Unlikely heroes

Konstantinos Koutsoliotas and Elizabeth E Schuch on Greek culture, monsters and the making of Minore

by Jennie Kermode


A little film with a lot of heart which still finds room for unspeakable cyclopean monstrosities from the outer realms, Minore is one of the hidden treasures of this year’s Frightfest, and a natural crowd-pleaser. Set in a tiny Greek fishing community, it follows William, a sailor in search of his long lost father, who is welcomed into the local community just as it finds itself – and possibly the world – on the brink of extinction. just before the festival, I met director Konstantinos Koutsoliotas and his producer (and wife) Elizabeth E Schuch for a chat. They were both glowing with excitement about the unexpected success of their work.

“It started with a monster,” explains Elizabeth. “We were at a festival in Greece, showing our very, very first tiny no-budget movie, and we looked out at the beautiful bay and thought, ‘What would happen if a monster rose?’ And from there we started thinking what would happen, who would fight it, what would happen with the government.

“Konstantinos formerly worked in a gym and actually knew a guy who was a bit like our Viking. There's a wonderful revolutionary painter we adore, called Yannis Tsarouchis, and in fact the sailor comes from one of his paintings. He does these iconic paintings of beautiful men, often in sailor costumes, or partial sailor costumes, I should say. And we wanted to pull a character from that really gorgeous visual world and put him in the lead in our movie.”

“Greece today has a lot of different elements,” says Konstantinos. “The Church rules everything sometimes and there's lots of homophobia, you know, so it was nice to try to bring something where it's normal. You can have any kind of people in this taverna. I don't know how Greece will react to it, because it's hardcore for them. In Greece, it's almost a taboo subject to even have a church on the background, and if you see the movie you see what's happening, so imagine how this will go down.” He smiles

I note that there are a lot of different religious elements in there all mixed together, with the Church, the Ancient Greek gods and the thing that comes from the sea. Did it feel natural to bring those elements together, like a folklore thing?

“It's naturally mixed,” he says. “Like all the old sayings about the Greek gods, they haven’t really changed, they’ve just been given different names. It's all Greek.”

“It’s all different phases in the Greek history,” says Elizabeth, “but also you live with a lot of superstition even today, so you can be quite religious, but on the side of that, you're also believing in the evil eye. Where you see the blue eye, you're casting little spells to keep the evil eye off and stuff, and that is not in any way separate to the Christian worship. It’s interesting to see how that blends in everyday real life.”

“My grandmother used to tell me that the woman next door could put a donkey down just by looking at it, with a blue evil eye,” says Konstantinos. That's one of the monsters, you know? We wanted to make a demon kind of thing so we thought ‘What would be the silliest thing to make?’”

“We wanted to bring in some of this, a creature that would address the superstition of the evil eye, so it'll be interesting to see how that how that works,” adds Elizabeth.

“We both work in visual effects,” Konstantinos explains. “Pretty much every genre movie we’ve been working with, it's got a certain formula that has to happen, and we wanted to make something a little bit different that doesn't follow exactly that, so I'm glad you enjoyed it. I’m not sure how it will translate, but we made our own thing.”

I tell him that i think it works very well, especially with the slow build-up which gives us the chance to get to know that characters and feel that something creepy is going on before the action starts.

“I hate when you see, from the very beginning, the monster, and then what do you have to wait for?” he says. “What you can imagine is always so much more horrible than what's actually on screen, you know? And when you see the monster, we actually wanted to make it kind of funny, so it’s not only horror.”

“You always want to have as much practical effects on the set as possible,” says Elizabeth. “We worked with a really wonderful SFX artist in in Athens, Prokopis Vlaseros. He's the best in the country. He and his partner Maria at their make-up studio. They did a wonderful job and we collaborated with them for a while before the shoot so that we knew exactly what was going to be done in the practical and exactly what was going to be done in the VFX after, so that it was something we were enhancing with the effects after it was physical on the set.”

“We had very few days to shoot,” Konstantinos says, “so we storyboarded everything and then we added in camera. So like we knew that okay, this can be practical, then the visual effects will take over here. Luckily most of it works.” He smiles bashfully.

“If you're going to do an action film, try to have more than 25 days,” says Elizabeth.

I mention that there’s a scene in the Taverna where we see the aforementioned eye monsters and lots of different people are leaping around and lashing at them with different weapons. How did they shoot that on such a tight schedule and keep everybody safe?

“With bits,” says Konstantinos. “I showed the storyboards to the actors first. We knew exactly what it was, like 30 seconds here, 30 seconds there. It was the longest thing we shot. It took a day and a half to shoot that sequence. It was lots of fun.”

“We had a stunt advisor,” Elizabeth adds. “The guy who plays the Viking in the film [Igor Gorewicz] was actually our stunt coordinator, so he was helping us arrange how we were going to lift William and how we were going to pull tables away.”

“He’s a true life Viking, by the way,” Konstantinos puts in. “He lives in real life as a Viking.”

“He’s out on campaign right now and living in a field somewhere in Poland,” says Elizabeth.

I note that there's a lot of gore in the film. I ask how that’s likely to go down in Greece, and Konstantinos tells me that nobody there knows what to do with it.

“They've not dealt with this kind of genre before,” Elizabeth explains.

Konstantinos observes that there have been a couple of zombie films made there before, and Elizabeth makes sure that Attack Of The Killer Moussaka is not forgotten.

“It is big,” she says. “And it’s partially an inspiration for this because there's literally a lasagne going down the street, and it's going after people, and honestly, it's a really good, fun night.”

The film feels very Greek, with a very rich cultural presence. How did they weave all of that into the story?

“We were really just ourselves. That’s just how it comes out,” says Konstantinos. “But Elizabeth lives in Greece now as well and she sees it with an outside eye.”

“I come from Wisconsin originally and spent a lot of time abroad, but I'm always going into Greece thinking ‘Okay, what's what's unique here, what's unusual? What's only here that’s nowhere else?’” she says. “He left when he was about 17, so he’s got a very nostalgic point of view. So it's like this childhood-tinged, nostalgic Greece, and I think the two together, it's not exactly accurate modern, on trend Greece, but there's something about it that evokes a classic, lost Greece in a way.”

It’s not quite real life, they conclude, but a modified version of it – though they agree that some characters resemble certain relatives of his.

“Everything is like, those are people that we know. It's grounded in our life,” he says, and explains that they weren’t worried about overwhelming viewers with too many characters because as long as their humanity came across, it didn’t seem necessary to fit in full backstories for everyone.

“We really want you to feel like you care about these characters so that when we take them to the ending, and you don’t know if we're going to lose them or not, you've got a stake in it,” says Elizabeth. “We wanted you to give you enough so that you could care. We knew it was risky to spend so much time building that up, but it felt so right.”

We discuss their favourite parts of the shoot.

“There's a scene where a monster attacks a particular character, and let's just say it's a life and limb ripping situation – very, very gory,” says Elizabeth. “It was absolutely all hands on deck. The person is having an effect done to them. The cameras are working hard to get it. We're only going to have one take, or maybe two if we’re lucky. And you know, the actor's doing his best. The other actors are just screaming their heads off in reaction. And there's about four or five of us on the ground from the art department, from the make-up team, from the effects team, and we’re all just throwing the slime at the same time. Trying not to get our hands in the shot. I think the moments that were covered in slime and/or blood were definitely the most fun moments. I'm squeamish when I'm watching movies, but if I'm on set, I'm the first one going like ‘Bring more slime!’” She laughs.

They’re both very excited about the film making it to Frightfest.

“It’s one of those festivals that’s legendary,” Elizabeth says. “You've always heard of it. You've always wanted your film to maybe be good enough to get in. We're super, super thrilled to go...”

“... and show audiences our tiny Greek film, which almost nobody knows about,” Konstantinos finishes her sentence. “We’re super honoured.”

I tell them that I think the film is probably going to acquire a certain legendary status as well. How are they going to follow it up? They tell me that if they end up going back to Greece, they have a crazy movie idea which they want to pursue there, but for the meantime, they’re based in Canada.

“We have a script idea we want to do in Canada that's a little more contained,” Elizabeth says. This was sprawling. But yeah, it's going to be me in charge of that one. It'll be a female driven plot and very gory and fun and silly and glittery, but very contained. But when we decide to go back to Greece, we have the story ready.”

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