A film’s decisive 10 minutes

An American producer working in (ex-husband) Martin Scorsese’s company, Barbara De Fina has one condition when undertaking a film’s promotion: a good story. «A story that holds your attention, is based on real life, with characters whose lives you want to follow and where you want to know what will happen to them in the next scene: You have 10 minutes to grab the audience’s attention. If you don’t make it, you’ve lost the game,» she says. The film industry is merciless and American producers are trained to predict a film’s success from the script’s first lines. According to De Fina, this is because audiences are increasingly demanding, more and more interested in situations from daily life – and, more than ever, turning their backs on big spectacles. While the Hollywood majors are already mourning the failure of this summer’s blockbusters, ingenious De Fina knows where she should invest: in small-scale productions with next-door heroes with whom audiences can identify. That is why she chose Pantelis Voulgaris’s «The Brides.» Martin Scorsese’s company was involved in the casting (of international actors) and will undertake the film’s global distribution. What was the motive behind your involvement in the production of «The Brides?» Ioanna Karystiani’s script. It’s exceptional and very touching. It fell into my hands a few years ago, and I have been looking for the right moment ever since. I didn’t want it to go to waste. It is so well written. «The Brides» belongs to that category of films where everybody loves the script but they don’t want to invest in it. Three different love stories cross paths in the film, involving people of different ages, stemming from different places. One of the three stories is a tragic one and, like all great love stories, it does not have a happy end. What kind of audiences do you think «The Brides» is aimed at? The wider public. The subject is universal, complex, with characters stemming from all walks of life. I showed trailers from the film to friends of mine back home and they all reacted in the same way. They thought the characters were genuine – not glorified in any way. Do you believe that ‘cinema d’auteur,’ such as that of Scorsese, Coppola or Goddard, has a place in today’s cinematic reality? I think it encouraging that the American Academy of Film rewards small productions like they did with Roman Polanski’s «The Pianist» this year. These are not blockbusters; they might not gross millions at the box office, yet studios seem rather disappointed by the blockbusters recently. Especially those released for the summer season. I believe that audiences are becoming more demanding. It’s like a cycle. The public is going back to good stories that feature simple, mundane, real people. This has also to do with September 11. In the last two to three years, small, independent productions have been encouraged. Are American films still produced independently? Absolutely. It’s just that sometimes independent films are distributed by big companies. At multiplex cinemas, they keep one or two halls for smaller-scale productions. How easy is it for directors such as Coppola or Scorsese to survive in Hollywood without having to compromise? It is impossible to survive without making any kind of compromise. Even those directors who have the final cut cannot deliver a four-hour film. It does not matter who you are. Studios won’t accept it; distributors will not buy it and even if they do, they will screen it in one cinema for a week. Everybody has to compromise. But I also think that audiences, more so in the US than in Europe, are showing signs of lack of attention. Therefore, I believe that this constant bombardment of information and images means instant gratification. It is very difficult to keep the public put for more than two hours and 10-20 minutes. Emotions are consumed rapidly; they don’t last. A film must be very powerful in order to nail audiences to their seats and this happens only occasionally. Do today’s producers have any similarities to Hollywood’s mogul-producers of the 1940s and ’50s? Back then, producers were high-ranking big studio executives who had their own money. Today, producers spend more energy making deals and getting people to invest financially, instead of overlooking production. In the old days, producers worked exclusively for the studios. Perhaps our profession was better off then, though this was not the case for the actors who were bound and obliged by contract to appear in just one studio’s films. The studio moguls decided on everything: the film, the lead actors, the director. It was a completely different atmosphere. And now? Now it’s the opposite. The cast is the principal factor, even in small budget films. It is the actors who attract financial backing. It is very difficult, for instance, for a film with a female lead to find backers, unless we are talking about Julia Roberts. We are living at a time dominated by male parts. How long have you been collaborating with Martin Scorsese? About 15 years. In the last few years, he has been working on increasingly bigger films and I prefer working on smaller ones. Do bigger films mean progress? Inevitably. Everybody starts off with small, personal films and naturally develops into bigger productions with bigger names. What matters to me is a good story. It’s narration. And the bigger the production, the harder it gets to tell the story. The spectacle comes first. Is it harder to live or to work with Scorsese? Oh, I’m not going to answer this question! Which of his films do you prefer then? Perhaps «New York Stories» (a film in three parts, directed by Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola and Woody Allen), because Scorsese’s subject was about art and an artist’s sacrifice. This interview was translated from the Greek text.