A case of life imitating art and vice versa: Interview with director and producer of new comedy “20 Rules for Sylvie”

By: Sheila McCarthy   January 5, 2015

I had the pleasure of interviewing Giacun Caduff while he was in San Francisco at the end of December prior to the L.A. premiere of his latest film 20 Rules for Sylvie on January 8th. 20 Rules for Sylvie is a unique new comedy set in Switzerland in both French and German, with English subtitles. Clearly a man who is dedicated to his craft, Mr. Caduff talked openly about his work, and shared some great stories behind the creation of his latest project. Talking to him, it’s very clear that making movies is his lifelong passion. He started out with a love of film, making videos as a teenager. He pursued his desire to learn everything about filmmaking, and studied in the U.S. in 1999, and then again from 2001 to 2008, continuing to work on movies during that time. Since 2008, Giacun has been back and forth to Switzerland, Europe and the U.S., in the course of his work, and in his own words, “It’s been a long journey.” Originally from Basel in Switzerland, Giacun is fluent in English, French and German. He joked that “my French is better now since we shot the movie.”

carlos_leal-bertie_01-300x168I asked him what the inspiration behind this comedy was and whether it was based on anything in his own life. It turns out that it was kind of random the way it started. He came up with the idea of the film when he was younger while working in an internship in L.A. in a very boring job which consisted of basically taking fax messages and punching excel spreadsheets with lists to create a paper trail. The actual idea came up as a result of his misunderstanding of one title which read something like “18 Rules.” The job may have been boring, but it’s clear that Giacun compensated for the boredom by using a prolific imagination, and came up with the unique idea of a story about a girl who is given 18 rules for her 18th birthday before she goes to college, like Sylvie’s character in the movie.

sylvie_at_door00076865-300x168He took his idea, and shared it with a writer who had just started in the UCLA writer’s program. As part of that program, every three months they have to write a script. Three months later she sent him the first draft and it looked in some ways surprisingly close to his own life — particularly his own father. “I had a strict father, you know, and there were some limitations — things we knew that he did not like us to do.” Giacun recalled that when he read the draft he was so amused and thought it was so funny because the writer “took it to another level, with him (the father’s character) breaking all these rules himself.”

He recalled that “funnily, my dad a few years later, he got himself a girlfriend, but the script was written way before that. My grandma, she had another project at the time that I wanted to do about Satan, about the devil, that gets to go back to heaven for one party, and it was very funny too. But my grandma told me I shouldn’t make this movie because, ‘You don’t want to make a movie about heaven and earth and Satan and God!’ Then she said that I should do 20 Rules and then we adapted it to a Swiss movie, and I said, ‘How about this one?’ And she said, ‘Yes, you do that.’ And then when my dad eventually started breaking some of his own made-up rules, she said, ‘No, you can’t make this movie now because it’s going to reflect badly on our family.’ But, I said, ‘I’m already doing it, and I’m not going to stop now.'”

meine_frau_war_wild-300x168We talked about how this is often a cause for concern as an artist — there are always things that come through that may bear resemblance to events or people in your life, and you worry about that of course. However, Giacun sees comedy as being easier in this regard as there is so much more freedom in terms of how you can evolve and depict things. Plus, for him, typically, he likes to work with someone doing the writing for him. He says that it takes him too long to write, and so while the actual writing is not his, it’s based on his ideas. Also, when it’s written by another writer, he finds that the characters become more universal.

broken_mirror00009094-300x168Q. It seems like you really enjoyed filming this movie — especially as you talk about it. Did you guys have fun?

Yes, we had so much fun. It was a challenge to make. I always say there are three components in doing something. One is the fun element, one is the creative aspect, and the third one is usually the money aspect. We didn’t really have the money, so the two other aspects were completely maximized! The people that worked on it — a lot of them actually — that was their first movie to work on.

bertie_gone_wild-300x168And then I met Viola (von Scarpatetti, who plays Sylvie) at a festival that I organized in Basel, and I realized that this girl has the same humor, a kind of silly humor, a little “R” rated, and I said to her, “Read this. If you like it we should adapt it.” She immediately loved it and I guess for her, if she got involved, she wanted to play Sylvie, which was a first film role for her. I told her, “Look, let’s make a deal. Translate the whole thing (I realized she has really good vocabulary and language skills), and then you can play the role unless the studio comes in and says otherwise.”

Having seen the movie, I would say that this was an excellent deal as Sylvie is superbly cast, and she plays the character of the naïve young woman beautifully. Also, Carlos Leal is really well cast as her father Adalbert who also does a superb job. 20 Rules premieres in L.A. on January 8th, and is also available on VOD.

“20 Rules for Sylvie” is on tour in the US and stops for a show on January 8th at the Downtown Independent in Los Angeles. More information about theatrical screenings, DVD and VOD release: http://20regeln-movie.ch/getit/