Interview with Thomas Wind director of GUITAR MEN

     |    Wednesday, der 11. November 2009

This interview with Thomas Wind, the director of GUITAR MEN is posted courtesy of


How did the idea for “GUITAR MEN” come about? What was the driving force behind it?

I run a small film production company called KILLING PICTURES with my colleagues Werner Bednarz (editor) and Michael Redolfi (cinematography). I’m also a trained cameraman. We’ve been producing other kinds of films for almost 20 years now. A few years ago, we started KILLING PICTURES PRODUCTION as a vehicle for making movies with a high degree of creative and artistic freedom. The first production was a documentary titled FÜR EIN PAAR FILME MEHR (A Few Films More), which was followed by a couple of music videos and advertising spots. On a few of those commercials I switched from camera to directing, and that awakened a desire in me to direct my own feature length film. I suggested making a homage to 1960’s and 1970’s b-movies to Werner and Michael in February of 2005 and were both instantly enthusiastic. Werner and I have been big fans of exploitation films from that era since we were kids.

Both Michael and I are fans of the kind of hand-held camera sequences that you see low- budget action films. We also wanted to orient the look of our film on the long lens takes of 1970’s spaghetti westerns and eastern films. We decided to give the sets a retro look and use the lighting style you see in French films from the 1980’s and contemporary Asian films. When we developed the story, at first we each wrote down what elements we would like to see in the script. We came up with catchwords like ELVIS, MOTORCYCLE BABES, NINJAS, COWBOYS, KILLERs. The GUITAR MEN script evolved over the next 10 months based on these cornerstones.

The film often alludes to genre and trash films of the 1960’s and 1970’s. Are those personal influences? Are there any other ‘historical’ or current directors, or works, that you base your work on or are role models for you?

Of course when you shoot a homage, certain elements from the genres and films that you allude to find their way into your work.

When you watch GUITAR MEN you get the feeling that you’ve seen these scenes before somewhere. In actuality, we didn’t copy any scenes directly from other films; we took elements from our favorite moves and genres and created our own work.

The COOPER character, the Arizona killer, is based on JOE DON BAKER and his role as the mafia hit-man in CHARLEY VARRICK (German title: DER GROSSE COUP, USA 1973, directed by DON SIEGEL). COOPER is almost an exact copy of this type of role as far as character and appearance goes. But none of his scenes he has in our film can be compared to anything from CHARLEY VARRICK.

Another example is the scene where the Stasi (East German secret police) agents KRÜGER and DUMSCHKE encounter the killer priests. The dramatic build up and camera angles were modeled on spaghetti westerns, but the wardrobe and look in general was done in the style of 1970’s GDR (East German) movies with their particular Orwo Film colors. This is also the scene where it becomes clear that GUITAR MEN is a comedy. Here the spaghetti western elements are reduced to a minimum, and the extremely overdone references to GDR productions turn the characters in this scene into caricatures.

We weren’t paying honors to any current directors or films.

It was just a coincidence that GRINDHOUSE – the big budget production by TARANTINO and RODRIGUEZ, which is also a homage to b-movies – came out at the same time as GUITAR MEN. We starting working on the idea, and then writing the script to GUITAR MAN in early 2005. Back then no one knew anything about GRIND HOUSE.

The film is very professional and very well shot. What kind of equipment did you use? How did you cover your costs?

Well, considering that we’re all professional filmmakers, it would be tragic if it wasn’t well done. No-budget or b-movies are often thought to be synonymous with poor technical quality. This surely is the case at times, but it definitely isn’t the rule.

The film was hot in high definition video, which has been used by various international big budget productions recently (SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW, SIN CITY etc.)

Compared to shooting on 35 mm, you can save considerably on film stock and lab costs. Unfortunately, expenditures for camera and lighting etc. don’t change. Another advantage of shooting in HDV is that post production is done on an AVID digital editing desk without having to do a cost-intensive scan of the 35 mm negative.

We had hoped to get public film funding to make GUITAR MEN, but it didn’t go through. So we had to make a decision to either let the film die or to cover the production costs ourselves somehow. We took on quite a bit of debt as producers, and when the entire crew committed to making the film without being paid a wage, we could start production.

70 minutes for a non-budget feature is no small potatoes. How long did the shoot take and how much work went into the post-production?

After script writing for ten months and then working another 7 months doing pre-production, everything was shot in August, 2006 in just 20 days. Since we had to work on other film projects to earn our living, the post-production was done mostly evenings, about four days a week. The entire post-production phase lasted from September, 2006 to June, 2007. A big part of it was the sound design, and the wonderful soundtrack compositions by Michael Mohr. Especially important to me to have film music in the style of 1960’s secret agent films – composers like John Barry, Jerry Goldsmith and Lalo Shifrin.

For an independent production there are a surprising number of sets, both exteriors and interiors. Where was it shot and how did you get the permits?

The whole movie was shot in Berlin. When we were choosing locations, we were very careful to pick places that could be credible doubles for places like Hong Kong or the Vatican. Getting the sets right was cost and time intensive. Some of the permits were as expensive as for a big-budget production. Otherwise, good contacts and the fantastic work of our set builder Nicole Heidel allowed us to keep costs for some interior sets at a minimum. The set designer was able to turn an empty white room at an former post office building into an authentic looking rent-by-the-hour hotel in Hong Kong. Chief lighting technician Moritz Martin’s lighting design put the finishing touches on the illusion.

Unlike the filmmakers, all of the actors are amateurs.

Did you do casting or did you just get people from your social circle to play the roles?

Not all the actors were amateurs! Gerhard Gutberlet, who plays the AMMERING, is a professional actor known for his work in television. We were able to get Ed Zacharias on board for the CARDINAL character. He acted in a lot of genre films from the 1970’s, 1980’s and 1990’s (KISS MY BLOOD, DER TODESKING, NEKROMANTIK 2, SCHRAMM…). Tammi Torpedo, who plays COOPER, studied drama and has theater experience. DEBORAH LEVIN, who plays U.Rabbit, was in both a music video and in a commercial that we produced. Other actors in the film are not necessarily full-time actors, but they have experience doing bit parts either on stage, in film or television. We posted casting ads on the right industry internet sites. So the the cast came together partly that way and, as I mentioned, we used actors that we had contact with from other productions. We could have cast professional actors in all the roles because a few well-known German actors expressed interest in the project. But I wanted to avoid recognizable faces. I wanted to create the impression of an internationally produced b-movie. This, at least in Germany, was something unusual and new. We consciously cast absolute amateurs in certain roles as a way to create a comic effect, the same type of almost real-life comedy that you see in Klaus Lemke’s early work (ROCKER, MOTOCROSS; ARABISCHE NÄCHTE…) that I really like.

A lot of movie freaks cherish the dream of one day making their own films. Do you have any tips for people who have the necessary interest and ambition? What are the classic pit-falls of independent and no-budget productions.

If you’re an amateur, it is important to first get professional experience in the field and to acquire the basic design and technical skills that you need to make movies. You can do internships on feature films. On GUITAR MEN we took on two interns for camera and sound. You can also get film training and do seminars at state and private film schools. In any case, it’s a good idea to get the help of professionals if you decide to make a movie based on your own ideas. An interesting and unusual script is sometimes enough to convince professionals to work on a low or no-budget project. If you’re just doing it for fun and want to make a movie without professional support, I would suggest starting with a short film project with just a few, manageable number of sets and a small cast. A no-budget film like GUITAR MEN, which had 80 actors, wardrobe, and well over 20 sets, can only be done if you have a professional, experienced production team. And of course it should be clear up front that a full-length no-budget feature doesn’t really get made without without a budget. It’s a financial commitment on the order of a mid-sized to luxury class car. It’s best if distribution and sales are considered before you begin shooting.

The premier was last week in Berlin’s Babylon Kino. Will the film get mass distribution? What are the chances that the film will have a theatrical or DVD release?

There were a couple of distribution companies who showed interest, but they shied away from the high cost of making a 35mm copy from the HDV material. It would be necessary to find a distribution company to cover the marketing costs and the screening copies for a nation-wide release, but of course there is no guarantee that such an investment could be recouped by a theatrical release. We didn’t get distribution funding for GUITAR MEN, so at the moment it doesn’t look like we can do a nation-wide release. But we are planning to cooperate with some art house cinemas in different cities who can project HDV so that we can have some theatrical exposure before the planned DVD Release in December or January. We’re going to distribute the film ourselves. We’re definitely showing the film in August or September in Berlin at the Z-inema art house film theater. (*see review)

We’re in contact with a couple of different labels for the DVD sales at the end of the year. A release could be done by MEDIA Target Distribution. This is a small but quality label that has gotten a good reputation by releasing international independent and b-movie productions. We will publish the play date and the DVD release dates on the GUITAR MEN website: (Editor’s note: DVD release is planned for May, 2008). Since the DVD will be released as a limited edition in Germany, anyone interested can be informed as soon as the release date is known by registering at and providing your own email address.

We are also planning to release the soundtrack on CD this year. (For information please see the film’s website).

Last but not least: Do you already have the next project in the works?

We’re playing with the idea doing a treatment for a western. We’d like to film it in Spain, on one of the classic sets where heaps of spaghetti westerns have been shot. Another thing I’d really like to do is to cast actors in a role or roles who are spaghetti western icons. Guys like Tomas Milian, Franco Nero or Giuliano.

The budget for a production like that would go beyond KILLING PICTURES PRODUCTIONS financial means so we have to wait and see if the film can find a producer – either here or abroad.