An interview with Pepe Jordana,
producer of Alumbramiento

Henrik Underbjerg

One of the key questions regarding the producing of short films: Where's the audience? When producing short films in Denmark you know that if you're lucky enough to get a broadcaster on board they will probably hide your film away in a slot where they know nobody will be watching. In their analysis a short film doesn't have the potential needed to penetrate all the media-noise and reach its audience. Commissioning editors have tried so many times in past years to make it happen but now they have given up, folded their arms repeating the word 'No' over and over again. They have the same feeling you may share with me that if I could get the audience into the cinema or get it to turn on the TV at the right time they will have a very good experience and be both entertained and perhaps even touched. But I don't have the means to make this happen. For the most part the lack of audience equals the lack of funding. And this does not necessarily mean that only the exceptionally good shorts get made. Seen from the outside, the perception is perhaps that it is a coincidence whenever a film gets out; sometimes a stroke of luck but first and foremost a coincidence. When looking a bit closer, it's more or less a matter of (the coincidental) finding the right combination of creatives and story but also the timing and the possible noise you can get to play a role in this game. Is there a Spanish audience for Alumbramiento? And do you see any signs of a possible emergence of a European audience through new platforms of distribution? What importance do you think timing, noise, strategy have?

Is there an audience? Where is it? Is television the only way to reach the audience? What does it take to penetrate the noise and make yourself a space in front of the audience? I don't believe in the established distribution system, not anymore. Nor in local audiences. I believe in a global audience and also in our actual capacity to make the product instantly international. Alumbramiento was born at the Venice Festival and has earned more awards outside Spain than within our country. It's true that in Spain it has been issued on DVD (with the Rumanian film, 4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days, also a European Film Academy winner) and it has also been broadcast on several TV-stations, but that's not the real audience. The audience could be much bigger, and that's the one we have to try to reach, in any way possible.

The audience doesn't know how much they are missing. If anyone dares to make a package with three or four good shorts and spend the same amount of money on promotion as they usually spend on a feature launch promotion, there could be some surprises regarding audience. The huge amount of shorts available permits one to choose and pack with precision for any given type of targeted audience. Everybody loves shorts. Commercials (more than film) have tightened the language, the speed and the codes for several generations. But on top of that, a short film takes less effort from the viewer (in time) and can be as powerful, intense and artistic as a feature film. And with reduced production costs. Some day somebody will notice all this and will go for a big business opportunity.

The internet and cell phones are very good tools but are also dangerous in some way. I don't think we can talk about audiences in the same sense that film and TV have been designating them. The multiplicity of the sources takes us to the atomization of the audience. There won't be big audiences anymore. There might be hits, weird cases that will make it for a big mass of little audiences.

In a few years we'll get the technological capacity for a good image and sound experience, with real quality, which is my obsession, with no compression, big sized images and perfect streaming. But there is this part I don't like: I believe in the viewer, in his willingness to see a film, alone or with others, but with full dedication to that observation, to the experience. I don't think that Alumbramiento should be viewed at a bus stop or on the tiny screen of a cell phone. I don't like interruptions for ads on the TV so I'm not friendly toward any apparatus with a pause button. A film must not be interrupted.

I prefer to think about new forms of exhibition rather than distribution, because we shouldn't let technology rule the world. I like to think about those old musical juke-boxes, imagine a future where all films are available on the net in great quality, you own a little café where in some corner, a group of people are watching a film together and the café has its own private Top-10 with the most viewed shorts of the month.

We could have uploaded Alumbramiento on the web but we didn't feel like doing it. Not only because of the plastic, the light and the photography, that we feel gets distorted and badly treated in multimedia quality, but also for the film itself: Watching an old woman die, surrounded by stupid banners for travel offers and so on, is something we must try to avoid. We need to find better ways of distribution.

Strategy and noise are necessary, but may fail. At the end it's always the audience who has the last word, who decides. Indeed I think there must be a launch, in some way. But I don't believe in established formats. Films must adapt and go out there and look for its audience, its circuits, its exhibition platforms, which can be very different depending on each film and its targeted audience. Short films have been looking to feature films for too long, and they should look more to commercials. Those are closer formats regarding language, tools, and impact capacity. Advertising has abandoned television and press, jumping to the streets, searching for their victims because they know the audience is not there anymore, passively, in front of the media, suffering the bombardment. Each product must look for its consumer and each film and filmmaker must find his public, and get his film to them, not waiting for the public to come.

All this is said because I think that a film doesn't really exist until somebody watches it. The movie can make sense, it can have a value, it may even be something important, but it really doesn't exist if nobody is watching.

The audience decides… And Alumbramiento was born in Venice where it first met its audience. But this is only possible if the film finds its way to the audience. At the same time the established distribution systems now appear to be on their way to becoming irrelevant or at least on their way to becoming supplemented by various platforms that can exhibit short films rather than atomize the audience by approaching it through all possible means. Some would say that it's not only the audience that becomes atomized nowadays but also the formats. A fast-moving parallel media-flow could be the news where the notion increasingly becomes that we as the audience don't have to do anything to find the news because the news will find us - if it's relevant for us. In this light a trust in the audience's ability to give life to one's film could be said to cover for a very hard selection process. A selection that demands a lot of both the filmmakers and the story they have undertaken to produce. As we are probably not the only ones to know, a vast numbert of titles disappear every year - and perhaps ten times that figure never even gets close to principal photography. How did you and the director, Eduardo Chapero-Jackson, know that Alumbramiento could penetrate the noise and find its way to the audience (and its funding)? Does the success of your film (in finding its audience) have anything to do with a dedication to shorts as a genre in their own right (as opposed to doing shorts as a stepping stone to features)? And following the news-line: Do you think that Alumbramiento would have found me if Richard hadn't asked me for a contribution to POV?

I love short films, watching them and making them. For Eduardo and for me they are not a step toward other things. The format gives us the freedom to choose projects and the freedom to work, to face the project as we like. If you don't have that freedom, the creative process becomes just a job, even if you have a great budget or the final cut.

The funding. We worked on a strange basis: We financed the project with our own funds and resources. Working in other areas (advertising, TV, postproduction services) enabled us to face the project with enough freedom. It was a small project with only a three-day shoot in a closed set and a little driving around. We didn't care about getting the money back until it was finished. Apparently we've gone from guerrilla filmmaking to kamikaze fundraising.

Too many movies, maybe it's too much. There was a time when somebody could think of himself as capable of knowing ALL about main literature, and maybe the same about knowing ALL ABOUT (important) FILMS. Not anymore. The audiovisual is just another language which new generations know and use even better than their natural oral-verbal language. The frontiers between film, video creation, advertisement, propaganda and crap are very diffuse. So it's very difficult to categorize or to compare; there's simply too much material to analyze. For me analyzing is boring. I just want to know where to look. I don't want to waste my time on something I'm not interested in.

How do I decide if I want to get involved in a project? I'm very impulsive, very instinctive. I don't think I choose a project but the project chooses me. Besides, I'm not very interested in the result. I am more interested in the creative process, in the people participating (the director and the cast and crew), I need to be sure that there is space for experimentation, learning and joy. I could add the general interest, discarding extreme author self-interest. I look for projects worried about the audience's interest, not about audiences worried about the interest of the project.

Alumbramiento started from a concept: improvising. There was a detailed script but with suggested dialogs. There was a key point, of course, established at "Maria, you are going to die", but it was at the rehearsals that all the rest would appear. Eduardo and the cast prepared the characters, their backgrounds, their feelings, but they didn't rehearse moment of the tragic ending because, from the very beginning, Eduardo felt that "nobody can rehearse death". So we went all together to that final moment, shooting chronologically, knowing that Maria would die but not knowing how it would be. The idea of the song, when the son starts singing, stems from the rehearsal that only the director and the actor knew (and myself). Everything was intended to search for spontaneity, naturalness and truth. So we decided to shoot with three cameras, one for each actor, in a very complicated set-up and all the lightning equipment spread around the bed.

Finally Henrik, I cannot know if you would have seen Alumbramiento. I guess that now that you've seen it, it's because it had to be that way. I think any form of art has to run the road by itself, in a natural way, of course surrounded and accompanied by the rest of us, who have to make our best effort and our best job: director, producer and all the rest until it comes to Richard. And then it's your turn. And so on.

The freedom you have been able to offer to Alumbramiento almost makes me want to move to Spain! I'm very curious about the way you describe the film's 'life' from your initial impulsive and instinctive decision until it comes to life in the eyes and minds of the audience. You stress that you look for projects that are concerned with the possible audience - and while shooting you care less for the result, i.e. the finished film, and more about the making of the film, the process.

Not exactly - maybe I didn't explain myself clearly enough. If I decide to go for a project, it's because I believe there is something real to offer to the audience. Also, I must feel there is enough space for learning and experimentation, to challenge our own boundaries as filmmakers and storytellers. While shooting, it's not that I don't care about the result, its more that I have this faith in the process, something to do with maximum honesty and effort in every aspect of the shoot and postproduction, with special focus on scriptwriting, development and preproduction. And then the film gets done and some people seem to like it, some others may not, but we don't really care because we are proud of it and we like it. The rest is just a matter of finding more people who would like the film.

Cristina Plazas as Sara. Photo provided by Prosopopey Productions.

In the film there's a point where the sister asks Sara to step forward into the light where Maria can see her. Even though this step can be seen as an omen, the step into the light is an action in its own right and a step 'into character' almost inevitably leading Sara to say "Maria, you're going to die". Would it be fair to say that if you sense a core of meaning or attraction in the idea or the script, which makes you decide to try and work further on the film, this core will transcend the film and will almost inevitably bring the film to its audience, thus making it 'come alive'?

I don't really know... As I said before, I believe indeed that at some point, there must be a very honest process in the making of the film in order to enable it to transcend…, especially with such a script, trying to recreate a moment of deep humanity with very powerful feelings going on within the scene. I remember that Eduardo and I talked a lot about the lighting: a very theatrical atmosphere, almost like a painting, full of darkness but with small areas of light, where characters could go back and forth, from consciousness to dreamland, from the present to their memories, from life to death, from your own life to the life of another, from fiction to reality.

Furthermore through the financing, the production, the exhibition we can use all kinds of strategies and make all kinds of noises, but the key element in play is the core of the story - and that core works with or without our help. That core made you choose the project and now that I have seen the film, I carry that core, passing it on…?

I guess so. The core doesn't work by itself. It needs the complicity of many others, like me and you. The closets are full of great scripts and even great films that will never see the light because one day someone decided not to look or not to act. Even with tons of promotion (noise), nobody can tell if a movie is going to make it to every single home on the planet. But sometimes a movie makes it, with more noise than promotion, and that is the very moment when we must remember that films are a collective kind of art, because they take a lot of people to get them made and also a much bigger number of people to get them distributed all over. Word of mouth being the biggest promotional channel, especially in these times of atomized audience in front of thousands of blogs. Please, pass it on. ;-)

5 January 2009

Manolo Sólo as Rafa. Photo provided by Prosopopey Productions.

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