[Interview] Timur Bekmambetov for PROFILE
Courtesy of Focus Features

For those familiar in the States with Timur Bekmambetov, they may know him from his work on films such as Wanted (2008) and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012). Since 2015, however, Bekmambetov has switched gears to producing films, most notably those in the Screenlife genre like Unfriended and – more recently – Searching. Now, he is stepping into the director’s chair once more to take on his own Screenlife genre film, PROFILE.

PROFILE follows an undercover British journalist in her quest to bait and expose a terrorist recruiter through social media, while trying not to be sucked in by her recruiter and lured into becoming a militant extremist herself. The unconventional thriller plays out entirely on a computer screen in the Screenlife format, pioneered by Bekmambetov.

For the release of PROFILE, Nightmarish Conjurings got to chat with Co-writer/Director/Producer Timur Bekmambetov, where we discussed how the team came to further improve and elevate Screenlife language, how teamwork is essential in the art of moviemaking, and how meeting journalist Anna Erelle helped Bekmambetov and Valene Kane craft the ultimate version of her character on film.

PROFILE was one of the most stressful movies I’ve watched. I did not know what I was getting myself into.

Timur Bekmambetov: Good way stressful or…?

A good way. I loved it. It kept me super engaged. That said, what spurred on the making of this film? What interested you in the whole story?

Timur Bekmambetov: First of all, it’s one of the stories you cannot tell without using Screenlife language, Screenlife format, because these characters have never met each other. The whole story happened in digital space, and this language didn’t exist. And I was lucky to invent and to develop this language by making these kinds of movies, and specifically, this story is very relatable, even for me, and I hope for you too, because it is about us. It’s about loneliness, freedom, responsibility, bravery, and fear. It’s all that we feel in the digital space. How we live in digital space today and, in its irony, but we [referring to Shannon] never met each other and we have an interview in the digital space. And I hope we will learn how to be happy in this world, in the digital world. You know, because we are forced, yeah? To live online today. And then, we should learn. We should tell stories. We should understand how we live. What are our dreams? What are our fears in the digital space? This is why I made it.

Still from PROFILE l Courtesy of Focus Features

It’s interesting because you produced Searching and you produced Unfriended. So, this felt like a natural progression for your direction. How was that going from producing to then directing?

Timur Bekmambetov: Because when you make a movie, it does not matter if you’re a producer or director. It’s a team. It’s a team process. I cannot really separate myself if I’m producing or directing. Because, when we made Unfriended, it was my idea, and it was my, let’s say vision, and I had a great team, and my friend Leo Gabriadze, who directed it and Nelson Greaves wrote it and co-produced with me. It was teamwork. It’s not just me.

And, with Profile, it’s interesting, especially just because I was thinking how to make Screenlife language deeper, more sophisticated, more arty. I mean, good way arty. Make it experimental. It was not about the product. It was more about the process in what I was trying to invent, experiment and took a risk to invent a lot of things like how to create, how to set up the process when actors have a chance to improvise, type and re-type and even improvise with the action. Once we made it, we created the whole real interface for them to play with.

And also, we were experimenting with the camerawork because, for the first time probably, the actors were literally cameramen. They were involved in the photography process. And also Valene [Kane], she was like a music editor because she had a playlist with different songs, and she used what she feels right for the moment. And many other inventions and other small…because nobody made these kinds of movies before and we’re really lucky to be a pioneer of this language.

What was it like to meet Anna Erelle? And how did that help transform Valene Kane into the character?

Timur Bekmambetov: Yes, it was necessary. I don’t know if I could make this movie without meeting her. First of all, I met her and she’s not exactly Valene. Valene is slightly different in personality, but very similar somehow. Intellectual, urban, smart, and with a good heart and straightforward woman. It was important for me, first of all, to talk directly to Anna Erelle, even though her real name is not Anna. I’ve know her for three years now, and I don’t really know her real name. Second, Valene had a chance to talk to her, which is really important. I have photos and videos of them chatting with each other before we started shooting. And it is important because this movie is a portrait about a person, but a unique person.

Still from PROFILE l Courtesy of Focus Features

I read that your mom was a journalist. How was that parallel in terms of making a film about a journalist? 

Timur Bekmambetov: I think, first of all, I feel sorry every time talking with journalists because I know how difficult it is. And second, is my mom and Anna are people trying to get the information and get the real information and get it by heart. Not by brain, you know, like just get to the emotional core of the event, of the character. And, for me, that’s what’s important.

Focus Features is releasing PROFILE in theaters on May 14, 2021.

Shannon McGrew
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