Indie film producer Zachary Weckstein on ‘The Host’
A beautifully crafted, suspense-driven film with incredible twists, The Host explores the darkest corners of the human psyche and the ongoing consequences of making the wrong decisions. It includes seductive femme fatales, corruption and family secrets and stars both London and Amsterdam as a fitting backdrop.
In the two powerhouse European cities, the intricate and intrepid tale unravels the life of a London banker, played by Mike Beckingham, his successful brother, a first major role for Dougie Poynter, and an unassuming Dutch woman, played by Emmy Award-winning Dutch actress Maryam Hassouni.
A high-stakes venture taken with the bank’s money culminates in between two worlds in what appears to be a coincidence. Robert Atkinson is looking for an escape from his monotonous existence, where he is desperate to finally secure love and acceptance for himself.
Nearby in Amsterdam, what Vera Tribbe seeks solace from is utterly more perturbing and further exacerbated by her dominating father, played by veteran actor Jeroen Krabbé. Vera hosts others into her imprisoned world.
As they each enshroud their secrets and events spiral out of control, a Senior DEA Agent, portrayed by Nigel Barber, finds himself winding his way through the shadowy waterways of Amsterdam’s unfathomable past and present, to unveil the truth.
The Host, a suspense-driven feature film with a core element based on when we come to crossroads in life, was filmed in London and Amsterdam. The Host presents the consequences should we choose the wrong road, sacrifices which must be made, justifications made, but it remains the wrong path.
The audience feels the intensity of the spiral effect after a wrong choice, leading to a road one can no longer turn back. The genre of this feature is a thriller, crime, mystery – a modern-day Hitchcock. This popular television and film genre is currently generating high audience turnouts. This film is entertaining and will keep the audience on the edge of their seats.
Zachary Weckstein is an international independent film producer based out of the Netherlands and founded Pearl Pictures Productions in 2017. Born in California, Weckstein completed his Master’s with Honours at London Film School.
His graduate short film, Out of the Shadows, was presented at the London Red Carpet Premiere in 2015, paving his way to enter the film industry. Weckstein’s motto is “nothing is impossible”, and he has proven this with The Host, the first English-language internationally distributed, Dutch feature film.
Pearl Pictures Productions presents his distinctive style and expertise, always looking to challenge the audience expectations. It is Weckstein’s nature to make it happen and his wellspring of talent will stop at nothing in dazzling audiences.
Tell us about your history as a film producer. How did you start your journey?
I started in musical theatre in San Diego, California when I was young, and from that point on, my passion towards filmmaking and the arts only grew. The theatre company I was with gave me the opportunity to expand my wings with stage productions, and I was shown the vast world of auditioning, sets, costuming, production, lighting, directing, etc.
I relocated to Europe at the age of 13, first residing in London, and completed my Bachelors Degree in Rotterdam, Netherlands in International Business. During my undergraduate work, I was introduced to the production side of film while working on an internship with a film producer in Spain.
It was here that I watched for the first time the Robert Evans documentary, The Kid Stays in the Picture. I identified with the background and ambitions of Robert Evans and what was portrayed about his passion in producing feature film. His family, similar to mine, came from a business background.
It was by chance that he got into the acting world and fell in love with filmmaking. The role of a producer, as Robert Evans portrayed, is empowered on a production to create a film in its entirety. I interpreted his work and have been inspired as a producer to empower the director, the cinematographer and the entire cast and crew while at the same time fulfilling my passion for film.
After finishing my Bachelors, I moved on to do my Masters in Filmmaking at the London Film School. At LFS, I was able to submerge myself into the many roles of a filmmaker. I found myself picking up the role as producer, in addition to working in each role as editor, or director, sound, etc. on 13 film projects.
After graduating with my Masters in Film in 2016, I first returned to Los Angeles and met with some Production Companies to discuss working with them. I found that I would have a greater opportunity in returning to Europe as I didn’t want to feel forced to be the small fish in a big sea.
In using both my American and European upbringing, I was able to offer both a commercial and creative vision in Europe. After struggling to join local Dutch production houses, in 2017 I was asked if I would be interested in producing a script still in its early stages. At that point, I decided to start my own production company, Pearl Pictures Productions.
Did you produce anything before producing movies?
I was a part of 13 short film projects while completing my Masters in Filmmaking at LFS. Eight of those films, I produced including my Master’s Thesis film.
How was working on The Host? What did you learn from the experience?
Producing my first feature film was a dream come true. Any obstacles, which there were many, were taken on to be solved as quickly as possible, and my passion and energy only grew over the entirety of the production.
I think having a thorough script breakdown was a major learning experience and allowed a lot of excess scenes to be edited out. It also allowed me to stay organised and focus on cast and crew travel expenses, locations, additional crew and in general, production costs.
Without egos, collaboration on the project was a breeze. The cast and crew were supportive of a family environment, and each voice was heard, with respect for each other and avoiding too much chaos or drama that would affect the production. I am proud to have worked with so many talented individuals.
Producing an international feature film and learning the international distribution process is an experience in itself. I also learned that you can provide opportunity for many, but not all filmmakers can grab an opportunity with passion and devotion. Most important is to choose your team wisely.
Did you ever do any other film-related jobs?
I was not employed in any other filmmaking positions, but I was able to experience many of the major film production roles while at London Film School. Working as cinematographer, director, editor, production designer, etc. gave me the opportunity to sink my teeth into major and small roles in film.
Although these were not paid positions, it gave me the opportunity to submerge myself in each role and understand the work behind the role, equipment, necessities and the creative aspect behind the role.
All of this helped me to be a better Producer because I have an understanding of various roles and their workings. For example, if my cinematographer needs something, I can come up with cost-saving options or alternatives, and at the same time never deny a departments creative vision for the film.
Where did the concept come from for The Host?
I was offered a script in its early stages in 2017, and adapted the story for The Host. I brought on two scriptwriters to develop and create the screenplay.
As my first feature film, and bringing in all independent investors, I knew it would be more feasible to create a film that was under a million euros and work to create a much higher production value. In return, this gave the filmmakers the chance to create a cinematic look and release.
Tell us about your production process?
Not every film produced, especially independents can get distributed, and I was after creating the first internationally distributed feature film, in English, produced out of the Netherlands. Every part of my process was filled with passion and belief in the end result, and so the odds were with me I believe.
Having a strong work ethic and personal confidence help, not falling apart when things go wrong, and staying calm with a smile helps everyone around you stay calm as well. My production process for The Host included all the elements: script, budget, schedule, casting, lining up crew.
I was fortunate that I was able to get financing, and that I did not have investors that required approvals of the production process. They believed in me wholeheartedly, and I will always be appreciative for that freedom. I was so honoured to work with some of my cast members and I admired their self-discipline over long hours and maintaining their strong demeanours.
It was important to me to give my filmmakers the creative time that they needed, and at the same time, in order to stick to the budget, I also looked to create a process with a short turnover time in all the stages – in pre-production, production, post production and distribution.
I started pre-production at the very end of 2017, and finalised the international distribution for the film in the fall of 2019. Each film will always provide lessons in hindsight, but I was fortunate to have collaboration with my production team and I arranged most all processes in preproduction.
What tips do you have for new producers?
Think outside the box, from raising finance, to getting sponsorships and focus on what you’re aiming for in your end results. Stay away from nay-sayers as they are the poison apple of the production and keep them away from your workforce. Make sure you are producing a story and a script that can be understood and relatable to your target audience.
Find ways to be creative with your budget and get the most out of a limited budget, and take your time in planning and budgeting. Keeping a film produced on time will be challenging, so it is important to set up weekly sometimes daily tracking with your teams.
Have an open door and availability for communication with all your managers. Always remember that filmmaking is a business, finance, marketing behind and in front of the camera. It’s extremely important to motivate your crew over the entirety of the film. Ask questions, and be prepared to answer them.
And most important, be passionate on all your projects and never give up on your end goal. Be prepared to work long and odd hours, and answering your phone at 5AM after you just finally closed your eyes at 3AM.
What’s the hardest part of production for you?
I feel the hardest part of production is after you have hired individuals for a specific role, and then you have to let them go and replace them, and have their work redone. That decision doesn’t come lightly and also involves trying to save these individuals and getting them to care. To those filmmakers who are in the industry for money and or fame, this usually doesn’t work out.
What’s your next project?
Next big project, well I just finished producing The Host and it was released in America the 17th of January, with a release in the United Kingdom the 17th of April, and rest of Europe and worldwide later on. So for me, I’m concentrating on that, as well as having my hands in a couple new projects regarding an action trilogy getting started soon.
Have you worked with mentors in the past? How would you recommend people go about finding them?
I never got to work with film industry mentors, and those that I followed and have inspired me have since passed away. I have met many wonderful filmmakers over the past decade and I have learned many things from all of them in discussing their thoughts and their experiences.
My main mentors have been my mother and father, family, especially my immigrant great grandparents. Their life stories inspired me to always grow to higher levels and helped to form my drive and push. Growing up in an environment surrounded by legal and business people gave me the tools I needed in life so I could take my passion and build my own ship.
I can recommend that the best way to meet mentors is by finding someone that inspires you, and track down their personal contact details. Sometimes you’ll need to go through a personal PA first, but most everyone is reachable – even if you need to email them first. Going to film events is also a good way to meet mentors.
Can we expect to see any episodic television from you anytime soon?
Nothing in the books right now, but you never know what life brings.
What filmmakers should be on our radar?
Oona Menges, my cinematographer, has a great talent, ambition, gets the job done plus brings cinematic understanding of lighting, and how to use that lighting to provide the look of European cinema, or American Hollywood glitz and glamour. Oona has a worldly understanding of cinematography, can be in a Hollywood blockbuster or a European artistic film.
What’s your favorite film of all time, and what did you learn from it?
I really love The Gladiator, and from a cinematic standpoint it is amazing. It’s definitely one of my favourite films and I can watch it again and again and discover new things. It is so inspirational, the script, the dialogue, soundtrack, it gives you goosebumps, it gives you historical drama, action and very emotional climaxes.
Russell Crowe gave the audience so much just from his expressions, and he definitely deserved the Oscar he won for this. Hans Zimmer’s soundtrack has such energy and a haunting quality that stays with you long after the film is over.