Seeing a photograph in a New York Times Magazine article about redheads set actress Franka Potente on the beginning of a journey to directing her first feature film HOME which had its world premiere at the Rome Film Festival in October.
„The cropped closeup of a porcelain-skinned, redheaded young man covered in tattoos really fascinated me,“ recalls Potente who later found out that the portrait was of the British musician and tattoo artist Frank Carter. „He looked so tender and fragile with all of these tattoos and there was something about him which reminded me of the kind of weirdo characters you often find living in a small town.“
In fact, that image subsequently provided the inspiration for the central character in HOME, 40-year-old Marvin Hacks, who returns home after more than 20 years in prison and learns to his cost that the locals have still not forgotten the crime he committed all those years ago.
The film which was shot at locations in Los Angeles and Cologne in summer 2019 with a cast including Jake McLaughlin, Kathy Bates, Aisling Franciosi, Lil Rel Howery, and Derek Richardson, marks „a seamless transition“ for Potente from being an actress to concentrating in future on directing.
„I’d been talking about making the switch to behind the camera for some time and I am really happy that I took that step,“ she explains. „I started writing scripts and knew these worlds so well that I thought the obvious next step would be to direct. That’s what I want to be identified as from now on.“
Potente had her first taste of being on the other side of the camera and sitting in the director’s chair with her short film DIGGING FOR BELLADONNA which premiered at the Berlinale in 2006. „It was very much a case of being with ’family and friends’ and a part of the X Filme home“, she says about this experience as a director.
Although DIGGING FOR BELLADONNA was closer to a medium-length feature with its running time of 42 minutes, directing a full-length feature was a whole new dimension with its own particular challenges.
„Every day, you felt like you were walking through fire,“ she recalls. However, she could always rely on support and advice from her producers Jonas Katzenstein and Maximilian Leo of Cologne-based augenschein filmproduktion who had been introduced to her by her agent Sohela Emami.
„I worked very closely with Max [who is also a director in his own right] on the development of the project because he could look at the story and immediately understand its strengths and weaknesses,“ she notes.
In addition, there is a link between Potente’s short and HOME in her wishing to collaborate again with cinematographer Frank Griebe and editor Antje Zynga.
„I like to be loyal when it makes sense,“ she explains.“ What I like about Frank is that he is so ersatile and very fast. That’s very important when you don’t have a lot of time. He’s always open to anything and yet then provides all the knowledge I don’t have.“
Citing the works of Andrea Arnold and the Dardennes brothers as inspiration for her own path as a director, Potente adds that she „learned a lot from Tom [Tykwer] because he was a very inspiring director to watch – the way he worked on set, how much of a leader he was, and his attention to detail.“
What she hasn’t done for her first outing as a feature director is to, say, write a Hitchcock-style cameo appearance for herself in the screenplay or consider being on both sides of the camera as both actor and director.
Potente admits that her background as an actor can be useful, but points out that „it’s a different way of working – as a director, every second is being used for planning and preparations, and you have to understand how the camera works and the different angles.“
„I had so many things going on in my head – from what I wanted to achieve in a particular scene to making sure the actors felt good – that I couldn’t imagine giving up this neutral observer position. It would be like having a split personality.“