Flora Fernández Marengo, film, television producerTuesday, January 21, 2014
‘I don’t deal with piracy, I suffer it’
Buenos Aires, October 22, 1971
Studies: Prilidiano Pueyrredón Fine Arts School
Awards and distinctions: Primetime Emmy Award in 2010 for immigration drama The Betrayal (Nerakhoon, 2008); Irish Film and Television Award (IFTA) for The Guard (2011), invited to Sundance 2014, Berlinale’s Panorama 2014, and Dublin Film Festival
Last film produced: Calvary (2014), directed by John Michael McDonagh
Last film watched: Oscar nominees American Hustle, by David O. Russell, and Her, by Spike Jonze
Last good cry watching a movie: in Edinburgh, with Juan José Campanella’s Luna de Avellaneda
Last books read: La dueña, by Miguel and Nicolás Wiñazki; The Origin of Species
For somebody who has received a wakeup call just five minutes ago, film/advertising producer Flora Fernández Marengo is extraordinarily fast and efficient. I barely notice her presence when she sits at the table at a traditional bar across the street from the Alvear Palace Hotel. She yawns good morning and orders green tea, “not as effective as coffee,” but great all the same to kick the morning off and see her through the day, starting with this 9am interview the day before she flies to Utah for the screening of Calvary, which she produced.
Your life is spent jumping from one plane to the next (Fernández Marengo runs production offices in London, Los Angeles and Buenos Aires). How do you manage, and how do you keep abreast of the news?
Unwinding is hard, sometimes. I like to stay informed all day, every single day of the week, even on my days off. Just now, as I walked in, I glanced at the newspaper headlines to have an idea of what’s going on, or at least of what has made headline news. Today, it’s the dollar exchange rate going up here, and I can’t help thinking how it will affect business here and abroad.
You still read the newspapers’ printed version. Paper has a staying power, in spite of the digital revolution...
Reading the news in print is less frequent for me now. When I power my tablet on, for example, it’s programmed to open some 10 tabs with my favourite news sites. I just can’t stick to one source, I need a more global vision of things.
Is this another short work-related visit to BA?
I arrived Monday morning, I’m leaving today (Is it today???, she asks her PR, sighs with relief when told it’s the next day). This kind of thing happens when you’re busy with a thousand things, you lose track of the day and time. It’s been a very good week. Tomorrow I’m flying to Utah for the Sundance Film Festival, where Calvary is screening on Sunday.
Producing independent films (or outside the commercial circuit) must be an arduous task...
Making indie movies is very difficult, there’s a lot of personal effort involved, it’s the challenge posed by art cinema that’s also commercially viable, the kind of cinema that draws people in. Indie films must recoup the investment too. As a producer, you want to keep the movie’s integrity, but there’s also the commercial aspect to be considered.
How do you achieve both goals?
Just like everything else, if the product is good it reaches out to audiences. I think that, culturally, if a movie resonates with audiences, it’s because people identify with it, finding in it things not available in, say, a blockbuster like Superman. Striking a balance between good cinema and financial return entails a great responsibility.
Your company made the thriller And Soon the Darkness (US-Argentina-France, 2010), shot in the northern Argentine province of Salta. How was it distributed?
It had a limited theatrical release of two weeks and then straight to DVD.
Is it possible to recoup a movie’s investment that fast?
Not really. The release and distribution need careful planning. You have to be aware how the market works, this way you can achieve very good results. You can’t ask distributors or exhibitors for exorbitant amounts of money, this way your film stays in the can. Good or bad sales decisions play a key role in a film’s success, apart from the product’s intrinsic value. It must have been the case of Patagonia (starring Matthew Rhys, shot in the province of Chubut, Argentina), and The Guard (Ireland, with Brendan Gleason, Don Cheadle and Mark Strong). We had very solid production teams in both Patagonia and The Guard. This allowed us to plan a good sales and distribution strategy. As for Calvary (2014), the financers wanted to launch it in November to capitalize on their investment, but we specifically asked them to hold it back for Sundance and the Berlinale. It was a wise decision, I hope.
Do you generate projects yourself or do they bring them to you, and how do you seek financing?
A bit of both. In the case of movies, my position is not as strong here as it is abroad. In Argentina we concentrate on advertising. I used to get lots of projects, and right now I’m seeking finance for myself.
Do you work in collaboration with INCAA (Argentina’s National Film Board)? It’s hard not to.
So far, I haven’t approached INCAA. Ninety-five or even 100 percent of movies in Argentina are made with the support of INCAA. I’m not sure if this was the case with the Will Smith movie made here. The films I produce are shot in Argentina but normally marketed abroad, I’m not really sure if the INCAA would be interested in them. Also, most of my films are spoken in English, with a cultural background different from Argentina’s.
As for distribution, how do you deal with piracy?
(I don’t deal with it), I suffer it! The strategy, so far, is not to upload the film anywhere. Sometimes, as you must know, it becomes necessary to upload films, but we try not to, and we try not to send DVDs either. And if a movie happens to be pirated and made available online, we try to have it deleted. Solving copyright complaints takes a long time, though.
Your job demands a lot of travelling...
Before, it used to be London-Los Angeles-Buenos Aires. LA has been a bit relegated recently, although I fly to other US cities for business. There’s also Canada and, next year, hopefully, China.
Do you feel more at ease with cinema or with advertising?
I feel I belong to both in equal measure. Sometimes I would like to have a more definite pattern, and it’s strange when this doesn’t happen. That’s when you start to question which area you’re more comfortable in. This type of self-questioning is not a bad thing in itself.
Do you have to pull a switch to move from one to the other?
The codes and the language of cinema and advertising are different, but I don’t think of them as opposites. Rather, they complement each other. It’s a mutual thing. In the same manner that good things can be transferred from one to the other, some problems are contagious. Advertising demands a lot of detailed attention, like you’re improving on reality because, at the end of the day, it’s all about selling a product. Cinema seeks a closer, more accurate connection with reality, so that audiences may relate to it. Over-stylization may backfire.