Producer Michel Kandinsky recalls ‘Hotel Congress’ and reflects on “film food chain”

Michel Kandinsky still remembers his first time working on a film set. He was hired as the 

assistant food stylist on a bouillon cube advert. Working on that small production, he was witness to the “film food chain”, seeing that while there were very talented and creative directors and writers out there, there was a dearth of independent producers who understood the needs of filmmakers. 

“These human creative engines were very often just spinning themselves into a frenzy unable to translate their fantastic thoughts into something tangible. It looked very frustrating for them and for me. So, I asked myself, “what can you do to make the intangible tangible?” This turned out to be producing,” says Kandinsky.

As an industry-leading producer, Kandinsky is the front-runner on every project he takes on, responsible for assembling and managing the practical elements in order for the cast and crew to be able to bring out the creative artistry necessary in any project he takes on. This includes his most recent hit La Switch, as well as the viral horror flick Anklebiters, Kill Brass, which won the Grand Prize Short Film Award at the Action/Cut Short Film Competition 2011 and the Gold Special Jury Award at WorldFest Houston, and Paddock, which won Best Short Film at the 2018 Canada Shorts Film Festival. 

“In practice the producer liaisons between all the various factions on a film shoot, and there are many. They must have a knowledge of what goes on in every department, not just on a practical level but on a personal level as well. For me the excitement of the job is that every day is different. A producer wears so many different hats throughout the filmmaking process. Every day presents a unique problem to solve, a challenge to overcome. No boredom,” he exclaims.

Kandinsky has been making great movies for over a decade now, and even his earlier works still hold up today. His 2013 feature Hotel Congress spans many genres and is still engaging worldwide audiences. With a satirical wink at the romance of cinematic ennui, Hotel Congress is a funny and tender story of true love told through infidelity. It is a romantic film for the unromantic.

“The story plays with tropes of the love story in a very clever way and has something to say about the nature of love and how it changes over time as you age and grow into different societal roles. The older I get the more I realize how prescient the film was,” said Kandinsky.

Nadia Litz, the Writer, Director and star of the film approached Kandinsky with her idea, knowing he had the talent and experience to bring her vision to life. It was an extremely unique premise at the time, where only two actors are ever seen, and they have a long and very personal conversation for the entirety of the 90-minute film. This presented a unique challenge that Kandinsky was hooked by, begging the question, “How does one pace such a film so that the audience is waiting on every word?” 

To do so, Kandinsky had to pare down the mechanics of putting a film together down to the bare essentials. It was a massive undertaking; the cast and crew were minimal, the time frame was the shortest possible, the locations were deliberately limited. The film was shot in only two days at the historic Hotel Congress in Tucson. 

“The hotel was very supportive, but we had to shoot around their schedule since we couldn’t afford to shut it down. In order to minimize the amount of disturbance we shot during the hotel’s off-season, which is the middle of the summer. It was sweltering! 120 degrees in the sun forced our cameras to shut down automatically multiple times. In order to speed up the shooting, we used two cameras at all times and only shot two takes of every scene. The actors had to be on point to not flub the sometimes very long and not at all improvised dialogue since they wouldn’t get another chance. It was a wild ride,” Kandinsky recalls.

The logistics of such a challenging shoot required a lot of creative asset management, and Kandinsky took this task with ease. Coordinating with the skeleton crew was fairly simple, he says, but required a lot of pre-planning and anticipating what would be needed for the very next scene in a few minutes time. It was 48 hours of non-stop work for the producer, and he had to fully commit to live, breathe and sleep the movie, and then had to continue to coordinate the post-production process which took another few months. The film could not have been made without his utter devotion, a process he found immensely rewarding. 

“It was amazing to work with great actors like Nadia Litz and Philip Riccio, both of whom were tremendous in their performances. They didn’t sleep much either so to get to the level of performance they did was quite remarkable. It’s rare you get to see people so focused on their craft, there was no place to hide on this shoot,” he says. “Most films give the actors a chance to catch their breath, maybe come back with something new, a re-shoot perhaps. Here it was, ‘get it now, or forget it,’.”

Hotel Congress premiered in Toronto to an enthusiastic full house at the iconic Royal Theatre. A distributor who was present at the screening was extremely impressed by the audience’s rapt response and signed a deal with Kandinsky a week later, giving the film a fantastic theatrical run in Canada. It then had a huge opening at the Arizona Film Festival, the longest running and most prestigious festival in the state, where the locals really appreciated the prominence of the Hotel Congress, which is a historical landmark, in the context of a very modern story. It also was screened at the Toronto International Film Festival, an Oscar-qualifying festival and one of the world’s most prominent. It was then picked up for distribution in the US as well. The reviews were great all around. Later that year the film was selected as one of Canada’s Top Ten Films by The Grid Magazine, a very influential publication.

“It’s good to look with satisfaction at what can be achieved for so little in terms of resources. It’s definitely a work I’m rather proud of. The lessons learned from it I’ve applied to all subsequent projects, which probably helped their success too,” Kandinsky concludes.

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