Get to Know ‘Holidays At All Cost’ director Stevan Mraovitch
French filmmaker Stevan Lee Mraovitch can claim many countries and cultures—educated in the States, raised in France and with parents from Taiwan and Serbia. His directorial debut Holidays At All Cost, had its world premiere at Dances with Films 24 in Hollywood. He’s planning a move to Los Angeles in the near future.
Shot in the South of France with beautiful scenes of serene beaches and spas, Holidays At All Cost’s comedy introduces many viewers to a beautiful and unpredictable world outside their own. Years in the making—including the unique challenges of shooting a feature during a pandemic—Mraovitch is excited to have Holidays At All Cost begin its festival run in-person at Dances with Films.
Following its world premiere the film is playing at the Marbella International Film Festival in Spain; the Independent Days International Filmfest in Karlsruhe, Germany; the Montreal (Canada) International Black Film Festival; the 25th Urbanworld Film Festival in New York City, USA and the 35th Edmonton International Film Festival in Canada over the next two months and more to come.
What movies first made you fall in love with film?
Return of the Jedi was the first movie I saw at the theater. It was with my father when I was four years old and it left quite an impression. Besides that, I would list:
The Color Purple by Steven Spielberg
Once Upon a Time in America by Sergio Leone
Together (Chinese: 和你在) by Chen Kaige
The Seventh Seal by Ingmar Bergman
Stalker by Andrei Tarkovsky
It’s a Wonderful Life by Frank Capra
Some Like It Hot by Billy Wilder
Underground by Emir Kusturica
The list is non-exhaustive, of course.
Tell us about your journey in filmmaking. How did you get your start?
My journey in the creative field started with the publication of my book of poetry in French, entitled Analgesia, Scars of Love and Revolt. I had a wonderful experience with a prestigious French publishing house. I was only 22 and one of the youngest published poets of Paris at the time. However, I realized that words can only reach so many and that a message delivered through verse often gets lost in translation. Images, on the other hand, can say what a thousand words cannot. A message given via a single photo can have so much depth, starting with lighting, colors, and choice of subject. And now imagine a thousand images tied up in a movie. The possibilities are infinite.
Have you ever worked with a mentor? Would you recommend mentorship to new filmmakers?
Mentorship is crucial. I had fantastic mentors while studying at Columbia University, and I also learned by having mentees. The mentor who has marked my career the most was definitely Michael Hausman, who was my professor. I was lucky to work with such a Legendary and extraordinary producer. I learned a lot under his wings and had the chance to work and learn from the best talents, ranging from David Mamet and Al Pacino to Helen Mirren and Julie Delpy. I produced four features with Mike, and I am very grateful because these experiences of being his associate are priceless.
What I really appreciate about the mentorship system, which is something I consider we still lack in continental Europe, is that someone paves the way for you, you follow in their footsteps, and you don’t need to waste time on mistakes, as a beginner – you have time to make more complex mistakes later on (ha ha).
Are you involved in any film communities?
Absolutely, I believe we have to support and help each other – I have respect for everyone who works within the industry, as it is a very unique field of work, and only other crew members, talents, and filmmakers know how hard it can be working weeks with no end. I am active among the Columbia and ESEC (my film school in France) alumni. Since I am Taiwanese by my mother, I’m involved in the Asian-American community – that is something I need to thank my friend Celia Au for, an outstanding actress who introduced me to many talented Asian Americans.
Where did the concept for your current project Holidays At All Cost come from?
The movie was inspired by real events of my childhood. We moved to France when I was a kid, and my parents were struggling to get by with only one salary for our household. Finally, one summer, my father was fed up that we were the only kids not going to summer vacation, so he decided not to pay the rent so we could afford a week of holidays in the South of France.
What was the hardest part about writing a feature length film?
I have written feature-length films in the past, so I did not find this part of the creative process particularly difficult. I guess that the hardest was to choose the craziest and funniest scenes that would look good on the big screen and develop around them within a timeframe of fewer than two hours. My original motivation was to make a modern parodic parallel of The Twelve Labours of Hercules and have 12 different bizarre and challenging jobs. Still, I gave up on the idea because I didn’t want the movie to be just a succession of gags.
Can you talk us through your creative process?
The seed can come from my own experiences – having a penniless father who wants to pay the first vacation for his family in a long time, or observing life and modern tendencies – like reading an article about two AI’s who created their own language.
This seed created an idea, and I tried to develop from it. I do as much research of the subject material as possible since it helps to understand the circumstances surrounding this event, and it helps make the script, and later the film, more grounded and realistic. Of course, you also want the people in the movie to feel natural and truly complex as we humans are, so I put myself in the protagonist’s shoes to understand the motivation that drives them.
You faced some unique challenges while filming Holidays At All Cost. What did you learn from shooting a feature during a pandemic?
That anything is possible with the right person. This included the cast and crew. I also saw that life cannot be stopped – even during the pandemic and the lockdown, people continue to fight, create, and communicate. This movie is, in a way, an homage to human resilience.
What was your favorite moment on set?
I felt blessed to be on set every single day and loved every minute of it. If I had to single out one moment, I would choose a moment in a day that we spent shooting on the beach. The magic hour came, and there was this incredible sunset. I took a second to look at my crew and my actors working in this lovely scenery, and everything kind of made sense. I felt I was exactly where I was meant to be.
What about the film changed from the page to the screen?
While it is true that often I had to make compromises and calm down my visual ambition due to lack of time and means, I would say that the movie became better when translated to the screen. I also liked how all the actors, especially Oumar Diaw, Donia Eden and Benjamin Garnier, breathed life into their characters.
What do you want your audience to take away from watching the film?
First, I hope they enjoy it and have a good time while watching it. Secondly, this movie is about trust, telling the truth to the one that shares your life, and standing up for yourself. So, I would say – face that bully in your life or start the project you always wanted to do. Have courage, and luck will follow.
Do you have any future projects that you can tell us about?
I’m currently developing a Franco-Brazilian action movie starring Vincenzo Richi. Besides that, I have a Sci-fi movie in the making with Mike Moh and Celia Au.
What has been your biggest success?
I have gone above and beyond for every movie I have ever worked on or produced. I have worked like crazy, found creative and cheap solutions to expensive problems, and managed the most interesting but most rebellious individuals. I consider that my greatest success was doing all of that but this time for myself since I have finally directed this film as well. I am also adding that we shot Holidays At All Cost during the pandemic, in only three weeks and in between two national lockdowns.
What is your five year plan?
Making my second feature, hopefully in 2022 if all goes well. Moving to LA next year, and from there, I aim to direct a feature every two years. Is it too ambitious if I also want to write my first novel?
Have you ever thought about working in television?
Yes, before the pandemic started, I was developing a big-budget genre TV show for one of the leading French studios. Hopefully, I will get another chance in the future.
Who are some of your current influences?
I have Denis Villeneuve, Todd Philipps, Christopher, and Jonathan Nolan at the top of my list.
Who are some indie filmmakers we should be paying attention to?
People whose talent I can vouch for are Saro Varjabedian, Jake Crane, Isold Uggadottir, David Gutnik, Gerry Kim and Yvan-Angelo Rodionov, among others.
What about indie actors?
My entire cast in Holidays at all Cost was stellar. Besides them, I love Ralph Amoussou and Celia Au.
Do you have any advice for new filmmakers?
I would repeat the advice (one I regret not listening to right away) given to me by Michael Hausman: “Just make your movie for the budget you can afford and build up from that.”
What’s your favorite film, and what did it teach you?
This is a tricky question because so many films taught me something and made me feel a lot. Peculiarly, the movie that I could watch again and again is The Time Machine by Simon Wells because it teaches us to accept what happens to us and that nothing can be changed – even if you have a time machine. Accepting loss and moving forward, and keeping hope that in the end, things will get better, no matter how dark is the place you are currently in.