Peter Zeitlinger Poster


Jump to: Overview (2)  | Mini Bio (1)  | Family (1)  | Personal Quotes (9)

Overview (2)

Born in Prague, Czechoslovakia [now Czech Republic]
Height 6' (1.83 m)

Mini Bio (1)

Peter Zeitlinger is an accomplished filmmaker whose career encompasses cinematography, directing, producing, writing and editing. Zeitlinger has worked with Werner Herzog since 1995 when he was director of photography on the director's documentary Death For Five Voices. That film began an intensive collaboration that has yielded such documentaries as Little Dieter Needs To Fly, My Best Fiend, Wheel of Time, and Grizzly Man as well as the drama Bad Lieutenant and Rescue Dawn. His work has garnered a lot of awards and nominations.

Childhood: Peter Zeitlinger was born in Prague. Due to the turbulence during the Soviet occupation in 68 and the political instability he left the country with his mother and moved to the neighboring and neutral country of Austria. Not even 10 years old young Zeitlinger had to learn a new mother tongue. Being forced to express himself in a new way, he started painting and sketching a lot.

At the age of thirteen Zeitlinger discovered the possibility of making images move. A friend's father had an 8mm camera and kept it in his gynecologist's practice. When during the heights of puberty he and his friend secretly observed the gynecologist at work, they discovered the camera. During the night he would sneak into the practice and borrow the camera. For many nights he used the operating light in the practice and worked on his own animated films before he sneaked out of the practice at the crack of dawn. One night he was discovered by his friend's father but strangely enough he was not told off! Instead, the wealthy doctor was so deeply moved by the animated films that he gave his camera to the "poor refugees' child". Now it became possible for Zeitlinger to work in the outside world during the daytime. For one of his first films "We Walked" he was awarded a youth film festival prize and was given a camera with zoom and audio recording features. That was when filming really lifted off. Until he was accepted at the Academy for Film he had produced a good 70 short or animated films. His first animated film "Der Geburtstag" (The Birthday) was his ticket to university, because being a taciturn person he otherwise would not have survived amongst all the talkative chatter boxes.

During university studies Michael Snow and Peter Kubelka became his admired and most influential teachers. Zeitlinger had been impressed by Kubelkas all-encompassing concept of art. Kubelka introduced him to the interrelations between music, cooking and film making. All of these three forms of expressing life obey the same rules: composing (i.e. montage, composition) and perceptions in the course of time (dramatic plot). In addition to the courses at the academy Zeitlinger also attended lectures about aesthetics by Lachmayer and ethics by Prof Mader who read at the Vienna philosophical institute. He also studied Management of Arts under Jungblut and Dieter Ronte trying to graduate as an MA. The theoretical essays by Zeitlinger, first published in the University newsletter brought about a remarkable uproar amongst his teachers, because in "Abschaffung der Montage" (Abolishing Montage), which was based on profound philosophical knowledge, Zeitlinger meticulously managed to proof that a "Filmgrammatik" (Grammar of Films) does not exist. Although he was not enrolled in directing it was the lecturers from the directing department (A. Stummer and A. Corti) who strongly spoke out in favor of him being admitted to the exams, which were quite threatened at the time. Zeitlinger graduated with excellency.

During his university years he had already written a number of scripts. One of the scripts co-written with Erhard Riedlsperger was "Tunnelkind" (Tunnel Child). The film is set at the Czech-Austrian border where the Iron Curtain was erected during the late 60s. Borders and marginalization are recurring topics in his work. Although many of the films he had produced during his university years were awarded several prizes it was due to the highly bureaucratic structures in Austria that it first seemed impossible for a young graduate from university to work as a Director of Photography (DOP). Normally, years of assistance and begging were to be endured first. After a debate sparked off by Zeitlinger the directorate of the film institute decided to allow an exception to the rule: for the first time a first-time director was allowed to select the DOP of his choice, for his first full-length film. The media, as well as the film business and the fellow students were keen to observe the making of this film at the Czech-Austrian border. On a daily basis the latest shots were assessed by a committee even before the director or the DOP had seen them, and the committee then had to grant permission to continue with the project. An experienced replacement crew was kept on call to take over, in case the project would fail. After one week at work the replacement crew was sent home. A little later the film was invited to the International Berlin Filmfestival. The film tells the story of a little girl who manages to convince the chief builder at a construction site for the electric fence to build the fence above a secret tunnel in order to leave an escape into freedom. During the production of Tunnelkind the Iron Curtain for Czechoslovakia was abolished. Reality seemed to catch up with fiction. The Berlin Film Festival was also dominated by the liberalization of the communist countries and the film was applauded as dealing marvelously with current affairs.

After Werner Herzog watched Zeitlinger's outstanding hand held camera work in Ulrich Seidls "Prepared for losses", Herzog hired him for the documentary "Death for Five Voices" which immediately won the Prix d Italia. Zeitlinger has been Herzogs favorite DP since that time. They worked together on the Hollywood Production Rescue Dawn which is released by MGM. His meticulous attention to detail and the whole context, his unique visual style of the camera movements added immeasurably to the quality of the film. In 2006 he and Werner Herzog were selected for the US-Antarctic Programm by the US National Science Foundation as writer and artist for "Encounters at the End of the World" which was later nominated for the Academy Award.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Bryan Hillman 2008

Family (1)

Spouse Silvia Zeitlinger Vas (? - present)

Personal Quotes (9)

[on his collaboration with director Werner Herzog] I have been introduced to Werner in the early nineties by my friend Ulrich Seidl, an Austrian director with whom I worked on Losses to Be Expected (1993), The Last Real Men (1994), Pictures at an Exhibition (1996) and Animal Love (1996). Werner is a director who thinks in terms of an inner vision. What he does is setting the general mood, the atmosphere of the film: he creates a scenery by bringing together human beings, animals and whatever else he needs for the story into a space of his choice. He doesn't give "directions" in the traditional sense. He does not tell actors and extras how to create their characters. He simply talks about the things that move him, what is interesting to him and why he is doing the movie, so that a deeper understanding is spread around the set. As far as my job is concerned, Werner and I do not talk much. Actually, he does not talk to me about the film at all. [Laughter] He just tells me: "Read the script, and then you will know what we will do". This is because, as a matter of principle, he never discusses aesthetics and how a film should look. These things are so boring for him, he really hates them. So, when we are shooting, he never tells me "Do a close-up, do a long shot, frame this or that, move the camera here and there." He gives me the freedom to navigate through the scenery he created and capture what I think is important. This freedom is a little frightening but, ultimately, it is what I like most. It is what keeps me interested in working with Werner after all these years.(...)He is always the co-producer of his films, so every big decision goes through his head as well. That said, I decide 90% of framing and camera movement. Werner intervenes only when he gets the feeling that I am doing something too "artistic." If he sees too much sophistication in the shot, he destroys it: not only he hates to talk about aesthetics, he also hates aesthetics in films, so whatever "formal elegance" you might see in his movies has been sneaked in against his will, or it just somehow happened in front of the camera.(...)You must understand that any framing will always be too small for Werner. He simply does not think in "little images." For instance, he is not a director who can imagine a montage like "I see this face, then I see this foot, then I see this hand, then I see the sky." He does not want to break a scene into pieces, single shots that will be later assembled in the editing room to create the impression of a space-time continuum. In his mind, he sees the bigger picture, the scene as a whole: that is why he doesn't like to cut. However, the imago, "the image of the whole," can never be fully achieved in cinema. So my job is to "cut out" a portion of the scenery Werner created in order to present the substance of his vision on the screen. I would say that our work as filmmakers has a lot to do with poetry: you see, in German the word "poetry" [dichtung] comes from the verb "dichten," which means "to compress." There is some truth in etymology, sometimes. [2015]
In both documentary and fiction films, I see the world as it is and the mechanics behind it, but I have to condense reality into images, into scenes. I have to transform reality into events on the screen, because "life as it is" is just very, very boring: there's no tension, there's no rhythm, there are too many empty moments.[2015]
[shooting Queen of the Desert (2015)] The shoot was divided into three distinct phases, so my working day wasn't always the same. In the first phase, we did all these marvelous shots in the desert, with the wind and the snow. It was a very "documentary style" kind of shoot. We didn't have the main actors on board yet: we only had the supporting actors, and Silvia, my wife, was riding the camel as a stunt double for Mrs. Kidman. There also were some days in which we hanged around doing nothing, just sorting out and preparing the equipment. During one of these "quiet days," a sandstorm came out of the blue, and Werner of course said: "Come on, let's go out and shoot!" So we grabbed the equipment and filmed for a few hours in the sandstorm. After that, we spent a lot of hours cleaning the sand from the lenses, the cameras and all the equipment. In the second phase, we had all the main actors on board, and this was quite a "regular" kind of shoot on location. Contrary to the first phase, we had a detailed daily schedule listing the scenes to shoot in the desert. However, as it always happens when there is a schedule, Werner kept changing things at the very last moment, in order to somehow disturb the actors and the crew. You see, when you are shooting every day, it becomes a routine, even if you are immersed into the most wonderful, unique natural landscape. So Werner was modifying the schedule over and over to keep us on our toes. It was a constant reminder: we were not on holidays, everybody had to be always alert and get new ideas. The third phase was the most "professional" part of the shooting. We were working in England, with a huge English crew, and we found ourselves confronted with this very strict department system in which every person does just one small part of the job.(...) The film editor Joe Bini was also with us: during the day, while we were out shooting, he was assembling the scenes from the previous day, so in the evening, or in the morning of the next day at the latest, we could see a first edit. What digital technology allows us to do nowadays is great: we get a quick feedback, and we save time and money.[2015]
I like it when there is a flow between the movements of the actors, the movement of the camera, and the dialogue exchanges: it is almost like a ballet.[2015]
As a director, Werner tries to provoke a natural randomness, because he is looking for all the little details and mistakes that can create the feeling of a bigger world. It is the same for me: for instance, if it's in the right moment, even an ugly lens flare can be incorporated in the flow of the film, to give you the feeling that you are looking into a real world instead of into something perfectly clean, sterilized, glossy. I would say that controlled randomness is the key: that's why sometimes I call my work "surfing on incidents."[2015]
As you can see in Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2010), Werner usually works with his hardcore crew made of very few people doing everything: we are multifunctional, so whenever something needs to be done, we do it ourselves. We really like to work in such a chaotic and anarchic way. It is good for Werner's projects.[2015]
[on creating a magical reality in fiction] The crowd scene of the marketplace in Queen of the Desert (2015) might be a good example. Firstly, the space: the scene was shot on location, in a historical place in Morocco partially-reconstructed by production designer Ulrich Bergfelder. Secondly, the extras and the objects in the space: Werner hired real craftsmen and had them perform the tasks they normally do in real life. Thus, in the bazaar depicted in "Queen of the Desert", there are no extras hammering a stone completely meaninglessly in the background, just to create any movement in the frame: when you see a man with a hammer, you can be sure that he is really creating something in that particular moment - a piece of jewelry, a pan, horseshoes, anything. Similarly, the smoke you see in the air does not come from a smoke-machine, as it does in most films. Real meat was put on burning charcoal, and its smell filled the air. After everything was arranged with the location and the extras, as the last moment, Werner introduced the main actors in the bazaar and had them interfere with the environment. You see, he always provokes things: he brings obstacles, so that the actors are faced with something they do not like. Method actors - especially American actors - love to take the obstacles into their characters, while other actors simply stop acting when they feel disturbed: "I can't walk here because there is this chair," and things like that. So, in front of me there was the magical reality of the bazaar, a scenery that is constructed but nevertheless contains real life.[2015]
[on why he prefers the long take] A cut always means something, an action is finished, another action begins, and when they are connected through montage, then a certain meaning is created. But it is possible to have both actions in a continuous shot, too, and then it becomes much more intense and truthful. For me every cut is a lie and a betrayal of the audience. I believe that an unedited sequence shot is much more intense for an audience. With editing you can always combine the best moments, but you trick the audience. If a long sequence works, then it's much more powerful - but it's harder to achieve.[translated, 2012]
[on creating authenticity through long takes in both fiction and documentary] Animal Love (1996) and Losses to Be Expected (1993) are extreme examples of a documentary cinema that tries to reach authenticity through completely directed and stylized scenes. The authenticity is then created through the absence of editing.[translated, 2012]

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