Anda Ionescu: “As a producer, I like to work on films that explore my own pursuits, as well”

15 December, 2020

Four of the Romanian films that had their world premiere in 2020 in important festivals have Anda Ionescu as producer. Via Tangaj Production, the film production company that she is a partner on along with its founder Anamaria Antoci, she produced two independent films, that is, without funding from the Romanian Film Center (CNC): “Mia Misses Her Revenge”, by Bogdan Theodor Olteanu, and the documentary “Us Against Us”, by Andra Tarara. On “Otto the Barbarian”, by Ruxandra Ghitescu, she was a delegated producer, via Alien Film, and on the documentary “Holy Father”, by Andrei Dascalescu, she was the main producer, as a freelancer.

I talked to Anda Ionescu about her studies in Romania and Denmark, about the cultural associations she helped setting and through which she tried to change the face of her hometown, Arad, about her start in film production and her experience as a producer on various international and Romanian projects, about the challenges and satisfaction that come with this profession and about our small local film industry.

Born on May 30, 1988 in Arad, she studied Mathematics-Computer Science in high school, after studying piano in her first years of school, which she continued to practice over the years and still enjoys playing from time to time.

“I’m glad I went to Mathematics-Computer Science in high school, because it helped me acquire a structural thinking. I chose this class because it seemed to offer me a wide range of options, especially since I liked a lot of things and had not yet decided on a direction. If after high school I wanted to go towards something in the humanistic area, I could have done that. And if I came to the decision that I like mathematics, I could have continued with it, as well”, says Anda Ionescu.

She became interested in art during high school. She participated in European projects for the youth – various summer schools and workshops on photography or film. And she watched a lot of movies.

Together with several colleagues who shared the same passions, she got into theater. She co-directed and performed in a play they staged as a group. Most of all, she liked to perform. She even thought she could go into acting, but there was also the option of directing which seemed appealing. But she didn’t consider herself a “true-born artist”. And even though she was passionate about organizing things and saw some creativity in it, she didn’t know how to translate that inclination into a college that she could attend.

Finally, she chose the Communication and Public Relations programme at the Politehnica University Timisoara: “There was this jest in our high school that if you don’t know what to do in your life career-wise, you should go to communication, economics or maybe even psychology.”

It wasn’t art per se, but she thought it might involve some creativity and that she could also continue studying foreign languages, which ​​she very much liked, since she was already fluent in German, French, and English. During college, however, she stuck with advertising, a field that attracted her.

In parallel with her studies, she worked on organizing the theater festival within StudentFest in Timisoara, but also on other small cultural projects. After a year, in 2008, she enrolled in a second faculty, Economic Sciences at the “Aurel Vlaicu” University of Arad, where she chose the distance learning programme and which she extended for several years, but finally completed, because she doesn’t like to give up on something she already started. “Somehow, I still felt like I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I was thinking that maybe I should do something pragmatic and at some point find a decent job and watch movies only on weekends or evenings. Although it didn’t help much, it wasn’t bad either. I learned some basic financial stuff. But the choice of attending this programme came actually from my constant search on my true calling. For a long time, my journey was simply about being curious and trying things and seeing how I can connect them and if I can do something pragmatic with them”, says Anda Ionescu.

Credit Photo: Norbert Fodor

After graduating from the school in Timisoara, in 2010 she left for a master’s degree in Corporate Communication at the Aarhus University School of Business and Social Sciences in Denmark. “There, I was lucky to have some colleagues who were interested in film and photography. In parallel with my studies, I started the Aarhus Short Film Challenge, which was a small short film festival that encouraged students and graduates to make independent films in a limited time frame. Basically, I pretty much got separated from the master’s degree. I realized I couldn’t work in communication. But I was interested in coordination, event management. That’s how I got involved, first as a volunteer and then as an organizer, in other events such as music and film festivals. And I started meeting more and more people from the creative industries”, recalls Anda Ionescu.

That’s when she made her first serious contact with the film industry and began to realize that she might like to continue in that direction. Within the Aarhus Short Film Challenge, she met film graduates from Denmark – both directors and producers. She saw how the industry is structured.

“I realized that all my colleagues who wanted to make films needed help in articulating their ideas in the best way possible, and to make things happen. I felt I could do that for them. I liked having these discussions on finding the best way to do what they want to say, on how the film should look like, or what movies we should watch to reach a common ground. So I ended up doing exactly that, when I became a producer. Back then, the idea was to help someone communicate and build the concept together. At the same time, I felt that I could bring people together. Making films is not a one-man show, but involves teamwork”, she also remembers.

“Film production actually combines a lot of things that I liked, but which I initially saw as being separate. I was interested in the composition of an image, music, and acting. And all these elements could be brought together in a film. I saw it as a strong, complex medium – to be able to use all these tools for a common purpose and experiment with them”, says the producer.

Although still in Denmark, she was involved as a founder and project manager in the FilmSense project, an association focused on educational programs and developing a platform that would promote cinema. The NGO was set in Cluj-Napoca, together with a friend, DoP and director Marius Mindrutau. Film critic Lucian Maier and Mihai Evoiu, who was in charge of photography and graphic design, joined the project afterwards. Although the project dissolved after a few years, they managed, among other things, to participate in several festivals, including in Cannes, Berlin and Sarajevo, and to write about films.

“FilmSense started as a space for reflection and cinematic debate. The idea was to watch as many films as possible, to go to festivals, to write about them, to do interviews. It was a way to get to know the field better and to absorb as much of this world as possible, to make connections. Later, we also saw the need for engaging the community, through various projects. We thought that not much was happening in our region. What I learned in Denmark is that if I want to make films in Romania, I have to go to Bucharest. I thought that the Capital was the hotspot for everything related to film and that it would be nice to do something in our region, as well. We also wanted to develop the educational side, to go to high schools, to organize film screenings, to have debates. Everything was focused on the idea of creating ​​a space for communication and dialogue about film and learning about European and global cinema”, explains Anda Ionescu.

Meanwhile, in 2012, she finished her master’s degree in Aarhus, but stayed in Denmark for three more years, until 2015. She began to have her first projects as a freelancer, producing music videos and small video projects.

A year after completing her master’s degree, she thought it was time to embrace film production as a profession. She started to learn Danish, because she realized that it would help her on set, but also to read screenplays, and she moved to Copenhagen. She ended up working on a comedy series. But the first experience with a film for cinema was also the decisive one, the moment when she realized that this is what she wants to do further on. It was a project by Swedish director Johannes Nyholm, Koko-di Koko-da.

“I really liked him. He was also the first director I saw at work. It was the kind of production where everything happened in a small, intimate, very creative group. He would tell us many things, the way he sees the film. He would ask questions, have discussions. I was glad to participate in them, even though I was just a production assistant there, he didn’t even know how I came on the project. It was a very cool process. I liked this way of working. And I really liked the set. It was the first time I was on the set of a feature film. That’s when I first spoke with the sound engineer, the DoP, the set designer, who was amazing – Pia Aleborg (known for her collaboration with Ruben Östlund – ie). I was fascinated by the world that was being created there. I was also encouraged by the producer I worked with at first. She was a very motivated woman, she knew very well what kind of films she wanted to make, what artists she wanted to work with. I began learning from her. That’s when I first learned what production management really is about. That’s what I was doing, set management. I found it very dynamic and interesting to work with all those people, to organize them. And it gave me a lot of confidence, she delegated important tasks to me”, recalls Anda Ionescu.

Credit Photo: Larisa Baltă

After this experience, she decided to take a break and return home to Arad: “I didn’t intend to return to Romania for good, and that’s why my stuff remained in Denmark for three more years after that.”

“I found it necessary to come and build something at home, where not so much happens, and thought that I would change the world. I thought there was room for so many more things to happen here”, she explains. She has no regrets about returning to Romania, but sometimes has a slight nostalgia about Denmark. She does hope to return to the Nordic countries in some way or another, at least by working on a co-production.

In 2015, the FilmSense project came to an end. Meanwhile, another NGO had appeared, CitiZenit, founded by some friends and former colleagues from Arad. So she joined the new association, where she felt she could develop what she had started with FilmSense.

“With CitiZenit we were able to ask for funding from the Municipal Culture Center, we had some resources. More people were involved. We set out to change the face of the city through cultural intervention. We wanted to make a cultural hub. We were lucky then, because we set up our “office” at the former Teba factory, where we initiated several projects. The space was perfect for what we wanted to do. The Teba Factory and Arta Cinema, which we wanted to restore to its value, were our centers of interest, our points of attack. Personally, I was returning to cultural management, which for me, like production, was actually a way to put ideas on the table. Only that the environment is different. There was a total freedom of expression. We had contemporary dance, street art, cinema and theater workshops. And I really felt that the city had changed”, says Anda Ionescu.

One of CitiZenit’s directions was film production, and in this sense they had a workshop for young filmmakers, Atelier de Film. “The goal was to produce projects by filmmakers in the area, to find an alternative way to make films, other than the classic one”, she adds. This is how she produced a couple of short films, by Norbert Fodor, Marius M. Bogdan (Marius Mindrutau), Mihnea Rares Hantiu.

“We thought of using these local funding resources, coming from the Culture Center, and trying to do something low budget in the area. We filmed in our region with local resources. At one point we thought we could set a regional fund and support everyone in the area who makes films. But there were many steps to get there. Still, there was enthusiasm to support the process. However, all sorts of obstacles started to appear at every step on the way, we realized that there were various political interests. We had started well with the financing, but suddenly we couldn’t achieve everything we wanted”, recalls the producer.

On some of these short films she collaborated with deFilm and Alien Film, production houses in Bucharest. “I felt that if I went to Bucharest, I could gather more resources and contribute further to what I wanted to do there, in Arad. At one point, I thought that, in addition to its NGO activities, CitiZenit could also be a small and independent production house, working with regional talents”, she details. During the same period, director Anca Miruna Lazarescu was shooting in Arad her feature debut, That Trip We Took with Dad, and Anda Ionescu worked in the production team.

Finally, she decided to go to Bucharest, to gain experience and with the thought that she will be able to continue to help CitiZenit and develop Atelier de Film.

“I didn’t have a plan when I came to Bucharest. I wasn’t brought here by a project. I arrived and started knocking on some doors, reached to some production houses”, she also remembers. It’s true, one time at TIFF she met producer Iuliana Tarnovetchi, from Alien Film, who actually helped her with submitting the short film The Projectionist, by Norbert Fodor, at different festivals. “I told her that I would like to continue working in production and that if she has any projects she needs help on, I would like to come to Bucharest even for a while, because I was still living in Arad. And that’s how I actually got to work with them. I moved to Bucharest and since then I started to do production at another level”, explains the producer.

She was eager to work on all kinds of projects. In 2016, a few months after coming to Bucharest, she was given the chance to work on a SF miniseries, with an international team, which was shot in Qatar, where she would stay for half a year.

“I went as production coordinator. I didn’t know what I was getting involved in and if I would stay on the project until it’s finished. But I really took my job seriously and set out to stay until the show was completed. There I learned a lot about production. It was the first project that was so complex, even if it was shot in the studio. Theoretically, it shouldn’t have been hard, but it was a challenge in the end, because it’s complicated to work with so many cultures, it’s complicated to work in Qatar, where things are very different, everything moves kind of slow. They don’t have a very developed film industry and they hire people from the neighboring countries, they import the equipment. We shot a lot in the desert, at 50 degrees Celsius, there were many challenges. We had to adapt so that things would work for all of us involved in the project coming from several countries”, says Anda Ionescu.

Credit Photo: Larisa Baltă

After returning to Bucharest, she worked on behalf of Alien Film, in various departments, on two important international projects that were shot in Romania: the feature film Kursk, by Danish director Thomas Vinterberg, and the TV miniseries Killing Eve.

“I learned that it’s important to know as much as possible about what all departments do, because that’s the only way you can have an overview and realize where there’s too much or too little and actually keep in balance the whole production process. On these projects and from working with Iuliana I learned that attention to detail and a certain rigor increase the production standard. I think that in 2017, with the experience in Qatar and working on the Danish film and Killing Eve, I learned a lot about the executive role, teamwork and the importance of paying attention to all the details”, says Anda Ionescu.

After that, she started working as a producer on the four films that premiered this year. Now she is also involved in the development and financing phase. She was beginning to get familiar with these aspects, which are different from the production management she had done before. “I didn’t know how a bigger production works from this point of view. I didn’t know the international markets very well, I didn’t know all the sources of financing. I knew about the Romanian Film Center (CNC) and the fact that you could reach to other countries, but I hadn’t worked in the co-production system until then. I found out about these things later, while looking for financing for my projects. I did this big research while working on Otto the Barbarian, which was ready to get in production and which I joined when the funding process was being completed. We applied to CNC, there were some sources in place. It was the first project I actually had to look for funding for. I read about the Media Program. I was beginning to understand the system, the possibilities that are out there”, she says.

“Now, what I like most is to join the project as early as possible. I don’t think I could take projects that I’m not there for in the beginning anymore, as a producer. I really like the idea of ​​script development, to lay the foundation of what the film will be in its final form. The producer should be a very close partner of the director and understand that they can build the film much better together. I think there should be mutual support. I don’t believe in the approach in which the producer just tells the director “you have to make the film within this budget” or “I’ll cut your expenses”. In the arthouse film area where we work, I like exactly that, to come up with ideas together and get the project to its best form and then finance it. Even if the funding process may not seem creative from the outside, you need to be very creative in the way you wrap up the project and sell it to investors. You have to adapt the strategy for each project, because they are not the same. You have some guidelines, but you have to think about what works best for the project. I really like the idea of being there from beginning to end. But I couldn’t limit myself to development. I couldn’t do just that. Just the fact that you’re there for the entire duration of the project, which could take up to three or five years, is the coolest thing. I could still work, and still do in fact, only as an executive producer, but it’s a separate job”, details Anda Ionescu.

On Mia Misses Her Revenge, by Bogdan Theodor Olteanu, and the documentary Us Against Us, by Andra Tarara, she was a producer together with Anamaria Antoci; they are associates in the Tangaj Production company.

“When I met Anamaria, she had just set up Tangaj a few months earlier. I started with the idea that I want to work on other projects as well. I thought that if I worked as a freelancer, I had the autonomy I needed all the time. So I said okay, we collaborate on some projects and will see where it’s going. But things have evolved very quickly. After meeting Anamaria, in just a few months we knew we were going to grow the company together. We had already decided that I would like to join as a partner. We were on the same page. I was thinking about having my own production company at some point, but not right then, because I felt I still have much to learn about the industry and that I shouldn’t hurry with this decision. I don’t think there have to be as many production houses as there are producers. I believe in the idea of ​​collaboration, of team effort. To grow a company together, to have two or three producers who strive for the same thing, because in the end it only helps the films you make. As long as you have some partners with whom you can have this completely honest relationship, in which each one encourages the other and you work side by side, why not? And I was glad that Anamaria was so open towards me”, says Anda Ionescu.

With Anamaria Antoci / Credit Photo: Vlad Cristea

She also wanted to produce a film on her own, because she needed “this freedom and decision-making power, to fully commit to it”. Anamaria Antoci recommended her to Andrei Dascalescu, who needed a producer for his documentary Holy Father, but whom Anda Ionescu didn’t meet until then.

“When I joined the project, I didn’t know Andrei and I was very excited, especially since his story was very personal. But it went great, we collaborated very well. I was very nervous, but at the same time I knew that I wanted to do this and that it would help me further on. You need to be by yourself sometimes, if you want to learn how to make certain decisions”, she states.

Anda Ionescu says that, unlike foreign productions with big budgets, the process before making a Romanian film with a small budget “is much more expensive in resources, but also emotionally” and “is a much more extensive work”. “The development period of a project is quite long. At least a year, but usually two, maybe even three, and eventually you shot it in 24 days or so. But the process of getting there, of getting resources for the film to happen, is much more elaborate. At the same time, the actual production process is much smaller. It’s a smaller setup, precisely because you have to do it with whatever money you managed to get. It’s not that easy to finance a film.”

She says that she was glad to work on two independent projects, that is, without money from CNC, such as Mia Misses Her Revenge and Us Against Us. “Somehow, it’s similar to what I’ve done before: Try to adopt a different plan in making the film if the classic way doesn’t work. What do you do if you don’t receive funding from the CNC? You’re not gonna make the film anymore? Maybe there’s another way. With less resources, with a smaller team. I think we need these kinds of films and we have to be creative about it when lacking resources. But I couldn’t work only on independent projects. It takes all of your energy, and I don’t think it’s fair to the people on the team either, not to be able to pay them or make use of them all the time. It’s not something that can work out repeatedly. I think in some cases – if you do it from time to time, for projects you believe in – it’s very refreshing. I think it’s the same for the team, because otherwise they wouldn’t do it. But there has to be a balance. You can’t make that effort all the time”, she explains.

She took all four projects at the same stage: “At one point I panicked, because I thought I won’t be able to manage them. They all happened in the same timeline. Not to mention the short films and various other tasks that also I had on the side. I developed everything in the same period. We shot them all in the same year. After that, the post-production for all of them, one after the other. Then the releases.”

She was happy to see them all head-to-tail, from the beginning until they had their world premiere this year. The satisfaction, however, is overshadowed by the fact that they couldn’t have a proper premiere yet, in a movie theater, due to the pandemic. “After all, it’s sad because you want the film to reach people and for you to enjoy the moment with everyone else. To go to the premiere, to watch it on the big screen, to see the reactions among the audience. It’s very important. The film is not a solitary act”, she also states. “One of the reasons I do this is because cinema reaches a large number of people. I wish every film to find its own audience. It’s a way of collective awareness and discovery, somehow.” But she doesn’t want to make too much of a drama out of it and is convinced that in the end solutions will be found for these films to reach people.

She admits that she could not produce a film which she doesn’t believe in: “If I had to, I could work as a production manager on a film that I didn’t develop, as providing a service. But I don’t really want to do that anymore. As for making a film I don’t believe in, I definitely couldn’t do that. It would entail some years of my life that I simply feel would go to waste. And I don’t think I could contribute or help in any way on the script or funding. I wouldn’t be able to find my motivation.”

“I want to feel that it’s also my film, that I resonate with what’s there. That I share the same concerns with the director, because in the end I also make the film to find out something about myself, about a certain world. But it’s also a medium of expression. And that interests me a lot. I don’t think I’m a person that is only looking for stories. I’m not only interested in the script, what the film is about. I’m also interested in what the film is like. I want to know who the director is, how they see the film, what their previous works look like, or, if they are at their first project, to get to know them as well as possible, to understand their angle and their approach. I care about these things”, confesses the producer.

“The relationship with the director is very important to me. No matter how much I like a project or an idea, it’s very hard to spend five years next to someone you can’t communicate with. And you’re hurting the project, too. After all, it’s a long-term partnership, and you need to know who you’re in this long-term relationship with, because you’re going to be side by side all these years. It’s important. Some time ago I would have made any sacrifices for a project. Now it’s not like that anymore, because you consume all your energy and, in the end, the effort is of no use to anyone”, she adds.

On the set for “Mia Misses Her Revenge” / Credit Photo: Codruța Irina Corocea

Anda Ionescu considers that as a producer she needs to be as involved in all stages of the film, “because after that you wake up that the film looks different, that things don’t go as planned”. “I want to be involved from the very beginning, when there’s only an idea or a script. I think it’s very important to read all the drafts, to give feedback on the structure, on the characters, on the stylistics, to have a creative debate all the time. Ideas come and things happen precisely from these discussions. Of course, the director’s vision comes first. After all, is not my film I want to make, or a different version of what the director wants. But it feels important to understand what they want from the get-go, in order to be able to contribute”, she adds.

She also thinks it’s important to be part of the actual production, so that things “don’t veer off during shootings”: “But there you have a production manager, so your priorities are others. What interests me most at this stage, as a producer, is to find the right people, who can make a good team and be a great addition to the project. Usually, the issues that arise are not related to the technical part. They appear when people don’t get along, when they’re not on the same page or don’t share a common vision.”

She also likes to participate in the editing stage and to watch as much footage possible before it’s edited together.

But when it comes to films with sensitive subjects, such as the documentaries of Andrei Dascalescu and Andrei Tarara, where the two talk about the relationship with their fathers, she states that it’s important for the directors to know that she’s there for them as a human being, first and foremost: “The human side comes first, leaving aside what excels I did with the expenses or what trends are on the market.”

She believes that filmmakers have a great power in that they can say things through films, but states that it’s also a responsibility and often a luxury: “It’s not something you have easy access to. I think it’s important that we are able to do this. As a process, I stick to the idea that you have to see the whole thing. That’s why I like the position of producer. And I find it fascinating to work with different directors who have different approaches. You can always look for different perspectives and discover a different part of yourself and reality. I don’t think I have an affinity for certain topics, but I’m interested in the angle from which you decide to say something. You can have very diverse projects as a producer. Obviously, all of them need to be in your area of ​​interest and reflect your concerns. At the same time, I think the effect that a film has on the audience is also important. I want to contribute to something that I feel is relevant and play a part in our understanding of things. I think I’m a producer out-and-out, because I don’t write, I don’t direct – I don’t want to do these latter things.”

Saying that Romania has a proper film industry is a bit generous, in her opinion: “We are rather a few professionals working in the same field. But in order to have an industry, you need more pieces to complete the picture. We are a group of people who turn to the same one or two sources of funding. Yes, trying to develop an industry is something that has been in the works for quite some time now. When working in Denmark, I tried to see what elements are needed for an industry to actually exist: various funding structures, cultural policies, collaborations between production companies, producer associations, professional unions, art cinemas, mall cinemas, all these tools and mechanisms. Many of the elements that would make an industry are still missing here, but things will progress and that is something I would like to contribute to in the future.”

Ionut Mares Ionut Mares
Journalist and film critic. He works as artistic director for several film festivals in Romania. For Films in Frame, he is in charge of the Emerging Voices column, which is published twice a month, on Tuesday.