New Talent: Prokop Motl
An up-and-coming director from the Czech Republic, Prokop Motl already has an impressive number of projects under his belt. At 23, his reel currently includes spots for LEGO, Skoda, Strongbow and even a short for the Art Directors Club. And when he’s not directing, he’s putting his hands to work restoring old furniture in his own workshop the 'Heritage Factory'.
LBB’s Liam Smith caught up with the Toaster Pictures director to find out more about his work, his workshop and what inspires him.
LBB> Tell us a little bit about yourself. Where did you grow up and what kind of kid were you?
PM> I was born in the summer of 1994 in Prague. A few years later my parents bought an old 19th-century homestead in a village in the south of the Czech Republic. This part of the country is known for its wonderful nature and having one of the biggest pond systems in Europe. The beauty of this region was one of the reasons my parents moved there.
I grew up there until my teens. It wasn’t always easy - my dad would be working all the time in Prague and I had two little sisters to look after. I used to be the only man in the house and I had to be ‘the head of the family’. I do have to say, I would not change those years for anything. They were probably what formed me for the rest of my life.
I have to admit, I was a very disobedient kid at school. I was in the school principal’s office almost every two weeks. I’ve always had problems with respecting authorities. This led me to discontinue my studies in high school because I wanted to do what I liked, not what somebody said I should.
LBB> When did you decide you wanted to be a director?
PM> Well honestly, it’s been a long journey. My dad used to work as a prop master and when I was five I loved going with him to his work on set. I was so impressed by the world of filmmaking that I knew for sure that I wanted to work in the film industry for the rest of my life.
When I was 12 I started going to a ‘kids television’ group, where I started as a cameraman shooting my first shorts and reports. When I was 14 I started to shoot films with a friend of mine about zombies. Back then we were inspired by the films of George A. Romero and Peter Jackson’s earlier movies. As I got older I ended up filming many music videos. My biggest commission was a movie about the band Android Asteroid and their trip as the first Czech band to visit Abbey Road Studios in London. I was 18 and I was living my dream.
LBB> Outside of directing, you repair and redesign furniture in your 'Heritage Factory' studio. Can you tell us a little about that?
PM> This passion probably came from my childhood on the farm. When my parents bought the property it was basically destroyed and they spent years putting the house together with historical furniture. So there was plenty of furniture to sand, paint and repair. Then, when I was furnishing my first flat, I had basically no money and I bought most of my furniture for a few crowns [previous Czech currency] at flea markets. All those pieces were old and wonderful, but they had some imperfections. They needed some care, so in my spare time I started repairing them.
But even after I finished furnishing my apartment, I carried on buying more. About a year ago a friend of mine temporarily bagged an old steel factory from the 1930s for free rent from a developer. Unfortunately, it had been totally destroyed by squatters over the years. Anything metal was stolen, walls were cracked and the roof was very leaky. But we saw the potential and we spent hundreds of hours repairing the factory - with our own hands - and that’s how I ended up with my own workroom.
What I like most is furniture from the 1960s and 1970s. It’s not really valuable in the Czech Republic and is often thrown into the trash or sold for pennies, especially because of the connection with the communist era.
I’m trying to teach people that this furniture has its own magic. Don’t throw away your grandmother’s chairs and cabinets. They just need a little care, and they could be an original piece of furniture that has its own story, its own heritage.
LBB> Do you find that your activities with the Heritage Factory give you an extra keen eye when it comes to production design?
PM> Honestly, I would love to say that it does, but in Czech Republic there are very few projects where I could apply this sort of production design. I really hope that there is going to be more of them in the future, but probably not in the commercial sphere.
LBB> How would you define your directing style?
PM> When I started shooting I was mostly working on mini-docs, making-of films and event videos. And that’s probably where my style was defined. I love to work with semi-documentary or ‘docu-style’ films, where I’m capturing something that’s happening in front of the camera. I don’t like leading actors into dramatically constructed situations or dialogues, I like telling the story through emotional or symbolic situations that involve the viewer’s imagination. Most of my favourite commercials don’t even need to have a clear point, it just needs to have that emotional feeling that gives you goosebumps on your neck. I prefer to work with a handheld camera and natural lighting, with a little ‘dirty’ or organic composition. It gives the viewer the feeling of being there without being there.
LBB> Which pieces of work are you proud of and why?
PM> Generally I’m not proud of most of my work because I see the mistakes I’ve made all the time! But if I had to pick one, it’d probably be the project I made last year for Škoda. For me, that was an outstanding experience because I got a reasonable budget and trust from the agency and client. In Czech Republic, you are often pushed by the client and agency into a style that you are not very familiar with. They do not respect your treatment notes and they push you into something that’s not yours, into something you don’t want to sign on. Working with Škoda and Fallon was surprisingly non-Czech and it really moved me forward.
LBB> What inspires you as a director, and what are your biggest influences?
PM> Talking with people non-stop in a casino at 3am, going to a village and talking with the villagers, listening to old ladies in cake shops or just observing people and situations, anywhere. What inspires me are real-life situations and stories of various people across social classes and age gaps. I love to try and understand their thoughts and opinions, even if they are often different to mine. I like to search for the consequences in their life situations. What also inspires me are the stories of people I’m buying the old furniture from. In terms of filmmakers, my biggest influence comes from directors involved in the Dogme 95 movement, like Lars Von Trier or Thomas Vinterberg. Generally I love Northern-European culture and filmmakers. Aki Kaurismaki is also one of my big influences.
LBB> What other projects are you looking to work on in the future?
PM> Excluding commercials, right now I’m developing and preparing a TV series about upcycling useless stuff and transforming it into something useful. Or a series about vintage cars and their owners. I feel that I need to lead Czechs to be more proud about their heritage.
LBB> What do you do outside of work to let off some steam?
PM> Being a director can be mentally draining. From time to time I really feel that I need to do something with my hands, switch my head off. So when I’m not shooting I’m usually repairing stuff in the Heritage Factory. That’s my vent. And when that’s too much I’m just travelling around the country and discovering new places in my Land Rover or sitting in an armchair in my friend’s 14th-century castle and feeding the fireplace with logs, a glass of wine in my hand.