Carla Fotea: “Film production comes to ego, resource and time management”
Carla Fotea is one of the most active and promising young producers in Romanian cinema. She started her career working on films such as “Graduation” (2016), by Cristian Mungiu, and “6.9 on the Richter Scale” (2016), by Nae Caranfil, as a production assistant.
Over the past few years, she had various roles working in the production department of Radu Jude’s latest four feature films, produced by Ada Solomon: “I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians” (2018), winner at Karlovy Vary, “Uppercase Print” (2020), “The Exit of the trains” (2020, a documentary made together with historian Adrian Cioflâncă), and “Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn” (2021), winner of this year’s Golden Bear at Berlinale.
She also worked on the documentaries “Everything Will Not Be Fine” (2020), by Adrian Pârvu and Helena Maksyom, and “House of Dolls” (2020), by Tudor Platon, and was an executive producer on “Ivana the Terrible” (2019), by Ivana Mladenovic.
In college, she studied Communication at the National School of Political and Administrative Studies (2011-2014), followed by a master’s degree in Film Production at the National University of Theatre and Film “I.L. Caragiale” (UNATC) in Bucharest (2014-2016).
In 2017, she was nominated in the “Young Hope” category at the Gopo Awards for the production of the short film “Sex, Pipe, Omelette” (dir. Ana-Maria Comănescu). Recently, she was selected in the “Emerging Producers” program at the prestigious Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival.
Born on October 1, 1992, in Focșani, Carla Fotea attended the “Spiru Haret” Pedagogical High School. During high school, she participated every year, until the 12th grade, in the local Students’ Theater Season. “Every high school prepared a stage performance; some were better, some were worse. There was a great vibe. At the end of the 12th grade, everyone was applying to Acting at the National University of Theatre and Film “I.L. Caragiale” (UNATC) in Bucharest. Few would get in, almost no one. I wasn’t set on it, thank God for that,” says the producer.
She doesn’t really know why she attended the theater classes, because she wasn’t interested in acting, but she certainly found them interesting: “I tried all sorts of things in high school. In fact, the teachers encouraged me to participate in all activities (laughs). So I did. But I learned a lot of things, including the fact that acting was not something I wanted to do. At one point, I thought about pursuing a career in theater directing. Fortunately, this idea lasted about two months.”
She doesn’t remember when and how her interest in film kicked in, but she is sure that the environment she grew up in had an influence – it gave her “a penchant for the arts”.
“My father was a writer and he would bring from the kindergarten to the literary club where I would scribble on the manuscripts of the people he would meet. The house was full of books. Maybe this is why I developed a thing for the arts. My parents were not cinephiles. I didn’t grow up with dozens of VHS tapes around. But I remember that when we bought our first computer, several movie CDs suddenly appeared in the house. I think we even had a CD with Amélie; I was in fourth grade when I watched it and then I thought it was amazing,” remembers Carla Fotea.
“Then, in high school, like all children, I started downloading movies from torrent sites. I saw a lot of flicks and B movies, but there were also some good films. In the 10th or 11th grade, I saw Truffaut’s Les quatre cents coups, but I didn’t understand a thing. Since I had the drive from theater classes, and everyone was applying to Acting at UNATC, I looked over what was required for the admission exam to Theater, and then Film. I didn’t read the books on the list, but I watched all the films,” she says.
She wanted to go to the Audiovisual Communication (CAV) section of the Film Department at UNATC because it also had an Advertising class, and she was mostly interested in that at the time. But a friend she had at Acting discouraged her.
So she went to SNSPA (National School of Political and Administrative Studies). She got a job in college and worked for two years for an agency, but she resigned just before graduating.
“For me, advertising was cool. I was doing what I wanted to do. It was a good job. I had a steady income. It was more than okay for a student. I was a copywriter and I didn’t find it hard to write those short texts. But before graduating from SNSPA, I went to the agency and told them I was leaving, that I was resigning. I was bored. But it was a great episode in my life, funny and somewhat dramatic,” recalls Cara Fotea. She also remembers that her mother didn’t agree at first, but then accepted her decision.
In the meantime, something else had happened. “In my third year of college, me and some former high school classmates organized a film workshop for high school students in my hometown. We thought of doing something nice for the children in our town since we didn’t have this kind of opportunity. It was complicated. We struggled with local authorities and institutions. It was a challenge. But we made it and I think it served them well,” recalls Carla Fotea.
Although she knew nothing about film production, organizing the workshop made her think about it as a possible career. In the end, she attended the master’s program in Production at UNATC (2014-2016). Although she did the training courses, she didn’t get into the state-funded program and she had to pay for it.
“For me, a straight-A student, with great achievements in several Olympiads, was a huge blow. Especially since I didn’t have the money to pay for it. And the very idea of paying a tuition fee was inconceivable. I cried a lot, it felt unfair, it was a whole drama. At the same time, I told myself that I was coming from a different background, I didn’t know anyone in the field, I hadn’t graduated from UNATC, I didn’t really know where it would lead me career-wise, so maybe it’s justified and it’s not a plot against me. My mother really felt for me and told me to go for it and that we would find a way to pay the tuition fee. So I did. I came to UNATC with a lot of enthusiasm, but I was also a bit offended to not have entered the state-funded program,” says the producer.
The experience of the master’s program was disappointing. Some teachers wouldn’t even come to their classes, but she also had teachers who were active producers, such as Daniel Mitulescu and Gabi Suciu, and from whom she learned some things. “I didn’t feel any connection with any of my teachers or to the school itself. I was disappointed. I was even more disappointed in the second year, when I had to pay the tuition fee once again. I could have entered the state-funded program, but they didn’t transfer me, although I worked on several projects in the first year and they were not bad,” says Carla Fotea. “Still, this school proved useful in one regard: I met my peers and for that I’m ever-grateful,” she adds.
Because she had resigned from her job in advertising and the school wasn’t demanding at all or, at least, not in the way she would have expected, she suddenly found herself with a lot of free time on her hands. “In the first weeks of school, I was desperate to do something, so when Mrs. Doina Maximilian, our teacher, came to class and asked us who wanted to volunteer at Les Films de Cannes à Bucarest, the festival organized by Cristian Mungiu, I was the only one to raise my hand. I think it was the edition that had Michel Hazanavicius as a special guest,” she recalls.
She joined the festival team and there she met Delia Marcu, with whom she became friends. She helped with everything she could and wherever there was need for her: “It was a very cool experience and I learned a lot.”
Sometime after the festival, producer Tudor Reu called her to offer her a job on Graduation, by Cristian Mungiu. It was 2015. She instantly accepted and so she became a production assistant on her first big project. After that, Tudor Reu invited her to be a production assistant on 6.9 on the Richter Scale, by Nae Caranfil.
“I learned everything, working on these two films. I recently found some emails from that period and in one of them, I’m being reproached for not doing I-don’t-know-what. So, besides learning everything, I also made a lot of mistakes. I messed it up in all the ways possible. Literally. I’m deeply grateful to these people for having patience with me. I learned a lot from the mistakes I made. But I’m sure it wasn’t that great for them (laughs). While working on Graduation, I saw the whole process: pre-production, production, and then post-production, the festival circuit, and the theatrical release. For me, that was the real education. I don’t think I could ask for more than that,” admits the producer.
In the meantime, she also finished her master’s degree. And then she ended up working with producer Ada Solomon, whom she had met at the NexT Festival, on a pitch where she presented a short film by director Octav Chelaru, and who left her a message on Facebook inviting her to meet each other.
“The first project I received, as executive producer, was the documentary Everything Will Not Be Fine, by Adrian Pârvu and Helena Maksyom, which we finished last year. It took a long time. It was a different kind of school. I hadn’t worked on documentary films before, I didn’t know what it meant. It was hard but very cool,” says Carla Fotea.
When asked about the difference between the roles of producer and executive producer, she likes to use a metaphor that she considers fitting: “The producer has the overall vision, the budget, and the financial plan. They see the forest, not so much the trees. Whereas the executive producer sees the trees, that is, they know even the smallest details, the so-called practicalities.”
After Everything Will Not Be Fine (2020), she worked on a few other documentaries: House of Dolls (2020), by Tudor Platon, and The Exit of the Trains (2020), by Radu Jude and Adrian Cioflâncă. She learned from experience that no two documentaries are the same, in terms of production: “You learn that you have to be flexible, because they’re all different. When it comes to the way of doing things, fiction is more standard than documentary. But that’s what makes working on documentaries more fun sometimes. Although it can give you a rough time,” she says with a smile.
She believes that as an executive producer one needs patience, intelligence, and balance to understand when a request from the director is important and helps the film and not to reject it because it would involve new expenses.
She also says that she considers herself lucky: “Not only was I allowed, but I was encouraged to bring and work on some projects of my own. Like it happened with House of Dolls or with Ana-Maria Comănescu’s debut, but also with other projects. I see it as an extremely privileged position to be able to do this in a safe environment and under the guidance of Ada Solomon. I’m given the freedom to struggle and deal with all kinds of challenges, but sometimes that’s the point of the game. If me and my colleagues were constantly sheltered from hardships, we would get nowhere.”
She also worked on Radu Jude’s last three fiction films. She was a production manager on I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians (2018), and an executive producer on Uppercase Print (2020) and Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn (2021). All three had Ada Solomon as producer.
“Every time I hit a wall and I don’t know what to say to the director I work with, I think of the two of them (i.e. Ada Solomon and Radu Jude). They are both very strong and always work for the benefit of the film. They’re like a production playbook (laughs). It’s very interesting to watch them, see how they handle difficult situations and observe their tactics for crisis management. I’m always surprised. It’s not only about finding solutions, but also about the ability to see things as a whole and in the long run,” says Carla Fotea.
She states that after a few years of production, she became more relaxed: “Four years ago I wanted to be everywhere, at all the festivals and workshops, to show that I am here and that I have something to say. Now I wonder if this attitude is really necessary. I no longer feel the need to prove something. I don’t want to show off if there’s nothing to show off for. For me, now it’s interesting to make movies with people I like and believe in. I’m not that worked up or competing with anyone anymore, although I don’t think I was competing with anyone before either. Of course, I want to be a better producer; that’s the point, after all. It’s important to be present in this world, no doubt, but it’s even more interesting to feel that the things I do are legit. I don’t want to do something just to cross it off the list. Maybe this ease in my way of approaching things also has to do with the fact that I grew up in a creative environment and that I came across great opportunities very early on. Maybe it also comes from the fact that I recently had a child. That changed things a little bit, although I feel that this stage had started before I became a mother.”
In her opinion, film production comes to “ego, resource and time management”: “I came to this definition trying to explain to my family what I do.”
She also considers that an essential quality is patience: “It’s not necessarily about patience with other people, but with the production process itself; and with yourself, to understand what this process entails. I’ve seen many cases of people getting involved in production but not as a general producer and who do not have the patience to understand the film. I even saw that in me, but I’m trying to improve.”
She believes that in the production process, first of all, creativity means finding smart solutions to problems that arise. “Then, I think it comes to seeing things differently, shifting the paradigm, breaking the old habits. What do you do if you don’t get funding from the CNC (i.e. Romanian Film Center)? Does this mean you’ll never make the movie? Maybe there are other options – some are related to production, others have to do with the creative part. It takes courage to venture into such quests, but you also need to educate yourself in thinking out-of-the-same-old-box. Ada Solomon and Radu Jude do that. Others, too. These things come with experience and reaching a certain calm and I hope to gain this kind of wisdom, creativity, and courage, too,” concludes Carla Fotea.