Vsetín cinema Vatra’s golden times are long over. The last time it sold out was two years ago and the only guaranteed blockbuster is Harry Potter. When the film Modrý mauritius (Blue Mauritius) was screened at the end of June, though, the capacity of the cinema did not suffice and many viewers had to watch the film standing up. The film was made by local fourth-year secondary students. And even though none of the students knew anything about cinematography, they managed to fill the local cinema and made it into the pages of a national newspaper after 10 months of intensive work.
A British aristocrat is celebrating his birthday at his estate and he shows off his treasure – the famous Blue Mauritius stamp – to his friends. He is murdered soon after, but the stamp surprisingly stays in the safe. British detectives are joined by an idiosyncratic Russian detective who solves the case and catches the offender. The plot was created during one of the first September math classes when the classmates exchanged pieces of paper onto which they wrote words they thought should be used in a movie they made up on the spot out of boredom. One of them then took six words home (Blue Mauritius, stamp robbery, Great Britain) with a clear mission to write a script that would contain them.
They succeeded and, unlike to professional film crews who complain about insufficient of finances, the Vsetín students managed to balance their budget immediately after opening night. The shooting cost CZK 9,000, which they borrowed from friends and earned at seasonal jobs at South Moravian vineyards. Their expenses returned during the opening night based on a voluntary entrance fee, and they even had CZK 1,000 left over for an after party. Friends and classmates took up the roles for free, costumes and props were searched for around the flats of relatives. Grandparents of one of the students leave their house in Valašská Bystřica for the winter, and so the young filmmakers turned it into a studio.
An almost 80-minute-long film does cannot hide the fact that it is home made, but some of the actors show skill acquired in the school theatre group. They used an amateur digital camera they borrowed from a father of one of the students. “We managed the lighting by using flashlights or diodes attached to an old broom stick. Some of the scenes were recorded on the camera’s microphone, some had to be post-produced in a scouts’ hall or outside on a hill to record the natural surrounding sounds of singing birds,” says Zdeněk Škrott, scriptwriter and director.
The outside scenes were shot in the castle park in Kroměříž, in Vsetín park or at a cottage house in Štramberk. They did not need official permits. “We asked the lady behind the ticket counter whether we could shoot in the train station hall in Jablůnka. She agreed and soon after there was a surrounding group of excited onlookers,” the 19-year-old director recalls.
No love scene?
Their enthusiasm outbalanced the fact that no one in the crew had any filming experience. Cameraman Tomáš Zajíček only visits the cinema when he must as part of his school courses. Scriptwriter and director Zdeněk Škrott occasionally attends film Mondays at Vatra when they show the classics. The first script he ever held in his hands was his own. “When we let the actors play the first scenes for the first time I realised that this is not what a film looks like. The scenes must follow one another fast and the dialogues must be as short as possible,” Škrott says.
Classmates Zdeněk and Tomáš came upon the world of cinema for the first time in a roundabout way two years ago. They were supposed to prepare a presentation on mechanical oscillator for the Physics class. They did not want it to be boring and so they shot a short documentary about the springs and pendulums. “It was funny and so I decided to definitely join them in their next project,” says Vít Ludva, the main character cast who is likely to go study political sciences in Brno this year. “What was the most difficult was to arrange for the ten people to meet at the agreed time and agreed place,” says Zajíček who is getting ready to study dentistry in Olomouc.
The excited visitors of the premiere who bought some 100 DVDs of the film on the spot complained about just one thing: There was no romantic subplot. The only actress, playing the role of the philatelists’ maid, urged the director to let her fall in love with the detective and act in a love scene but he was uncompromising. “Women do not fit in the environment of philatelists and policemen. And I’m not sure I’d be able to write it well,” says Škrott, admitting to the limits of their work. Škrott will start studying molecular and cellular biology in Olomouc.
Nobody from the crew has yet said the words “next feature” out loud but some of the details of their common future are clear. “Ivan Trojan, Tom Hanks and Alejandro González Iñárritu,” Škrott lists the names of actors he would like to work with.