Ulrich Seidl talks about DOG DAYS


«Authenticity is this film's main attraction. I think that this is also a way of pulling your audience into another world. It's not as easy for them to stay removed in their theater seats as observers. They're drawn in and confronted with themselves.» Ulrich Seidl on Hundstage


Does your switch from documentaries to features represent a change of direction in your work?

ULRICH SEIDL: It marks an end and a beginning. All my previous films have been considered documentaries, even if they actually weren't. Hundstage will be considered a real feature, with a real script, real stories and real actors. Although it won't seem like a real feature to some.


What makes Hundstage a feature?

ULRICH SEIDL: It's a feature because there was a screenplay with clearly written stories and a clear plot and structure before shooting began. We then found actors and non-actors for this screenplay. Up to that point, I had a topic and collected material on it, and then developed scenes and fragments with the protagonists. In the case of Hundstage, something was written down and then realized.


What was the starting point for the six episodes?

ULRICH SEIDL: They were not developed from a single original idea. I've been collecting ideas in the form of observations, notes, photos, film footage and newspaper clippings for years. All that adds up. There are ideas in this film which are 20 years old, and others are just two. At same point, they merged into a single film, and the real framework involved a certain place and time, which encompassed a weekend. And the countryside south of Vienna, where we filmed, can be found throughout the world.


How was the screenplay conceived originally?

ULRICH SEIDL: This wasn't a screenplay in a conventional sense, as there was no dialog. At first, there were six linear short stories. According to the original concept, one story would lead into the next like a relay race which the characters passing on the baton. That aspect was gradually eliminated during the editing phase. The finished film has six interconnected stories.


How do you find all these unusual actors?

ULRICH SEIDL:  I think that a different casting method should be worked out for each film. You can rarely use previous experiences. Each story requires its own type of research. Of course, that takes a great deal of time and makes production more difficult. But I miscalculated for Hundstage. We scheduled three months for casting, and the process lasted over a year.


Where did you look?

ULRICH SEIDL: Most of it was so-called street casting. For example, when you're looking for a young car freak, you have to ask yourself where should I go to find that kind of person. In clubs or at gas stations or discos. As the story is set in Vösendorf and Wiener Neustadt rather than Vienna, you have to look there. The most difficult thing is then to gain some kind of access to these car freaks. You can't just walk up and say, "I'm looking for some people for a film," you have to be much more delicate, fit into the scene, or you're finished before you've even started.


How many of your actors were amateurs?

ULRICH SEIDL: About half.


Do you require that your actors add something personal?

ULRICH SEIDL: Always. That's a criterion when casting both professionals and amateurs. I always make sure they're prepared to contribute something from their own lives, something intimate. That was the risky thing about Hundstage, working with a mixture of pros and amateurs in a single episode.


Are the actors aware of what they're in for?

ULRICH SEIDL: I describe the character I'm looking for and then outline the story. But they never see a script. Although the focus is everyday life, many of the characters are quite eccentric. I don't think that that's the case. The story with the young couple is very normal and average, just like the man with the security systems. The divorced couple represents a certain social class. OK, the hitchhiker is rather unusual. And the most extreme story is the one with the teacher, that's certainly not an everyday situation. Although I must admit that we used personal acquaintances when writing the screenplay.


Were there any fundamental differences as compared to working on documentaries?

ULRICH SEIDL:  No, the change wasn't that great for me. I just used my experience from making documentaries, expanding on it and making it more extreme. Of course, there was a great deal of improvisation, because we had to make up the dialogs. I mostly shot in chronological order, which is very unusual for a feature film, because all the scenes set at one location are normally shot at the same time to save money, even if they're at the beginning and end of the film. I didn't do that. The chronological approach allowed me to develop the stories further. When I anticipate something which is supposed to happen at the end, there's no returning.


 Is Hundstage a typically Austrian portrait of society?

ULRICH SEIDL: Although the film is very Austrian in my opinion, it should be valid for everyone in the western hemisphere. The important themes are the desire for happiness and love, disappointment, repeated attempts to be loved, and death. The characters are quite ambivalent, but I hope that they're understood, and that's my main goal: to understand why someone acts in a certain way in his or her world.


Just like your previous works, Hundstage is an extremely provocative, almost disturbing film.

ULRICH SEIDL: I never wonder whether a film is provocative. Good art has always been provocative. In that respect, being provocative or even disturbing is not bad, because that means that you've triggered a process in the members of your audience. I think that this is also a way of pulling your audience into another world. It's not as easy for them to stay removed in their theater seats as observers. They're drawn in and confronted with themselves. Authenticity is this film's main attraction, and I think that that was successful. There are a number of elements which are not as successful. Thanks God we're still unsatisfied. A great many things that people plan to do just don't work out. I think I found the right actors for the film, and their authenticity and the film's surrealism were really successful. The atmosphere is right, and I think that it's the energy which makes the film.


Interview: Karin Schiefer (2001)