September 29th, 2021
DIRECTOR OF HANEN ‘ BREATHE ‘
BEST EDITOR (Adam Mroczek)
Wit Dziki, tell us a little more about yourself. Where did your desire to be a director come from ?
To be totally honest, I was trying pretty hard not to be in that line of work. My father was a pretty successful producer and director back in the day, and I simply never wanted to follow in his footsteps. I did study film production in PWSFTViT in Łódź, but I wasn’t a very dedicated student, to say the least…
Everything started as a result of necessity. For many years, I had been working as a producer/ commissioning editor for MTV. At some point, I decided to take my chances and start my own tiny production company. One day, we were hired to produce a scripted mini-series for a crime tv channel. I was ecstatic until I found out I couldn’t really afford a good, professional director. Since I’d been doing similar work in TV, or at least I thought had been, I decided the only way to make this show happen is to direct it myself. Sure, I used to work on different film sets when I was young, I’d done some documentary work, but this was something completely different. When it came to making even the smallest of choices, such as the color of a lipstick or jacket, I felt terrified.
I was definitely way over my head, but at the same time I felt incredibly lucky to have a great crew who carried me over the stormy waters of blocking, staging, mise-en-scène, that apparently I knew nothing about in reality.
I’ve spent quite a lot of time in the States, mainly on the west coast. It struck me one day that Los Angeles is one of the most lonely places on the planet. You are constantly surrounded by smiling people, with motivational cliches around every corner like “Trust the process”. Everywhere there are empty slogans promising you will finally get to live your American dream.
The truth is there’s only one God in LA and it’s money. People are being farmed to be bigger, best, better than the rest… but there can only be one winner, one best student, so what happens to everybody else? Did they fail? Or maybe, they were never meant to be at the top, as the game was rigged from the very beginning. Not to mention the race factor.
There’s also a moratorium on anything that could be perceived as negative, regardless of the fact it’s part of life. Death and sickness — essentially the transience of life — is not something people want to talk about. Only “positive vibes” allowed. That doesn’t account for human nature, it’s not the reality of being human.
So, I wanted to confront this world with the idea of vanitas. Some things in video may seem too obvious, like the typical baroque composition with a razor clock we’ve built, but some, like the golden tooth boy with a falcon, based on Vaillant’s painting, or an African girl playing the lute, are less transparent. Oh, and the ritual of cutting one’s hair, that was really important to me.
Can you tell us about the relationship between singer and director ?
I met Phill at a thanksgiving party we hosted together with a girl I was seeing at the time. She had this unique ability to bring very different people together. Hanen told me he’s a rapper, yet he looked like the incarnation of a Texan Jesus Christ. He sent me a few of his songs and I instantly felt that there was something very real about this guy and his music. To be honest, Phill and my hypothetical girlfriend’s brother CJ were probably the most genuine people I’ve met there. No bs about how successful they are and how many movies they produced. We talked. I promised one day I’d come to LA and shoot a video for him. I think he was quite surprised when Karol ( DOP ) and I actually appeared on his doorstep, ready to do the work. We had no budget and very little time but tons of ideas.
Phill turned out to be not only a great companion but also a really interesting person. I’ve listened to his life story, how he was doomed and tried hard to break the cycle. I asked him if I could make my own interpretation of his lyrics, and he was really open about that. I think he hates me a bit for cutting out the footage I shot with his friends, but it just wasn’t working in the edit. Despite the video not being exactly what he imagined at the beginning of the process, he stayed cool and I’m very grateful he didn’t run away thinking we’re just lunatics from Eastern Europe.
You are also a lyricist I believe, how do you transcribe a song in a clip ?
I’m sure everybody has their own process. When I attended a music video course in NYFA in LA, the instructors gave us a lot of technical directions, but the most important thing was: talk to the artist. If the vision you have is not something they would initially go for, you have to reach some sort of understanding by showing them that you are invested in the project.
I always start with the music. I listen to the track over and over again, trying to write down whatever weird or abstract images appear in my head, and then I go for the lyrics. I also want to get to know the artist because it gives me a broader perspective. Then I can finally define, what does the song mean for me, which, of course, is rarely something the artist had in mind while creating it. Often it can be a great moment when someone tells you, “Damn, I never thought about it that way!”
After that, I return to the images I wrote down on a piece of paper without thinking about the lyrics, and I try to see if there’s anything that connects these two layers. There’s always going to be something — whether that’s a small element or a huge image. I build from that.
You won the RED AWARD for best editor, a clip allows the director to fully express himself, there is less constraint than in fiction, how did you take advantage of this media to create your universe ?
First of all, I need to say it was Adam Mroczek, who edited this video.
It’s actually his award. We’ve sat together for a long time to find the right pace. We fought like hell and argued about details many would find totally irrelevant. The funny thing about Adam is that he considers himself to be a craftsman, but in reality, he is an artist.
He is incredibly talented, but also an extremely hard worker. To answer the question: there’s nothing cooler than a music video when it comes to editing. You can tell a story, or you can simply play around with images. As long as it sells your vision, you’re totally free. It’s like a breath of fresh air especially after shooting for commercial clients. If something seems out of place or aesthetically disturbing — well, as long as you wanted it to be that way, it’s totally fine. At least I think so.
We notice that there is a particular work on the color grading, but also slow motion and a lot of staging effects, how does a director manage to reinvent himself and to show originality in the world of the clip ?
Let’s be honest — it’s crazy to say we are doing something new – even if you think you have found something fresh, someone, somewhere, has already done that.
When it comes to colors we wanted them to correspond somehow with the idea of redemption. This is how I imagine the hues described by Dostoyevsky in Crime and Punishment when Raskolnikov is on his way to make a confession. It was Adam’s idea all along. He showed me his direction in terms of grading for this video and once again we were already on the same page, it’s a kind of magic.
Yes, both TV and advertising. One has to eat.
I always wanted to do music videos, but I could never make time and place for it. Now, I know it’s a great way to blow off some steam creatively, not having clients looking over your shoulder or losing sleep over budget issues. Let’s be honest — there’s no money in it. You do it because it’s fun.
Can you tell us more specifically about your profession as a director ?
To be honest, I could go on and on about the things I find fascinating and challenging about this line of work, but I don’t think I have enough projects under my belt to talk about the profession itself. That is something Scorsese can do.
I wish I had something unique to share. One thing that I know is crucial for me is finding your crew and showing people you appreciate them. It really works.
It is sometimes complicated for artists to make a living from their
passion, are you self-produced or do you work for a production
Do you have any advice for young directors who just started ?
Surround yourself with people whom you consider to be better/more experienced than you. Don’t be afraid that they will undermine your decisions. You are as good or strong as your team is. Second of all — listen. If someone comes to you with an idea, a solution, a thought — listen. If you feel their idea is better than yours or seems interesting — go for it. It’s not a sign of weakness. Give them the credit they deserve.
Last but not least, I feel like every time I’m working on a new project I’m almost starting again. Each shoot is a learning experience. Remember, we have the coolest job on earth. We are fooling around and sometimes we even get paid for that. It’s not open heart surgery.
What is your next project ?
We’re just about to finish editing a music video for a Ugandan hip hop artist we shot in Kampala. She’s super talented and she raps in both English and Luganda, which is very refreshing. I think it’s going to be dope, and if people say otherwise, well, at least we had fun doing it. But they won’t 🙂