Once you come into contact with something, odds are; it will infect you. Paul Smit and Guido Weijers are the living proof of that. They are friends as well as adversaries, as they have a way of challenging each other in order to keep one another sharp and witty. Comedian Guido taught Paul how to tell a joke, while philosopher Paul threw nonduality into the mix. The result: Who is Alice, or as Paul adds dryly: “Put some idiots together in a room and there will be created ‘something’.”
After every day of shooting, they retreat to a hotel near the centre of Helmond. On the moment of the interview they have had fourteen days of shooting and only two more to go. The end in sight, Paul and Guido seat themselves into the comfortable armchairs with a contented sigh. Their appearance shows traces of sleep deprivation. However, they still appear to be sharp, as my first few questions are ironically reflected back at me, which immediately breaks the ice.
The cast and crew of Who is Alice all complement each other in many ways, and this also symbolizes the friendship of Paul and Guido. They have a lot in common, as they are both comedians, capable of entertaining an entire audience, and they are both interested in the (non)sense of life. Therefore, it is no surprise that they play a part in this feature together, as the script of Who is Alice seems like a blueprint of their humour and the way they look at life.
“I could never imagine doing another grand production after All About Nothing, our previous film about nonduality”, says Paul. During a dinner with co-producer Arjan Bakker, Arjan said; that if I would ever have aspirations to make another film, he would love to help. From there, everything was just pretty much a coast downhill.” Automatically new ideas began popping up in his mind. After a Skype call with directors Ismaël Lotz and Robert van den Broek, the ideas began to substantiate and everything was set into motion to make an international feature film.
Guido discovered per accident that his friend was working on something new. “I would be genuinely offended if Paul would not include me, and I made that very clear to him”, he says so jokingly. Paul: “I presented him the script and we both drew the same conclusion…” A few seconds go by in silence, after which Guido finishes his sentence: “…that at the heart the story was solid, but that it could still use some fine-tuning. And more jokes, definitively more jokes.” Paul chuckles.
“And so we set it up.” Nonetheless, Guido says beyond doubt that the screenplay’s credit mostly goes to Paul. “Because we share the same kind of humour, it is very satisfactory to write with Paul. He is a jack-of-all-trades, extremely disciplined and a great sounding board for that chaotic brain of mine.” Paul agrees: “The creative process of writing has to keep going forward, as otherwise I become stuck. There’s no one else with whom I can write so in flow as with Guido.”
Being a known comedian in the Netherlands for many years, Guido does not challenge that statement. Guido cooperated with Paul on the writing for several of his shows. That experience has turned out to be of great value for the production of Who is Alice, but Guido wasn’t immediately convinced that the project would succeed: “What lunatic would think of making a feature in just three weeks?”. “Well, that would be me”, Paul dryly states. “together with an amazing cast and crew,” he then emphasizes.
The value of Ismaël and Robert doesn’t need any explanation. Together with them, Paul produced All About Nothing and with them he substantialized the concept for the new feature. While in the previous film Guido played a smaller part, he now fulfils a serving role for Paul and the directors. “Such a pleasure,” he asserts, “they are real professionals. Therefore we also want Ismaël to have total freedom in determining the style of filming, as he can do that like no other. In visual designing he exceeds all expectations.”
Naturally, I am curious as to examples of this amazing imagery. Guido is resolute: just wait and see, as the ending shot will show Ismaël’s true capabilities.” Paul agrees; however, he will be less involved in the style of filming, but all the more he occupies himself with if – and how – the actors bring the script to life in their acting. And he is satisfied rightly so: “Lee Brace, a stand-up comedian in England, is actively involved in thinking with us about how to get the most out of his scenes. Not every actor does that, and there are only few who can do that constructively.
“The timing of the jokes is extremely important, as comedy accounts for a large portion of the film”, Paul explains. Guido: “humour is a delicate thing, almost some kind of singing lesson, as even pitch and intonation matter in the landing of a joke.” Non-verbal communication is crucial in this as well, something that Robert pays good attention to. Paul: “Robert is very adequate in seeing this, and to measure out the right amount of drama per scene.”
Lost for Words
That the actors are from England is for Guido more of a benefit than a constraint. “My English is probably not extremely fluent, nonetheless I feel no language barrier whatsoever. These actors create an extremely relaxed working environment. Fortunately the actors also feel that way about each other and about us as Dutch crew.” Another plus that the comedian cannot leave unsaid: “The British can be so dry, I love English humour!”
Paul and Guido are spontaneous and talk easily just as they do in this interview; however, on set they are sometimes lost for words, they must admit. Paul: “Often I see Guido so delighted behind the monitor, when a scene really comes together.” Guido nods with assent: “Repeatedly I was overexcited thinking ‘WOW, unbelievable that we just caught this magical moment on camera!’ I can’t wait to see these little gifts again on the big screen.”
First Things First: Sleep
What now? Leaning back, promoting Who is Alice and thinking about a new film? Paul shrugs: “First things first: we most definitively need to sleep; a lot. We haven’t had time to stop and think about the publicity, let alone thinking about a follow-up.” Even though they enjoy the process greatly, and are already awfully proud of the result, they luckily aren’t too ambitious with the project.
“If we manage to break even, that would be nice”, Paul remarks very matter-of-factly about the investment that is intrinsic to filmmaking. But for him, it is definitely not an absolute must, as things will happen as they are supposed to, which also offers food for thought and new ideas. Guido: “I get so wired up from this. If I had a say, we’ll make something new after Who is Alice.” What that will be? According to Guido that will become clear naturally. In time. “For starters I have already suggested new ideas to Paul.”