In the short film “Goodbye Vesna”, you are following Vesna, a grumpy immigrant cleaning woman, on her journey to find happiness on her own terms. As part of his graduate thesis work with the Directing Class of the American Film Institute (AFI), Cristian Sulser wrote and directed “Goodbye Vesna”–but not without challenges for the small student production.
Shooting locations, developing truthful characters and finding the right cast, were the most important corner stones for Sulser and his crew of AFI fellows.
“The script is the most important piece in any movie production puzzle. It took us quite some time to develop a funny, but also emotional, story that sends out a strong message.” Sulser says. “I believe that storytelling is a way of showing an audience a point of view that they haven’t experienced themselves. The hero or the heroine represents our own struggles in life, and we as an audience want to know how they manage.”
Watching the film, you notice that the film crew was able to collect shots from many different locations – unusual for a short film production. Sulser shot the whole movie in nine different locations in Los Angeles over a time of six days, managing to make the scenery cover New York, Spain and Romania. Finding the fictitious “Manhattan Trust Bank” presented the biggest challenge for the team.
“It is hard for a small student production to get affordable shooting locations in L.A. But I knew that I needed a grand location for Vesna’s workplace to sell the tone of those scenes”. Against all odds and with the help of Producer Nick Erickson and Cinematographer Eli Arenson, Sulser managed to shoot the crucial bank scenes at “The Majestic” and the “Banco Popular” in downtown Los Angeles.
Sulser feels most comfortable working as part of a big team. “Overcoming the impossible challenges and fighting for the best possible outcome of a production reminds me of the family-like atmosphere I know from my theatrical background in Europe,” Sulser said.
In fact, Sulser’s past credits include serving as a show host for Nickelodeon Switzerland and working as Assistant Director at the opera. After completing the Director’s program at Swiss National Television, he started his own production company for film and television. Since he graduated from the AFI in 2015, he works as a director in Europe and the US.
Finding the “perfect Vesna” presented another big obstacle for Sulser to tackle. “Because choosing the right actors makes my job as a director so much easier,” Sulser jokes. Looking for an experienced leading lady who could speak Romanian, and casting over a hundred actresses, he found the extraordinary Russian-born stage actress, Irina Dubova. “It’s not that easy to find a grumpy Romanian cleaning lady in Los Angeles. But I couldn’t be happier with Irina’s performance. She played the comedic character of the clumsy cleaning woman with a dead serious approach,” Sulser explains. “That made the humor of the script come alive”.
Cristian Sulser has the talent to produce films that you will not forget. Regarding the philosophy of his film and his own journey as a filmmaker, he says: “I believe that following your own happiness is a good navigator through life. At least, it guides you in the right direction!”