Interviews

‘Uncertainty is the core of our job’

At these times of health and economic crises, many are watching the film industry with anxiety. Film shoots are being halted and its workers forced into precarity. We spoke to Lara Costa-Calzado, the Barcelona-born producer of former CineMart project and Berlinale Silver Bear winning film Never Rarely Sometimes Always by Eliza Hittman.

As a graduate of the Rotterdam Lab 2020, she thinks the solidarity shown by the independent filmmaking community, along with the determination by leading festivals and institutions to put their work online, is cause for optimism. This resilience should be familiar to those with a history working in this industry synonymous with unpredictability.

"Movies, they were never normal, there is no new normal. So, of course, we're going to figure out how to do it differently," she says. "Uncertainty is the core of our job in a way and I think that's why we love it. We are in the same boat as we were before – we were always uncertain! You never know if you're going to have the cash flow, you never know if an investor will say yes, you never know if the dates will be the dates."

Movies were never normal. There is no new normal

Producing a film from home?

Film producers will be no strangers to months of self-imposed lockdown at the best of times, reading scripts, waiting for funds to be deposited and actors to become available. But living without the regular contact provided by the annual film-festival circuit is certainly a challenge that everyone has had to adapt to. Costa-Calzado has been negotiating this new landscape as she develops her next project, a co-production set in Italy which was selected for this year’s TorinoFilmLab.

Costa-Calzado: "We can pitch films over Skype, we can meet over Zoom, we can sell a film, we can make a deal, we can do a lot of things online. But the human relationships, I think that is what we still haven't figured out how to take online. Festivals are for building friendships with people in those small moments, over a beer or dinner. Rotterdam this year was amazing for that. There were 69 of us in the lab, and we still have a WhatsApp group where we check in and send updates. We have a network of people all over the world that can work together and collaborate.”

At the same time, Costa-Calzado appreciates the fact that Torino Film Festival took their lab online. "It was incredible that they were still doing the lab. You have to acknowledge the effort. To not just say ‘well, there’s Covid, so nothing's going to happen.’ It was very hopeful."

Trouble on set

On the other hand, Costa-Calzado explains that it’s hard to remain hopeful about the damage the pandemic will have caused to film shoots, an aspect of the production process with no option but to take place in the uncertain confines of the real world. The idea of a fully-staffed international film set is one that seems the furthest away with a deadly virus still posing a threat. Only the major studios will be able to fully absorb the extra costs of testing, on-set doctors and observers, that money-tight indie films will struggle with. “All of those things combined, we're talking about $800,000 of extra costs for a $2 million movie.”

As a producer, you’re a human mama bear. You don’t want to put your crew at risk

More important than the financial burden though is the duty of care that a producer feels for their team. Costa-Calzado: “It’s not just that you are the liable person and the owner of the company, you’re the human mama-bear: this is your crew and this is your film, and I think there's a part of you that is like: there's a virus out there and I don't want to put my crew in danger.”

  • Lara Costa-Calzado (kneeling on the right) at Rotterdam Lab 2020

Making the most of it

Until a vaccine then, many films will have to wait. But what has everyone been doing whilst the sets have been closed and shoots called off? The time has not been wasted, says Costa-Calzado. “I think this virus has given us the opportunity to do things for which we didn’t have the time before. Time to read the scripts, to meet, to talk. Time to think. I am trying to put together the financing for a film shot in Mexico. Before we weren't able to find producers or people interested, but in March people said: I read it, I like it, let's talk.”

This moment of serenity for an industry normally obliviously pursuing the next deadline in a frenzy of production and festivals has created the space not just for neglected projects to rise to the surface, but for the values and norms of its working practice to be reassessed. For Costa-Calzado, this is the most positive shift the constraints of life in lockdown will have had on film workers.

"A lot of things that we took for granted, that we thought we couldn't make a film without, those things we now do online. Do we really need to all be at the production office for two months? Maybe not. Do we all need to go to see the locations together? Maybe not. Do I really need to live in New York? Do we really need to live where we live? Or are we really going to change as an industry?"

Does this mean the industry should become more locally minded? A reversal of the globalisation that has produced a rich and diverse landscape of international co-productions? “For me personally it will open the possibility of being even more international, of being in a place but working in another one, of staying there but prepping here, or being in New York but working in Italy; being more international but, on the contrary, travelling less.”

As an up-and-coming producer, Costa-Calzado sees many opportunities for the future of film production. As always, nurturing this enthusiasm will once again be the goal of the Rotterdam Lab in 2021.

Written by Fraser White

Photo in header: Lara Costa-Calzado tijdens Rotterdam Lab 2020