Marvin is an award-winning, LA-based filmmaker from Germany who specializes in directing, cinematography, and editing. He’s worked in the industry for almost a decade with over 300 productions under his belt. His work has been seen on CBS, Netflix, Amazon Prime, iTunes, major TV networks in Germany, and Film Festivals around the world including TIFF and SBIFF.
So, you’re from Germany: What made you move to LA and what got you started in the film biz?
Das ist korrekt! I got started in the film biz through an internship at a big German TV Show. After my internship was over, I was hired by the production company to finish the season, and so, I officially became a freelancer. I had no idea what that meant at that time but it sounded great. Through this job, I met tons of people who later hired me for their productions. In 2011, I started my own German-based production company, Motion In Pictures. We shot commercials, industrials, and some critically acclaimed music videos. However, it had always been my goal to work in Hollywood so, before I got too comfortable, I decided to make the move to sunny California. I studied film at UCSB for a year and then directing at UCLA while building my network. Ever since, I’ve been working in the industry as a freelancer, which I absolutely love. It’s been over 4 years now in La-La land and I haven’t looked back ever since.
What have been some of the biggest differences you’ve noticed about the film industry in Germany vs. the United States?
I would say the biggest difference is the fact that most productions in the US are privately financed, while in Germany, a lot of the funding comes from grants, federal funds, etc. Even the biggest productions have state funds involved. This comes with certain limitations and their committee is not known for taking risks in terms of genre and budget. Now, as you know, new players such as streaming services and companies like Facebook, Apple. etc. have entered the entertainment industry and have started producing their own content. This had a direct impact on the German film industry as well. You see more and more productions that take risks with beautiful results such as Netflix original shows ‘Dark’ and ‘Babylon Berlin’.
Secondly, producing a German film comes with certain limitations. Although, Germany has the highest population in Europe and the film market is fairly big, the fact that it’s actually in German makes it hard to distribute to foreign markets. Hollywood would rather remake our films than dubbing them, so we may sell the rights to the story but not the film itself.
Who would you say are your filmmaking/artistic influences are and how do you stay creative?
It’s hard to point out specific filmmakers who influenced me, as they all have different strengths. I think it’s more that certain films inspired and influenced me rather than the filmmakers itself. But if I have to come up with some names, I would say Christopher Nolan and David Fincher. Nolan tends to tell extremely complex stories with multiple layers in a really smart and compelling way. He just keeps me on the edge from beginning to end. Fincher is just such a perfectionist. He’s literally a walking filmmaking book. Everything in his movies is just so on point and you can literally see how consciously he made his decisions.
When it comes to staying creative, it can be hard sometimes. I would say it’s about overcoming the self-made pressure that everything you make has to be perfect and win Sundance. Creating is the best way to stay creative. I love just taking my camera on a run and shooting random visuals, or grabbing my phone and writing down any random ideas that cross my mind throughout the day. Getting inspired by content that already exists is huge as well. To give you an example, I’m currently working on a psychological horror feature. Whenever I get stuck with a certain scene I try to figure out how to visually translate it. I would watch some of my favorite horror films, take a memorable scene from that movie, and take a detailed look at how they did it and why it works. Watching bad films is also very helpful as it shows you what to avoid in your own projects.
What’s been your favorite project to work on? And what can we see next?
Firstly, my film Crossroads. It’s a psychological thriller that I wrote, directed, produced, and edited. I was simply too controlling to outsource those positions. Would I do it again? Probably not. But this was my baby! I worked on the script for almost a year and ended up with 12 drafts. I would say this film represents my filmmaking and storytelling style the best. You can find more information and watch the film at www.crossroadsshort.com.
The other project is a remake of the classic German horror film Nosferatu. I got involved during post-production and was hired to re-edit the film. Although editing is not my favorite part of filmmaking per se, I really enjoyed working on it. The film turned out amazing and I loved the collaboration with the team. I remember writing a 40 page paper about this film in college back in Germany and now I’m editing it! Doug Jones as Count Orlok, my good friend Emrhys Cooper as Hutter, and Sarah Carter as Ellen were the perfect cast. Everyone’s performance was just beautiful. Sometimes, the value of working on a film is not just the film itself but the people you meet throughout the process. I’ve been working with David Fischer (director) Christopher Duddy (cinematographer) and Jenna Ceddici (producer) ever since, which is just an amazing team. Definitely look out for the film as it hopefully will be released in 2019.
I’m currently working on two new projects. I have a web series called Ubermerica in the making as well as a psychological horror feature that I want to shoot in 2020. Also, Studiobinder is seeking to produce its first film, which will either be a pilot or short film that I will be developing and directing. We’re currently looking for scripts so, if anyone out there got something good, please reach out!
You also help out at StudioBinder and have a ton of your own projects on the side? How do you balance it all and how do you not burn out?
Correct, I’m Studiobinder’s content producer/director and as our projects become bigger. Thanks to our extremely fast growing Youtube channel, it becomes more of a challenge and consumes more of my creative space. I also do a lot of freelancing jobs. It’s important to me to build my network and work in different environments. And then there are my own projects. They always get kicked to the curb. It’s sad but I’m really trying not to forget about them as they remind me of why I chose to work in this highly competitive industry. My weeks are usually around 70-80 hours and to be totally honest, I’ve had situations where I felt burned out, which really is the worst feeling, especially if you get paid to be creative.
From what I’ve learned, I would say it is important to learn to say no! This sounds easy but it really is the hardest part. There are times when everything gets thrown at me at once. There are a lot of amazing projects I want to be part of but my time simply doesn’t allow me to. Filtering projects that help your career and your skillset and then saying no to others is so important. Another thing is to stay organized and keep a healthy work-life balance. I recently discovered this App called Things. It really helps keep all your projects organized in the form of a To-Do list. So, I usually wake up around 5:30am and the first thing I would do is going through the app, plan my day in the form of check boxes, and work my way through it during the day. Once I have accomplished everything on my list, I turn off work and do something for myself. This way, I take a lot of pressure off of my day and don’t constantly feel like I’m forgetting something, even if it’s just little things such as answering an email.
What’s your worst horror story when finding a location and how did Wrapal help?
To be honest, for me, the process of finding locations is a horror story in itself. It’s just so time-consuming and generally an exhausting process. When I was in pre-production for my film Crossroads, I needed an interrogation room that could either meet my criteria or one that could be modified. A lot of locations were simply too expensive and catered to bigger productions, or they simply didn’t look good.
I heard about Wrapal while being a student at UCLA. “It’s the Airbnb for locations,” they said. I always kept the link in my favorites tab of my browser because I knew it would come in handy at some point. And it did! I ultimately found my perfect location through Wrapal. It just saved me a bunch of time as you can easily filter locations, and the layout is the same so you don’t have to search for the right contact, and your emails don’t get lost in the midst of all the other 400 emails per day that you get when being in pre-production.
Describe your dream project if money was no object.
It’s always been my dream to direct a superhero film. I was a big superhero comic nerd during my childhood (Okay, maybe I still am…) and after I saw The Dark Knight the first time, I knew this is the type of film I want to be involved in at some point. I think the bar of superhero movies has become just so much higher than what they used to be. Nolan showed us with his version how many layers you can bring into this “genre”. I would love to explore that world and put more work into character development.
If you could only use one piece of equipment for the rest of your filmmaking life, what would it be and why?
Well, I guess it would be a camera that is capable of recording sound. I mean, at the end of the day, a camera is all you need to tell a story in a visual medium.
If you would like to follow Marvin, make sure to visit his website www.marvinnuecklaus.com as well as follow him on Instagram @directedbymarvin