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Berlinale Talents Lectures Forks and Other Weapons: A Propmaker’s World: Simon Weisse
by Shelly Schoeneshoefer

Exploding bombs, medieval suits with hidden mechanisms, and old World War cockpits big enough to film the actor’s movements all brought to us in German prop-maker Simon Weisse’s lecture. Known in the industry as being a generous advisor on prop-making, he wishes to pass this possible job opportunity on to us. His work began with English director Terry Gillian’s THE ADVENTURES OF BARON MUNCHHAUSEN in 1988, quickly gaining a reputation for his model building and special effects. He has worked with some of the most creative directors in the business, such as Wes Anderson, Quentin Tarantino, Steven Spielberg, Tom Tykwer, Lana Wachowski, and Wolfgang Petersen.

His father, a still photographer for the film industry noted early on that his son was not meant for academia, and indeed Simon set his course toward prop-making. He studied at the Kunsthochschule (college of art) in Montpellier and began by concentrating on miniature sets that you often see in such films as Wes Anderson’s THE ISLE OF DOGS (2018), GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL (2014) and his most recent film THE FRENCH DISPATCH (2020). His work demonstrates that not all practical effects have disappeared with the almost overwhelming presence of the digital industry.

With the ever-increasing use of digitalization, one would assume that Weisse wouldn’t have much work; in actuality, to keep the quality of a film at a high level, realistic-looking props are a necessity. One of these props is bombs. He casually said with a chuckle, “Well, if you want to build a bomb, all you have to do is look in the internet. Everything is right there - and to make it look dangerous you just need to add two different colors of wires and a lot of colored tape.” He then proceeded to show us a clip from James McTeigue’s film V FOR VENDETTA (2005). In Steven Spielberg’s BRIDGE OF SPIES (2015), where he made bombs that looked really deadly, he then had to create a building to pull it off. He really enjoys this kind of work; his workspace in Studio Babelsberg gives him plenty of space to build all types of rooms and WW II warplanes, among other creative environments.

One of the most expensive German films ever made was Tom Tykwer’s film, PERFUME: THE STORY OF A MURDERER (2006). He said they had to convince a Munich physician to loan his entire antique perfume bottle collection for one night which was a pretty costly night! They made molds of the bottles and then used the molds to create plastic bottles to achieve the right look for the right time period. Props must look authentic, not be an afterthought. Not spending the money for good props will cheapen the look of the film. This is a struggle for filmmakers on tight budgets but with big dreams. I asked him how many women were on his team. Very few; they’re hard to find, he claimed.  I am not sure about that— if he asked me, I’d certainly have a go at it! It looks like fun, but I did wonder how toxic these paints and plastics are. Perhaps it’s a lot safer to be a film critic!