Director Andrei Konchalovsky got his initial idea for the film while watching a report on television about a psychiatric hospital. Located in Ingushetia, a small town just a few miles from the Chechen border, Konchalovsky watched in amazement as he learned that the patients at the clinic had been abandoned by the staff and left on their own.
"The report showed how the patients had organized themselves, how the sanest among them had taken over, how the meals had been organized, etc. ," recalls Konchalovsky. "The subject appealed to me and I started working on an initial draft of the screenplay. "
Inspiration for the lead character of Janna came from a personal experience. Many years ago, Konchalovsky had a female admirer, who for twenty years, incessantly called the young director on the phone. She had been in love with a pop singer and had transferred her affections to the unsuspecting filmmaker.
"When I started writing the screenplay, I thought of that character. Janna is ill, she suffers from the "Christ's bride's complex" and is overwhelmed by an unattainable love for an international pop idol. "
He continues, "I realized that I couldn't use a Russian star to play the singer because he would never have the aura of an absolute 'ideal. ' Bryan Adams not only accepted, but he also offered me the song "Have You Ever Really Loved a Women?" from the movie Don Juan DeMarco and The Centerfold.
While in the process of writing the screenplay that included so many elements - war, psychiatry, history - Konchalovsky wisely turned to several people for advice and consultation.
"I decided to show the screenplay to some Chechens and they told me that they wouldn't back the film because everything about the Chechens was false. So I rewrote the whole Chechen part," remarks Konchalovsky.
Then, after meeting journalist Anna Politkovskaia who had published books on the Chechen issue, Konchalovsky showed the screenplay to her. Her feedback and comments enabled Konchalovsky to add even more realism to the script.
"Anna was the one who told me about the sale of a soldier's corpse to which I added the fact that the Chechen and the Russians had fought together in Afghanistan. "
Finally, in an effort to correctly depict the political climate of the times, the script was shown to a KGB officer who, as with the others, "added some remarks that I took into account. "
Konchalovsky's challenge to set the story in an asylum presented even more hurdles to cross. After showing the script to several psychiatrists, Konchalovsky felt confident that he had captured the essence of life in a mental hospital, although he did take creative liberties.
"I felt that it was vital for the men and women patients to have their meals together," comments Konchalovsky, "even though this isn't done in any psychiatric hospitals. "
With the script completed, Konchalovsky needed to find his Janna.
"I thought of Julia for the role, but I wasn't sure that she would be able to carry it off. I knew she had talent, but that isn't enough for such a part," remembers Konchalovsky.
As she prepared for what would be her first starring role, Vysotsky shared Konchalovky's doubts about whether she could pull it off, "When we started rehearsing and I saw Andrei unsatisfied, I kept expecting him to say, "Sorry but you can't do it. I'm going to give the part to another actress. "
Yet by his own admission, Konchalovsky, recognizing that this role called for a special kind of acting, also realized that it would call for a special kind of directing. "Actors are like hunting dogs," states Konchalovsky, "You simply need to nudge them in the right direction and they start searching. When we started rehearsals, I could see that Julia was off the mark, and she had to start again and again. But it was I who was giving her wrong advice. I tried to impose things on her and that showed. "
Once Konschalovsky gave Vysotsky room to explore, the character of Janna emerged. Still, Vysotsky found the work daunting and difficult. "It wasn't easy," she recalls of working on the character. "I knew at one point that I needed to make my character act more mentally handicapped and na´ve. Then I suggested the idea of speech defect and that worked. I really needed guts to do it. "
Konchalovsky was able to create the world of a psychiatric hospital by spending time in a psychiatric clinic on the outskirts of Moscow. Both he and Julia Vysotsky spent long periods of time with the patients. "Julia spent two months with these inmates before shooting the film, so that she could integrate herself in their small community. They even called her Janna. "
While conducting research at the clinic, Konchalovsky videotaped the inmates. When he viewed the footage, he realized that these people had to be in the actual film. They brought a sense of realism that could not be duplicated. "Once I realized that the patients, with whom Julia spent two months, had to appear in the film," reflects Konchalovsky, "I knew that I had to shoot the interiors in that hospital too.
~SHOOTING IN THE ASYLUM~
Obtaining authorization to shoot at the facility was difficult. Through persistence and good fortune, however, permission was finally granted and shooting began in August 2001.
Luckily, the basement floor of the building was empty and due for renovation. There was ample space to add walls and change out the windows, elements that would be necessary for the pyrotechnic team. The story called for bombs to fall on the hospital and this space made it possible for the team to execute the required explosions.
Additional shooting took place at a location near Novorossisk, in a part of Russia just to the east of the Black Sea. This region lies on the edge off the Caucasus and is used as a rear base for Russian troops fighting in Chechnya. Since the military presence and the equipment was close at hand, production was allowed to obtain the use of military vehicles.
During the post production process, Konchalovsky worked closely with friend and composer, Edward Artemiev. In Konchalovsky's mind, the music for the film had to work on two levels. "On one level, the music performed by Bryan Adams was to be openly lyrical. "
"The other kind of music needed to have a circus flavor," comments Konchalovsky. "I felt that the circus music would form a counterpoint for reality. In fact, I wanted to alter the reality, make it unreal and I wanted to create a celebration with the circus music. "
The making of House Of Fools would not have come together at all, had Konchalovsky not gone to his friend, producer Rene Cleitman for some financial assistance.
"I realized that I wouldn't be able to finance the project in Russia alone," remembers Konchalovsky, "so I went to France. Rene Cleitman and I had considered a number of projects in the past that had never come to fruition. This time, when I gave him the screenplay to read, he quickly expressed his interest. "
With a completed script, locations and cast and the necessary funds in place, the project moved ahead and the filming of House Of Fools was completed in the fall of 2001.