‘Profile’ Interview: Timur Bekmambetov Talks Screenlife and Storytelling

About two weeks ago, I enjoyed chatting with Timur Bekmambetov, the director behind the latest Screenlife film, Profile. I loved the film and found it to be compelling and scary. During our interview, Timur had a less than a great internet connection, so some of what was said during the interview was lost, but below is what I could save from that interview which, just like the film, was fascinating.

Scott Menzel: Hello, Timur

Timur Bekmambetov: Hello, sir.

Scott Menzel: This is such an incredible movie. I love Searching. One of the things I have to introduce this with is that I was a huge supporter of Searching, and I loved it. But I think this movie is even more effective because it is just haunting. The way you end this movie, it’s just crazy. So thank you for this, thank you for telling stories that I feel like people really need to see. I’m going to start with this Screenlife technology that you have created, or I don’t know if you’ve fully created it, but you’ve been the driving force of this technology. What led to the creation of that?

Timur Bekmambetov: I’m curious myself, because I don’t really know, but I remember since the eighties, the most attractive moment in the movies was, the moment when somebody is sneaking into the room with the computer, they need to crack something and steal some data like other guys just shooting outside, but he’s typing to try and do to get some secret information. These were the most exciting moments in action movies for me, since like the nineties, probably the eighties. And then I made a movie called Nightwatch, which was 20 or 15 years ago. And I suddenly discovered that then there are movies. There were a few scenes when the whole story had been on a computer screen. It means it was my intuition told me that we move into the new world, the whole civilization, little by little, we are traveling into the new world and the digital world,

And it is exhilarating because it’s new and it’s where we will and now where we live and we don’t have rules yet, we didn’t tell the stories of this world. You know, like every civilization, creating myths and stories to understand and reflect ourselves to ourselves so that you understand to create the trust. And it’s what’s happening now, we are very, and I believe in the next five years it will be a very intense process of telling stories about digital behavior, like how we leave and digital world. And we need to understand what’s good, what’s evil. What does it mean to be alive in digital space, what does it mean to be dead because, we’re still dealing with dead people’s accounts, sending us messages, happy birthday, or whatever, but people already dead and it’s weird, it is part of the new reality? And I remember the day when I was on Skype with my colleague, Olga, she’s my producer and writing partner on profile. And we were on Skype and she first shared the screen with me because it was just new functions on Skype, screen share. and she did it, and after the conversation, she forgot to unshare. And we were talking about the business stuff, but I remember seeing her sending messages to their friends, buying some intimate stuff. And I then I said, Olga, I see your screen. And she said, Oh my, I’m sorry. And this was a moment when I understood that this is such an interesting, important way to see our, like a new film language literally, because I was inside her. When you see somebody that’ll screen, you are inside the character. Like a camera will never allow you to do it because you need to see the light blinking, like eyes, whatever, like a mimic. And it’s not a direct way to get inside the character, but screen life immediately gives you the chance to jump in and it’s very scary, it’s very emotional and every detail is important. How you type, how you delete, how you Google, what kind of music you play. It’s a whole new language. And I decided that it was a bit boring to make traditional Lumière brothers or Eisenstein or Orson Welles of this new universe.

Scott Menzel: Yeah. I mean, there’s a lot to digest just in that answer. With the rise of Twitter and Facebook, I mean, that’s 100%. Especially over the last couple of years and the way that, how toxic the internet has become. With people destroying one another. It takes me back to watching this movie. You’re sitting there and you’re watching this poor journalist fall victim to this act. And it connects to how we feel, every single day. When we’re on Twitter and we see people following people, but we don’t really know if that’s their true intention or if they’re playing with us. And we’ve learned so much of that. Especially over these last couple of years

Timur Bekmambetov: Yes.

Scott Menzel: It makes it so much scarier.

Timur Bekmambetov: Yes, because we, because there are no rules yet in this world. Our senses are not working because we know we have tactile, we have taste, but it’s all the physical world, but the digital world, we need to innovate. We need to develop new skills. we need to expose the new 10 commandments in this new world. Or whether it means seven deadly sins in this new world. It’s a very, for example, the last or like, pride, greed, whatever. It’s very different, but it exists. Like for example, if you are on Facebook for three hours, what is happening? like if you eat three hours, your body will stop you because we have sensors. You know, we know, but with the digital world, we don’t have it yet. We need to develop it. In other words, leave and destroy the society itself. And the only way to do it is to tell stories. You cannot release rules. And government can not regulate it. It doesn’t work. It’s our mission, as storytellers, to tell emotional stories, helping us to understand who we are in this new digital space.

Scott Menzel: How did you discover this story, and how many different stories came together to create this film?

Timur Bekmambetov: It was, first of all, it was an article, and then we discovered the book. And the book was so good. So specifically written for Screenlife, it was quite easy to adopt this book. I’m looking for stories you can tell in screen light format, using Screenlife language constantly. And we produced many projects already as Searching and Unfriended. And so I read the book, and then I met her, Anna, and she presented me the screengrabs of her from her laptop of that time. And I saw the real screen grabs.

Scott Menzel: That’s crazy.  Wow, so the Jihadi videos that were shown in the film were those actual real videos? Not the ones of him, but the ones of like the beheadings and the explosions and stuff?

Timur Bekmambetov: Some of them were real, and many were recreated.

Scott Menzel: I thought it was really thought it was fascinating. And, and the way that you end this movie with that video is absolutely horrifying. I mean, just absolutely horrifying how one simple mistake could lead to everything going tomorrow. And I didn’t even catch the ticketing aspect of it. I just thought when she took the veil off, and I thought that’s what was going to be the death of her. But the fact that our name was on the ticket and they could track her through all the various shots. I mean, that was absolutely nuts. Well, I will let you go, thank you for taking the time to chat with me. 

Timur Bekmambetov: Thank you so much!

Profile is now playing in theaters. 

Written by
Born in New Jersey, Scott D. Menzel has been a film fanatic since he was three years old. Growing up, he watched as many movies as he could and was highly influenced by Tim Burton, John Hughes, Robert Zemeckis, and Steven Spielberg. Scott has an Associates Degree in Marketing, a Bachelors in Mass Media, Communications and a Masters in Electronic Media. He has been writing film reviews under the alias of MovieManMenzel since 2003 and started his writing career as a contributing critic at IMDB.com and Joblo.com. In 2009, Scott launched MovieManMenzel.com where he posted several of his film reviews but in 2011 decided to shut down the site when he launched We Live Film.com, which he founded. In 2015, We Live Film became We Live Entertainment. The domain name changed occurred after months of debate but was done so that he and his fellow staff members could write about anything and everything in the world of entertainment.

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