Guilty Absence with subtitles:

We all know the challenge of making sure a film crew is all on the same page. We understand the difficulty in making sure everyone shares the director’s vision. So, what do you do when there are 25 directors? We sat down with Nino Leitner, one of the directors of The Owner, which just took it’s place in the Guinness Book of World Records for most directors on a feature film, to find out more.

Tell us a little about the project.

“The Owner” is a collaborative feature film that was created by 25 directors from all over the world. Each one of those directors wrote and directed their own episode, and committed him/herself to making it work in the bigger picture of the entire film. The red line through the film is a backpack which we follow on his journey to find its owner.

We were constantly in contact via a specifically designed online platform to talk about our progress and keep the discussion going to make it better. The project “CollabFeature” was initiated by Detroitans Marty Shea and Ian Bonner, and I was asked by two friends who were already attached to the project to join in.

Basically all was no budget, and the individual teams were also responsible to produce their segments. I managed to secure a tiny bit of funding for my segment, which I shot in my hometown Innsbruck, the “heart of the Alps”. My little sub-story is about a faded female musical film star who wants to make a comeback with a kitschy mountain musical film, but her dreams fall apart. I also was director of photography on the Vienna episode, which continues the story which started in my episode.

I knew it was a daunting enterprise, but it turned out to be much more work than anyone involved anticipated.

What were the main obstacles with this project?

The contributors literally come from all over the world – Europe, North America, South America, South Africa – so staying in touch and the whole commication aspect of the project was the toughest part, because so much time was spent on talking about things before things started to move – but it was a learning process for everyone involved, also the guys from Detroit who started and organized it all.

Also, and that’s still something that is partly obvious in the final product, another obstacle was the fact that the quality of the episodes varies greatly – both in storytelling, acting and production value. However, I am proud of what it became, especially considering the first 4.5 hour version which really was tough to watch for all of us … everyone did a good job in trimming it down and making the story concise and very enjoyable. It was an experiment that turned out much better than anyone thought in the beginning.

Another obstacle was the fact that we did not have lead actors in the film – our lead role was the backpack itself, and following its journey around the world. The lack of a lead role made it even tougher to create a storyline which would engage the audience enough to “stay with us” for over 90 minutes. But it worked brilliantly and the audiences loved it. We hosted a premiere in all the location where we shot around the world on the same day in May 2012, and at the premiere here in Vienna, the theater was packed with over 400 people and they liked it much more than we anticipated. It was a great feeling!

How were you able to overcome these challenges?

Much of the film was a democratic process, and that wasn’t always easy as opinions are very diverse – and when you involve 25 creative minds in the filmmaking process it can become a mess from time to time. There was a time when we all thought the film would never be finished, but thanks to an collective effort and especially a much more authoritarian approach by the project initiators Marty Shea and Ian Bonner in the final phase, it was possible to finish it.

The collective work was a great experience, but not something any of us wants to do on a regular basis I believe. The entire process showed me that democratic filmmaking is a very tough thing to accomplish. And in the end, many decisions ended up being not that democratic. But if someone hadn’t made decisions at some point, I think the film would never have been finished. There are very clear roles in a crew on a film set for a reason, and the same should be true for episodic productions with many more people who are involved in the process.

What does it mean to be part of the GWR?

It’s certainly great to have your name in the Guinness Book of World Records, but I am mainly proud of the work we achieved together, and the entry in the book is just the highlight of this journey which took several years.

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