Interview With ‘Luz’ Director Tilman Singer

In 2018, there was one movie that caught my eye. Euro-horror Luz is an impressive gem of a film whose reputation started out small, only to grow with every screening and word of mouth. I can tell you, it was well worth the wait. When filmmaker Tilman Singer set out to make his art school senior thesis, he hadn’t even dreamed his possession supernatural thriller would garner the success that it has. Quickly securing distribution and showing all over the world, Singer has proven that Luz is the little film that could. And boy, it sure has. I was lucky enough to speak with Tilman, and we discussed Luz, his dream project, and, of course, horror movies.

PopHorror: I read that Luz was your thesis project for art school, as well as your first feature.

Tilman Singer: That is correct.

PopHorror: How did it feel to have it play at Fantastic Fest and other prestigious festivals, and to have so quickly acquired distribution?

Tilman Singer: Honestly, it’s really hard to answer. It’s really overwhelming. We really did not think it would go this far. I thought maybe it would play one or two festivals at least. And it was crazy. I can’t even describe how happy I am. At the same time, you always try to be cool, think about the next project. Okay, everything is going great, so something horrible is about to happen. 

PopHorror: Oh, no! I can imagine it’s overwhelming.

Tilman Singer: Definitely.

PopHorror: How did you come up with the idea for the film?

Tilman Singer: It’s a bit hard to remember, but I remember basically, the initial thought was that I want to do a longer movie for my thesis. First of all, I thought about a 30 minute story or something, and I was researching police sketch artistry… the people that sketch wanted people and stuff like that. No good story came of it, or at least no story that I felt like we could produce with the budget we had. But during research for this, I stumbled over interrogation techniques and in the end, hypnosis. That felt very cinematic, and I could exploit the sound and image at the same time. I think, initially, I came up with the long scene with the hypnosis session, and then I constructed everything around that. 

PopHorror: That’s really cool. Would you ever be willing to be hypnotized?

Tilman Singer: I would, and I tried. Honestly, I tried really hard in pre-production. It wasn’t long. I wrote this in early 2017, and we shot in summer. It was really hard to get funded because we needed this kind of state funding for thesis films. There were state programs, and we got it, but I was occupied with this. At the same, I was reaching out to psychologists to maybe get myself hypnotized, and it didn’t work out, but I talked to people that had it done to them, and I even talked to a therapist that uses it frequently. So, that’s all I could get at that time, and unfortunately, it never happened. But I would love to do it.

PopHorror: I’ve never done it, and the thought of it scares me.

Tilman Singer: It’s really scary, and it’s manipulative. That’s also why it’s not good for interrogations or questions. Interrogation, not at all but for questioning, I read that even institutions like the FBI use it or maybe are using it. I was very unsure, but I actually landed on some official FBI website that described their techniques. But it’s so weird. When you question somebody to get more precise information than they may remember, every little piece you give them creates some sort of transreality for them, and, of course, this is the basis of what happens in the film. It’s very scary.

PopHorror: Where was Luz filmed, and how long did it take?

Tilman Singer: We shot it in Cologne, Germany. That’s where my art school is, which is also not a film school, but it has its own department. It’s more of a media arts school. We shot it in 18 days, I think. Very fast. We didn’t have many resources, so we really had to stick to a tight schedule. And then, in the middle of the shoot, our main set that we wanted to film at just had a massive water leak. The pipes leaked or something, and there was sewage everywhere, so we couldn’t shoot there. That forced us to take a break for three days while we figured out a different location, which, in the end, worked great. I think it was being very lucky while being unlucky. 

PopHorror: It’s weird how those things work out sometimes. 

Tilman Singer: When you’re doing movies, you just get used to something always happening. Something’s always going wrong, and there’s not much more you can do, but try to be productive, and fix it. But that also leads to great creative decisions, so I don’t mind. 

PopHorror: Did you always know that you wanted to be a filmmaker?

Tilman Singer: No, not really. I kind of discovered, or rediscovered, my love for cinema when I was in art school, actually. I applied for the school for animation, stop motion animation, and experimental video things. Before that, I did some youth amateurish theater for awhile. My brother is an actor. A theater actor really, actually. I kind of wanted to become one too, and then right before going through the process of going around to schools and audition, right before that, I thought, “Nah, this might not be the right thing for me.” There’s very little control of the time in being an actor, and I would really like to be in control of what I do. Also, [I’ve been into] music since I was a kid, basically. It sounded like a good thing to combine all of that. Music and acting, visual arts… and so I thought I’d go and do video art. The film department at the school was so much fun. It’s a small school, but the department was kind of big for the school, so I just got really lost in there. They taught me how to shoot on film. It was so joyful and fulfilling that I stuck to it and didn’t do much else.

PopHorror: It’s amazing how sometimes you just find what fits right for you when you’re not really looking for it. If you weren’t making films right now, what do you think you would be doing?

Tilman Singer: Wow, I do not know. I think maybe… that’s really hard to answer. Maybe I would do some other art? I remember before I went to that school, I already did some advertisement stuff, stop motion films that were really fun. I felt that it was really necessary to take my time, and study or develop something over a couple of years, because I didn’t want to enter just the advertisement market. I think, probably, I would do this and not be really, really happy.

PopHorror: If you could collaborate with anyone, living or dead, who would it be?

Tilman Singer: Okay. Wow. Nobody has ever asked me that. Who would it be… okay. It would be some actor that I probably… I remember I was really, really sad when Harry Dean Stanton passed away. I love him so much, and I thought that, if I’m fast enough, and he’s in so many independent productions, and he’s such a great guy, that it might be possible to work with him one day. And yeah, I didn’t get the chance. I very much love him. I think that would be my answer.

PopHorror: That’s a great answer. He was very versatile and talented and had an amazing career. Great answer.

Tilman Singer: Oh, my God. Yeah. This guy. 

PopHorror: What are you working on currently?

Tilman Singer: I wrote a new story. It’s fun, and it goes in a similar direction. I don’t want to tell too much right now, but it’s going to be a real evolution of what I worked on with Luz. I don’t really know if my movies are scary. To some, they’re scary. To me, they’re not really scary. They’re more atmospheric and maybe tense. To me, they’re more emotional. I tried to concentrate on that a little more.

 PopHorror: I have to say that it was very tense. 

Tilman Singer: Nothing gets really worked out in the movie, but it’s somehow cathartic, and I don’t know where it comes from for me. I call it a supernatural thriller.

PopHorror: Yes, I agree. What were some of the films you watched growing up that helped you ignite your passion?

Tilman Singer: If I were to think of milestones for me getting really passionate, I would say definitely something like Jurassic Park was really, really important to me when I was a child. And then, growing up, I discovered that it’s actually a really, really good movie. I think it’s a mixture of genre films and art house films, I’d say. I don’t like the words “art house,” but I don’t know how to say it differently. I think those were really important to me growing up. I remember when I started in art school, I was really, really frustrated by the contemporary cinema. I really hated most things. And then, for example, I watched the film from Quentin Dupieux, Rubber. Do you know this film? About the killer tire? The meta film?

PopHorror: I do not.

Tilman Singer: It’s about a tire that comes to life. It’s also very meta. But it’s great. I recommend you watch it, it’s fun. It’s a lot of fun. Also, I remember watching, when I was just fresh in art school, Beyond the Black Rainbow from ?Panos Cosmatos, and that also meant a lot to me, because I was like, “Oh, okay. There are contemporary filmmakers that are overthinking the whole art form, and maybe just don’t have a perfect screen space to express themselves so vividly in a different style.” So that was really important to me. 

PopHorror: And one last question… What’s your favorite scary movie?

Tilman Singer: My favorite scary movie is The Thing by John Carpenter. It’s hard to pick favorites, but this is one that comes to mind. Scary movie, straight up horror film. It’s a very good film. 

Thank you so much to Tilman Singer for taking the time, and be sure to check out Luz, which was released in the US on July 19, 2019.

About Tiffany Blem

Horror lover, dog mommy, book worm, EIC of PopHorror.

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