The short film The Water Sommelier by Ryan Wichert was part of the Short Film Competition Made in Euregion of Euregion Film Forum 2023. For this case-study he tells us about his film and explains what a water sommelier actually is.
Self-confessed water addicts
"Noémi and I are both self-confessed water addicts. Four litres a day? Easy. We also have a heart for comedy and quirky characters with unusual stories you might not hear about otherwise. Combining the simplicity of water with the sophistication of a sommelier allowed us to create a fictional satirical world, in which we meet Hugo, a man who is - quite literally - in his element. When we started writing the script, the initial process was based on improvisation ideas with the character. We worked very intuitively on this project, which isn't always the case, but it helped us find and create the world of the water sommelier Hugo. We also did a lot of research which led us to websites advertising actual water sommelier training courses and workshops. We then used those as inspiration and applied the question "What If" to those ideas. What if ... our character was not only a trained sommelier, but is also training to be a “water whisperer”. That helped us heighten the comedy. As Ryan's family background is in gastronomy, he already knew a lot about wine tastings and the world of the sommelier."
"We both write for a comedy theatre in Berlin, so writing comedy is something we're quite used to and maybe our brainwaves have adapted over the years. We know other script professionals, but felt like we had a good grasp of what we wanted to say with this character, so we didn't invite other to the writing process. There were quite a few drafts because new ideas would find their way into the script after discussions or improvisational moments. So a lot of the process was 'Kill your darlings'."
"Once we had a script, we sent it to a cameraman we wanted to work with and started thinking about the look and feel of the film together with the DoP. We wanted to keep it simple in terms of the setting, costumes and props. Essentially for production reasons (money, ahem) but also because we both enjoy rather minimalistic approach to comedy. We don't think throwing a ton of CGI at something will make it any funnier or better. Either your material is funny - or it isn’t. Buying your character a Gucci coat isn’t going to make your punchline any sharper."
Shooting during COVID-19 lockdowns
"Nikita, our cameraman, very much understood what we wanted to achieve and all his suggestions were simple and doable shots. There really was no need for anything crazy in terms of camerawork. No drones, no steady cam. We knew that our main comedy ingredient would be our character and the way he relates to water. So in a way we didn’t anything toi distract the audience from that. Again, why run around with a steady cam if you don’t need to? Nikita was super helpful when we did our first location scouting and he discovered many nooks and crannies on location that we would’ve missed. So based on his input and creative suggestions we went back to the script and included moments that made use of specific areas on location."
"Because we shot The Water Sommelier during one of the COVID-19 lockdowns, we were very limited in terms of crew and what the location felt was manageable. In the end we decided that between the three of us - Noémi, Nikita and Ryan - we could get everything done. All three of us have experience producing and so we knew we could cover everything between us."
"When we started shooting, we quickly noticed that Ryan’s instincts as an actor and comedian would add new moments - that weren’t in the script. We embraced this because we knew that the film was going to be made in the edit and that we weren’t really bound by a rigid structure, but could have a flexible approach to what moments ended up where in the film. The improvisational quality of the acting didn’t have any impact on our shot-list, as our setting was still the same."
"Everything went as planned and we finished on time on the shoot days, with Noémi tidying up “used” locations, while Nikita and Ryan ran around getting cutaways and additional footage. The glamour of filmmaking!"
The flashback moment to ancient Greece
"Postproduction! We knew we needed someone who understood comedy and timing and shared our taste in comedy! Michael J. Hilli has proven his abilities time and time again and because we get on personally as well, we knew he was our guy! He offered his interpretation of the material and added brilliant moments and ideas to the story. It’s always a challenge to keep your initial vision on track along the way through production and postproduction, but with the right creative family it’s always a case of “adding value”. They understand where you want to go and enrich your journey."
"Michael J. Hilli had a great idea for an additional sequence in the film - the flashback moment to ancient Greece. Originally our protagonist shared this moment during the interview, but Hilli felt that it would be worth shooting the sequence to be able to edit it into the film. Quickly convinced of his notion we organised an additional shoot day and it’s now one of our favourite moments in the finished film! It’s nice to have that flexibility in terms of staying open to the ideas of the creatives around you."
"We went through 8 different edits and a lot of “cutting down” and “trimming” to find the right balance to allow the character to breathe and come to life. All in all, it was a remarkably creative and simplistic experience that confirmed our approach to comedy and our love for unusual characters that might not make it into your standard comedy movie otherwise."
"What’s incredibly exciting for us is that The Water Sommelier has won so many awards in so many different countries. We always felt that it was a universally accessible story and not a particular national humour."
(c) All visual material is used with the filmmaker's permission.