„The directors’ job is to make decisions” – Áron Mátyássy one of the directors of The Informant series on HBO Hungary
He came from a family of artists and felt this way his path as well. After graduating from University of Theatre and Film Arts, he worked as an assistant director, and then produced his own films and series. The real accolade came from HBO’s Golden Life (Aranyélet) series. Now he is filming with HBO again, he directs The Informant series, which is already in progress.
Budapest Reporter: When did you start thinking about taking this career?
Áron Mátyássy: My father was a sculptor, my mom was a textile artist, they left Hungary when I was four, but we came back, then we moved to St. George’s Hill and lived there for ten years. I spent my entire childhood in a bohemian environment and so somehow, I had a single career model in front of me. My dad sometimes disappeared for several weeks to work, but then he was at home for half a year and he worked around the house. My mother was at home with us all along.
Eventually, all three of us really became creative people, and my brothers also embarked on an artistic journey: they became actors and photographers. It was an informal, autonomous life at the end of the Kádár regime.
Bpr: Why did you end up with filming?
Á. M.: I went to the cinema in high school to follow trends, but I also played a lot of music. Around high school second or third class I saw “Europa” from Lars von Trier. It was the first time I felt what a film could suck me into it, not only intellectually but also emotionally, specifically I had to breathe along with the film. We went to the Városmajor High School, where was a video and photography study group, where we started making short films and taking photos.
In our final year I had the feeling that I would like try the directing department of the University of Theater and Film Arts. It was an urban legend that this required me to graduate from another university first, so I studied film theory and philosophy at University Eötvös Lóránd (ELTE) for 3 years. I was later admitted to the class of Sándor Simó in 2000 at the directing department of the University of Theater and Film Arts. Of course, even that, it wasn’t a guarantee that I would become a film director, but I liked the whole way of life, I was really inspired, and I got stuck in it.
Bpr: What were the major films you are particularly good at recalling?
Á. M.: My first feature film, “Last Times” (“Utolsó idők”), was made in 2009. It was very exciting to do, and it proved useful to have worked as an assistant with experienced directors for years before. Then I was able to shoot my own creative works relatively often, the series “The Curse” (“Átok”) went through three seasons between 2010-12, then I directed “Weekend” (“Víkend”), and in addition to these, documentaries and TV films. Then came the “Golden Life” (“Aranyélet”) from 2015, which was a big breakthrough at the time.
Bpr: Did HBO “Golden Life” give you a breakthrough? It was a huge success.
Á. M.: It was a turning point; I was able to work as part of a larger team. There used to be a lot of situations where I felt alone as a director. You have a vision in your head that needs to be passed on to colleagues, it’s up to you to make it work and achieve what you want. In the meantime, there are plenty of decisions you need to make individually. At HBO, I’ve experienced what it’s like when a highly strong crew works together on a material, and while you’re one of the important players on the bridge, the responsibilities are much more shared.
Gábor Krigler was the showrunner, creative producer, we realized his vision, it was very good to work together. At HBO, it’s been well-experimented to be able to filter out bugs from their productions, the filming, editing, voice work was accepted in a long process, and a multi-stage acceptance protocol, and everyone can add their own creativity in their own time. HBO knew exactly what was expected from us, the directors, but they didn’t want to have a say in it and it was very inspiring, they trusted me, they loved what I did and the film as a product was the most important thing.
I had an idea that didn’t go through, but we always found a common voice and worked in the last season like a big family. Thus, stronger materials were born as a team than when a person tries to do it all by himself.
Bpr: What was it like working with the “Golden Life” staff, Gábor Krigler and the whole group?
Á. M.: Dyga Zsombor and I were the directors, and Gábor laid the basic direction, which was formed into scripts by a brutally strong team of writers. István Tasnádi, Virág Zomborácz, Balázs Lovas, Balázs Lengyel, Péter Vancsik, Olivér Vanicsek and Eszter Angyalosy – quite a few writers worked in the writing room, who were brought together by Gábor Krigler.
It is the responsibility of the director to make decisions, and if he is unsure, he always reassures himself with something, and then in the end the audience will make the call anyway.
At HBO, they just looked at what drives the story forward, what builds the characters. If your directorial ideas served this, you got the green light. If your idea was a bit selfish, subjective, that wasn’t rooted in the story – then it was mowed.
Bpr: Can you recall a memorable scene?
Á. M.: In the final season, Mira is trapped in an apartment and has to climb down from the second-floor. This was quite difficult to accomplish. When we read the script, it seemed like an exciting challenge at first, and then Gábor Krigler revealed that he wanted to do it in one piece, without editing, so that there would be no hiding in a double in a total and we would not break the tension of the scene. The lesson, that is, the super expression of Anglo-Saxon culture, was given up: the challenge.
From there, we searched for a location with this in mind, and we chose camera-moving devices for it. There was a lot of work with it, but of course it finally paid off, it became a very spectacular scene. I used to socialize with creative tools, with minimal room for maneuver, that such a scene could get away, because Technocran did not fit into the budget of a Hungarian cinema, which was necessary for this clip. It would never have occurred to me to think in a clip like this, so it was a particularly inspiring environment where exactly this creativity was expected from me.
Producer Anna Závorszky and Gábor Krigler handled the creative process very well, building well on the added value of the staff. There was another scene where a character jumps off the roof, we calculated that too, we planned it, but it would have been very expensive to do, so we ended up dropping it. I got the call on Margaret Boulevard that the spectacular version didn’t fit into the budget, and then it ran out of me that “then we’d rather not show it at all.”
Then I realized that maybe we could tell the scene in an even more interesting, unexpected way. If we show the reaction of the environment, not the fall.
Bpr: You became one of the directors of “The Informant”. How did you find the invitation of this new HBO series?
Á. M.: The series was written by my young director colleague Bálint Szentgyörgyi, based on his own idea. The other two directors were selected in an invitation tender, so at the end, three of us, Bálint, Bence Miklauzic, and I will direct the series.
The story takes place in the mid-80s, among young people, it’s a less gloomy story than, say “Golden Life” was, but it evokes the stifling atmosphere of the era. It’s an energetic, youthful, vibrant story. Gergely Váradi, the main character, who gets into a trap situation. He is recruited in a dormitory hostel, but the state security recruits him as an informant. He needs to report on his best buddies. This is a rather unprocessed and unspoken collective trauma for post-socialist countries, it will be interesting to follow it all wrapped up in a coming-of-age story.
I think it will be easy to identify with the dilemmas of the characters. Power – let it be political or economic – has always loved to blackmail people who are then forced to compromise, to make bad decisions that they later on terribly regret. In the “Golden Life” too, it was good to show very livable situations; does it fit into a fair life if you are looking for loopholes? Especially since many people have little other choice. Is it possible to prosper fairly in Hungary today?
Bpr: Do you think the audience can identify with the story of the eighties?
Á. M.: Our current life is very reflective of the 80s. For the past ten years, I have not felt home in this country, but in return, I have understood the songs of Tamás Cseh. How it feels when our Uncle leaves, or “let’s play that we don’t know anything.” There are very strong rhymes and parallels to the 80s, still too imbuing our lives with daily politics and political battles. Even then, most people defined their identity on a political basis: are you for or against the system?
Moscow Square (Moszkva tér) showed the change of regime, but the films of the 80s were not a lot yet, we did not process what the mood was like before everything fell over. In 1985, everyone had the feeling that it could easily be that this system would stay forever, and then the Eastern bloc collapsed unexpectedly. I think people were getting braver and experiencing more and more that they didn’t have much to lose. I think that was what shook the system. This “sturm und drang” momentum will hopefully come through in the series as well.
Bpr: What stage is the series at for the time being?
Á. M.: We are rolling and the editing as work has just begun.