Verge Meets: Kristóf Deák- Director of Oscar Nominated Short Film

Kristóf Deák, the Hungarian film editor and director is preparing for what is surely, the biggest week of his life. His latest short film Sing (Minkdenki) tells the tale of Zsofi, a young girl who moves school and whose dream it is to sing in the school’s famous choir. After discovering the truth about the singing teacher’s brutal method for success, Zsofi is forced to make a choice between standing up against the system or to quietly accept it. Sing has been receiving both critical and audience acclaim and now has been nominated for an Academy Award.

With the 2017 Academy Awards just a few days away, Kristóf took time out of his hectic schedule and answered some of our questions ahead of the biggest cinematic event of the year.

Simon: Firstly, director of an Oscar-nominated short film. Can you even put into words how you’re feeling now, you must be on top of the world!

Kristóf Deák: It’s …. (mimes) fantastic!!

S: Sing is a film about friendship and groups of people collectively standing up for what is right. Do you think your film will particularly resonate with its audience at this current time given that millions of people all over the world are standing up for each other’s rights?

KD: I’m happy and sad at the same time that our times have caught up with the story of the film. I think it’s probably more important now than a few years ago to talk about the importance of showing solidarity with those who can’t stand up for themselves. Sing definitely touches this subject and a lot of people told me they found the story’s resolution uplifting and hope-inducing – something I was hoping to achieve.

S: You have a well documented love of music, was this one of the your motivations behind setting the film around a choir? Were you ever in your school choir??

KD: Yes, my love of music definitely played a huge part in why I was drawn to this story. My mom used to be a singer and I studied classical piano for years. Then I was in a couple of bands, so music has always been part of my life. A choir was one thing I never had a chance to try, so no, I was never in a choir!

S: I’d like to talk about the casting. The performances are fantastic! Was it difficult to find the perfect Zsofi and Liza?

KD: We had 3 rounds of auditions and looked at 80 kids in total, each of them with some acting experience. It was a three week long process. Dorka and Dorottya were paired up in the final stage and they were just delightful – they had an instant chemistry as friends.

S: There is a very famous saying in the entertainment industry ‘never work with children or animals’. Sing has a cast largely made up of school children. What challenges, if any did you find working with a much younger cast and how did the two young stars deal with the responsibility of carrying the storyline?

KD: We had everything carefully planned and rehearsed so that they wouldn’t have to face too many surprises. But frankly, they are such wonderfully intelligent and focused human beings, they made my job really easy, to be honest. We had a drama teacher and two wranglers on set to keep the kids busy when they weren’t in front of camera. In terms of carrying the story, I knew it wouldn’t be easy to find the young actors who can do it but I got really lucky with Dorka and Dorothy. Once I settled on them, I was confident I could trust them with this task.

S: Zsofia Szamosi plays their teacher Erika. It’s uncommon to see a film where a teacher is portrayed like this, where did the inspiration for this character come from?

KD: Her character is part inspired by one of my teachers, but mostly imagined – I was curious of the kind of person it takes to do what she does to the kids. Narcissistic and success-driven, but also a great manipulator and very charming on the outside.Zsofia Szamosi did a stellar job of making her ambiguous and lifelike while still beautifully embracing the character’s flaws.

S: Moving onto your own work, your directing career to date focuses on short films and television series. With the success of Sing, do you have ambitions of moving into directing feature films in the future? Or you do you feel that short films can provide you with more creative freedom?

KD: I definitely would like to move on to longer form work, both features and high-quality TV series interest me. But my next project is once again a short film – it’s called Best Game Ever and it’s about artificial intelligence, but portrayed in a new light. Some stories just lend themselves to a shorter format, like with Sing – I couldn’t imagine it as a feature film.

S: It’s something most filmmakers dream about so I have to ask! What will you be doing on the night of The Academy Awards? I’m sure there will be a few parties to attend! Are you going to be haggling for invites or will you spend it with friends and family?

KD: I will be spending most of it at the gala and Governors Ball I guess – I haven’t thought of anything else to do really. Several cast and crew members will come so I’m hoping to spend the night mostly with them.

S: With 2017 already off to a wonderful start, what does the rest of the year have in store? Will you be directing more films this year?

KD: There will be some directing as well, but I would like to devote a large part of this year to developing my next, bigger projects. I have a few up my sleeve, both international and Hungarian films and a TV series. But at this scale, development takes time.

SH: And finally, what advice do you have for any emerging and up and coming filmmakers?

KD: I only know what worked for me: I was working different jobs within the industry but always kept focus on my final goal: directing. I kept making my short films as often as I could and didn’t give up submitting them to festivals after the first couple of rejections.

From all of us here at Verge, we wish Kristóf and his team the best of luck at this years Academy Awards!
Watch the trailer for Sing here

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