Director's Chair: Wim Wenders - 'Pina'
Issue: March 1, 2012

Director's Chair: Wim Wenders - 'Pina'

HOLLYWOOD — German director Wim Wenders has long been ranked as one of the major directors of world cinema, thanks to such diverse and acclaimed films as Paris, Texas, Wings of Desire, Until The End Of The World, The Million Dollar Hotel and the Oscar-nominated Buena Vista Social Club
He’s also likes to push creative boundaries, and did so again on Pina, which captures the brilliantly inventive dance routines of the late German choreographer Pina Bausch, in 3D. 

Here, in an exclusive Post interview, Wenders talks about making the film (which is Oscar-nominated for Best Documentary Feature), his love of post, and why he’s such a big 3D fan.

POST: What was the genesis for this film?
WIM WENDERS: “I saw one of her shows in Venice, back in the mid-eighties, and I was so impressed. Gradually, we became good friends, and I got the idea for a film about her amazing choreography.”

POST: Is it true that you tried and failed to make this film for many years?
WENDERS: “It’s true — for 20 years Pina and I talked about it, after I’d suggested it, and it became this joke between us. She’d ask me about it from time to time, and I’d just say, ‘I don’t know how to make it yet.’ I studied all these dance films, but I still had no idea how to film dance or capture the sheer joy and freedom of Pina’s work. Then I saw U2’s U2-3D in Cannes, and it just hit me — we had to do it in 3D. That was the only way, because dance is all about movement in space, and only 3D can truly capture that physical sensation.”

POST: Then Pina died very suddenly. Did you consider giving up the project?
WENDERS: “Yes, because it was such a shock. She died just two days before we were finally ready to start shooting in 2009. But her dancers and friends and family felt we should go ahead anyway, so we did.”

POST: There are quite a few firsts here — it’s the first 3D art house film, and one of the few 3D European films. Do you feel like a pioneer?
WENDERS: “In a way. It was the first 3D film ever in Germany. When we started making the film back in 2009, 3D was still relatively new, and you couldn’t just go out and rent the camera equipment. So we had to make all the gear ourselves, and my stereographer Alain Derobe custom-made it all. Now you can just go out and rent all sorts of rigs, but we did feel like pioneers. There was no one we could call to discuss it with or get advice.”

POST: What about James Cameron?
WENDERS: (Laughs) “I didn’t have his number, and back then Avatar was still a rumor, and I only saw it much later when I was editing this.”

POST: Dance projects can often be deadly serious, but there’s a surprising amount of humor in this film. Was that always the intention?
WENDERS: “Yes, I thought it was very important to bring out all the comedy in Pina’s work because she was so funny herself. She loved to laugh, and even though we were making it under very serious circumstances as she’d just passed away, we all remembered how she was when her companion and life partner also died very young and suddenly. She didn’t stop working, and did some of her most joyful work during that very sad period. She just channeled all her sorrow and pain into her dance, and she really believed that with dance, she could solve things. 
“We all felt the same way with this. We didn’t want it to drown in sorrow. If we were going to make this film, it should represent that side of Pina. So we got to work and shot several of her pieces on stage first, and then shot at various locations in and around Wuppertal. We did it in three stages, between 2009 and 2010. Then we later added archival footage of Pina.”

POST: Your editor was Toni Froschhammer, who has edited music videos and commercials for you. Tell us about the editing process. Did he visit the set?
WENDERS: “Yes, occasionally, and his assistant was there all the time to organize the material. But during the shoot I realized I was so preoccupied that our plan to have Toni edit simultaneously didn’t work. So once we’d shot the stage pieces, we edited those pieces over five months before starting all the outdoors shoots.”

POST: Wasn’t this his first feature?
WENDERS: “Yes, he’s a musician and brings a great sense of rhythm to his work, which was perfect for this. Editing dance is very much to do with understanding how music and rhythm interact with movement. He’s very fast and a really talented editor, and he loves technology, which was another big advantage since we had to work with software that barely existed. 
“When we were cutting, half our day was spent talking with software developers and what they had to improve, so we could continue editing. We cut on Avid but the software was still a prototype basically. We edited in Berlin, and we didn’t really know how to edit on 3D as no one had ever done it. So we started on monitors where we’d see anaglyph, the red and green method, using anaglyph glasses. That was a real pain in the butt and hurt, and by the end of each day we’d be tired and wasted. So we decided we couldn’t continue like that, and we installed a real state-of-the-art 3D system with two projectors, and linked it to the Avid so we could watch it live. That was very time-consuming to develop. 
“The faster way was to edit, do the cuts on a monitor in 2D, wait a bit, let it render, and then watch it on a nice big screen, 12-feet by 8-feet. That way, we could see the cuts in 3D, and most of the time we realized we had to do it differently, as all the things I knew had worked in 40 years of editing didn’t work in 3D. You had to do different cuts and had to have different priorities. Sometimes a cut works well in 2D because there’s a movement. But movement in 3D isn’t necessarily what pulls you through the cut. So we just had to learn how to cut differently, and we learned by doing it. Eventually, we anticipated how 3D would look, but it took a long time. The edit was the longest ever — a year and a half.”

POST: Do you like the post process? 
WENDERS: “It’s my favorite part. I love editing. During the shoot I always wish I was already editing, and I don’t believe any director who says they love the shoot. It was a fantastic experience, working with all the dancers, but there comes a moment when you just wish the daily grind of shooting was over, without all that anxiety of schedules and so on.”

POST: Did you do all the audio post production in Berlin?
WENDERS: “Most of it. I did some of the pre-mixes at a friend’s studio in Bonn, but he could only mix with a 2D screen. We were basically done when I said, ‘I think we need to see it in 3D and be able to adjust it before we lock it.’ But there was no 3D screening room available, and a facility in Berlin installed 3D for us, with a big mixing console. The plan was to just see it once and maybe make a few minor changes. So we began, and the moment I heard the mix that had been perfect in 2D, I realized it just didn’t work with the 3D image. 
“In 3D your eyes are guided in a very different way, to the point where the two cameras converge — we hadn’t done the same sound convergence. So I began to take the whole mix apart and set out to invent the audio depth we needed. Of course, in audio that doesn’t exist. You can have surround and a great stereo, but nothing that specifies where the sound is in terms of depth. So redoing the mix took a lot of work and time, and our producer almost had a heart attack.” 

POST: As 3D is an all-digital process, did you even need to do a DI?
WENDERS: “Yes, we did one for a mono version for places where they didn’t have 3D available, and we did the DI in Berlin.”

POST: Will you do another 3D film, or was this experience enough?
WENDERS: “The opposite — I’m totally hooked. I can’t go back. I’ve made two short films since this, both in 3D, and I will definitely shoot my next feature in 3D. We’ve only just scratched the surface of what’s possible in 3D, and I really want to explore how you can tell a story. I think a lot of directors want to, but the only one who’s really shown the true possibilities of storytelling — that’s not just action-driven — in 3D is Cameron. I haven’t had a chance to see Hugo yet, and I have very high expectations.”

POST: So is film dead?
WENDERS: “I have a hard time saying it’s completely dead, but I don’t think it’s got much of a future now.”

POST: You’ve done a lot of music projects, including music videos and the blues film Soul Of A Man, Willie Nelson At Teatro and The Million Dollar Hotel, which stars Mel Gibson and was written by U2’s Bono with a soundtrack by U2. Do you have more music projects coming up?
WENDERS: “Buena Vista Social Club started with a very different plan. Ry Cooder and I went to Havana to shoot all these Cuban musicians as well as musicians from Mali, but then the guys from Mali couldn’t get visas. So we ended up just filming the Cubans, and it all just happened by default. And ever since I keep thinking about the guys from Mali who never made it to Havana, so I still have plans to make that film one day. But I’ll have to go to Mali.”

POST: I heard you also wanted to shoot Wagner’s Ring Cycle at Bayreuth in 3D?
WENDERS: “Yes, but it fell apart. The job consisted of staging 16 hours of opera, and I’d have loved to do it. But it’s a four-year cycle, and it was only after a long period of negotiating that I realized the film rights had already been given to TV, so I’d never be able to shoot it myself. So I had to give it up.”

POST: Didn’t you live in Los Angeles for a long time?
WENDERS: “Yes, 15 years, and I loved it. But now I’m back in Berlin, and it’s a great city for artists. I feel very creative there.”