Matthias Hoene has had a love of films since the days of VHS rental stores. He pursued this passion by studying at Central St. Martins and then transitioning into commercials and music videos. Hoene made the jump to feature length films by writing and directing Cockneys vs Zombies. Hoene’s latest film is an action-adventure martial arts fantasy called, Enter The Warriors Gate. Wanting to learn more about his newest film and his career, Hoene allowed me to interview him for ScifiPulse.
Nicholas Yanes: Growing up, what were some of the movies and shows that caused you to fall in love with filmmaking?
Matthias Hoene: I was inspired by my bi-weekly trips to my local VHS rental store the ‘Videodrome’ in Berlin. There I got into obscure Eastern European stop motion by Jan Svankmayer, discovered Japanese Anime, French arthouse like Delicatessen, New Zealand arthouse like Braindead and Hong Kong action cinema like Tsui Hark’s A Chinese Ghost Story, Zhang Ymou’s Hero and The 36th Chambre of Shaolin.
I was also into fantasy role playing games and started illustrating covers for local fanzines and games, before getting curious about how to make those images move.
Yanes: On this note, when did you know you wanted to have a career in cinema production? Do you think there was a specific movie that pushed you in this direction?
Hoene: I was doing everything on my first shorts and music videos: Writing, directing, cinematography, acting, editing and sound design and I always loved all the different aspects of the process. But I like having a hand in shaping the tone and overall feel of a project and decided very early on that I would only direct and with that mantra I worked my way up.
Yanes: I couldn’t find much information about your education. Did you specifically go to school to learn about film making? If not, how did you learn?
Hoene: I started as an illustrator for some small German fantasy role playing games like Der Ruf Des Warlocks. I was fascinated by the worlds that filmmakers where creating, but having grown up in a family of scientists with literally no connections to anyone working in film it was only at St. Martins College in London that I found fellow filmmakers and was inspired to pick up my first Super 8 cameras and make those pictures move.
Yanes: You mainly began your film career by making commercials. What are some of the key ways producing commercials have prepare you to make feature length movies?
Hoene: Commercials give you a technical experience and ease on set that is helpful when making the switch to films. But the storytelling in commercials is mostly done in 10-20 shots, and in films it’s not about shots but all about the scenes. It’s the difference between a sprint and a marathon. That said, I also did not want to make the switch into films only to be doing a horror sequel, so I tried the hard way and developed my own original story Cockneys vs Zombies which incidentally might soon find itself serialized on TV as Cockneys vs Zombies ETC. I’ll leave you to guess what the ‘etc’ stand for.
Yanes: What attracted you to Enter The Warriors Gate? Was there something in the script that specifically resonated for you?
Hoene: Ever since I managed to get a yellow belt in Ninjutsu, I always wanted to make a martial arts movie, but I thought that only two Western producers would be credible enough to do it with: Quentin Tarantino and Luc Besson. You can imagine my excitement when I received the script with Luc’s and Robert Kamen’s name on the coverpage. When I started reading I fell in love with the innocent 90ties throwback vibes, the easy going humour, the big archetypal characters, the beautiful fantasy setting and the action.
Yanes: When you began developing the look for the movie and its action sequences, were there any movies you paid homage to?
Hoene: I was thinking of the old Amblin classics like E.T. for the escapist feeling. Of course The Last Starfighter sprung to mind. The wizard character is inspired by the wizard in Sword in the Stone as well as Fizban in the Dragonlance books by Margaret Weiss and Tracy Hickman. For the Asian part I was vibing on Hero, House of Flying Daggers and all those millions of 1980s Ninja movies I watched and forgot all the names off. Tonally Pirates of the Caribbean was also a touchstone for fun, quirky action adventure.
Yanes: In addition to Enter The Warriors Gate being shot in China and Canada, it was also produced by Chinese and French companies. How did these international impact the film? Specifically, do you think this will help the film do better globally?
Hoene: I feel it’s exciting that a German director, who was born in Singapore and lives in London can work together with a French producer, American writer, Chinese, French and Canadian crew and actors from all over the world. It’s good for the exchange of ideas and it’s good for the art of filmmaking. Currently there is a lively discussion about casting more internationally and telling local stories with a global appeal. I think we’re all still trying to figure out if it is possible to make films with global appeal that are not made in Hollywood, but I hope it is possible because it’ll help everyone tell fresher stories. With that in mind I encourage everyone to watch the excellent films that Nini, Mark Chao, Francis NG and Kara Wai have stared in and spread the word so Asian cinema becomes more established in the West and we can continue the dialogue.
Yanes: Reflecting on Enter The Warriors Gate, how do you think you’ve improved as a director? Was there a specific scene that unexpectedly pushed you to better yourself?
Hoene: Haha, being a director is the most humbling experience you can imagine, and every film pushes you in a lot of directions. This particular film was a virgin journey for the team at Europacorp. Working with a cast and crew from Europe, America and China was much more complicated in terms of communication, which matters when you are trying to put together a period fantasy action adventure and every piece of direction needs to be spot on. Luckily our jolly team of French/Chinese artisans got used to the little sketches and annotated photos I would do on my phone to make sure everything I said, even when translated twice, was straightforward and unambiguous. Working with Luc Besson during prep and edit was great too, he’s a legend and every time he talks you can get a nugget of wisdom out of him. I am very happy with how the film turned out and it certainly has prepared me for shooting huge setups and scenes.
Yanes: When people finish watching Enter The Warriors Gate, what do you hope that they take away from the movie?
Hoene: Enter The Warriors Gate is a 1990s throwback family adventure. It wears its heart on it’s sleeve and hopefully makes you remember the kind of 1980s and 1990s escapist cinema. It’s a traditional Karate Kid type story of a bullied kid who learns to trust his instincts in order to become confident and strong.
Yanes: Finally, what are some other projects you are working on that people can look forward to?
Hoene: I am working on an R-rated car chase movie called ‘Accelerator’, a science fiction film called ‘Capsule’ with Fox, a smaller character driven horror film and a couple of TV projects.