Max Mir (MA Directing) introduces Master’s Project starring Javier Bardem
By Elise Czyzowska
18 May 2023
At MetFilm School, the Master’s Project is a chance to really show the world what makes you stand out as a creative, and for MA Directing graduate Max Mir, his film, Walking Fernando, has also given him the chance to work with Oscar and BAFTA-winning actor, Javier Bardem.
The last time we spoke to Max, he was celebrating two major competition wins, co-directing the ‘Top 8’ selected Dead Funny at Straight 8, and ‘Best Film’ for another co-directed short, Spur of the Moment, at the 48 Hour Film Project.
Now, on top of the news that Dead Funny (alongside the team’s 2023 Straight 8 submission, Lemonade Stand-Off) is headed for Cannes, Max is busy putting the finishing touches on Walking Fernando.
Find out more about the project – including how Javier Bardem ended up involved, in today’s blog.
What was your inspiration behind Walking Fernando?
Essentially, Walking Fernando is the result of a failed script, a creative crisis, and a really cathartic week in Barcelona. I was struggling to think of an idea for my Master’s Project, and when it came time to pitch, I just forced myself to go up and at least say something.
People in the crowd didn’t seem too enthusiastic, so I nervously made up that there would be a talking fish in the film. When people came up to me afterwards saying they loved the idea, it made me think that maybe it was something worth exploring!
The film looks at the dramedic aspect of work life, focusing on themes of balance and the future, all wrapped up in a fairy-tale-esque dramedy about a deadbeat travel agent who is convinced by a goldfish to break him out of the office he’s been stuck in for years.
What convinced you that this idea should be your Master’s Project, rather than a passion project?
What convinced me was that this project stood out for being a bit strange, and also very much in tune with my style. I don’t think I would’ve made this as a personal project, though, because it was very risky – and to me, that’s what an MA degree is there for, to help you explore your creativity and try new things.
A good graduation project can do wonders for you. They’re your first point of contact with the industry, so why not invest all the time and effort you can while you’re surrounded by your peers, and at a school with so many resources? Plan ahead, make it work, and always strategise your festival circuit!
Looking back, how has Walking Fernando made you better at your craft?
It’s definitely made me more resilient, and it’s strengthened my problem-solving skills. I remember our first day, we had our crane set up, and a thunderstorm began – which meant we couldn’t shoot. Instead of being sad about it, we thought of solutions, shooting as much as we could in between bouts of rain. All of those scenes made it into the final film.
The project has also made me trust the creative team even more than I did. This was a pretty big shoot, and I’m a director who likes to be in control of most – if not all – creative aspects (though, without being tyrannical about it!). But at times, I had to just completely let go here, to focus on the cast, who thankfully prepped so much with me that they almost could’ve been left alone, too.
Of course, we have to ask: what was it like working with Javier Bardem?
It was AMAZING. A dream come true. Javier has one of the warmest souls an actor could possibly have: he’s humble, passionate, empathic…
When we got to work at the recording studio, he asked so many questions, like any actor would – but he never tried to catch me off-guard with them. I loved that if he was ever critical of something, he’d give a solution to it right away. For example, there’s a moment where his character reunites with another, and he had no lines. He said it was a bit weird to say nothing, and proposed a new line that, no surprise, worked incredibly well.
It was a constant collaboration with one of the greatest actors currently working, and the feeling of him really caring about doing well and me being happy with the takes still roams around in my head. He was doing me a favour, and treating it as though it were one of his typical, huge projects. It’s a memory I’ll treasure forever.
How did Javier Bardem get involved with the project? And what did you learn from working with such an established actor?
Right time, right place (as most things in this business are, it seems!). It’d be fun to hear Javier’s side, if he remembers – I was 16, in a bar in Madrid, where he also happened to be. My father helped me approach him, and when I told him I was going to London for my BA Practical Filmmaking degree, he said he’d show up in my Graduation Project. We exchanged numbers, but the BA project didn’t quite work out.
Then, four years later, I texted him about Walking Fernando. After some back and forth, I thought it wouldn’t work again, until he randomly text me, asking if he could hear my pitch – and that’s when he said he’d do it.
Working with him was eye-opening. Definitely nerve-wracking, but I learned so much. We’re currently sound mixing the film, and we’re having trouble deciding which takes to use!
If I had to take one lesson from the experience, it’s that befriending the actor first is so important. That’s something pretty obvious, but some directors get straight to work. I thought Javier would want to, as we had limited time, but no, he wanted to go through every bit of the process, and it was just such an enjoyable experience.
Finally, can you share any advice for students preparing for their own Master’s Project?
Get out there! Go to film events, find networking opportunities, and meet new people. You never know what will come out of it – new collaborators, actors, crew members… the possibilities are endless.
Also, be ambitious. Aim to make the best film you could possibly make! That doesn’t necessarily need to be a 25-minute high budget cinematic masterpiece. I had Javier in mind because I knew I had access to him, but I also had a plan B, C, D… You don’t need an A-lister to make a great film, but trying is free, so why not give it a go?