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 Christian Vuissa Interview 
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In 2002, Austrian Latter Day Saint film-maker Christian Vuissa's short film "Roots & Wings" was recognized with the "Association of Mormon Letters" Award, only the second film since "God's Army" to receive this recognition. Vuissa, born and educated in Europe and, most recently, at Brigham Young University Film School also received acclaim for his second short film, "Unfolding," the story of a teenage girl who manages to establish a connection with her father who has been long afflicted with Alzheimer's Disease. In 2003, Christian Vuissa was hand-picked to direct the film adaptation of Robert Farrell Smith's widely acclaimed "Baptists at our Barbecue." Vuissa spoke with Richard by phone from Utah about "Baptists at our Barbecue," LDS film-making and on a wide variety of other topics:
 
Richard: 

Let's start at the beginning. What made you go into film? What's your background?

Christian:

I wanted to do something creative combining my interests in writing, photography and music and discovered that film has it all. I'm from Austria. I became a Mormon when I was 22, and completed my mission in Germany. I got married in 2000, and have two kids and a third one in the making. I graduated from BYU Film School in 2002.

Richard:

Your student films were critically praised short-films. How did you end up directing "Baptists at our Barbecue?" 
 

Christian:

The Smith's sent me the script originally. It was way over the top. The production company that wanted to make the book "Baptists at Our Barbecue" into a movie, was looking for a director, and I sent them my portfolio. I also did my research. Because I was new, I think I was more flexible than other applicants. I ended up moving to New Mexico for a couple months. It was an amazing opportunity. It took me exactly a year and a half to make this film. It felt like I was carrying my master's thesis for my masters program in filmmaking.

Richard:

What else are you working on right now?

Christian:

We've finished filming "Pirates of the Great Salt Lake." I've been one of the producers on the film. I'm also currently prepping another comedy that I wrote and plan to direct.

Richard:

I didn't realize when we first exchanged e-mails that "Pirates of the Great Salt Lake" is opening here in Indianapolis next month.

Christian:

Is that where you're at?

Richard:

Yes, the film's in competition at the upcoming Indianapolis International Film Festival. I'm very excited. I'll be able to see it in a theatre.

Christian:

You'll have to let me know what you think.

Richard:

Sure thing.

Christian:

I learned a lot filming it working as a producer and production manager. It was shot on HD. It was difficult to access locations. We had some pretty difficult and hard-to-access locations, but it pays off in the final look of the film. It was a difficult task because the budget for "Pirates" was lower than that for "Baptists at our Barbecue."

Richard:

If my research is correct, your budget for "Baptists" was right around $500,000.

Christian:

Right.

Richard:

From what I've read about "Pirates," it seems like it would be a higher budget film. What else is different about "Pirates of the Great Salt Lake?"

Christian:

It's a bit darker comedy. It's not super dark, but it's darker than "Baptists."

Richard:

I'm curious. Is there a type of film that would be taboo for an LDS film-maker?

Christian:

We're very diverse. We've had adventure thriller ("Brigham City"), pop mockumentary ("Sons of Provo"), human dramas ("God's Army"), comedy ("Napoleon Dynamite"), documentary ("New York Doll"). Most LDS-themed film-makers are going to target a PG or PG-13 rated film. An R-rated film wouldn't play well in the market.

Richard:

What about you? Judging from your history, you're drawn to themes about humanity.

Christian:

I'm drawn to universal themes. If it's done the right way, I could make an R-rated film. It would really have to be done the right way, though. The MPAA isn't really consistent, and a mature theme itself could be enough to garner an "R" rating.

Richard:

Was film school helpful for you? What did you learn from it? Or did you get on the set of your first film and immediately start experiencing the unexpected?

Christian:

I think BYU helped a lot. I made connections and networked. I can't complain at all. The production facilities are great, and I was able to shoot my short films while there. I had to do everything, but I could do everything while there.

Richard:

So, it's really what you make of the experience?

Christian:

Yes. Some complained. I know some students who got out of school and hadn't made a single film. I really tried to do everything I could.

Richard:

You produced "Pirates of the Great Salt Lake." Are you directing again?

Christian:

I really made "Baptists at our Barbecue" for the Smith's, the producers of the film. As a film, it feels different from a film I would make for myself. I do also find producing very enjoyable. It felt a lot less stressful not having the creative responsibility. In terms of directing another film, I look forward to directing "Double Up," the comedy I mentioned earlier. I've had a also have this story in my mind for three years. It's a coming of age story drama that . It feels a lot like "Unfolding." I'd like to film that with Kirby. "Double Up" is a project I want to do with Kirby.

Richard:

Heyborne?

Christian:

Yes. He's also in "Pirates of the Great Salt Lake." I'm his manager for his music efforts.

Richard:

He's certainly experiencing some cross-over appeal.

Christian:

Yes, he's currently doing a Fox series the Fox sitcom "Free Ride." He's gotten some backlash slack for it. It's more mainstream than some feel he should do. There's also that actor from "Napoleon Dynamite." He's having mainstream success.

Richard:

Jon Heder?

Richard:

Yes.

Richard:

Hmmm. I don't know much about his background. I'll have to look him up! How competitive is LDS film-making? Is it a supportive community?

Christian:

Generally, the LDS community is really supportive of each other. People are ready and willing to help. There may be some tension at times as companies become successful. I also started the LDS Film Festival, now in its fifth year. It has helped build networks and opportunities for film-makers.

Richard:

We keep diverting. <laughs> So, you want to make a comedy and a coming of age film.what else is in your future?

Richard:

I'd like to do the comedy with Kirby this summer, my coming-of-age road movie that will hopefully happen in 2007 or 2008. I have a couple of smaller films, LDS-themed films I am thinking about, and a couple of bigger productions down the road. There's only so much you can do. I'm learning to be patient.

Richard:

So, it's possible for an independent, LDS film-maker to make a living? I have to admit. I was a bit concerned when I saw your production budget for "Baptists at our Barbecue," then looked up your box-office grosses.

Christian:

You can't go by box-office. That's a small part of the picture for an independent film-maker. There's festivals and, for us, it's mostly in the DVD sales.

Richard:

I wondered about DVD sales. I was talking to another film-maker a few weeks ago. She shot her film on $85,000. She got a distribution deal with Blockbuster, but it sounded like it was more of a learning curve for her.not a very good business deal. So, you learned a lot then by working so closely with Halestorm on "Baptists?"

Christian:

I learned a lot on the business side. I learned a lot about how to market your film. Of course, by directing I also learned a lot about actors and what they need.

Richard:

Any interest in acting?

Christian:

<laughs> No, none at all.

Richard:

You've talked about enjoying universal themes. What are some of your favorite films?

Christian:

I love personal, biographical films. I love "Avalon," "Unstrung Heroes," "Fly Away Home." I loved "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind." In terms of small scale indie films, I loved "Pieces of April." I love foreign films.

Richard:

Well, you've given me a ton of your time here. I really appreciate it. I'd best let you go for now.

Christian:

Let me know what you think of "Pirates." When are you seeing it again?

Richard:

It's during the Indianapolis International Film Festival. I haven't seen the exact screening date, but it's during the last week of April, first week of May.

Christian:

Great. I'll be anxious to hear what you think.

Richard:

I will be sure to let you know.

Christian:

Great. Feel free to contact me anytime!

Richard:

Thank you!

"Baptists at our Barbecue" is available on DVD. "Pirates of the Great Salt Lake" is currently playing in limited release and screened during the  Indianapolis International Film Festival, April 26-May 4, 2006 in Indianapolis, Indiana. Visit the Indianapolis International Film Festival website for more information!. 
 

- Richard Propes
 The Independent Critic
*Interview first published on IndependentCritics.com on April 3, 2006!
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