Premiering one film at Berlin and another at Cannes all in one year would already be quite the feather-in-the-cap for any rising young filmmaker, but “Hellhole” and “Ghost Tropic” director Bas Devos took it one step further by making the latter project in the period between the two festivals.
“It was a peculiar year to say the least,” says Devos with a laugh. “When I was in Berlin this year [to promote “Hellhole”], I was somewhat distracted because I knew that once I got back home I would almost immediately start shooting the next one.”
Working at breakneck pace, the Belgian director shot the dreamlike “Ghost Tropic,” which follows a working-class woman’s nightlong odyssey across Brussels, over the course of 15 nights in early March, and then rushed to have the final edit ready to premiere in Directors’ Fortnight some two months later. “Within less than a year we went from literally nothing to a film premiering,” Devos marvels. “Though if ‘Ghost Tropic’ been a normal film produced in a standard way, this probably wouldn’t have happened.”
Initially, Devos benefited from a generous timetable. The director finished his austere drama “Hellhole” in summer 2018, knowing the film would see a Berlinale launch. With a wrapped project and festival premiere some months off, Devos went to work on his next volley, which would have a simpler structure and more linear narrative than his previous work, looking to see how he could circumvent a frequently many-year process.
“[My producers and I] decided to fund the film ourselves, while looking for the minimum amount of money that we’d need [from other investors]. This sped up the whole process, where normally it can easily take three years just to finance a film,” Devos explains.
The film’s producers buttressed their own investments with modest support from local telecom operator Proximus, alongside public broadcast money and private capital scrounged via the federal government’s tax shelter scheme.
“This all went relatively quickly,” says Devos. “Especially compared to a normal process, where you start with your local film fund and then look to set-up co-productions with other countries. Of course you can get more money and a bigger budget that way, but it also takes more time. We could skip this step, but it meant that we were much more limited in our means.”
“We had a budget that allowed us to shoot the film, to pay for locations, film stock and the necessary materials, but there was literally no money to pay anybody else,” he continues. “So we asked everybody to participate their fees in the film, which actually makes this project a sort of co-operative. Everybody owns a certain percentage of this film, relative to their investment into it. Even though I wrote and directed it, this film is only 17% mine.”
As “Ghost Tropic” continues to travel to festivals like Cairo and Marrakech, Devos remains in Brussels readying his film’s upcoming release this coming January. He’s also developing new projects that he plans to pursue along a more traditional model, knowing full well that he isn’t likely to have another one-two punch for the foreseeable future. “Because we have relatively little money compared to countries like the Netherlands or Denmark that have richer public film funds, we can only really make seven films a year,” says Devos. “We have many filmmakers, and you have to somehow fit into this cycle of the film fund. So this slows down the process.”