look & listen

ITVS International

I have been sitting on this news for quite a while now, but this week the signed and counter-signed contract arrived back at the office and we can finally make it public…

ITVS International on board!
The Independent Television Service is a hybrid between a production fund and a company, based in San Francisco. They are like a fund because they work with public money (both tax dollars and large donations from three big foundations) and have two annual funding rounds to which one can apply: one for US companies and one for “international” ones (meaning non-U.S.). If you get through, they take U.S. broadcast rights and position themselves as a co-producer which means they get the right to editorial input on the U.S. version and a return on their investment. Obviously, I wouldn’t have mentioned them here, were it not that we were selected under their international call. Which IMHO is quite a big deal.

Getting “in” with ITVS is much desired in documentary-landia. We were chosen out of 500 projects from 117 countries, and ended up among the first three projects of 12 selected. They guarantee the U.S. broadcast and design and execute large promotional, social media and outreach campaigns in order to really maximise its exposure, something from which the film will benefit tremendously. And ITVS is recognized the world over and thus opens a lot of doors in many other places, not in the least to high-profile festivals (I am now dreaming of Sundance… fingers crossed). Finally, they make a serious contribution to the film’s budget and, last but certainly not least, they are a big boost to any director’s career and CV.

A few stats: this is the second project from Spain co-produced by ITVS, I am only the third Dutch director and it is the first time in their history that they are supporting a story from Nicaragua…

Pretty cool, eh? Their website is here.

Done!

The above title is misleading… but we’ve reached an amazing milestone by finishing the picture cut of the 90 minute (festival and theatrical) version of the film. I am extremely happy with the result, to say the least. I think we have a very very strong film in our hands.

But it’s not exactly done. This version still needs colour grading, sound mixing, subtitling (improving the English and doing Spanish ones), credits, and a few other details. I expect to be able to do all of this in the coming four weeks. Most major processes are done in parallel, at various companies. After that, Jan will be back and we’ll get going on the one-hour television version.

And then still, a film really only starts its life once it’s in front of an audience. Which will hopefully happen (or better: start) in September. So, way to go.

Version 18

We’re working on version 18 right now. Tomorrow is the first day of Jan’s last week in Madrid and I hope, expect and trust that we’ll be done by Friday. We then have the picture cut of the long version of the film, after which we can start working on the sound edit and mix as well as color correction.

I expect this version to come in at 90 minutes. We’ll use it for festivals and in those countries where we can arrange for a theatrical release. It’s also the foundation for the one-hour version, which we will be working on in June. All of the nine broadcasters involved in the film have requested anything between 58 and 52 minutes. And only one has also requested the long one, just to have the option.

Getting close…

A breakthrough

Yesterday, after eleven weeks and a few days of editing, we screened version 13 of the film, which was quite an event. I strongly felt that this is the one – the structure and balance we are after, the story lines we want to expose, the way Sujeylin takes our hand and leads us through the plot… I was elated after seeing it. And yet, we’ll have a few more weeks of editing to do before we can “lock” the picture on the feature version of the film. After that we do a sound mix and colour correction, and after that we start work on the one hour version for television.

Nevertheless, like a few other moments in the making of this film, yesterday was one to remember.

What’s up with Sujeylin?

Sujeylin never ceases to surprise me, even though lots of things that happen to her are not always directly due to her own actions. This time, things got a little dramatic, to say the least.

I left Managua three weeks ago with a very good feeling. Baby Karla was in good hands and Sujeylin seemed to finally have settled in Felix’s house under her own terms. She seemed reasonably happy with her situation. Here’s a picture of the last day as proof…

What’s more, I had been talking to her about helping her set up a small business, so she can sustain herself and become independent (right now she depends on Felix’s income). We had agreed to buy her a sewing machine, as this is something she likes doing and she had already arranged for some work doing repairs etc.

A week and a half later I get news from Managua that there has been a serious fight in the house and that she packed her bags and left. At first she returned to the group she was living with in the park, back on the streets with Karla’s bed and all, but when the police showed up she decided to rent a small room. The same she stayed in when her baby was only days old. This is not a very healthy place for anyone, and as expected, Karla got ill again quite quickly. And her mother’s plan to start a little sewing business had to temporarily be postponed.

I’ll save you the long phone calls and many emails to and from Managua, between Martha Clarissa (my producer there), Sujeylin and myself, but today the solution is around the corner.

So, today we’ve hired a driver to help her transport everything to her mother’s village in Chontales, where she will rent her own (small) place. There, we help her in buying supplies for an alternative business she believes will be more lucrative: selling shoes and sandals. This last element, significantly more expensive than the sewing machine, has been set up as a zero interest micro credit, in the hope the outstanding debt will increase her dedication to really make it work. I really really hope it works but will most definitely invest the money right back into her future if and when she returns it.

Surprisingly, she has opted to go there with Felix, which is risky but better than living in his family home in Managua. The upside is that she’s close to her own family, which is really the strongest social network she has right now (except for her street friends, but excluding them from the solution seems obvious).

I think it’s no surprise to anyone that it’s easy to become emotionally involved in the lives of your protagonists, especially when there’s a baby involved. And even more if you have been a witness to the birth of that baby, which is my case. Understandably, I was worried and lost some hours of sleep over this. What’s more, I owe a lot to Sujeylin’s generosity and dedication to the project. So I felt a strong responsibility to get her out of her risky situation and set her up in a safe environment where she can start working on her future and that of Karla.

I will be checking in with her and Martha regularly, to make sure the plan we all agreed on works.

Film = team work

Last Wednesday night I worked with the amazing Olga Rossano (Spanish singer/song writer – see her myspace here) in recording the vocal part of the title song of the film. As you might know, the song, entitled El Cielo Es El Aire, has been written by Nicaraguan artist PerroZompopo (see his web, where you can download his new album free of charge) and is being recorded and produced in Managua, except for the female vocals. I had brought along our daughter Paula, who is a fan of Olga, and we enjoyed a fun, creative and relaxed few hours at The Artist Factory sound studios just outside of Madrid. See picture.

As we were recording, it suddenly dawned on me that at the very moment we were doing that, others in other places in the world are working on other stuff for this documentary. Belgian editor Jan De Coster was still in my office, working on version 9 of the film (we expect to have some 20 versions before it’s done). Martin Rasskin, the composer of the rest of the music, was very probably working on fine tuning some of the themes which tie together the story. He is also in Madrid, but in his own studio. Meanwhile, in Managua, producer Martha Clarissa is dealing with Sujeylin, who has had a few problems we are trying to help her solve (more about this in a later post). And in that same city, a woman called Luisa Amanda Padilla is working against the clock to get the transcriptions of the interviews to us as soon as humanly possible so Jan can include those in the 300+ pages of documents related to the film’s original material and start adding some voice over to the final sequences. That must have been right around the same time co-producer Emily Lobsenz, in New York, was working on a document she sent me later regarding some of the outreach and audience engagement plans we are designing. I can go on…

Apart from many other factors, this is one of those little details which makes being a filmmaker a very fulfilling experience. This film is being worked on around the clock and around the world by a group of excellent people, devoted to its subject matter and to creating the best possible, most effective, interesting end product.

I find that touching, this idea of global collaboration.