Markus Welter (48) is not only a successful movie director but also a sought-after editor. A combination of talents he shares with various famous role models. Award winning directors such as James Cameron and David Lynch work as editors too, much like Jean-Luc Godard and Lars von Trier, who have written film history far beyond the bounds of European cinema.
The saying goes: Instead of reaching for the stars you should be guided by them. Markus Welter who instead of working in big Hollywood works in little Switzerland, explains in his conversation with Marianne van der Kooi what film and TV means for him and his family.
His passion for films and TV series and his extensive experience in both fields, becomes evident even after the first question in this Videothink interview. For Markus Welter film and storytelling are above all else his job and his calling.
Interview with the movie director Markus Welter
Videothink: Markus, how would you explain to an alien what it is you do?
Markus Welter: I make sure highly qualified people work together towards a same goal in a film, and have fun doing so.
How do you become a director?
It requires a huge amount of confidence. With an inflated self-esteem and only with incredible confidence can you be a success. However always in combination with the knowledge that you don’t always know what you’re doing! Being a director means combining extreme self-confidence with equal amounts of humility.
What is your favourite genre?
(Thinks for a while) That’s tough. Both as editor and as a director, I’ve collaborated on just about every genre there is; from a 3D horror film starring Melanie Winiger, to comedy feature films with Marco Rima and a romance movie with Bettina Stucky and for TV on “Der Bestatter” (“The Undertaker”) with Mike Müller or “Tatort” (“Crime Scene”). My passion for stories is what drives me, regardless of the genre. I always find it upsetting and difficult when I’m pigeon-holed as the Horror-Welter or the Thriller-Welter. I would love to do more comedies.
I’m a storyteller. As both a director or an editor. Not everyone can tell stories. Interestingly enough, the same goes for jokes. Not everyone can tell a joke!
Your wife Cécile is an editor. You often work together on a film or a series. Isn’t mixing professional and private life a bit like shooting yourself in the foot?
No, not at all. On the contrary. Only when working on the same project do I have the opportunity to see my wife regularly over a long stretch of time. I really enjoy that. You know we’re really lucky that both of us have managed to turn our passion into our profession.
The more you motivate the crew and the more valued they feel, the more will they give you in return. That applies both in your professional and private life, with your family.
Of course we have the odd discussion. We obviously can’t agree on everything. Or as a director you might get annoyed if the editing process is taking too long, or the editor gets frustrated when a scene is impossible to edit. But those are issues that don’t threaten our relationship, but come natural to any collaboration on a film project and in the end benefit the final outcome. I always try to involve my crew – as well as my family – as much as possible and keep them motivated.
You have two children. What’s it like for a child to have both parents work in the film industry?
(Without even thinking about it.) It’s awful! For my children it’s terrible, because their parents are artists. Everyone thinks: A movie director and editor, they must be loaded. You work on a famous series like “Tatort” and “Der Bestatter” and the kids think you have loads of money and you must be rich. Unfortunately it’s nothing like that. These projects are hard to come by in Switzerland.
(falls silent for a moment)
There are times when neither of us can find a job for a year or two, because there simply aren’t any. And you’re living in Switzerland, in the most expensive city in the world and the most expensive country in Europe. But you still have to meet the needs of modern kids in Zurich. And that includes UGG boots and Woolrich jackets. My kids always say (imitates kids whining): “My friend’s parents are both doctors, they can afford it – why can’t we?”
On the other hand, I do believe that the kids also gain a certain freedom and openness because of our jobs. They’re open-minded. Often it’s only in hindsight that they realise, who the person is they just met at our home. Or what it means to have certain people over for dinner. They’re valuable contacts. Their friends then ask my kids, if I can get them an autograph from some famous person. My kids then say: “ Why would you want their autograph? They were round for dinner at our place yesterday and their completely normal people!”
If you want to stay in control of the circus that is a film set, you need to be able to keep you calm.
Both of my kids don’t want to work in film! My youngest daughter wants to be a photographer. And my oldest daughter has said she doesn’t want to go into filmmaking, because you don’t make any money.
Adrian Teijido, the Director of Photography who is currently filming the Netflix series “Narcos” said in his interview with Videothink, the best advice he could give to someone starting out in the business is to think beyond the technical aspects. How important is technology to you?
I was extremely lucky that I started off in the business – as both a director and editor – at a time when many new technological developments were just being introduced. Back when editing was being digitalised, I still had a chance to learn how to edit manually on the U-matic. If you made the slightest change at the beginning of the film, you had to re-edit all the scenes that came after that too. Then Avid came along. I worked as a software developer with AVID and had the opportunity to help create the machine as we know it today. I experienced a similar transformation with cameras. I filmed in 16MM and 35MM. With a laboratory, Télecine and colour correction and then the copy with a two point increase in black and blue. Today any iPhone can do that.
From a creative point of view, I don’t think technology plays an important role. You can either tell a joke or you can’t. You can capture your audience with a story, regardless if you film it with an iPhone or a 4K camera. As a lion tamer in a flea circus of tech nerds, you’re always at an advantage if you at least know what you’re talking about.
The more knowledge you have, the more you challenge your heads of departments or your crew. They can’t just feed you bullshit and in turn you won’t have to deal with bullshit. The more expertly you choose your co-workers, the higher the overall level of knowledge is. It’s like a chain reaction. I strongly believe in that.
That’s why my advice to a young filmmaker would be the following two things: Don’t become a slave to technology, but do know your way around it. And secondly: Choose partners you can trust! As a beginner you can’t aim for perfection and make all the decisions yourself.
The last time we meet, we worked on a project about cats and found out that you take your dog for a walk every morning. What do you think a director can learn from a dog?
I’m the proud owner of a very intelligent poodle! That’s a great advantage, because I don’t have to teach the dog anything. The dog on his own, understands what I want from him. It makes things a lot easier. My dog actually taught me to stay calm. In film things often go horribly pear-shaped.
I’ve had helicopters crash, people were stupidly injured and actors lost the plot. If you want to stay in control of the circus that is a film set, you need to be able to keep your calm. My dog has no trouble waiting patiently, giving you all the time you need, without making you feel guilty. But when things take off, he’s alert and wide-awake. That’s a trait which is also hugely important for a director on a movie set.
And what could producers learn from a dog?
That’s a tough one. I think what Churchill said about dogs, often applies for producers: If you’re looking for a friend, buy a dog. Not all producers want to befriend their directors and unfortunately not all the producers I have worked with have become my friends. But when it comes to the producers I like and respect and who I enjoy working with, you could draw a comparison to the relationship with man’s best, four-legged friend. Because a long and successful working relationship is defined by great trust in your respective abilities.
What work of yours can we look forward to seeing next?
A project that I can’t talk about yet (…). All I can say about it, is that I’m doing it with Condor. (laughs) Is that a good enough answer?
Dear Markus, thank you very much for the interview and for your great collaboration, which hopefully will continue for a long time yet!
Since the beginning of the year Videothink is now available on smart phones in the new Google-Mobile-Standard AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages). The legibility of charts and tables is still not at its best on said platform, due to technical difficulties. We appreciate your understanding. | © Title Photo / Poster / Portrait: Markus Welter | © Photos Der Bestatter/The Undertaker: SRF/Snakefilm | © filmpuls, translated by Nina Kaelin
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