Interview with Director Veit Helmer about FIDDLESTICKS

“Coati’s can play the piano”

FiddlesticksBollersville’s inhabitants are average. Proud to be! And willing to do everything to stay average. In fact, they’re so average that they get to test every new product before it hits the market. The children of Bollersville are no longer keen on being human guinea pigs and set a new goal: when you break a world record, you’re not average anymore. This marks the start of a new era for Bollersville: the era of total chaos!

German director Veit Helmer’s plan (BAIKONUR, ABSURDISTAN) might sound as ambitious as his protagonists. How else would you describe a project including 4 year old actors and a… coati?

Veit Helmer: Some years ago I realised it was almost impossible to take my 4 year old son to the movies. All we could watch was animation; there were hardly any live action features for children. So I made my son the main source of inspiration for this movie, compiling everything he likes: fire cars, cranes, bulldozers, and most of all… accidents! Like a POLICE ACADEMY movie for the youngest audience! Also THE LITTLE RASCALS was a true reference, offering me the blueprint for my 6 main characters.

Fiddlesticks2The story takes place in a bizarre location: the ultimately average city.
Helmer: Strangely enough such places really exist. In Germany there is an ugly city called Hassloch where they get to test all the new stuff, to see how ‘average people’ will react on it: green corn flakes, blue chocolate spread… I’ve been told in France the same happens in Angers. But in my film, children are fed up with being mediocre. The thing is: their parents simply love to be average; they would sacrifice everything for it.

That’s why they call in the help of their grandparents.
Helmer: In FIDDLESTICKS (an old fashioned word for nonsense, funny things), parents are boring but grandparents are exciting. They used to be inventors, discoverers, composers… All of them unique individuals! Children love their crazy ideas. By starting an uprising, they walk in the footsteps of their grandparents. Again my son was my best teacher, as he loves turning broken stuff into new inventions. Just like the children in the movie do: old garbage and wrecks are used as toys, rollerblades, musical instruments, etc.

By bringing elderly people and children together, did you close the generation gap?
Helmer: There is a strong bond between children and grandparents. Grandparents have plenty of time. When walking my son back from the shop his grandmother stops at every tree to observe the insects. Furthermore: adults consider children and grandparents equally not capable of doing certain things, because they’re still too young or yet too old. Sometimes they’re even talked to at the same tone.

Your actors were very young.
Helmer: I insisted on working with 4 year old children. At 6 they’re already too much aware of their appearance, they’ve lost some spontaneity. My financiers called me crazy. “4 years old? You’ll ruin your project!” But we held auditions with 1200 young children.

How do you test the capabilities of a 4 year old?
Helmer: The main thing to be tested was not their acting skills but their dedication. Are they persistent enough to go through 10 weeks of shooting? What I needed were kids that were curious and inspired. Therefore we organised a dance class every Saturday, 3 months in a row. FIDDLESTICKS is a musical, and the dance scenes had to be rehearsed anyway. Ultimately we ended up with 6 candidates; so it wasn’t me who chose the actors, they themselves decided. Not a single one dropped out during the production.

One of your films is named ABSURDISTAN, your film BAIKONUR is a totally absurd story and in FIDDLESTICKS chaos overcomes mediocrity. This looks like a constant.
Helmer: For me every film is a new adventure, but afterwards I always come across many similarities with my previous work. My previous films were made for adults but also inspiring for children. FIDDLESTICKS is made for children, but also suitable and funny for adults.

What about the technicalities of the production?
Helmer: Hardly any visual effects were used, not even for the animals. The children find an odd partner in a coati, a South-American mammal that supposedly can’t be trained. Until I found a perfectly trained specimen: it could drill, play the piano and carry books. We used a few computer effects for a crane crashing into houses. For three car crashes we build miniatures and little puppets. Most of the crashes were real: grotesque, violent and absurd! We bought old garbage trucks and tractors and had stuntmen crashing them.

Sounds like a Michael Bay movie.
Helmer: After every accident the children jump out of the cars laughing. There is not a single moment of anxiety. But I agree: the movie is politically very incorrect, which was the topic of many arguments with TV-partners. “You can’t show children driving cars or climbing cranes, it might inspire them!” I saw Pippi Longstocking dancing on a train as a child, but did I ever dance on a train? Maybe grandparents should take children to watch this movie, as parents are simply too scared these days.

Should there be a special reduction for grandchildren and grandparents coming to the theatre together?
Helmer: That would be amazing, but I’m not a distributor. This is where my responsibility ends.

Though you were involved in many, many other stages of the production process.
Helmer: I wrote the first draft of the script before handing it over to scriptwriter Hans-Ullrich Krause. I was also the producer. And I just started working on the world sales. I want FIDDLESTICKS to be distributed in cinemas all over the world. I make movies for the big screen, so I’ll dedicate the next year of my life to supplying distributors with material to facilitate the film’s further career. For the dialogues we used almost 90 % voice over, so there is not a lot of lip sync to do. We have all the music tracks also available in English, and I’m willing to personally assist in international dubbings wherever needed.

Gert Hermans