- Was there a particular event or time that you recognized that filmmaking is your way of telling stories?
Yes. I was in university, at the American University of Paris. You see, the American university system allows you to declare your major (which is your specialization) in the second year. Until then, you are encouraged to try cross disciplinary subjects and truly discover yourself. I was set on studying Communications, but I also added a film class my first semester – Film Theory and Criticism with a fantastic professor and artist, Jerome Charyn. That’s all it took for me to fall in love and start changing my entire curriculum to film classes. Throughout my childhood I had flirted with different arts, but when I discovered film, as a way to incorporate all other arts, I knew this is what I was meant to do. And it also helped that I had professors who challenged me to think about film as an important communication, political and artistic tool.
- Do you think it is essential to go to a film institute in order to become a successful filmmaker?
A successful filmmaker can come out of nowhere these days, with all the digital streaming options, as well as the self-distribution methods. But if we were to speak about a traditional filmmaker, say in the context of European state funded cinema, I believe it’s important to go to university, become as much of a film erudite as you can and learn the ropes of such a complex system as the European national cinemas are.
- Is it harder to get started or to keep going? What was the particular thing that you had to conquer to do either?
I believe it’s harder to keep going. To get started, I found it a lot easier because I had the naïve enthusiasm of a beginner, so I jumped in full-speed ahead with complete confidence. I made my first film in 2008 at 21, the Panamanian documentary “Fuera de casa”, and it played in festivals and even aired on TV in Latin America. I thought to myself: Easy Peasy. Flash-forward 11 years, and things are definitely not easy peasy. Nowadays, I have to constantly conquer the fear of projects falling apart or not happening when I begin something. I am more aware of the many obstacles we have as filmmakers and constantly have to pick myself up and start all over again. Even if projects don’t fall apart, that doesn’t guarantee anything these days. I have had several projects where my credit was either diminished or entirely deleted when the project came out and if you are not a personality in your field, there is very little you can do in a country like Romania, where filmmakers don’t have supporting guilds and unions. And then there is the lack of family support, especially when life didn’t turn out as they expected.
- What was the most important lesson you had to learn that has had a positive effect on your film? How did that lesson happen?
Because I need to constantly be making films, I like to write and produce shorts that I can make for virtually no money, with elements I can control and locations I have access to. Well, I had to learn to be very flexible when working in the indie-guerrilla style way. I was planning on shooting the end of my short “Play Paris for me” in front of the famous Sacre Coeur, which entailed having the lead character sing a song on the steps of the Parisian landmark. However, when our small crew got there, we were surprised to see a band performing in front of a large crowd. Initially, everybody got super down about having to postpone or find a new location. However, I thought to myself. It can’t hurt if I ask the band if our actress could jump in front of their crowd and sing a song. And indeed, the band said yes! That meant we only had one shot to shoot the scene, but we did it and it was totally worth it. It made the scene a lot stronger and even gave the film production value. So now I try to keep myself open to changes I can’t foresee and adapt.
- What were the production realities from casting through editing that you had to accommodate? How did you navigate those compromises or surprises and still end up with a cohesive film?
I won’t lie, sometimes that’s a challenge. But as they say, you are making three films: the one you write, the one you shoot and the one you edit. You have to let it evolve and soak in the creative input of the other creatives you work with. For example, when we filmed “Ballad”, the location was definitely not what I had pictured when writing the project, but we were limited in options and money, so production designer Anastasia Ionescu and I had to find a compromise. Instead of being the inhabited den from a rock star’s mansion, we created a space that was some sort of metaphorical void that the character is stuck in as he lingers on the verge of suicide.
- What was the hardest artistic choice you made in the making of a film, at any stage in production?
Spending less time on the creative side of it and focusing more on production and technical. When you are working without proper funding, at least that’s how I feel, you end up sacrificing the artistic.
- You are a collaborator. How have you discovered members of your team and how do you keep the relationship with them strong?
I think 90% of filmmaking is the other people you work with. They are the most valuable asset. When producing the film “A Son of Man”, an adventure film shot entirely in the Amazon, I had to put together a 60+ crew, that was willing to forgo comfort and become warriors going to shoot for 6 weeks into one of the wildest parts of our planet. I also had a limited budget and I was making an international film in a Spanish speaking country, so I was looking for a particular type of crew member – multi-lingual, adventurous, talented and crazy enough to join the project for a smaller fee than usual. I watched a lot of similar films and asked for a lot of recommendations and the crew turned out to be a spectacular, unique bunch. And when your set is nature, a lot of unpredictable obstacles can come your way and the crew only interacts with one another, so naturally all sorts of problems and risks arise. So, if you would have asked me how do I keep my relationship with the crew strong in 2017 when I produced the film, I would have said: By keeping them alive! Haha.
- What do audiences want? And is it the filmmaker’s role to worry about that?
We live in the era of split demographics, so audiences are looking for more than just content that they can relate to, but content that represents them. Conversely, filmmakers are filling out the void for diverse voices, depicting stories that haven’t been portrayed until now. Let’s take Romania for example. The profile of the Romanian film director – 40’s, male – representing one side of Romanian reality, which to be honest, hasn’t been drawing in large audiences. However, things are slowly changing here as well as younger generations, who were raised by pop culture, are starting to bring diversity in terms of subjects and genres to the cinema landscape.
- What role have film festivals played in your life so far? Why are they necessary? How do you get the most out of them?
First of all, it may seem festivals are happily going to embrace the indie filmmaker, but that’s not quite the case. Getting in is the first step and applying for festivals is prohibitively expensive, as you have to apply to quite a lot to increase your chances. My experience has been that in the bigger festivals it’s about lobby and politics and then there are a lot of festivals that only program the darlings of the film circuit. However, almost all festivals are happy to take a substantial fee to submit your film. Which is why I realized I had to filter out festivals and luckily, I found film festivals such as Rolling Ideas that are implementing the preselection method. I find this system brilliant as you only pay a screening fee if selected. What a great, democratic system. I give it two thumbs up. To sum it all up, of course, festivals are especially necessary for shorts, as there aren’t many distribution avenues to explore. And in the context of state funding, getting your short in film festivals of certain categories, will get you the necessary points to apply for those funds.
- Do you believe that a filmmaker should be original and fresh or he/she should stick to classic but safe cinema style?
My favorite is when auteurs bring a twist to genre tropes. Tarantino is a master at this but there are other auteurs that every once in a while, reinvent genre films. So, to answer your question, my personal taste is to use traditional cinema techniques with a twist of fresh and original.
- What qualities or attributes do you look for in people you are looking to employ or work with?
Passion for cinema, commitment, a sense of responsibility and talent.
- Would you recommend writers think like a producer when writing their script? Or, just write with reckless abandon and then worry about the cost, or whatever, after they’ve grabbed a producer’s attention.
As a writer, I also try to know who I’m writing for beforehand. Is it something that you can easily produce? Are you going to look for a producer to apply for state funds or are you writing for a specific director? The more you think these things through ahead of time, the more realistic it will be for your project to get made. But ultimately, yes, do think like a producer. If you’re developing a sci-fi dystopian world, how much of the budget will it have to be spent on CGI? Rather than aspiring to make the next blockbuster, think about setting your story in more manageable locations, and focus on character development and simple plots that can move audiences.
- How involved in the writing of a project do you get? Are you more involved in the initial development?
I am a writer first and so far, I have only directed shorts I have written myself.
- If you had an unlimited budget at your disposal, what would be your dream production project?
If I had an unlimited budget, I would probably be running a big studio in Romania, making genre films, biopics, comic book and historical movies.
- What does the future of film look like?
There is excitement and fear around the future of film. While me move into the platinum age of TV, films for traditional theatrical distribution face an uncertain fate with giant streamers becoming the only place for smaller indie films. But I’m excited for the future in Romania, even if internationally things look grimmer. In Romania I believe we have lots of exciting things to look forward to, especially since new players are entering the market and newer generations of filmmakers will have access to funds to create other types of films and TV than before.