Film includes Vienna Choir brothers

Vienna Boys Choir
Cincinnati Enquirer

VIENNA - "Stand by! Quiet please! Clear the set. And - roll!"

Jacob and Noah Markovich of Westwood knew when they joined the Vienna Boys' Choir, the world's most elite boy choir, they would live in a palace, travel the world, sing for emperors and presidents, make recordings and sometimes appear with famous stars.

But they didn't know they would be appearing in the first feature film documentary about the Vienna Boys' Choir since Walt Disney's 1961 movie, "Almost Angels."

On Monday in the atmospheric, dimly-lit Minoritenkirche (Minorite Church) in Vienna, the famous choir's pure, heavenly voices filled the small, 14th-century church with the sounds of a Schubert Mass. As they sang, a "batcam" camera on a crane zoomed past a statue of the Virgin Mary for a close-up, just missing a flickering candelabra. Another camera and three crewmen slid noiselessly on a dolly across the floor, while directors looked on in monitors and 50 "extras" in conservative dress played their roles as the audience.

The boys in the choir took it all in stride, cutting up when there was a break in the action and focusing hard when they were on camera.

Being a movie star is not that much of a challenge, shrugs Jacob, 11. His brother, Noah, 9, thinks it's "kind of cool."

The Vienna Boys' Choir film, "Silk Road," is directed by New York-based director/producer Curt Faudon, who has won prizes for films, documentaries and commercials at film festivals in Cannes, Berlin, Monte Carlo, Chicago, New York and others. Part feature film and part documentary, "Silk Road" is being planned for international television and Asian cinema release next fall. A worldwide DVD and CD soundtrack release will follow.

Faudon, who has made commercials for Coca-Cola, Sony, BMW and other major companies, hit upon the idea for the movie after filming a commercial with the choir for the 2008 European Football Championship.

"I really envy their profession and they're fantastic to work with," says Faudon, an Austrian native, of his subjects. "They are not only good singers; they are fantastic actors and great personalities."

As he stopped to discuss shots with cameramen, look for creative angles or muse about the computer animation he'll add later, he made sure the boys, dressed in their blue sailor suits and hats, put on coats in the cold, unheated church. More than 30 technicians, and others overseeing everything from costumes to catering, swirled around an obstacle course of scaffolding, lighting, cables and cameras.

"This is the lovely crane shot," Faudon says, peering into the monitor. "Everything is cut and edited with the rhythm of the music."

It's a mixture of feature film and documentary, with the choir's Silk Road project - a children's opera based on original songs from Turkey, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Mongolia and China - as its point of departure.

Various groups of boys from the 100-member choir are being filmed in China, North America, Germany, Japan, Korea and India, to juxtapose the ancient musical traditions alongside the current touring life of the Vienna Boys' Choir.

Jacob and Noah just completed a North American tour that included filming in Vancouver.

The tale will center on a modern choir boy who struggles to fit in. Scenes will trigger dreamlike sequences, and the story will flash back through history to the time of Emperor Maximilian I, who founded the choir in 1498. An actor in costume as the artist Albrecht Dürer, from the time of Maximilian, had been filmed there that morning.

"We didn't want to cover the voice-breaking, because that's been done by Walt Disney," says Tina Breckwoldt, the choir's archivist, who helped conceive the story line. "The angle we thought would be interesting is to allow people to relate to the life as a chorister and see what is the common human situation about this. That's never been done before."

Faudon had no trouble finding international investors for the more than $3 million it will take to fund the production. It was easy, he says, because audiences want more culture on television. He is sending the film to international festivals, where he expects to win prizes to prove his point.

"We need to educate the people in charge," he says.

For the choir boys, now will be the most intense time, as the filming wraps up, says Gerald Wirth, Vienna Boys' Choir director.

"I hope this movie is one piece of the puzzle to give the audience an idea of what we do," says Wirth, who has added a vast new repertoire to the classics and Strauss waltzes that made the choir famous. "It's important to give the boys a chance to experience how a movie is made, and to see it takes a whole day to produce 10 seconds of a movie."

Noah has already acted a small role in a scene. At the risk it might go to their heads, the director considers him and his brother "great guys."

"They look beautiful on camera and I really enjoy working with them," he says.