Award-winning filmmaker Hanna Maria Heidrich brings imaginative imagery to life with human impulses and tightly-structured narratives. Spellbound by the power of pictures from an early age, she explored drawing, painting and photography, but soon identified her key love as a filmmaker. Graduating from the renowned Filmakademie Baden-Wuerttemberg (Ludwigsburg, Germany) as well as an intensive training programme at Central Saint Martins College in London and the UCLA Film Academy Masterclass in Los Angeles, she is now working in commercials and feature films.
Hanna Maria has already garnered more than 40 international awards for her commercials and shorts. Her work was recognized at the prestigious “Saatchi & Saatchi New Directors’ Showcase”; at the “Art Directors Club” in NY and Berlin; by the “Young Director Award” at Cannes; and by Shots Magazine in London. Often touching on the surreal, her grasp of narrative, coupled with a genuine affinity with actors, has led to films of cinematic style and an individual handwriting.
Her new series, Killing All the Flies, relates the story of Levin Reid (Andrew Simpson), a 23-year-old police cadet who witnesses the killing of his girlfriend Marie (Beth Park). Falsely accused of murder, he escapes his arrest and is determined to find the true murderer, only to find Marie’s death part of a conspiracy: a corporation is selling eternal life to wealthy clients at the cost of innocent victims. The film explores the ethical implications behind the corporation’s death-trades through Levin’s eyes as he struggles to restore life to Marie.
What inspired the story?
When I had lost someone who was really close to me, I realized that nobody talks about Death. It’s like a taboo in our society. People use to encourage one another to go on with their lives, even though my experience has led me to wonder, constantly, “Where do the dead people actually go?” – “How is it there?”“ and “What if I could travel to the other side or even get someone back?” So, I wanted to explore some of these questions in a playful way.
Killing All the Flies began as project led by myself and the producers Judith Schöll and Alena Jelinek. Our vision was to create a series for a young audience that is entertaining and intriguing – without realizing that it could also serve as a platform to talk about these ethical matters.
Killing All the Flies begins as a romance but it quickly broadens out to an exploration of ethical and social concerns. Were this rhetorical move and the series’ subject matter informed by contemporary politics? How so?
Without doubt, we live in a society where anything is capitalized. For enough money, you can buy everything. “Capitalizing our mortality” just seems like the next missing step. In KATF, the Vigor Corporation, the largest insurance company on Earth, has finally cracked the code of how to cheat death. If you want to live longer, someone else needs to die. And for a hefty fee, Vigor makes the kill. Bottom line: If you‘re rich, you live. If you‘re poor, you die. As much as this is a science fiction scenario, it feels awfully real and that’s something I always liked about the KATF idea. It is an entertaining, bigger-than-life setting, but when you look around, it just reflects reality. The inequality gap between the super rich and the poor continues to widen, and new studies reveal that it is constantly getting worse. So, a world in which the rich manage to cheat death and prolong their lives at the cost of innocent poor people doesn’t seem to be far away.
How distinct into the future (temporally and thematically) do you envision this series?
KATF has a Future-Collides-with-Now tone. It’s a world in which amazing and controversial technology is in use today. In my eyes, this isn’t science fiction – it’s cutting edge Speculative Fiction.
Tell us about the fundraising that made it possible.
The producers Judith Schöll and Alena Jelinek and I created a short video that represented our ideas and goals for the show. We put the video on the Indiegogo platform and we were really moved by the people’s support.
It seemed to us that the key of crowdfunding is to be willing to put a lot of effort into it. People are interested in why you want to bring your ideas to life. They want to be part of the journey so the producer Judith Schöll took great care of the crowdfunding mission and updated the audience regularly.
Did the supporters have any say in KATF’s production process and outcome?
No, not directly. We used their investment for the special underwater shoot (that we shot in a swimming pool in Stuttgart), as well as the extensive demo scene with numerous extras and the costly transit location where Levin tries to find Marie. Nevertheless the supporters were constantly kept in the loop about what we were currently working on and what their investment was used for. In return, they could choose between different perks, from a DVD and poster, to the mention in the end credits.
When we finished the pilot we also organised a special screening and we were very happy to finally meet some of the supporters in person. It would not have been possible without them!
The series is very relevant to our times, but there is a kind of timelessness to the series’ visual style, which places significant emphases on spatial relations and vibrant colours through the use of filters. Was this disjunct created on purpose? Tell us about the cinematography.
Yes, I wanted to contrast the relevant topics with a feel of timelessness as we tap into universal questions: “What is death?” – “Should we play god with fate?” – “Whose lives are worth saving, and who deserves to die?”
I wanted the show to be visually intriguing while at same time incredibly human. The world that we are creating is full of raw, intense emotions. Thus, the visual style of the series will play a vital role in conveying those stakes: wide, sweeping shots of the city give the series magnitude and scale, contrasted with intense close-ups of faces, eyes, hands – purely human details. We focused on the heroes’ struggle, the incredible fragility of life, and ultimately the terrifying power of death.
What happens after death is, of course, one of the things that we are most curious about. Tell us about your visual choices there.
One of my first visual ideas was that “the other side” (the so-called transit station) is surrounded by water like an underwater city. I was thinking of key visuals that depict the hero’s incredible journey through a metaphysical underwater vortex to reach the Other Side – and him dissolving into water when his time is up.
Why film it in English?
The KATF themes are so universal so it felt right to film it in English so that we can present it to a wider audience and not create any language barriers.
Let’s talk more about the series. It seems to suggest the impossibility of doing the right thing. Levin cannot bring back his girlfriend by reversing the death though this might have been the natural event. To what extent is this complexity central to your project?
This complexity is absolutely central for KATF. We are painting a world that isn’t black and white. Thematically, we’ll explore the virtues and costs of playing God: What if some people deserve to live longer than others? How long should the scientist who will cure cancer live? Whose lives are worth more? What if there are some poor souls that need to die? Should murderers and rapists not be forced to give their lives to save worthier souls? Is that not Karma in its most perfect form?
Vigor Corporation will embody this question. Levin will be faced with this dilemma as he tries to reverse Vigor’s influence over people’s lives…and deaths.
Is it possible to do the right thing?
I am not sure. Even if you disagree with people’s actions, when you look close enough you can – most of the time – understand their intentions. That makes it difficult.
Levin’s decisions, at first, are motivated by the personal, but you show us that this is inseparable from the larger social questions in the series, such as the corporation’s willingness to make these reversals for money. Tell us about your thinking here.
As the story unfolds, Levin is faced with the key question, whether the end justifies the means. He is faced with this real dilemma and the deeper that he goes down the rabbit hole, the more mind-twisty, complicated, and morally ambiguous the world gets, and that feels very real to me.
So much of the onus is on Andrew Simpson, who plays Levin, and who has starred in both television (The Life and Adventures of Nick Nickleby ) and film (Notes on a Scandal (2006)]. What led you to cast Andrew?
Our character Levin is the kind of guy who is ready to risk everything. He believes that everything is possible and that, against all odds, he will find a way to get his girlfriend back. This naive courage is something central for the story and that’s what we were looking for in the casting process. Someone who is vulnerable and incredibly stubborn at the same time.
We were casting in London with Rose Wicksteed Casting. After having seen tons of young actors, Rose introduced us to Andrew and we knew immediately that he was the right match.
What’s next for Killing All the Flies?
We are currently presenting the concept to different TV stations worldwide and hope that someone will fall in love with it so that the journey goes on.
What’s next for you?
I’m currently writing my first feature film. It’s a young-adult thriller in the guise of an urban fairytale. It’s about an uncommon friendship between a brother and a sister and explores social injustice from a young perspective. In the heart of the story is a girl called Lea. Lea is ready to risk anything for her brother, and she has to learn that there are things outside of her control, and that, most of all, fate doesn’t owe anyone anything.
Thank you for your time, and we look forward to this new film!
Hanna Maria is currently living in Berlin and is represented by Radical Media for commercials, as well as CAA for feature film matters.
Official Credits on the team behind KATF:
Judith Schöll: producer, creator; Alena Jelinek: producer, creator; Hanna Maria Heidrich: Idea, writer, creator, director, associate producer
Tom Ue writes for Film International. His edited collection World Film Locations: Toronto was published by Intellect in April 2014, and he is presently writing a book about the White Messiah in contemporary films and editing the Dictionary of Literary Biography 377: Twenty-First Century British Novelists. Ue is Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Doctoral Fellow and Canadian Centennial Scholar in the Department of English Language and Literature at University College London.