Creating a film is more than just text on a page. As a screenwriter and/or director, we have to construct a fictional world using our unique perception of reality. This exploration of philosophy is the secret to a successful film. Learn how to turn life’s questions into a compelling story, and how to write a feature film.
Galia Barkol is a NYC based Israeli filmmaker and actress sharing her experience creating her first feature film. We speak about how to act and direct at the same time by channeling energy on-set. Galia shares her inspiration for the film, origami, which she uses as a metaphor for identity, belonging and transitions in our life.
We discuss various ways to spark your creativity, and how to turn a simple idea into a film. Learn about using popular music in your film, and what royalty free or public domain music means to you. We also explore the creative urge to switch genres after completing a big project, so we can re-balance and shift gears to something exciting.
Galia's Film - MIA: http://thenwhathappens.squarespace.com
Feature Film Page: www.facebook.com/thenwhathappens
Instagram and Twitter: @GaliaBarkol
Follow me on the social media: @LoudaVision
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Today’s guest is Galia Barkol. She is a New York City-based Israeli actor, director and writer. She’s also the founder of Ring the Bells Productions. She has a feature film currently in production called MIA. You can find out more about our guest at GaliaBarkol.com. Hi, Galia. Thanks for coming on the podcast.
Hi. Thanks for having me.
Tell everyone about your international journey to become a filmmaker and actress.
I was born in Israel but I grew up in Germany in Berlin. That’s a point in my life where I was starting to like the idea of moving around countries. But most of my childhood I was in Israel. Then after my military service, which everyone does in Israel, I really had this fantasy of going back to Europe and everything that comes with it; a dream of reinventing myself or being liberated of the conditioning of my upbringing. I moved to Paris and I studied filmmaking there. Actually, my love for filmmaking came pretty late in my life. I was actually more into music and I was a classical pianist for most of my childhood and teenage years.
When I was in the army, I found this book by this Israeli professor and I started going to his lectures at Tel Aviv University. The main theme of this book and his work and the field of cinema was about philosophy in films. I never was a big film person, but that was the first time something clicked for me. I realized I can actually ask a philosophical question or explore world views through film. I know that people always say it’s about storytelling.
That was the first time something clicked for me. I realized I can actually ask a philosophical question or explore world views through film.
That’s the word that I hear all the time. I don’t really relate to it as much as I relate to the idea of creating a world where you insert a certain narrative, but the narrative is almost like only the excuse to get you going and explore something that is a bit more abstract or less conceptual. That got me really into film for the first time.
My studies in Paris were more theoretic. It was more about how you construct a world and how you use the tools you have in filmmaking to create realities and perceptions and that you can be somewhat like an architect of feelings. That was very fascinating. My last year in Paris, I got this opportunity to participate in a student’s exchange program. I got a scholarship and moved to New York for my last semester. That was a real cultural shock. It was amazing because Paris is so Parisian, intellectual and serious, at least my experience of it and the point where I was in my life. It was lonely and it was very contemplative. Then I came to New York and all of a sudden everything was much more hands-on and collaborative and just go and do stuff and write stuff. It was a great way to complete my studies, to give me the missing link in my studies.
When I started doing that and making films and being in other people’s films, I also really started liking the idea of being on camera. When I graduated, I realized that I wanted to go deeper into acting. The next step was I started studying at HB Studio in the city. I spent two years there studying full-time. That was the road to where I am today. When I graduated, I started doing what everybody starts doing when they’re out of acting school. I started auditioning and figuring out how I'm going to make it happen. Quite quickly, I realized I wanted, in addition to auditioning in being in other people’s projects, to also do my own thing.
I actually met this incredible woman. Her name is Molly Pearson. She has a workshop series called Leap. She really encouraged me to make my own stuff happen and see that as a launchpad to advance my career. My latest biggest project in that journey is my recent film, which is a feature that I'm very close to finishing.
What stage is your project at currently?
Right now I'm in late post-production. I've been editing for about nine months. It’s been a very interesting process. Now, I'm about to lock picture, which means that I'm not going to edit visuals anymore in terms of the timeline and the structure of the film. The next step is doing all the work around sound and sound mix, sound design and color correction. Then I'm pretty much done. I only have some graphics to do and the film will be complete, I hope in about two months.
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How are you working through the sound mix part of your production? Are you downloading music? Are you creating it?
Since I have this background in music, I'm very passionate and opinionated about music. My editor, who is fantastic, has not surprisingly, a background as a percussionist. The music is pretty much there already. In this film, I know it’s a bit risky, but what I want to do and I think I'm pulling off is using our only music that comes from the scene itself. There is no external music to let you know how you're supposed to feel, but it’s more about, there’s music at this venue and it’s just what the character is experiencing in her environment objectively. I have a large range of music. A part of the story of the film, there is an art school and there’s also a music school there. You hear a lot of beautiful classical music.
Because you play piano, right?
Yeah. I even played piano in one of the scenes. You don’t see me, it just comes from the window and it’s supposed to be a kid playing, so it was safe enough.
In the process of creating the film and fundraising for it, I got to listen to a lot of new music.
Actually, in the process of creating the film and fundraising for it, I got to listen to a lot of new music. One of the most exciting new musicians I discovered via Spotify is Tom Misch. He is a British musician. He’s 21 years old. It’s insane. It’s really fun pop and electronic music. He sings with this female singer, songwriter, her name is Carmody. They often collaborate and they have this fantastic song they sing together. I use it in the opening of the film. There is pop, there is classical, there is an Israeli song from the 70s that I'm really trying to get. I will have to pay for it, but I'm working on getting the rights for that. It’s pretty diverse. I'm having a lot of fun with it.
What can we tell people about trying to get rights for music?
First of all, if you don’t want something very specific, like I have a scene with classical Indian music so I just knew what kind of sound I wanted, but there wasn’t a specific artist that I wanted. I just got it royalty-free and it’s amazing. It’s great.
You just asked him for it?
That also happened with another guy that my editor saw in the subway and thought he was great. He got a CD. We listened to it and I loved one of the tunes. I just asked him and he said yes. The other cases was more like what you just talked about, which is this website where you have royalty-free music that’s high quality. One of the songs, like the Israeli song that I have, which is a little more difficult to get and will be potentially a bit more pricey for a film like I am making, that’s something maybe worth fighting for because the lyrics are very much aligned with the theme of the movie. It’s an important part in the film where it’s like a montage, so there are just visuals and this song. It was quite important. You should make an effort to make that happen.
But when you can make it happen with less effort or less money, definitely, I think there are other options. Classical music is basically free, that is at least 70 years old or the composer died at least that many years ago, something like that. I'm not sure what the rules are. That’s just an infinite pool of amazing music that you can always take from, if you find performances that you can use.
There’s this certain amount of years that has to go by in order for people to be able to use the music without owing money. Even up until recently, I think Happy Birthday you couldn’t use for a very long time. I believe you can use Happy Birthday now. I remember editing a documentary and they sang Happy Birthday, I had to completely cut out the music.
When I studied at HB Studio, I also studied playwriting. I remember my teacher, Julie McKee, the first class, the first thing she said was, “Don’t write your first scene with a line from Happy Birthday because you won't be able to produce it.” A lot of people made that mistake.
Because you think it’s so common that everybody uses it, but then you got to pay for it. I wanted to actually ask you what it’s like to be an actor and directing yourself. Were you directing your feature film as well?
Yeah. That wasn’t the initial plan. I started from saying I’ll produce it because I want control over the quality of it and the people I'm having and all that. I’ll also write it because I have always been writing and that’s my passion. I love filmmaking but I was hesitant to take on directing it first of all, of course, because directing myself is a big risk for me. In the beginning I thought I’d hire another director. As time went by, and luckily throughout the process of creating my fundraising campaign, a lot of unpredictable stuff happened which made me realize that I actually want to do this. I have the vision of how I want the film to look. I really just wanted to take it on. Directing myself was less scary than I thought it would be.
You think it would be hard because, how would you see your performance? I guess, you’d have to watch it back.
Yes. That is really the only issue that is really problematic. It’s true. Even when you see yourself, you see yourself on a monitor, we got a pretty big monitor for me, but it’s hard to really see what’s going on. It’s somewhat a sacrifice. I remember, I went to a Q&A with this young director who did the Sundance Film, she also directed and played in it, Desiree Akhavan. She made the film, Appropriate Behavior. It’s about being bisexual. It’s a very interesting and fun film. I was in my pre-production phase and I remember asking her in the Q&A, “How did you manage directing and acting?” What she told me was, “When you're directing, you're so on all the time that it even helps your acting.” I felt that very much because when you're an actor and you're in set, you can find yourself waiting for a long time and not do much. The energy drops. When you're the director and the producer, you're so stressed and so many things and people need your attention.
I perceive anything that actors do as energy and you take this energy and you channel it the way you want, if you're specific and you know what you want to do. If I'm stressed on set, it doesn’t mean I have to play a stressed character but it means that my body is very alert and I have a lot to work with. I actually found it helpful in terms of the performance, other than the fact that I wasn’t really able to see myself and be more objective.
I'm sure it’s like an adrenaline, because every time I'm directing I'm just so energetic. The second I get off set I collapse, but it’s pretty much so much energy, so much passion and joy and just excitement. I'm not an actress, but if I was, I'm sure it would help.
Time goes by. People come to me and say, “We need a break.” I'm like, “What? Six hours? That fast? How did that happen?” It’s like magic. I don't know what happens.
When you shoot a film, it’s like everything disappears. When you do something like that, you really need strong people around you.
When you shoot a film, it’s like everything disappears. It’s pretty great. When you do something like that, you really need strong people around you. First of all, I had a cinematographer who is very talented. He really cared about the film intimately. He really understood the film. We stuck together for long meetings before the shoot to really make sure that we see things in the same way or to discuss things. When were on set, we both knew what he was going to do. There was a little dialogue we needed to go through. Also, my AD, my assistant director was someone who I can really trust and can really take on the part of managing people and moving things along. In my character, it’s just something I don’t have anyway. I'm quite an introvert. I would whisper to her, “Would you tell people to be a bit quieter?” That’s very important.
The AD is so important in order to finish because the director can’t possibly be worried about time. I can imagine if you're directing and acting and producer, it’s going to be even more difficult.
We shot in nine days. It was difficult. There was a lot of moments where I wanted to continue but Julia said, “No. We don’t have time.” It’s tragic sometimes. But it’s good that you have someone to tell you the truth.
Nine days for a feature film, that’s awesome.
It’s the kind of film that it doesn’t have a ton of dialogue. It doesn’t really matter when you shoot it, it still takes the time. The script itself was 50 pages. It seemed manageable, but definitely just because it’s a first feature and there is no big back behind me to fund me, so I needed to do what I needed to do.
Tell me about the origami in your project.
I used to live in Park Slope when I wrote the film. On Seventh Avenue, which is the commercial avenue in Park Slope, there is this origami studio. You can see it from the outside because they have huge windows, and it was just so pretty. Every day I used to go by and look at it. I don’t remember how it happened but I just came up to chat with them because I thought it was so visually appealing. At the same time, I also watched Vanessa Gould’s film, Between the Folds, which is a really beautiful documentary about origami. I really like the philosophy or how I interpret what origami is all about.
What I liked about it in terms of the theme of the film, if you can call it that, that there is something about origami. When you make a model and you shape it into something, it is more fragile than the paper would ever be. I was thinking about it through the lens of identity and how we construct our identities and how in origami, when you fold a paper into a hat, you can look at it as a hat but you can also remember that fundamentally it’s a piece of paper. Are you the hat? Or are you a boat? Or are you a piece of paper? When you unfold the origami, you can never really get rid of the wrinkles. That made me think about transitions in our lives and how difficult it is for us to reframe how we see our role in life and how married we tend to be to a certain shape or role we took on and how it can limit us.
It could be hard sometimes. I'm actually going through a transition right now of my career. It’s hard letting go of what you have been, the role I was in for so long, moving into a new role feels hard.
It’s almost like you have to recreate a whole self to make it believable to yourself. That’s one of the things that interested me in making this film. We all go through transitions and we always tend to go from A to B. I'm not A anymore, so I must be B or C. In the film, I wanted to look at maybe I can take the film as a meditation to expand time and zoom into that moment of, “I'm not that anymore.” A moment before that resolution of, “This is what I'm doing.” To just hang out in that space of uncertainty and limbo and let the character experience and the audience experience the uncomfortable feeling of, “I actually don’t know. I'm not sure I know how to call myself. Is that okay? Can that be okay?”
I really like the idea of that and being able to remember that you are just a piece of paper, no matter what shape you have to put on or what mask you have to put on or shape you have to portray to be out in the world. You're still a piece of paper like everyone else.
Otherwise, you go crazy, because things come and go. Nothing lasts forever. Really, an origami, there’s something very graceful about this art. Origami masters, they barely glue or cut or do anything to the paper other than folding it. There isn't much manipulation involved. For me, it says something about the extent to which how much the balance maybe we need to strike when we stretch ourselves. How much should we stretch ourselves without damaging our souls, without sacrificing too much?
Was the origami the inspiration for the film?
Origami masters, they barely glue or cut or do anything to the paper other than folding it. There isn't much manipulation involved.
That was an element. Some of it was more of biographical in the sense that, like my fascination with living in places that are not my home and the question of home and what it is. I'm someone who grew up in Israel but I never really felt 100% that I belonged. It’s a personality thing. There is something very comforting in living in a foreign country. Because it liberates you, because there are no expectations. Of course, you won't feel like you belong and it’s okay. In a city like New York, no one belongs. Most people aren’t from here, so there is something very healing in that. That was one thing.
A lot of the films that I love are about interactions between strangers. I remember also learning, studying playwriting and they always say, “No. It’s best if you take characters who have a history because then you have more meat to work with, more and more baggage.” I think that the mutual baggage, the collective baggage of being alive and going through the experiences that life offers is enough and maybe more interesting to me to show. The film deals a lot with interactions between strangers who don’t delude themselves that they will become more than that. They just celebrate the freedom of being able to talk with someone without the baggage of having a past or a future with that person.
I want to learn a bit more about your creative process. Because for me as a filmmaker, where I start is usually with a character. I’ll meet someone or I’ll be just thinking about, “What if this person I know had this character trait?” That usually is a jumping off point for me, then I start writing and then the script comes from that. Or starting with a theme of a certain lesson I've learned and wanting to make a film around that. Then I go to the characters and from there that’s how I shape my filmmaking process. For me, that’s my process, but I know it’s different from everyone. I’d love to hear where you start. What’s your first spark of inspiration when you're starting a film?
For me, it’s starts in the abstract. It’s usually a thought or an idea about a way to look at things or a question that interests me. Like my question in this film, the main question was maybe how we construct our identities, how we construct our realities, how we limit ourselves in the way we filter what we choose to see. After I establish that, then I go and build the world and also build the narrative that will serve that idea. Usually, the question of the idea comes first and then I feed it with a narrative and the character. In my film, I suspect that it’s probably something quite consistent in my creative endeavors, my characters are more important than anything else. I feel strongly about characters moving the film along rather than what happens to them.
Because you're an actress, so you're seeing it through the performance and who the character is being the driving force of the film.
Also, I'm really fascinated with how the internal life of a character can be translated into visual filmmaking. If you’ve seen the film, Blue, the Three Colours Trilogy by Kieślowski, it’s an older film with Juliette Binoche, you can say that there is very little plot or action going on but the character goes through such a deep process and you could really feel it with her because the director is so articulate and so specific in how he uses cinematic language to bring you into that world. That’s what mostly interests me about characters. It’s just being invited into their psyche.
A character is a great way to express a philosophy. You're also a writer, so you have the control from the very beginning of the process. How do you use your filmmaking as a way to express your philosophy? Because I love this idea of your film philosophy.
I can’t say that I have a polished, finished, “This is my view of the world.” I’d say that if I have a view it’s more like the view might be that there is no view, or I'm the queen of ambivalence. I don’t necessarily see it as a good thing, although there are good aspects to it. It allows me to be flexible. It allows me to be open. Often, I think what interests me might be our certainty about certain things and bringing doubt into that. Just exploring why we see things the way we see them or how we manipulate things to be the way we want them to be. I think that’s usually what brings me into the creative process.
Recently, I've been thinking, since this film is, I don't know if it’s heavy but it’s definitely contemplative and quite slow and not very aiming to please. Now, after three years with this film, all I want to do is comedy, a web series. It’s the first time in my life that I actually have a theme that I want to explore. I don’t know the narrative. It’s very specific, which is not very typical. Things change.
There has to be a balance. For me, I did a lot of documentary work for the past few years and all I was thinking about was I want to make this TV series, comedy sitcom, dark comedy, whatever it is. All I wanted to do was make my dark comedy series. I just wanted to do something that was counterintuitive to what I was doing everyday, which was documentary and very serious. I was trying to put humor into it, but there is definitely some balance that was needed. I can see making an art film, which sounds like you're making an art film, how that would inspire you to do something completely different.
First of all, I just see it as therapy because the very personal issues that I needed to resolve through this film. I got so obsessed with it, naturally because I was making a film, that I'm so over it by now. I'm just done. I'm just healed, I’m good, so I can move on. I really see it as a therapy. It’s great. Then you're ready for the next thing. It’s really hard to predict what’s going to get you excited the next time. I'm definitely open.
What are your plans with the project?
After I'm going to have it finished, I've been waiting to really finish it before I submit it to festivals, because it’s a first time film.
I wanted it to be the best it can be when I send it.
I wanted it to be the best it can be when I send it. Around June or July, I'm going to start sending it to festivals. The way I understand it’s done is that you start with the bigger festivals because you don’t want to waste your premiere on smaller festivals. You start with the bigger ones. If you get in, great, if not, you move on to the next list. The idea is to get distribution to be in film markets and to eventually release it to the wide public.
Good luck with everything.
I heard you say that you're over it, and I tend to get that way sometimes too. As filmmakers, it’s just natural. Once we’re done editing something, we want to show it to everyone, and then work on the next project. That’s a natural thing for a filmmaker.
There is a friend of mine, he’s a writer, he said, “The only reason to release a book is to stop working on it.” Because you can’t work on something forever. I'm a good example of it because I'm a perfectionist and my editor is also a perfectionist, so we can work on this film forever. The moment you release it, you know you just can’t touch it anymore and that’s really important.
It becomes difficult for us as filmmakers to have to do all the post post-production, which is submitting it to festivals and pitching and trying to get our show on TV or trying to get our film distribution and all that stuff, which takes a lot of energy. Maybe there should be someone out there who’s the film shopper to take your project and do all that. As filmmakers, we just want to work on the next project.
As a filmmaker and as an actress, I'm just so hungry. Actually now, I have this unbelievable need to work for someone else. I don’t want to produce, I just want to come and I'm going to be in this theater, in this play in the summer in New York and it’s great. I'm just going to get the time to work on my character and I don’t need to worry about anything else. Definitely, the whole filmmaking process is great and very satisfying. For me personally, the aspect of producing and everything that comes with it, from fundraising through marketing and doing all those things around that and spreadsheets. I'm quite good at it but I really do it reluctantly, just because I'm not at the point in my career where I can have someone take it on in its entirety. I need to do it with control myself.
Best wishes with your feature film. I'm very excited to see it.
Thank you. I'm happy to share it with you when it’s done.
To connect with Galia Barkol, you can go to GaliaBarkol.com.
I'm filmmaker, artist, and your host, Laura Meoli. You can connect with me getting creative tips and inspiration on social media, that’s Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @LoudaVision. You can listen to more of these podcasts, read my blog, watch my videos and contact me. Just go to LoudaVision.com. If you like what you’ve heard, please rate and review this podcast on iTunes or SoundCloud. Thank you for listening.