FNE Visegrad YR 2021 Q&A: Slovak Producer and Head of SAPA Marián Urban


    FNE correspondent Zuzana Vojtekova spoke to Slovak producer Marián Urban, head of ALEF FILM & MEDIA and the Slovak Audiovisual Producers' Association (SAPA), about what challenges he faced as a producer during the pandemic and how the film industry in Slovakia is recovering.

    Marián UrbanFNE: What is your strategy for getting production back up to pre-pandemic levels?

    Marián Urban: I would like to be so optimistic and safely assume that the pandemic is over. We are hearing from various sources that another wave of the pandemic is not ruled out, so we are preparing the shooting of the feature film The Dormant Account / Spiaci účet by Miloslav Luther, produced by ALEF FILM & MEDIA in coproduction with Slovak´s UN FILMFRAME HOUSE, and Czech´s Fulfilm and Filmové ateliéry, for the autumn of 2021 with all the attributes as if we were filming it during the pandemic. I believe that in the summer of 2022 it will be possible to say something more optimistic on this topic.

    FNE: Did you manage to keep shooting films during the pandemic and what were the conditions?  What were the biggest challenges of shooting during the pandemic and have things improved now that restrictions are being lifted?

    Marián Urban: We didn't shoot. We were lucky to have finished production before the pandemic and therefore we are in postproduction with two feature films; both of them are in final postproduction these weeks and will be ready for distribution in the summer of 2021.

    During the pandemic, the most important thing for us was to deal with a complicated postproduction, while some creators and workers were in the Czech Republic, and most in Slovakia, and to achieve optimal quality, either of the final cut of both films or their postproduction, when all creators and producers couldn‘t meet in person.

    This slowdown has given us not only enough time for postproduction, but also for the development of other screenplays and projects, including communications with coproducers from different countries without meeting them in person.

    The result is quite promising: we have two feature films in preproduction and we will definitely start shooting one of them in the autumn of 2021, and we have four other screenplays with a high degree of development, with the perspective of financing and probably also shooting in 2021. So, we would be immodest if we said we weren't doing well.

    FNE: Was the help from the government enough and did it come at the right time?

    Marián Urban: As our projects already had the funding in place from the usual sources, such as the Slovak Audiovisual Fund, as well as funding from public sources from our coproduction partners, we were able to survive during the pandemic without additional special COVID state aid.

    FNE: Was there anything for production that you started to do online during the pandemic and will you continue to do some things online now that we are in the recovery period?

    Marián Urban: If we also consider preproduction and postproduction as a part of production, we switched to the vast majority of communication and management activities online, and we also verified the possibilities of implementing a large part of the editing and the preparation of sound postproduction online. And perhaps most interestingly, we also got coproduction partners without meeting them physically at all. I can't imagine the filming itself online, the audiovisual recording is still on the set, in a creative symbiosis of the main creative creators and performers, unless, of course, we make an animated film, which we didn't.

    It also means that in a completely aggravated situation, we can probably do almost everything except filming online. But since this is already beginning to resemble the creation of computer games, I believe that this is not the near future of film art and production.

    FNE: How important are coproductions with neighbouring countries for your company and are you coproducing with Hungary, the Czech Republic or Poland?

    Marián Urban: Our experience is that for many years (more than 20 years after 1990) it was almost impossible to make any more demanding feature films with a majority Slovak participation without coproducers from the Czech Republic. The system of support and financing of the Slovak cinematography, as well as new, especially digital technologies, make it possible to make films without foreign financial participation, but we are still very happy to cooperate not only with Czech coproducers, but also with Polish and Hungarian ones.

    The films that we have in the highest stage of preparation for realisation are projects with either Czech and Hungarian, or Polish and Czech coproducers, and we believe that some, if not all, of the others will be created in such a synergy. It is naturally more challenging than to implement the project only from national sources and with national partners, but it brings a lot of positive elements, whether creative, partnership, financial, but also towards the distribution of films, which clearly outweighs any potential, partial problems that coproductions will raise.

    I am convinced that the better conditions are created and adapted for such a way of financing the implementation of projects with artistic or cultural ambitions of the national authority, the brighter the future of not only Central European films.

    The 2021 Year of Recovery for Film in Visegrad Countries (YR2021) project sponsored by the Visegrad Fund brings together filmmakers and cultural professionals across the V4 to cooperate in the recovery of the film industry, which has been badly damaged by the COVID pandemic, and to reconnect with cinema audiences across the region and across borders. We want to share the lessons learned about reaching audiences online and the advantages of hybrid events in creating new connections across the Visegrad region. Our partner for this in Slovakia is the Slovak Film Institute.