Interview with film producer Pavlina Proevska: Being a good producer requires perseverance and blind faith

Pavlina Proevska / Photography: Brand Ferro

The film producer Pavlina Proevska has dedicated most of her life to the film business and through the films she produces she wants to leave traces for her work, but also for the Macedonian cultural heritage.

Pavlina Proevska's portfolio includes two feature films, two short films, three long format documentaries, several videos and two music albums. He has been working as an independent film producer since 1986, when he founded the company "Pavlina LTD" based in New York, USA. These days she is present in Skopje with the intention of including Macedonian film professionals in some of her projects.

You have been present in Skopje for a month. With what purpose and obligations?

– With a fantastic group of young film professionals we are working on the final editing of a documentary film, as well as the production of a digital master of the film that was scanned in HD from a 35mm copy so that it could be distributed on digital platforms that did not exist at the time when it was made. The process is known as "REDUX", which means the film is not re-recorded, but remade. That reworking implies a new montage, new music and special effects done by a rarely talented CGI (Computer-generated imagery) creator from Skopje.

How did the interest in filming a documentary about the writer Stojan Hristov arise?

- I first learned about Stojan Hristov by reading a text entitled "The Return to the Fatherland". That was exactly 15 years ago. His life path is a mirror of Macedonian awareness. Back in 1911, he arrived in the United States declaring that he was a "Bulgarian from Macedonia", as they told him in the church in his native village, 60 years later, before the entire Macedonian public proudly declared that the happiest moment in his life was when he found out that his books will be translated into "...the Macedonian language, my native language, the language my mother spoke...", thus clarifying his appropriation, which unfortunately still continues. The film "My American Pilgrimage" tries to close that question. Documenting our Macedonian life stories, wherever they happened in the world, should be the top priority of the film policy in Macedonia.

You have been working and living far from Macedonia for many years and few people know about your work. Practically, how many years have you been engaged in film production and how many projects have you realized so far?

- Back in 1988, I made the first feature film, with the participation of the legendary agent 007, Roger Moore. The film was completed in two months, sold in two days, has so far grossed two million US dollars, which is 20 times its production budget.

Then I definitely quit my job in the evening news department at the American TV network CBS. The half-hour format of the American evening news did not allow the length of news reports to be more than one and a half minutes. I didn't like that limitation, the film gives me much more freedom and time to tell the story I want to tell. So far I have produced or co-produced two feature films, two short films, three long format documentaries, several videos and two music albums.

The first feature film produced by Pavlina Proevska is "The Magical Snowman", where the legendary Roger Moore lends his voice

Since this is a real industry, what character traits are needed for one to sustain and persist in the profession?

- Being a good producer requires two things - perseverance and blind faith. To have great general knowledge and a special talent for choosing the right project. But the very long-term success in the film industry, I'm talking about independent productions outside the Hollywood studio system, depends on one premise – that the producer mentions the three most important conditions needed to make a good film, and thus achieve commercial success. Because only the commercial success of the producer will allow him to be called "independent".

Unfortunately, in Macedonia there is no such real production that we are talking about, because, as far as I know, no Macedonian film ever produced/produced has achieved commercial success. The false marketing promotional news that deceives the Macedonian public with some screenings and distributions outside of Macedonia, are just well-practiced self-promotion of the filmmakers themselves. If the film is accepted by a sales film agency that will try to sell it, it does not mean that it is "sold".

Due to ignorance of how film distribution works in the world, the Macedonian public is sold nebulos about sold films and successful distribution contracts which, in fact, come down to an attempt to sell, not a real sale. I recommend the agencies that distribute the funds to ask that famous question from the Tom Cruise movie, when he asks his agent: "Show me the money!", i.e. "Show me the money!" Only then can the Macedonian public believe in the commercial success of the film. Unfortunately, a small group of trained Macedonian filmmakers have capitalized on their ignorance of how the real film industry works in the world and mislead the public about their supposed successes.

This attitude towards the "real" (non-existent) film industry in Macedonia stems from the attitude of the largest number of Macedonian producers that someone owes them money to make a film, waiting for years for funds to be allocated from the film budget. They waste the best working years in waiting and because of such an attitude towards their profession, they have no need to ask themselves if the film has a real chance to succeed. And that question is not only not asked by the producers, but also not asked by those who allocate (disperse) the money.

The requirement to finance a film should start by answering three questions: who is the audience for this story, what is the commercial concept for the project that will ensure commercial success and, does this film have national value. Definitely, don't neglect the third question, because the money is not from God, but from the people.

A professional, sober discussion on this topic is the only way to encourage moral and financial responsibility on the part of producers who would like to be respected in the profession, and therefore successful. When choosing a project, the producer should answer the above-mentioned questions so that, first of all, he himself is convinced that he has chosen the right project. It goes without saying that a good script is the main premise for a project. But if you take into account that during filming, about 30 percent of the script will be changed, the concrete basis of the project is the very concept of how that story will be presented in a global framework. Because even with the best script, if it is not answered who this film is made for, it will not have any commercial future. Artistic success is subjective, that's why I'm only talking about the financial responsibilities of a producer, who doesn't reach into his own pocket to realize the film.

The film "Happy Hell Night" has been accepted into the Film Archive of the Library of Congress in the United States

A few months ago a film of yours was archived at the Library of Congress in Washington. Which film is it about and what does it mean to you personally?

- For me, this kind of recognition justifies my entire production path. This honor is more important to me than any nomination. The film "Happy Hell Night" is accepted into the Film Archive of the Library of Congress in the United States, because it was shot on 35 mm and I worked at the beginning of the Yugoslav wars, so it has historical value. Sometimes time alone adds value to a film, in this case two of the actors, then early in their careers, Sam Rockwell is now nominated for an Oscar, and TV actress Georgia Fox is famous.

So I say, it's more of a new revival of the film that is in active digital distribution through legendary distributor Samuel Goldwyn Films. For a film with a horror ending, this is, however, a "happy ending" in that the film negative will be preserved for centuries. I am filled with the feeling that I am leaving something of my own that will be preserved for a long, long time after me. And in a way, it justifies and values ​​the profession to which I have dedicated 30 years.

I am filled with the feeling that I am leaving something of my own that will be preserved for a long, long time after me

Your beginnings, however, are related to journalism and working on the evening news of CBS News. What does the journalistic profession mean to you and how did the turn to film production happen?

– Working at CBS inspired me and prepared me for film production work. Memorable moments at work I had when I followed Reagan's meeting with Gorbachev in Geneva, the Winter and Summer Olympics in 1984, meetings with politicians such as Benjamin Netanyahu and Indira Gandhi's son when I was appointed producer for CBS in the United States nations. All that prepared me how to behave in the presence of such persons and to gain self-confidence and the knowledge that I am no less than those people.

One of the best pieces of advice in my early years at CBS was given to me by one of the few black executives at CBS at the time, who told me, "Never think you're worth less, because you are different, consider yourself much more…” Thus began my self-confidence building. Only a few years later I was able to sit down with the legendary Roger Moore and record his voice for my first feature film The Magical Snowman.

What is the personal history of your departure from Macedonia and life and work in New York, USA?

- After finishing high school, I went to Belgrade to study French and German. I very quickly came to the conclusion that what I would study for four years in Belgrade, I could learn much faster in Paris, where I finished studies in Public Relations, and then I left for the United States with the intention of learning English and then I return to Yugoslavia. But the more the world opened up in front of me, the greater was my desire for new and new knowledge. You know, curiosity is a contagious disease, and in that process, ambition also sprouts.

For almost 30 years, you have been managing the Macedonian Arts Council in New York. What kind of organization is it and what are its activities?

- The Council was established in 1994 with the aim of promoting the Macedonian cultural heritage in the USA and in the world. In the beginning, we worked on promotional events, promotions at the exclusive "Plaza Hotel" in New York, concerts at "Carnegie Hall", exhibitions... But I saw that such events do not leave a lasting mark on Macedonian culture and that the physical Macedonian cultural heritage in the world is literally non-existent. . That's why I refocused on projects that leave a lasting impression. I will single out two: in cooperation with the mayor of the city of Dover, where Stojan Hristov lived, a monument to him was built, which is now registered as an official tourist attraction in the state of Vermont. On the monument, apart from English, the titles of his books are also written in Macedonian.

The second megaproject was the creation of a permanent collection of 30 Macedonian folk bridal costumes, which we donated to one of the three largest ethnographic museums in the United States, the International Museum of Folk Art (MOIFA) in the city of Santa Fe in the state of New Mexico, where this collection will be kept. hundreds and hundreds of years... It is especially important that for the first time in our ethnographic history the collection had a museum estimate that reached 800.000 US dollars! Few of our ethnographers know that, for example, Mario's wedding dress is valued at $32.000! A monograph was also published within the project, and the costumes were exhibited in the museum for 11 months. Permanent documentation and projects that leave indelible Macedonian traces is the commitment of the Macedonian Arts Council and mine, as its founder.

Documenting our Macedonian life stories, wherever they happened in the world, should be the top priority of the film policy in Macedonia / Photo: Private archive

Do you cooperate with Macedonian film producers and what are the perspectives of the Macedonian film industry?

- The current collaboration with the post-production team has amazed me. I am leaving Macedonia very satisfied with the results and with renewed faith in the perspectives of young filmmakers in Macedonia. Fortunately, they are still untouched by the moral taint present in older filmmakers. I think that in the younger generations, what has given me the strength to survive in these waters in New York and internationally for more than 40 years is smoldering. You have to be persistent, to believe. It is no coincidence that the logo of my production company in New York reads: "The essence of production work involves endurance, perseverance and faith."

(The interview was published in "Kulturen Pechat" number 182, in the print edition of the newspaper "Sloboden Pechat" on 10-11.6.2023)

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