Marie Kreutzer is an Austrian writer-director whose third feature film We Used to Be Cool has its UK premiere at the LOCO Comedy Film Festival 2017 on 5 May, with a special parent and baby screening. Her first film The Fatherless dealt with children growing up in communes, and We Used to Be Cool looks at a new generation and their parenting ideals.
My daughter is a real film baby. A film brought her parents together and she has been on film sets since she was born.
Tell us about the idea for Was hat uns bloß so ruiniert (We Used to Be Cool). How did you decide to make a comedy about hipster parenthood – was it influenced by becoming a parent? How did you find the story?
My daughter was almost two years old and I spent a lot of time at the playground while I was waiting for my second feature film GRUBER GEHT to be financed. When I told my friend Alex Glehr, producer at Novotny & Novotny Film, about my experiences with other parents, he suggested to write about it.
And how did you make the film while also being a parent?
With the help of family and friends and of course my partner, who is also my production designer. To be honest, I don’t like being asked about that all the time. My partner is a father of four and nobody ever asks him how he manages to make films while being a parent. It’s a question only for female filmmakers.
How did you cast and work with the child performers (especially with no nappies on…)?
The casting was chaotic and stressful because of all the conversations with parents about their children’s qualities. Everybody thinks their baby is the best. I do too. I don’t blame them.
Making a film with two year olds is like shooting a documentary, which I don’t do because I’m not good at it, I’m a control freak. You cannot control small children at all. You have to wait for a good moment for a long time without having that time actually, and you have to manipulate them to do certain things. I didn’t really like it although I liked the children a lot. Or because I liked them a lot! It was hard for everybody, especially for the adult actors. Normally, they get way more attention from me. I couldn’t really work with them when the children were there, they just had to jump in position when “the moment” arrived.
How has being a parent changed how you think about making films – is opening a bike repair café plan B?
It’s not my plan B. I don’t have a plan B. But I’m lucky because I can work a lot, work constantly, and I don’t think too much about the future.
But it’s funny how many young adults working in creative jobs start coffeeshops or their own design brands right now. As if they wanted to find “a home”. Which I understand, as we are quite homeless as freelancers.
Do you think it’s possible to be a good (enough) parent? Do you think it’s important to keep doing your work to be a good parent?
Of course it’s important to have your own life to be a good parent. I don’t want my daughter to see me only as a perfect mother and nothing else when she looks back in 30 years. I want her to be proud of me and what I did while bringing her up. But I’m realistic, she might as well say I worked too much or was stressed all the time or didn’t cook well. There is no “perfect”. So all we can do is try to be ourselves as parents.
What advice would you offer someone thinking about becoming a writer-director and wanting to have a family life as well?
Having a family AND a job is normal. It’s every parent’s struggle, no matter the profession. And I try not to offer advice to anybody. Which is hard, because many conversations between parents are only good advice conversations.
Is there anyone who is a role model for you – and why?
Different people for different reasons. My mother was always a very cool person who did her own thing and never tried to please anybody. At least that’s how I see her. Any girl can be very thankful for a mother like that. Women try to fit in and please others way too much.
Were there any specific influences on your film? There’s not a lot of ensemble comedies about parenthood (apart from… Parenthood)?
Not really. The film happened very fast. I tried to find good films about parenthood, but actually there are not many. The only film I would maybe call an influence was FRANCES HA by Noah Baumbach. I love the humour and the lightness of it while being so touching and honest at the same time. The story and the setting are of course very different. I think it also touched me deeply because my best friend broke up with me when my daughter was a tiny baby. And WE USED TO BE COOL is also a film about friendship for me. About friendship and how friendships change when our lives change.
What good or bad attitudes have you encountered in the industry towards parent-filmmakers?
The only bad attitude to me is that I’m constantly asked how I manage to be both, a parent and a filmmaker. But I think it depends on how respected you are. Right now I am a successful filmmaker and when I cancel an appointment because my daughter is sick, nobody would ever be pissed (or show it). I think when I was younger that would have stressed me.
What does your family think about your work? Do you think children understand what a filmmaker does?
My daughter is a real film baby. A film brought her parents together and she has been on film sets since she was born. She understands. It’s all absolutely normal to her. Last summer she was sitting quietly with me while the camera was rolling, and when she was bored she visited the make-up artists or the catering.
What would you most like to see change about the film industry so that it’s easier to be a parent and a filmmaker?
I am a true feminist and I think everybody should be. Equal pay would be a good start, and I am really for a women’s quota in film funding.
When I prepared a TV movie last year, my cinematographer found out she was pregnant. It was a shock to hear that pregnant women in Austria are not allowed to work more than 40 hours a week, which sounds good but is not possible when making a film. That means from the minute you know about your pregnancy you cannot be at a film set until your baby is at least a few months old. Nobody pays you for sitting around and waiting to have your baby.