Holzman: Comedy gold from the Land of Silver
Award-winner Martin Holzman may have started off his filmmaking career hiding from the Argentinian heat, but his smooth comedic style and ear for a gag display an inherent coolness. Here, the argentinacine director speaks to Jamie Madge about his influences, his ethos and how a sense of restlessness has built his creativity.
What brought you into filmmaking?
There was a summer in Buenos Aires that was really hot. I was very young, about five- or six-years-old, and my house had no air conditioning. I knew that the only place my mum could take me, which had air conditioning nearby, was Blockbuster. I loved that combination of air conditioning on full blast and the smell of popcorn.
Every day, I would ask to be taken there, and logically, I had to take home a movie to justify the ride.
That's when I started watching movies non-stop.
Let's say it was by accident... and heat.
On top of that, I always loved watching and listening to people: how they talk to each other, how they argue, how they lie to each other, and how they make jokes. At some point, when I discovered cinema, I realised that in the movies, I could find everything that I liked to observe.
Was commercial filmmaking always the plan for you? What drew you to advertising?
Not at all.
I first discovered advertising when I was already working in advertising. When I was out of film school, I got a job as a researcher and started watching lots of commercials. I particularly remember when I discovered Tom Kuntz’s Get Rid of Cable campaign for DirecTV. That's when I said, “There are people in this industry who, besides wanting to sell things, want us to have a good time.”
I always loved watching and listening to people.
Just like watching a good movie, I find watching a good commercial, a good campaign, or a good spot extremely satisfying.
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Above: Holzman's award-winning Quilmes spot, shot through argentinacine.
Did you have any influences coming into the industry?
I could answer this question just by mentioning the music I listen to and the movies I watch. I could name Todd Solondz, Ulrich Seidl, Leos Carax, Fred Again, Juan Wauters, Franco Battiato, Seinfeld, Family Guy, and John Wilson. But to tell the truth, I am a very easily influenced person, in a good way: I am influenced by good influences, by the people around me, by my friends, by my family, and by my co-workers.
Perhaps the person who comes to fix a leak in my bathroom makes me laugh, or there's something about them that I can borrow for a dialogue or a character. The girl who worked in the laundromat where I did my laundry for years greeted me every morning with a very special tone. She would say “Martiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiin” using different musical notes in my name.
That influences me.
I speak about her in the past tense because I bought a washing machine.
She is still there.
Your work tends to have quite a comedic focus. What do you see as important qualities to have as a comedy director?
That's a very good question.
I can share my formula: Being very attentive to everything that surrounds me. Being attentive to the ideas that appear in the process—although sometimes they come at the wrong time, if they are good, they are useful.
To tell the truth, I am a very easily influenced person, in a good way.
Also, having a lot of trust in the actors, paying a lot of attention to the way they perform our ideas.
Finally, I would say that it's great to have confidence in what you think is funny, to tell it with enthusiasm to the team, to the agency, to the client. Pass that on to them.
There is a joke about the Beatles that goes:
“How many Beatles does it take to change a light bulb?”
A director alone can do nothing.
Above: More comedic work from Holzman.
What was the moment you felt validated as a director? Was there a particular film that edged it?
It was undoubtedly the first time I saw my name on a slate.
Or it could also be when I was allowed to take a Nespresso capsule from the agency's catering sector.
What's the toughest decision you've had to make on set?
When you’re running against the clock, every decision is tough.
So, probably the last decision that was made was the toughest.
How do you feel that growing up in Argentina has helped you as a filmmaker? Are there particular qualities that Argentinian directors/crew all share?
Certainly, the place where you are born has a profound impact on you. In my case, I am a true Argentinean: I like eating asado, drinking wine, and going every weekend to the stadium to watch my football team. Argentina is a country of 50 million people that is constantly in crisis: that keeps you moving all the time, keeps you with a certain 'restlessness' that, although it is not what a doctor or a psychologist would advise, sometimes can make you think in a little less orthodox ways, and that's good!
Where tragedy ends, comedy begins.
Where tragedy ends, comedy begins, so it's also true that living in adverse contexts as a society boosts humour significantly. If the world were anything like the Teletubbies made it out to be, it would be very difficult to find anything funny.
What kind of work do you see yourself making in the future? What's your filmmaking goal?
Right now, I would like to keep growing and making commercials where I can present my vision, share it, and collaborate with agencies and clients who want to do good and fun projects. I always try to level up, whether it's with baby or elephant steps.
Of course, there is always something in fiction that tempts me a lot, both films and series, and I believe each project requires some time to be calm and dedicate time and enthusiasm to it.
That's why I like to take it easy, enjoy the journey, and whatever happens along the way.