss anything on-set because it was all clear.  We had a good journey together.”

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Many thanks to Elisabeth Scharang for taking the time to be interviewed.

Trevor Hogg is a freelance video editor and writer who currently resides in Canada; he can be found at LinkedIn.

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