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q&a Americana Documentary with Film Producer Corinne Weber
***** Many of us have dreams of working in film, but very few of us actually make it happen. And if there was a marketed trait that separates the wanna-be producers from the real deal, it is the ability to "make it happen". Corinne Golden Weber has been traversing the filmmaking terrain for over 10 years. Working alongside esteemed directors including Alejandro Gonzalez I-árritu and Sam Mendes, Weber's proverbial dues have been paid and now she finds herself in the driver's seat. In her producing debut Americana, Weber and director Topaz Adizes tell the story of two teenagers who wrestle with their decision to enlist in the U.S. Army, juxtaposed with portraits of people from all over the world who have lived through war (including Hiroshima, Ho Chi Minh, Belgrade and Istanbul). By throwing herself willingly into the fire of filmmaking Corinne realized what she was made of, and it ain't just good looks (although, she is smokin'). Read on…
q: What inspired you to sign on and produce Americana?
a: After having worked with Alejandro González I-árritu for the first six years of my career, at the age of 28, I decided that I wanted to begin producing on my own and ultimately be more involved in the creative process. I thought that by making the decision to work with younger directors, I could grow alongside them and thus take on more responsibility and learn first-hand, both from my successes as well as from my mistakes. When Topaz asked me to join him, I knew that this was the perfect opportunity to put my skills to use.
For me, this transition also meant making a life choice about the kind of life I wanted to live. By branching out on my own, I knew that at least initially, it would mean more sacrifice financially, but that in the long run, it would provide me with greater freedom and thus a better quality of life I am currently splitting my time between NY and Paris, working as a freelance producer and grateful for my decision to produce AMERICANA as it allowed me to choose the path less travelled and ultimately a path that provided me with a more well-rounded existence.
q: You were a Producer on this film, but what exactly does that mean? What do producers do?
a: As the producer, I was overseeing essentially everything. When we began shooting, I was working with Topaz, the director, to compile a crew, both in NY where we were based, as well in the different locations around the world. Also, because our budget only allowed for one person to travel, we were forced to create mini production teams all over the world who were willing to donate their time. This meant reaching out to previous contacts, finding new contacts, weekly conference calls on skype, etc, and because our schedule was extremely tight, we were prepping and shooting simultaneously. Over the course of the film, I oversaw the budget, accounting, worked closely with Topaz during the editing phase, as well as during sound and music sessions, managed festival submissions, and continued looking for investment opportunities from production companies, television stations, grants, etc.
Also, because AMERICANA was considered a low-budget film, I assumed the roles of Executive Producer, Creative Producer and Line Producer. For me, the most gratifying role is that of Creative Producer which means working with the director during the development of the project, production and through post, thus having a more direct relationship with the film. Otherwise, at least for me, the experience is not as fulfilling.
q: What was the most challenging aspect of the film?
a: AMERICANA was envisioned as a small project with a limited budget, which meant that there would always be a struggle to make a lot happen with minimal resources. Also, once I signed onto the project, Topaz was ready to start shooting immediately so there was very little time to prep. As a result, I was forced to prep, shoot and look for money at the same time. It was almost like a game of catch-up…never feeling that there was a safety net should we find ourselves in troubled waters. But because of the subject matter and the fact that it was a documentary, the fast pace actually provided the energy we needed to keep moving and achieve a unique film blending both documentary and narrative elements. For me, AMERICANA proves that if there's a will, there's a way and together, with the tremendous support of our wonderful team, we were able to make a beautiful film that speaks to the true power of independent filmmaking.
q: How do you maintain equanimity amongst some harsh conditions... both regarding the content, and simply the conditions of making a movie on a tight budget?
a: AMERICANA was a very challenging experience for numerous reasons, but looking back, the various obstacles made the content that much more true to life. When we began making the film, the budget really only allowed for Topaz to travel to the different shooting locations, including Cuba, Bullhead City, CA, Laredo, Texas, Belgrade, Istanbul, Dubai, Hiroshima, Albania and Vietnam. This was difficult for me because I've always been alongside the director, especially while the material is being shot. For AMERICANA, it meant that Topaz was on his own as he was shooting, and that I was producing from afar, so any problems that arose had to be handled via multiple people, placing more responsibility on Topaz who had to direct, produce and shoot at the same time.
In terms of the delicate subject matter, we had to make sure that we received signed releases from everyone who spoke on camera, and because a large part of the story focuses on the military, we had to be careful about presenting all perspectives as equally as possible. Fortunately, Topaz is excellent at getting close enough to his subjects to have them trust him so that they're comfortable to reveal their true emotions. Again, this is what makes AMERICANA so special. The film is a documentary, but told in a narrative format. There are no talking heads, but rather an experience that makes it as if the audience is in the same room, watching, learning and thinking.
q: What are you taking from this experience?
a: Greater wisdom…the realization that anything is possible if you put your mind to it, and that even if you think you're not ready, you will be ready when it counts. Life is funny that way. I believe that opportunities in life present themselves because we are continually advancing and learning as we go. This experience attributed to my confidence and reminded me of my individual strengths. Sometimes, especially when you work with established talents, there is a tendency to piggyback on their success, rather than embracing ones' own attributes. The minute you make the decision to go your own way, you quickly realize what you contribute individually, and from there, the sky's the limit.