Interview with Filmmaker Eric Rusch (PICTURES OF LEO)

PICTURES OF LEO was the winner of BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY and BEST PERFORMANCES at the January 2020 LGBT Film Festival in Toronto.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Eric Rusch : I had had this idea for a feature length film for many years. I’m not really a filmmaker, so I never thought it would actually get made.

Then in 2017 I studied film acting at the Stockholm University of Dramatic Arts. As a part of the course we were encouraged to make our own short films, just to better understand the whole process of film making. So I dusted off this old idea, started to write the script and worked with preproduction at the same time. It was supposed to be a small and simple project but it kept growing and I had a lot of fun making it.

2. From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you to make this short?

I started writing in August 2018. We shot the whole film for six days in the end of November. I did all the editing and sound mixing during the holidays. Did some pickups and had a first screening in mid January. The film premiered at Wicked Queer: The Boston LGBT Film Festival on March 31st 2019. At that time I knew nothing about color correction, so the first color corrected version was actually screened in Toronto on January 13th 2020.

3. How would you describe your short film in two words!?

Warm, contemplative.

4. What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?

It had to be a zero budget film. So I really depended on the kindness of strangers, as well as of friends and colleagues. Everyone was so helpful and I’m so grateful for that.

While writing the script I realized I needed someone to play the young Nicholas. So I had to find an 18-year-old, who looked like a young version of myself, who could act and who would be willing to kiss another guy on screen. Without pay. I was so happy when I found Oscar through a casting company. If he hadn’t turned up I would have rewritten those scenes completely.

I wanted to shoot a scene in a hospital. I looked everywhere, and a week before shooting it was the only location I still hadn’t found. Then suddenly the manager of a psychiatric ward called and told me they were temporarily closing one whole floor off to paint the walls. It would be empty for a few weeks. We only needed an afternoon. They let us use it for free!

I was determined to do as much work as I could myself. I wrote the script, played the lead, directed and produced the film. I did the casting, location scouting and planning. I also did the cinematography, editing and sound mixing. I watched hundreds of tutorials on YouTube. Not kidding. I had a lot of fun. I certainly learned that good planning is essential. But I will never make a film this way again.

5. What were your initial reactions when watching the audience talking about your film in the feedback video?

This is my first short film so I’m still blown away by the fact that people I don’t even know have seen my film.

I was very happy to see that the film raised some interesting questions, like “who lived the true life and who didn’t” and how Leo’s choices are no less valid given his situation. And “even a country as progressive as Sweden still has those stories” was also something I really wanted to tell.

And who wouldn’t be ridiculously happy when someone likes your film?

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

6. How did you come up with the idea for this short film?

Pictures of Leo is very loosely based on actual events which at the time raised a lot of questions about making life changing choices. To me the film is a love story first of all. And the story about a man rejecting love out of fear for what other people might think has always stayed with me. Also I wanted to try to tell a story where one of the main characters (Leo) is not really in the film.

7. What film have you seen the most in your life?

Probably The Big Lebowski (1998). Or Victor/Victoria (1982).

8. You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway, what are you feelings of the submission platform from a filmmaker’s perspective?

Seeing that this is my first film, I was very happy to find FilmFreeway. I thought I would be googling myself to death. But FilmFreeway made it so much easier to find and choose festivals and submit my film. Quick and simple.

9. What song have you listened to the most times in your life?

Enjoy The Silence by Depeche Mode. Without a doubt.

10. What is next for you? A new film?

I work as an actor, mostly with children theatre. I am on tour right now with a stage musical for really small kids. This summer I will be in a production of Ronia, The Robber’s Daughter at Astrid Lindgren’s World in Vimmerby, Sweden.
My husband Christian Arnold is also an actor and a filmmaker. We love working together. He has written a script that we are planning to make into a short film in the near future.

(Christian made the short film Chricke which was screened at your festival two years ago: https://lgbttorontofilmfestival.com/2018/02/25/short-film-chrickle-7min-sweden-lgbt-experimental/)