"The secret of success is to have good people around you, who believe in you and remind you how meaningful it is what you do"
July 15, 2019
Tereza Hirsch is an award winning Writer, Director, Actress and Production Designer, best known for her political period piece "The Guilt List".Born in Germany and raised in the Czech Republic; Hirsch realized her dreams in 2014 when she moved to Los Angeles. With her passion for writing and filmmaking, Hirsch focused her career and educational background around this aspect.
Recently, Hirsch won LAFA Best Picture award with Beyond Her Lens, a short drama inspired by the life and work of female conflict-zone photographer Jana Andert. It follows Alex's (portrayed by prominent Czech actress Lucie Vondrackova) return to Prague as she attempts to piece together a sense of normalcy after shooting footage in Mosul, Iraq.
We asked Tereza to join us for an interview.
* Tell us about your background, what was it like to grow up in Germany, and how did you get into film?
Although my mother is German, I grew up in Prague, which gave me a lot of inspiration as many Hollywood movies were filmed there. Technically, my first attempts being a director started when I was a little kid. Whenever I was playing with friends, I wanted to prepare a theater-like performance for our parents. And then they had to suffer through hour long “shows.” However, I didn´t really get into film until I moved to the US 5 years ago. I was in Los Angeles, figuring out what kind of Masters' I'd like to study, when I saw an ad for a film school. I applied, got in and started loving it. The rest is history :)
* When did you move to Los Angeles, and how do you like it here?
Five years ago, on a cold night in fall, I was sitting behind my computer, drinking a few glasses of wine when I saw an ad for cheap flight tickets to LA. Thanks to the wine, I booked them immediately without really knowing what I was going to do there. Then I discovered, almost accidentally, my passion for film, which has not wavered since. Being the heart of the film industry, Los Angeles gives filmmakers great opportunities, which I love. On the other hand, it sometimes seems like almost everyone I meet in the city has the same dream. That can be frustrating. Yet, it's the ideal place for me to live.
*What made you want to tell the story of Jana Andert? And how close is Alex's character to Jana Andert, the real-life character she is based on?
I wanted to tell a story of a strong female character and Jana Andert, whom I saw first giving an interview on TV, inspired me right away. She is the perfect combination of a lady who is a warrior on the inside, yet feminine and beautiful and not afraid to talk about her struggles. I watched her documentary Inside Mosul, which was quite difficult to watch, but made me admire her even more. In my film, the character of Alex is similar to Jana, in a sense that she is also brave and beautiful and dealing with processing what she has seen in the conflict zone. Still, the situation in the film is just loosely based on Jana's story and should not be compared.
* What were the first steps you took in order to bring the project to life? What kind of research did you have to do before shooting?
When making a film based on a real person or true events, it is essential to get the facts straight. I was trying to get in touch with Jana Andert after seeing her on TV, which turned out to be more difficult than expected because she was still in the war zone. In the end I was lucky to be able to meet up with her in Prague, only a few days before she went on her next mission in Somalia. The next step, which turned out to be quite tricky, was securing the airport location and the "Iraq" location. Due to our budget and obvious safety reasons, we had to be very careful with both. We ended up finding a couple damaged buildings, which were perfect to recreate the war zone as well as a small private airport with a plane, where they allowed us to shoot in. Like in many of these low budget situations, I would say, we just got lucky :)
* How did you meet producer Luis Seemann and what was it like to work together?
Luis, who currently lives in Berlin, is actually a friend of mine that I met in LA 5 years ago and he was a roommate of mine for a little bit. The idea for the film was a result of us brainstorming together. Due to scheduling difficulties, he had to drop out of the project after a while. However, I am still grateful to him for helping me develop the idea and with the early stages of pre-production.
* Let's talk about the incredible Lucie Vondrackova. Her performance was stunning. How did she come on board?
It was an incredible coincidence. Lucie has been an actress for about 30 years. She started out as a little girl that is also why everyone in our country, the Czech Republic, knows her. After my previous film, The Guilt List, won an award in Montreal, Canada, where Lucie currently lives, I received a message from her and we started talking. When I told her about Beyond Her Lens, she loved the theme and was on board right away.
* What was the most complicated sequence to shoot? Did anything unexpected happen on set or was it a smooth sail?
The most complicated "actor" to work with was the plane. A couple days before the shoot, we were told by the owner that it's broken and he wasn't sure how long it would take to repair it. In the end, we again just got lucky as the plane ended up being ready for the shoot. None of us has ever filmed a scene where the actress enters a plane while the propeller is on. It got so windy that it was extremely hard not to fall over. The sound mixer probably had the hardest job of us all.
* As mentioned, Beyond Her Lens won Best Picture at LAFA, and your film The Guilt List has received numerous awards and nominations as well: Outstanding Achievement in Film from Princeton's NJ Film Festival, And Best International Short and Best Cinematography at the Brazil International Film Festival, to name a few. That must feel fantastic! Tell us about some of the memorable highlights of your career so far.
One of my highlights has been my first big festival two years ago, the Brazil International Film Festival, where I met many wonderful people from all over the world. The festival was very well-organized and had a lot to offer. I cannot wait to go back for this year's addition in August. Having said that I am grateful to every single festival that chooses us for its selection. I know how hard it is to organize a film festival; I was a judge on a festival in Germany last year myself.
* We're so impressed by everything you do. Not only you speak fluent German, English, Czech and some French, you also work on many projects (such as "Feel Nothing" - The Plot In You, "Mammoth" - Student Academy Award Winning film by Ariel Heller, and more)... You direct your films and recently published your second book. Your schedule must be incredibly intense! Can you take us through a day in your life? What's the secret to handling such a busy schedule?
To be honest I feel like I could win an award for the world's longest procrastinator. None of my work would actually turn into anything useful if I hadn't people around me who constantly kick me in the butt and tell me that I shouldn't give up. So I would say, the secret of success is to have good people around you, who believe in you and remind you how meaningful it is what you do.
There is no such thing as a typical day for me. It's long shooting days, writing or meetings with people that I work with. It's the variety that keeps it interesting.
* You have collaborated with so many industry persons and were coached by some household names... Do you have any advice about fostering relationships in the entertainment industry?
There is no advice that generally works all the time for everyone, but I would say that it is important to be humble and respectful towards anyone in the industry, whether you think they are "useful" for you or not because you never know.
* What are your short term and long term career goals? *What's next for you? Are you currently working on any exciting projects?
Since I have last year started my production company in Los Angeles, Hirsch Pictures, I would now like to expand it in Europe, starting in my hometown Prague. We are still "babies" in the film industry, but I would like to keep being able to do what I love for a living - meet more amazing people to work with and try new things that have not been tried yet, but we´ll see, life is like a box of chocolates...
I also want to try looking into new genres, such as animation and experimental film. Even though that is not going to be liked by some, I want to expand my horizon and test my limits within film making.