has4The dialogue between film director Diana Kardumyan and producer, the founder of HY Pictures Hasmik Hovhannisyan

“I know that you have received a completely different education before starting to engage in film producing”

“I have studied economics. It is accepted in our country that at the age of 16 you should decide and know what you want to do during your whole life. I felt at that time that I wanted to do something in the film field, but my parents took the applicant guide, removed the page of the theatre and cinema and told me to choose between the rest of them. I was good at mathematics that why I chose economics. I got offended that my right of choice had been violated, but I now I get it that my parents directed me to the right way. It seems that the economics has nothing to do with cinema, but a basis and a way of thinking is developed which helps me a lot. To create a film company means to deal with film industry, i.e. with business. During the years of studying we had a film group at our university. We were given amateur cameras to shoot short films. My film efforts coincided with the first “Golden Apricot” film festival in 2004. The festival was new and needed enthusiasts, and together with our film group I came to participate in the “Golden Apricot”.

“Can it be stated that “Golden Apricot” became the basis of your career as a producer?”

“After working at a festival you get a big group of business partners. Each film festival serves this function: to create a networks of acquaintance. In addition, in 2006 the project entitled “Directors across Borders” was initiated within the framework of “Golden Apricot”, and where I gradually started to understand how that mechanism functions. The next important step is related to Harutyun Khachatryan’s film “Border”. If you are a new producer no one should be a beginner in the group. In that connection “Border” was an ideal beginning. The “Border” was one of the film project that started with “Hayfilm”, but the studio didn’t exist anymore and all that was to be coordinated with new methods. I was the executive producer of the film. I prepared applications for funds and went to meetings with co-producers. But it all starts with searching on google to learn how to write a synopsis. It is helpful to start working with a director that enjoys international recognition. Foreigners start to trust you.”

“The profession of a producer seems to be very appealing: a red carpet, fame and awards. People only see one side of the job. Whereas this profession demands daily hard work the results of which might not be visible for years.”

Actually the director is walking on the red carpet (laughing). I think Armenians have a wrong insight in relation to the profession of a producer. Sometimes when I say that I am a producer people think that I am a money pouch. The producer is someone who has all the rights of a film. He/she claims the responsibility of taking the film to the end. During this period the scriptwriter of the director of the film may change but the producer remains the same. Cinema deals with a significant amount of money, and everyone needs a person that won’t disappear and will always back the film whatever happens. It is clear that it isn’t easy to be a director but a producer takes legal and financial responsibility in addition to these. This is the reason why it takes so long to start and the work done is invisible.”

“On one hand it is appreciable that there are young producers in Armenia trying to promote their first film projects, on the other hand you are amazed at their courage as the work initiated by them is not legally protected in Armenia. Not to mention that the absence of the law on cinema restricts the access of the producers to the world cinema.”

This is a profession that has no territorial restrictions. Currently I am living and working in Armenia, but it is possible that tomorrow I will begin another project in abroad. Armenia is a very interesting place for film production, but some changes are to be implemented. But before coming to it there is a lot of work to do. Conditions should be created. There should be professional film making crews that can cater for film production. A competitive environment is to be developed and the film makers should master the elementary English so that the foreign producers don’t think much when choosing between Georgia and Armenia.”

“You spoke about Georgia. I must confess that I envy them. Their film production is regulated. Georgian films are included in different competitive programs of international film festivals: Venice, Lokarno, Karlovy Vary and Rotterdam. How is it possible that living next to us they succeed and we don’t make any progress?”

“The reasons are numerous. Not only Georgia, but also a number of European countries have managed to register serious progress in 4-5 years. All the brilliant ideas of our directors cannot develop the sphere just in a day. We should do a number of things simultaneously. Firstly, Georgia regulated the legal sphere taking the example of the French law, which is the most appropriate and favorable for the correct regulation of the film field. Secondly, Georgia created a film commission, which is a non-profit organization that aims to publicize Georgia as a favorable country for film shooting: a country that has various film companies and interesting locations.  Today we can see that besides the local film production, Georgian cinema also cooperates with foreign film companies, and foreign filmmakers contribute to the fact that the local filmmakers gain some income by serving them. In addition to this Georgia didn’t confide itself to one film only, otherwise it would get lost in the turmoil of the film festivals.”

“Can it be concluded that film production occupies a primary position in the cultural politics of Georgia? The same cannot be stated for our country.”

“Yes, but let’s not mention only the case of Georgia. I have studied in Sweden and can bring the example of Scandinavian countries. A few years ago those countries decided that they wanted to give preference to children’s films. The authorities of that countries agreed to allocate some percentage of the state budget to the children’s film producers. As a result today the term “Scandinavian children’s film” is already a brand. When we speak about children’s film we know what to expect from the films made by that countries. Besides the film festivals, those film also succeeded in the film market.”

“It seems that we clearly know what measures are to be taken to make a progress, but we don’t manage to unite by any means. Is it related to our nationality or it is a matter of politics?”

“Both of them is true. When you have worked for years and finally find assets for a film project, you don’t want to take a risk and make changes in the system. You are not sure what will happen in our country the next day. I think that the promotion of local cinema should become a primary issue. Today it is likely that the preference is given to a foreign movie having a big budget. It might receive a great assistance from the film budget of Armenia and the local projects be delayed for two-three years. Supporting the minority production is a strategically right move for our country. If a policy were run that would support the local filmmakers first of all, it would become clear that we support foreign film projects with a specific amount of money. When these simple laws are absent foreign films often benefit. It is to be clarified whether we promote the local film production or the foreign one. If it becomes clear, we will specify our plans.”

“The same situation is in the business field. Small businesses gasp in the hands of a few giant business enterprises. And in the case of cinema national cinema is against commercial cinema. More than 15 commercial films were released on the big screen this year. Entertainment Movies are to be shown on the screens for a few months and that is all. Those films have no literary value and we cannot hope that the Venice Festival will want to include one of those films in one of the competitive projects. Individual investors are not interested in cinema and the development of film language at all.”

“Naturally the investors are always interested in taking back the money. The situation is the same all over the world. Almost 70-80 per cent of film production is flooded with commercial films. But these films do not claim state assistance and don’t present the culture of a country abroad. In that case we should have counterbalance, i.e. national movies. Let’s assume that national cinema is provided by state assistance and commercial cinema is funded by a private sector. It that case everything becomes clear.”

“Our commercial cinema has the effect of an aquarium. Our fish never get mixed with the fish of the global ocean. Whereas, in addition to national movies, our TVs also buy commercial films from abroad. When drawing a financial plan, it is always stated that 3-4 percent investment is expected from TVs. But no TV of our country is interested in making a preliminary investment in a national film. If one of the TVs decide to show the films, they either show it for free or pay a symbolic amount of money. The law doesn’t prescribe the film screenings be obligatory and that the cinemas transfer some of the income received from the sale of tickets.”

“If the field is left to the discretion of local TVs, naturally they won’t want to participate. But if we have a binding law to prescribe that 0.1 percent of the annual income received from the advertisements shall be allocated to the cinema, the bucket will also be filled by other sources. This year I was taking part in a discussion. Tablets promote to the consumption of a large number of films. Consequently tablet producing companies should allocate a very small percentage of their profits to the film production. For example if we intended to discover new names the law would prescribe that the assets received from TVs and cinemas will be targeted to debut films. Due to that income the National Cinema Center would be able to support two more film projects. We would have 20 debut films in 10 years, and it is likely that 5 of them would be included in film festivals and the rest of them would be consumed in the inner market. By taking the example of the commercial films we see that the audience wants to hear stories about themselves. Another question is how much a commercial film satisfies that demand, speaks of our issues or from what perspective and with what language it voices the issues.”

“Today it is out of question to speak about the film language of the commercial films.”

“What film language! Before coming to it I am thinking of the standard Armenian language…”

“The artistic perception of our audience has declined so much that they gladly watch films that don’t meet any professional standard. There are no artistic solutions and the actors are mainly replaced by media leaders. At the young age the actors generally don’t play in good films. Our actors have no portfolio and don’t know languages. How to direct our actors to get involved in international projects?”

“In abroad the acting agencies perform that function, contracts are signed with them, portfolios are created and the agencies promote their actors. We prepare experts but don’t create the field where they can use their capacities. It is not difficult to crate portfolios. We cooperated with a foreign film and the director of that film asked us to do video experiences with the participating actors and to attach their portfolios to the cases. And the actors got surprised why they had demanded portfolios. When everything is restricted to the inner thinking we assume that our film studio is small and we all know each other: why to follow unnecessary formalities? In case of closed film studio this might be a norm, but when it comes to co-productions we have issues here. I don’t presuppose that the field will be developed so much that it will allow me to solve some issues. I settle the issues of my company as much as possible. If we look from the viewpoint of a foreign producer, we can see that he/she doesn’t need an excellent quality, he/she just needs some information on my company. How can they know about the production companies in Armenia if the majority of them have no webpage by now?”

“If we turn to the forum “Directors across Borders” which closed this year…”

“I hope it won’t close. DAB is one of the important participants of the “Golden Apricot”. Film festivals contribute to the development of cinema market, they seek to establish links with the film industry. DAB was one of the ties that contributed to the development of the local film projects.”

“I have done my first pitching during that forum. It was a good school that taught how to form a competent package, to submit a film and to present yourself. It is a pity that we are deprived of such a forum which is one of the most important conditions to develop the field of cinema.”

“Last year we received the development money for our full-length film “Nola” from DAB. As I mention the most difficult thing is to receive the development money as it is the most risky one. There is always some fear that the project will not justify itself at some point as the funds don’t allocate that money easily. The first support is very important.”

“Especially when you receive that money from your county.”

“Foreign film companies always ask if our film projects are so good why are not they supported by our own country? And in case of documentary films they ask why our TVs don’t want to support. Initially, we are in unfavorable conditions. You must have an advantage when competing with thousands of film projects.”

“After DAB there appeared some directors and producers who applied to foreign funds and presented their film projects to the film markets. When speaking about film markets first of all we think of Cannes. You have participated in tens of film markets. What is it: to wear a beautiful red tie, get some photos on the red carpet, come back and spread false information through media? Should it not be preceded by a serious strategic preparation?”

“First of all I would like to ask our newsletters to provide accurate information. It is clear that as a producer you want to present your project as well as possible. We mix the terms. When we say Cannes we immediately refer to the Cannes Film Festival. But we speak of a film festival which is physically located at Cannes City. I paid to take part in the film market, reached Cannes City where I was to negotiate with another producer. Cannes film market is enormous and no one guides you as in the case of small film festivals. Thousands of producers go to film markets to hold business meetings. A few months earlier they start to appoint meetings with co-producers, sales agents and distributors. And for each person who participates in a film market it is the summary of the work of a few months. And in the evening everyone can wear beautiful cloths and to walk on the red carpet to watch movies.”

“Let’s speak about your film projects not forgetting Vahram Mkhitaryan’s short film “Milky Brother” which has quiet succeeded in the film festivals.”

“We started working with Vahram a long time ago. He was studying at Wajda film school and he was to shoot a short pilot. We shot it together in Armenia. Being a student of Wajda school of Poland he had an opportunity to participate in a competition and to receive funding for his 30-minute film. It is a mechanism that Poland has: it helps new filmmakers to make medium-length films. The working system of these films are closer to the one of full-length films. I am the co-producer of the film “Milky Brother”. The first country is Poland and the second one is Armenia. After receiving the production award in Poland we managed to apply for minority funding in Armenia. The process lasted for two years. The film premiere was held at the film festival “Karlovy Vary” and then it was submitted at “Golden Apricot”. The film has also participated in several film festival of Poland. A favorable condition has been created for Vahan Mkhitaryan, as the festival life and awards can contribute to the implementation of the coming film projects.

Currently there are various projects in which our company is incorporated. But I would like to highlight our first full-length film project on which we have been working for a few years. It is an Armenian-Swedish co-production entitled “A Song for Nola”. The film director is Swedish Armenian Emil Mkrtchyan. As I have studies in Sweden it was quite easy for me to begin the cooperation. The process of film production is long, so both sides should find common language to work with each other.”

“Rumors are flying that Armenia is going to become a member of Eurimages European film fund. I think we will have serious issues in the beginning. Armenia doesn’t have enough literate film packages to submit for the funding.”

“Anyway you cannot apply to Eurimages only on the part of Armenia. There are funds of several levels: national, regional and international. Eurimages is a multinational fund. In order to apply to the multinational funds a film must already have co-productions and must have approved funds from at least two or three state parties. During a few years Eurimages will help our projects to become more competitive. Favorable conditions are created: if a Dutch producer is looking for co-producers, he will consider Armenia as a potential partner as well due to Eurimages. Our co-producers will receive minority proposals. But there are some issues in this case as well. As a producer I don’t know whether I am allowed to join a film project with a budget totaling up to 2 million or whether I can apply and receive a support in case of a film having half a million budget. The legal restrictions are not regulated. In order to become a co-producer you must provide the 10% of the budget.

Turning to Eurimages I can state that the country will become more visible. If the co-producers receive money from our country they will be obliged to spend 10 or more percent of that money in our country. And I am sure that fact will liven up our film industry.”