Lonely Island: Argyris Papadimitropoulos on Middle Age Frustration and Shooting Suntan Without a Script

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MM: Do you find it more difficult to convince people to finance or participate in your films without a fleshed-out screenplay in hand? 

AP: This time was easier because they had seen the previous one, so they knew how I was going to work and how spontaneous and natural it was going to look. For the previous it was more difficult, but it was an even cheaper film. Suntan was less than half a million, so the previous one cost something like €150,000. They are both very cheap, you are not really looking for big investors that would like to read every sentence and have notes on everything.

MM: When you cast Makis Papadimitriou, did his physical appearance and demeanor feel like a perfect match for your vision of Kostis? How did you shape the character with Makis?

AP: I didn’t want to have something extreme in terms of physical appearance. I wanted an average guy. Makis back then was bigger, so I asked him to lose around 12 kilos. I tortured him a little bit because we decided we were doing the film together in April and we started shooting in August. From April til August he wasn’t allowed to go out in the sun or to wear any t-shirts—only long-sleeved shirts and long trousers. The heat here in Greece is crazy in the summer. He also had to wear a ridiculous hat with a mullet in the back so the back of his neck wouldn’t get tanned. During the shoot everybody was swimming and going out, and Makis wasn’t allowed to. He was the only one that was not staying in the camping grounds with us. He was staying in a room because I wanted to make sure that no ray of light is going to touch him. I wanted to maintain this pale skin tone. Also, although he is an amazing guy and really fun to hang out with, I wanted him to be quieter and take it easy in his own relaxing place while the rest of us—all the other actors and the crew—were camping, partying all the time, going to the sea and going to La Luna, the club in the film, every night after the shoot. We lived it more like teenagers while he was alone.

Elli Tringou as Anna in Suntan

 

MM: Your decision to make Makis’ character a doctor adds complexity to his decisions—especially during the last act.

AP: A doctor is the only that has legal access to the flesh—to my body, your body, and in this case, to this young girl’s body. But since he is a person that doesn’t really have access to pleasures or doesn’t allow himself to have access to them, that makes him more frustrated. Plus, he is supposed to heal people and not hurt. To me it worked for the last scene, which encompasses the topics in the film. Of course I can’t refer to that directly because that would be a crazy spoiler, but if it weren’t for this last scene I wouldn’t have shot the film. This final twist in the last minute of the film is what makes the whole film make sense.

MM: What was it about this story that needed to be told on an island like Antiparos?

AP: The island of Antiparos is a place that I know like the back of my hand and it’s a place I really love. It is tiny, and that was important for the story because it’s one of these places where if you meet somebody you don’t even ask for his number, you know you are going to bump into him again—maybe even five times in the rest of the day, because the island is very small. The story worked there. If it was in a big island or a city when you meet somebody you are not sure if you are going to meet again. Plus, the island has something symbolic about it because you are in the middle on an ocean. Kostis is like an island himself. He is in the sea alone, floating. He is abandoned alone in the middle of nowhere. This particular place is where outgoing people go to party and it’s got this amazing nudist beach, so for me it made perfect sense to go and shoot it there.

Kostis (Makis Papadimitriou) drifts out to sea by the island of Antiparos in Suntan

MM: Did you shoot while there were tourists vacationing there? What issues and/or benefits did that bring about for the production?

AP: Yes. My producer thinks I’m crazy. She asked me, ”Why not go in September or early in June instead of August?” This place normally has 800 people, and in August it has 12,000. It’s crazy and packed. I said, “That’s exactly the thing.” I wanted to make it organic and use the actual partygoers, the actual nudists and the actual people that go to this island as background. We would blend with the actual crowd. In the beginning it was weird, but then they all loved us. We became like a big company and everyone that was there helped. We had two young people in our crew whose only job was getting releases signed by all these people in the discotheque, in the bars, and at the beach. It was very interesting to shoot like that. It was extreme and crazy, but on the other hand, for me, there wouldn’t be any other way to shoot it. Even if I had the money to pay for thousands of extras and set these things up, it wouldn’t be the same. I would go to La Luna at four o’clock in the morning and there would be 800 drunk people having fun and that’s not something you can easily set up. You do have lots of surprises. There is a scene where Anna’s friend gets into a fight with Kostis, and while we were shooting at the bar this group of drunk Italian tourists saw the fight and they jumped in and started kicking Makis [laughs]. You can get weird surprises but then you also get this realistic picture that you wouldn’t get any other way.

MM: It seems that you and your DP had a great eye for framing. There are multiple shots that appear to be carefully designed and have great emotional impact. For example, the pull back from the window in the opening sequence, the bird’s-eye view on the fence or the shower sequence, in which there signs that place Kostis in between the boys and the girls’ restrooms.

AP: It’s a strange combination. Half of the film is shot extremely spontaneously and the other half is very well designed. The pull back in the beginning of the film that you mention and the shot from above by the fence are super designed shots, and would be very difficult to create if they were not designed. For the shot with the “Boy” and “Girl” signs, I just put the camera there and I told my team, “Can you bring me some paint? I want to write something.” The signs weren’t there, but by writing them I decided to separate them forever because this is the last time they talk to each other because of what he does in this scene. I wanted to point out that, “If you got his way, to the girls’ restroom, that’s going to be the last time.” It was an spontaneous thing. I just wrote “Boy” and “Girl” and put some arrows. Although I designed the whole thing, I leave room for coincidence to sneak in or for new ideas to come up. If someone else or I come up with a great idea I’m going to do it. I won’t say, “We don’t have time to do this” or, “If we do this the other thing might not work.” I’m just going to shoot it. I love getting new ideas, that’s what excites me. I go there scouring with my director of photography and the production designer and we design quite a lot of the things that we want to shoot, but then we leave a lot of room for things to happen, to be inspired. One thing I did that was very important is that I took the entire crew and actors to the island 15 days before we started shooting. I wanted them to get into this island vibe and go out, get drunk, meet people, flirt and understand what this film was about.

MM: Would you say this approach also helped the performances?

AP: 100 percent—especially the kids, Anna’s gang. They didn’t know each other. They are people that I found here and there. There is this Dutch model that I met in New York; this young Swedish acting student that I met on Skype through a friend; there is Elli, who plays Anna, and who was in the first year of the drama school of Athens; and there is this dancer. I didn’t want them to be people that would only meet there and start acting right away. I wanted to become a group for real. I got them all to Greece early on and I asked them to hang out with each other, go out every night, get drunk, and to call me the next day to tell me about the time they had. Sometimes I would go out with them and I would get exposed to them as a person by telling them things about me, so that when I would ask them to act, they wouldn’t feel they are exposing themselves to somebody who is not a friend or hasn’t exposed himself.

MM: What’s your perception of the current Greek film industry and the projects that have gained internationally acclaim in recent years?  

AP: It’s funny to say “Greek film industry,” or to even put these three words together, because there is not really an industry. It’s a small bunch of people. We all know each other and try to make films. On the other hand, it’s amazing to see the quality and quantity of great films that have come out of Greece in the last few years. At every major festival you bump into a good Greek film, and the interest of festivals and the film markets abroad is in films of Greek cinema. It’s supposed to be a wave—they call it the “Greek Weird Wave”—, but to me it doesn’t make sense because not all of these films are weird. There are some great [Greek] films that have nothing weird about them. I also wouldn’t say there is a wave in terms of style or the thematic approach. But there is definitely a wave of people who are showing great solidarity to each other, because the financial situation is shit. There is a wave of people that help each other, and if you look at the credits of any Greek film you’ll find all other good Greek filmmakers there, either working for the film, or as an extra, or even as a special thanks for some reason. We all help each other make films, since it’s impossible to do it any other way. MM

Suntan opened in theaters March 10, 2017, courtesy of Strand Releasing.

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