Belgian Director Bas Devos on Shooting ‘Ghost Tropic’ at Speed

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.

Popular on Variety

“[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.”

More Film

  • My Salinger Year

    Berlin Film Festival to Open With Sigourney Weaver, Margaret Qualley Starrer 'My Salinger Year'

    The 70th edition of the Berlinale will open with Philippe Falardeau’s anticipated “My Salinger Year,” headlined by a powerful female duo, Sigourney Weaver and Margaret Qualley. Set in New York’s literary world in the 90’s, the coming-of-age-story is based on Joanna Rakoff’s international bestseller and follows Joanna (Qualley), who leaves graduate school to pursue her [...]

  • Bad Hair

    'Bad Hair': Film Review

    The year is 1989 and New Jack Swing is about to push black culture from the margins to the mainstream. The question for the black employees of Culture, the music TV station at the center of writer-director Justin Simien’s delightfully macabre horror-dramedy “Bad Hair,” is what image do they — and their white executive Grant [...]

  • Bad Hair

    Justin Simien's 'Bad Hair' is a Tribute to Exploited Black Women Everywhere, Director Says

    Deeply personal but indulgently campy, Justin Simien’s Sundance opener “Bad Hair” is a genre-blending horror show that the director said serves as a tribute to the struggles of black women. The mind behind  “Dear White People” staged the world premiere for the project at Park City’s Ray Theater on Thursday night, before a cast that [...]

  • Taylor Swift: Miss Americana

    'Taylor Swift: Miss Americana': Film Review

    Fly-on-the-wall portraits of pop-music stars used to be dominated by, you know, pop music. The life and personality and woe-is-me-I’m-caught-in-the-media-fishbowl spectacle of the star herself was part of the equation, yet all that stuff had a way of dancing around the edges. Now, though, it’s front and center. In “Taylor Swift: Miss Americana,” we catch [...]

  • Taylor Swift attends the premiere of

    Sundance Crowd Goes Wild as Taylor Swift Becomes Powerful Voice of Trump Resistance

    At the outset of the first screening of the documentary “Miss Americana” Thursday night at the Sundance Film Festival, it was clear at the outset that it was not necessarily Taylor Swift’s core audience filling the Eccles Theater for the premiere. The opening scene has Swift trying to write a song at the piano while [...]

  • wanda Imax China

    China Closes Thousands of Theaters in Response to Coronavirus Outbreak

    China closed swathes of cinemas on Friday in response to the outbreak of novel coronavirus, which started in the city of Wuhan and has now killed 26 people. The closures come a day after the distributors and producers of the seven major blockbusters that had expected to launch from Jan. 25 cancelled their films’ releases. [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content