Meet the Filmmaker: Axel Ranisch (“Heavy Girls”)

Axel Ranisch sat down with Rooftop Films to discuss his feature film debut, Heavy Girls. A hit at Slamdance this year, Heavy Girls centers on Sven (Heiko Pinkowski) and his mother Edeltraut (Ruth Bickelhaupt) and his unothodox and complicated relationship with her caretaker Daniel (Peter Trabner). With only a mini DV camera, a very low budget and no crew, Heavy Girls touches on issues of family, friendship, love, freedom, pain, joy and possibilities with charm, grace and a whole lot of quirkiness.

Heavy Girls screens on Wednesday, May 23 on the lawn of Automotive High School in Williamsburg.

Rooftop Films: How did you come up with the original concept for Heavy Girls?
Axel Ranisch: After writing a screenplay for my diploma film “10 meters” for a broadcast station with a big production company which takes more than 4 years without shooting because whether the broadcast station nor the  production company accepted the final versions, I was so frustrated that I wanted to shoot a film the way I like. I am not that patient. So I sat down wrote 6 pages of a simple story which I could produce and realize by myself and with my friends’ help. A story about love, loneliness and the lost of a beloved people; 3 universal themes that touches me. That’s was the beginning of Heavy Girls.

RF: Ruth Bickelhaupt is absolutely delightful as Edeltraut. Tell us how you chose to cast her and the process of filming with her.
AR: Finding Ruth Bickelhaupt wasn’t that difficult, she is my grandmother, I know her for ages. I always wanted to shoot a film with her because I love her so much and I admire her young spirit. When we were shooting she was 89 years old, now she is 90 years and it was the biggest fun ever to shoot with her, for me and her.  And it wasn’t difficult to convince her because she trusts me and my work.

RF: What was one major obstacle you faced when filming.
AR: There were no major obstacles when filming. There were only me and my cast on set. Me behind the camera, the cast in front. I stand behind the camera with the microphone on the camera and a microphone cable around me. When I moved, the microphone always makes some strange noises like “PLOPP” that was one major obstacles because the sound designer had to cut all the PLOPPs in the postproduction.

RF: What made you choose the title Heavy Girls for the film?
AR: That’s also a really funny story. When we shot the scene at the lake, Heiko’s son Paul (Leo Marquardt) was with us. When the two men run around, Paul said “You both look like two “dicke mädchen” which in German it means “Heavy Girls”. I liked it so much that is now the title of the film.

RF: What are your future plans for the film?
AR: I founded with my film family, Heiko Pinkowski (actor), Dennis Pauls (cinematographer) and Anne Baeker (producer) a film company called “Sehr gute Filme” what means “Very Good Movies” so Heavy Girls is the first Very Good Movie and many will follow. We like to produce films in our special way and hope we will have success with it.

RF: What are some of your up-and-coming projects?
AR: We nearly finished a fairy tale called “Reuber” which tells the story of a young boy who has to change the body with a magician in the woods to find again his lost sister. But he finds more in the wood…My grandmother Ruth Bickelhaupt is again part of the cast, she plays a fairy, Heiko Pinkowski as lovely villain and Peter Trabner as a magician. The leading role is played by my nephew Tadeaus Ranisch. Again a very family film.

Another project is “10 Meters”. We start to shoot the coming of age story in the summer of this year. That is by the way the reason I can’t be with you at the screening in New York because  of the beginning of pre-production. “10 Meters” tells a father-son conflict in the environment of water tower jumping which is a little bit autobiographical.

An then we have thousands of other ideas which we want to realize.