His production company, Negativ, has put out films such as the Year of the Devil, Štěstí, Champions, Wrong Side Up, Country Teacher, René, Protector and Alois Nebel. Film producer Pavel Strnad graduated from the Czech Technical University and then from FAMU. His cinema debut was producing Saša Gedeon’s Indian Summer while still a student.
What job did you want to do when you were a little kid, and how did you end up deciding to study producing at FAMU?
I don’t really remember what I wanted to do as a kid, but I graduated from the Faculty of Electrical Engineering at CTU before studying at FAMU. I wasn’t really into engineering; I applied during the communist era when it was crucial to be admitted to a school, or else I’d have to do my military service. While still a student, I started interpreting for English and American film crews that were making their films in the city in the early 1990s, and that paved the way for me becoming a film producer. I was always really interested in film, yet I never really ventured to apply for film science or other film-related studies. When I got my taste of filmmaking, though, I found I really enjoyed that, and so as I was completing my CTU studies, I submitted an application for film production at FAMU.
What should I picture under the term ‘film producer’? What is your job description; what are you in charge of?
You should differentiate between the terms associate producer (Czech: produkční) and executive producer (producent). There is some confusion about the two terms in Czech. Associate producers usually organise and are in charge of the logistics of film shooting and production. There are producers who specialise in locations, post-production, and so on. Then there are executive producers who are in charge of the entire film production process from beginning to end, all the way to distribution. They are responsible for the film economically and creatively. In principle, they are in charge of the project in economic, legal and creative terms. Making a film is quite a complicated endeavour, and I believe that students who are well-versed in film production have a benefit of being prepared for the toughest assignments, should they take up a different field of art. You need to be able to organise filming in locations that have to be prepared to the minutest detail – just as if you organised a big concert on the Letná plain. If you are filming in a studio, it’s more like theatre production. So, I think being a film producer allows you to use your skills elsewhere as well. You can easily adapt to other areas because a film is a rather complex affair.
Did your FAMU studies provide you with all the essential professional skills and knowledge?
I started studying at FAMU in 1993 and graduated in 2000. Because the state held a monopoly over filmmaking until 1990 and all films were produced in state film studios, the actual job of being an independent producer who makes films at their own economic responsibility did not exist in our environment. Everyone was employed by state-owned film studios, including associate producers, heads of production, and heads of creative teams who were probably the closest to being a producer in the current sense of the word. As a result, the film producer job had to be redefined. Development in this field had been disrupted in our country for almost fifty years.
So, it was like a starting all over...
It was. Everything had to be built and defined anew. We students along with our teachers were discovering what this job was all about in the 1990s. Today, there are a lot of experienced film producers teaching at FAMU who have mastered it all and are able to share their experience with students.
You co-founded Negativ, your production company, while still a FAMU student in 1995. What were its beginnings like?
They say the 1990s were an era of unlimited possibilities. Saša Gedeon, who was a directing student in his fifth year, addressed my current Negativ colleague Petr Oukropec and me, both first-year students at FAMU, to help him produce his graduation film. To make a long story short, instead of a medium-length project as initially planned, Indian Summer was made as a full-length and went on to be screened nationally. We became producers as a result, and the school film gave us some experience in what it is like to produce a full-length film. We were given another offer immediately, and that led us to founding Negativ in 1995; we still work at the company and have produced some fifty full-length films since then.
What role does knowing directors, scriptwriters and other filmmakers from your FAMU studies play? You know their work and you know them as people; does that make collaboration easier?
I believe the school has two principal tasks. The first would be to educate students, to give them the know-how. Second, it is essential that students have an opportunity to try out working on a team – with authors and other collaborators within the film crew. There is an opportunity for people to meet, and they can go on to collaborate throughout their entire careers. That’s the principle of art schools, and it applies to film even more because a film is a team effort and people need to learn how to cooperate. The ability to put together a team, lead it, and complete the film successfully is one of producers’ core skills. And FAMU offers an excellent and unique opportunity to try, on a training ground, what you then go on to do in real life. School projects give students an opportunity to try working with different authors in different fields; they can experiment and try something new. This is what making Indian Summer meant to me at FAMU, and it kick-started our careers. We found many collaborators with whom we still work today. You naturally tend to work with people of the same generation. First, you want to be on the same creative wavelength, have the same taste, like the same things and desire to make the same kind of films, and second, you need to be compatible on a personal level. You can try all of that at FAMU. In addition, studies at FAMU are structured so that students can find their own profile and really thoroughly try out the actual profession they will eventually focus on.
Do you have a professional dream that you wish to make reality?
I don’t have any specific goals that I strive for. My professional dream is to make films that I enjoy, knowing that we can make our living doing that and that we can go on making films. It would be nice if you could build on your achievements continuously, but given how small this country’s market is, it just does not offer the occasional opportunity to make a film so successful that it would allow you to finance all of your subsequent projects. As a result, we have to start all over again every time and put the financing together from various sources. However, thanks to the films you made in the past, you have a certain credit and partners who trust you. We collaborate with authors such as Bohdan Sláma, Helena Třeštíková, Michaela Pavlátová and Marek Najbrt on a long-term basis. They are people we respect, and we love their work. Simply put, I am happy to be doing things that we enjoy.
photo: Pavel Strnad´s archive