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An Interview with Pau Masó, Director and Star of Complete Strangers

by Mike Haberfelner

December 2020

Pau Masó on (re)Search my Trash

 

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Your new movie Complete Strangers - in a few words, what is it about?

 

It's about the dangers of online dating, which puts into question if this is a positive lifestyle (the apps one), but also about relationships, and how far are people willing to go to make something work. I like testing audiences, and see how people take criticism.

 

What were your sources of inspiration when writing Complete Strangers?

 

The base came from catfishing. The majority of people online can be fake, and it got me thinking further on how people, despite sometimes showing a real picture, could be someone totally different. Even if the person is who they show, you literally know nothing about them, which can be just as scary, if not more. And the most interesting thing is, that if you ask anyone between the ages of 18 and 45, they've probably used one of these dating apps or online websites at one point. So while you can find very normal people, you can find the complete opposite. On a different level, it's like social media. People pretend to live certain lives, but they're not real, most likely, inauthentic and fake.

 

What can you tell us about Complete Strangers' approach to the thriller genre?

 

I always seem to lean towards mystery and drama, and for this project, I knew it was gonna be a thriller because of all the mysterious components of not knowing much about the characters and getting small "Easter eggs" through the film. On a second watch, you can catch several things that are not understood at first sight. What I also find interesting, is that while the film is a thriller, it starts out as a sort of romantic film, which later on goes towards thriller but also even horror, because of the nature of the relationship between Robert and Hugo and how it develops.

 


Do talk about your overall directorial approach to your story at hand!

 

As a director who also acts, I always make sure to cast people who are the closest to what I have in mind so that the directing can be minimal because each actor is already prepared for the part and it allows me to give a little more concentration to my acting, despite still paying attention to everything. I usually tell the actors what is expected of these characters but I also give room for the actor to create the character, so in essence, it's a collaborative effort. The same happened with my first film Aleksandr's Price. I was also the lead, so I met beforehand with the main actors to tell them how I wanted it to be done, always giving room for interpretation, which is often the favorite part of an actor, giving life to the character. But back to Complete Strangers, watching the actor's auditions made it clear I wouldn't have to worry about the directing side. I would at times give a few notes but also freedom. And because you have such a tight budget, you can't really follow a plan to shoot things this or that way, you just gotta go with the moment and do what works best for each specific location. As I work alone as an editor, when post-production came, I had a lot of freedom to pick my favorite parts to compose each scene. And having great actors is pivotal to tell a story. I was lucky enough to have Matthew Crawley play Hugo, which was a complicated role for any actor. Everyone did amazing, I'm very proud of that.

 

You also play the lead in Complete Strangers - so what can you tell us about your character, what did you draw upon to bring him to life, and have you written him with yourself in mind from the get-go?

 

The reason I began writing scripts in the first place was because where I live there's not a lot of opportunities, so I felt it was better to create my own rather than sit and wait. So yes, I wrote him thinking of me, but there was always an option of casting someone else so that I would have a little bit more freedom to write things that I wouldn't necessarily feel comfortable doing as an actor. By the time the script was finished, I wondered If I should make Robert a woman, and have a "straight" film, which would have been more marketable, but quickly realized that the movie was too erotic to even consider that, and because of the low budget, it would be difficult to find an actress willing to play that part. When I decided to leave it as is, I also thought it'd be hard to cast this part for an actor, and finally went for it myself.

Playing Robert was hard. You try to bring enough emotion to the character but this person doesn't know who he really is. He starts finding himself through the film and allowing someone to come into his life, in an intimate way. I did the best to my ability given the circumstances, but like any character, it could have been played a million different ways. I just hope I did him justice and people enjoyed my portrayal.

 

What can you tell us about the rest of your cast, and why exactly these people?

 

The film was intended to be shot between NYC (which became Budapest) and in the Catskills in NY or Pennsylvania (which became Poland). I had locked several locations already, but some were harder to get than others, as well as really expensive. I also couldn't manage to find a proper crew that wanted to be involved in the way that I needed, and despite having talked to several DPs, I finally decided to move it to Europe, which is where I'm located. In low budget projects, you work more hours than normal, and so dedication is key. I have to get a deep commitment from the crew to feel like it can be done. I found that in Europe with Oscar Moreno as the DP and David Thirion as the production sound mixer. They were really involved and excited to do an indie project despite it being a low budget film, and also very professional and experienced in that field. So when I finally chose Budapest and Matthew had already been considered as Hugo, it was difficult picturing someone else, and even though I did receive several auditions from Europe-based actors, Matthew Crawley was already Hugo to me and that's how this cast came about. Sian Abrahams and I had previously worked on a short film of hers called Saudade, where I played Ramón. And it came at a perfect time to work together again. I saw several European actresses but she was by far the best option to play Kate. Fraser Fraser and Sindre Bergfall were cast online. Frank is Robert's friend in the film and I wanted a friendly and understanding actor to portray him and Fraser felt like he had a lot of depth and compassion, which he did. Mirjam Novak was a last minute addition which happened while we were already shooting, and I was so impressed and happy to have her, I wish I had written a bigger part for her, had I known I'd end up having an actress of that caliber.

In terms of the male love interests, Matthew and Sindre, aside from the acting ability, I also had to look for actors that were attractive and appealing to the eye in order to make the story plausible. So I do feel like this was an amazing cast and feel very grateful and fortunate to have had them on set, and share this experience with all of them.

 

Complete Strangers was at least partially filmed in Budapest, Hungary - so why there, and what was filming there like?

 

Like I said previously, the location was a little bit of a last minute thing. I had already worked in Budapest as an actor a few years prior, but did not have the chance to visit much. This time around, I arrived before anyone else (I always do) so I can get acquainted with the town and find last minute locations. The costs in Budapest are also considerably lower, and to get the types of apartments and luxury feel that I needed for the film, would have cost a fortune to do in NY. But for a story like this, any big city in the world could have worked, pretty much. I have to say I also considered Mexico and Thailand. But because I wanted a cabin in the woods with a colder feel, Europe was finally the perfect location at the time given.

 

A few words about the shoot as such, and the on-set atmosphere?

 

It was pretty straight forward. Actors were coming and going throughout what I believe was 14 days in Budapest, so we had to get things done. I had to plan each actor's flight so that the actors that had scenes together would coincide. The atmosphere was friendly and joyful, but there were some stressful times too, as you can imagine, when you're running through the town trying to get scenes done. There are always issues with noise, or not getting the exact location you wanted, but that's another thing that's wonderful about this particular type of guerrilla filmmaking. Once we arrived in Poland, it was a little bit more relaxed since everything was shot inside the cabin and around it. It was an exceptional location. 

 

Anything you can tell us about audience and critical reception of Complete Strangers?

 

The film has been out for about three weeks only in the USA. It's a small film so it will take a while before I hear enough feedback. I will wait for the international release next year, so I can formulate a general honest opinion from audiences. It will be coming to Europe and Asia, and hopefully more continents. 

Thus far, I've had some positive feedback as well as negative. My films are often polarizing, and if my previous works are to serve as an example, people will either love this or hate it. Either way, I appreciate everyone who takes the time to watch my films. I'm very happy with the work we put out. We all worked really hard to make this film happen. To me, that is already a success on its own.

 

Any future projects you'd like to share?

 

At this difficult time we're all experiencing, I have several ideas going through my mind, but there's nothing formulated enough for me to speak about. But I am writing and I am brainstorming. I love drama, I love thrillers, horror, but I am starting to consider something more on the positive side. Like a romantic comedy, or something similar. I realize with the times we are living, sometimes people want to just sit and smile at the screen. My previous films were somewhat a reflection of how I saw things, but my mind is changing and so that can help shift the type of films I make. Time will tell.

 

What got you into the filmworld to begin with, and did you recieve any formal education on the subject?

 

This was somewhat responded in a previous question. The writing and directing came from my need to be creative and be able to act. Some have called my previous works "vanity projects". Not at all. If I had the financial means, I would involve as many people as possible. I think that the more talent, the better. I hope I can prove that one day. But the main reason is the passion, love and respect I have for the craft. It makes me happy, so I need to do this. Very few people get into something of this magnitude if they aren't really passionate about it. What's the point otherwise? 

As far as education on the matter goes, I have not. I feel that the best training one can get is by doing it. Nothing prepares you more than experience. I prefer to invest in making a film that people will watch, rather than spending or investing that money to pay someone to teach me to do something, which is not going to get me work necessarily. Acting is so relative. That's why some people find actors good and some bad. Because we all have our way of perceiving and understanding things. Past reviews of my films have taught me that. With that said, I had the intention of going to college for it, but my plans were changed and I had to let it go. Everything happens for a reason.

 

When it comes to making movies, you seem to have done it all, both in front of and behind the camera - so why is that, and what do you enjoy doing the most, what could you do without?

 

I started to write and direct to be an actor, but I'm finding that I really enjoy directing, and feel that I can actually be quite good at casting and directing actors, like I said before, based on my understanding of things. If acting comes my way, I wouldn't mind leaving the writing on the side for a while. It can be a little complicated putting a good script together. But at the end of the day, acting, writing and directing are very different capacities and each one provides a different feeling, so if all of them can be done, why not? As per writing, I write scripts based on my budget. I've never written anything with millions in mind. Perhaps I should try to see what happens.

 

What can you tell us about your filmwork prior to Complete Strangers, in whatever position?

 

Prior to Complete Strangers, I did Borderline and The Art of Losing, both are films in Spanish with barely any money involved. Both films taught me a lot about filmmaking, specifically Borderline, which taught me a lot about post production and the difference that a good clean sound, foley and mixing can do to a film. 

Aleksandr's Price was my first. I've heard so many great things about the movie, it's actually become one the best LGBT films of 2013, I recently found out, didn't know. I'm working on a remastered version. While keeping the same structure, I've recut the movie, removed and added never before seen footage, a new soundtrack's in the works, which by the way is amazing so far, new color, and new sound with foley. Should be ready sometime 2023.

 

Filmmakers, actors, whoever else who inspire you?

 

2010 was the year where I left the US, where I had been living for 5 years and came back home. That was also the year Black Swan was released. One of my best friends told me she saw it in theaters, and so when it came out I watched it and was completely blown away. Darren Aronofsky suddenly became one of my favorite directors, and Aleksandr's Price was very inspired by Black Swan in many ways. I also have enjoyed several Woody Allen works, as well as Roman Polanski's Carnage. I do enjoy lots of different directors, but these are some of the ones that marked me. Can't forget to mention Patty Jenkins' Monster. That was brutal.

Nicole Kidman is one of my favorite actresses, but again, I usually get inspired by films rather than individual actors. An actor's work is the final result of a lot of people so... all the things unseen are equally as important to me.

 

Your favourite movies?

 

Black Swan, Monster, The Holiday, Fatal Attraction, The Invisible Man, Knives Out, I do have a lot of movies I've enjoyed through the years, as well as TV shows, and they are vastly different from one another. I have periods where I obsess with a film until a newer one comes. If I want to find a happy place I will watch The Holiday. Works every time. Especially at this time of the year.

 

... and of course, films you really deplore?

 

I'm not really about ripping films apart. If a trailer doesn't cut it for me, I don't watch the film, but I don't let reviews or opinions decide for me. I do my own thinking. I've had very few times where a film I was watching didn't catch my interest and stopped it, but I do have to admit that I can get easily distracted, so I have to be wanting to watch in order to give it my full attention. I don't really recall anything so bad, but again, I don't really watch bad films... as a filmmaker, I understand the work put behind, so it's hard to find something bad, unless the story, acting, directing, music, and everything about it is bad. We also live in a society where everyone wants to have a say, to be opinionated, even when they are not knowledgeable enough on the matter, which is unfortunately most of the time. People are quick to judge, only because they don't know much. It's true that we get a feeling of why we do or don't like something, but we also need to be realistic of our expectations or even our intellectual capacity. You can't judge a 10 million dollar movie the same as a 10K one as an example. But not each film is there to teach, sometimes you gotta do your homework to understand it.

 

Your/your movie's website, social media, whatever else?

 

Feeling lucky ?
Want to
search
any of my partnershops yourself
for more, better results ?

The links below
will take you
just there!!!

Find Pau Masó
at the amazons ...

USA  amazon.com

Great Britain (a.k.a. the United Kingdom)  amazon.co.uk

Germany (East AND West)  amazon.de

Looking for imports ?
Find Pau Masó here ...

Thailand  eThaiCD.com
Your shop for all things Thai

My Facebook page is my most followed social media at almost half a million, so perhaps I will mention my Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/PauMaso

And of course Complete Strangers' Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/CompleteStrangersFilm

 

Anything else you're dying to mention and I've merely forgotten to ask?

 

Just to thank you for taking the time to watch my movie, write a review, and send me a few questions to answer. I appreciate it. So again, thanks for that and for allowing smaller filmmakers to have a voice. What always keeps me going, aside from my obvious tireless passion, is hearing good things and having people be supportive. It means the world to have this in order to keep going. It's easy to throw the towel, especially as you get older. But I hope I never will.

 

Thanks for the interview!

 

Thank you!

 

© by Mike Haberfelner


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Tales to Chill
Your Bones to
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Tales to Chill
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On the same day
a Burglar wants to kill you
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... and for the life of it,
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WHICH IS WORSE!!!

 

A Killer Conversation

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directed by
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written by
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starring
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Rudy Barrow

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