How do you, as a producer, approach films that are so different from each other? Touch Me Not and Toto and His Sisters feel like much more intimate films than Collective, which investigates a terrible tragedy and huge political scandal that was reported on widely around the globe.
I usually tailor everything according to the needs of the project itself. The director's approach informs the production. Touch Me Not Was not intimate in the production sense, as it was a co-production between five countries, but the type of working during the shooting was intimate.
This also applies to Alexander [Nanau]. The way he works is that he is present with his camera all the time and thus makes the protagonists feel that he is non-existent. That is the essence of his approach: allowing the viewer to penetrate the cinema screen and be there exactly at the time when the events are unfolding. This leaves the impression of watching fiction. It also has a lot to do with the way he edits the film, but first and foremost it comes from the way he shoots.
Both Adina and Alexander have a clear cinematic style. They know exactly what they want, and the important thing for me about working with directors like them is to create this framework around the filmmaker that will enable them to do exactly what they feel the project needs. It requires a lot of flexibility from the producer, of course, and being there constantly, safeguarding the film.
In the case of Collective, the production involved a lot of legal work and obtaining permissions to shoot; this amazing access was Alexander’s achievement. I was providing the production backend, making sure that everything goes smoothly and according to plan afterwards.
With Adina, the question was, how do we organize the shooting when we are dealing with a very particular and intimate process, when the characters themselves are opening up in front of the camera and the audience; how do we make the crew of 30-50 people seem invisible? These were challenges that we took on and we kind of resolved them on the go. There's a high degree of spontaneity and unpredictability as well with this kind of long-term research process like Adina’s, or with the long-term, observational shooting in Alexander’s case.
What were the biggest challenges in producing Collective?
I think for both Alexander and myself, but especially for him, it was a challenge to take on a bigger topic, with far more characters and narrative threads to follow than in the previous film. From my point of view, I always go with the films that I believe can change something in the world. That means, first of all, topics that I personally consider to be important for the vast majority of people. This is how I choose projects. It's obviously also something that moves me on a personal level, but mostly I think about the potential impact that a film can have. And if I feel it can have a deep long-term impact, this is something I will definitely fight for.
For example, with Toto and His Sisters, I started developing the project before I met Alexander. I was working in the area with a local NGO and thinking about how one can make a film there, to raise awareness of the Roma situation. And then when I met Alexander and he started researching, he was the one who brought the vision. He told me, "the only way you can find hope is by looking at this place through the eyes of the children, at their level. They are the gate for a potential positive future and I want to focus on them." When he said that, I realized this can have a deep and positive impact on the society and the Roma community itself. I believe a documentary always changes the lives of the protagonists in one way or another.
As far as protagonists go, in Collective I had the feeling that the filmmakers have understanding and respect for the new minister of health. He gave you really amazing access.
There are very few films that offer insight into how institutions work, or even how press works. On the topic of journalism, we had some great American films before, but in Europe not so much. We don't really know how the news works, what are the resources, how journalists discuss it… all this was important for us, and for the viewers to learn. When [the minister of health, known in the film as] Vlad came along, he was the first minister to say that he believes in transparency, and to open the doors to an institution that was for a long time completely closed for the public. We believed that citizens had the right to know how an institution that was supposed to be taking care of them, as well as one of the fundamental human rights (the right to health), was being handled from the inside. Vlad was the only minister who was open to this kind of process. He says so in the film—you can't gain people’s trust unless you start telling the truth. At least he provided access to what he was trying to do. And this is valuable, no matter his political color. Not that he had any, as he was a technocrat, but if it was any other minister who would open the door to a filmmaker I would definitely have a positive view of them.
How do you see IDFA Forum, and what is the most useful thing about it?
First of all, the visibility that it gives to a project. Pitching in IDFA Forum, even with the new format, is essential for putting your project out there and getting in contact with people who can directly influence the future life of the film—potential financiers or partners. This is a great platform for that. But also the people who work behind these platforms are very important. They can give you guidance, they prep you, they think about what's the best format for a pitch, things that we, the filmmakers, actually don't talk about: we just take these pitching things for granted, that we go there and we have to pitch and the stress is obviously high. It's big enough to pitch the project, we don't think about the whole set-up that has been arranged for us and how we got to this seven-minute pitching format. I think this structural capacity is very important—talking to organizers and getting feedback from the selection committee. IDFA is one of the rare programs that gives feedback after application. They are really dedicated to working with the filmmakers and improving and enhancing the projects. It's great that they have this as a goal, instead of having as many projects as possible and being the biggest and the hottest…
I would say that this knowledge of the industry, and the mentoring and the feedback that you get from the industry, is essential and it can better shape the project. It helps you to present it to potential financiers or partners, and it doesn't necessarily mean you will get those partners, but it's important to have to think about how you are going to talk about what you want to do. It's a self-reflective process which is crucial not only for directors, but also for producers, to realize where they want to go to with the project.
What did you talk about in your IDFAcademy session earlier today?
Together with Isabel Arrate Fernandez, who moderated the talk, I first focused on the development of the project. I consider development crucial for the production of a film. Everything that you set up in those first two or three months of development will absolutely impact the way you will work later in production—including the filmmaker's point of view, the producer-director relationship, and the project itself. This core of the development, either the trailer or the dossier that you use to get funding, is one of the most valuable assets for a producer.
I used as examples the pitching trailers that we had for Toto and His Sisters and Collective, and we talked about this process of going from the idea to the film together with the filmmaker—the relationship that you grow with the filmmaker and the idea about what the film will be in the end. This is essential: the personal connection that I have with the project, how I approach the director, and how we develop something together that can become impactful to a community or even more people, like in the case of Collective.
Another important thing is being involved in the final stage of the editing process, which also involves the technical part of post-production. For example, what does it mean to outsource sound post-production on a film that is 99% in the Romanian language? How do you approach this? All these things require creative solutions and for the producer to be really involved with the film and understand the process.
Producing documentaries is a long-distance race. It's not your typical producing where you are doing several films at the same time and you travel between projects. For me, this is impossible. I nearly died when we were finishing post-production on Touch Me Not and Alexander was starting post-production. I had an overlap of two projects being in very delicate stages and it's hardcore.