The acclaimed producer talks the future of the film industry, his work with Nelson Mandela, and how the film industry can make or break you.
Let’s be real, while we might miss nights out with our friends and finding new places to eat, nothing beats walking up the dimly lit stairs and finding the perfect seat to watch a new cinematic masterpiece. But with the creative industry taking a huge hit the past year due to the pandemic, the days of experiencing surround sound and nervously munching on popcorn during suspenseful scenes are put on hold.
“It’s going to have long-lasting effects,” established producer and filmmaker Fernando Sulichin revealed. “I am curious to see in the new films and series that come out, if you will see actors wearing masks. We are in a moment that we need to live day by day, so with film, which is an art about programming in the future, we just don’t know. We don’t know if film festivals are going to happen or if they’re not going to happen. Nobody knows anything.”
With over 25 years in the industry, the Argentinean filmmaker and philanthropist has worked with just about everyone. From Spike Lee to Martin Scorsese, the producer has worked on a huge catalogue on films and documentaries, most notably the iconic Malcolm X and Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers. Priding himself in telling stories rather than to entertain, Sulichin’s meaningful projects have led him to become a predominant figure in the industry and has gone on to on tuck accolades from Sundance and Venice Film Festival under his belt. With his latest project with Sean Penn titled Flag Day set for release this year, we sat down with the producer, talking the future of film, his work with Nelson Mandela and how the film industry can make or break you.
Check out the interview below…
(LEFT) Malcolm X – Warner Bros (Right) Snowden – Open Roads Film.
Malcolm X – Warner Bros (Right) Snowden – Open Roads Film.
Hi Fernando – how have you been during this uncertain time? How has it impacted your work and creativity? Have you been travelling a lot?
I have been travelling a lot; I am the exception to the rule. I was born inside of a moving car for real, so I literally cannot stop moving… Mostly I live on this island called Mustique where I left my son. He is eight years old and to be locked down in London is not a good idea because he’s overenergetic and he plays sport… he’s happy there. I have a tutor and I go back and forth.
Has it effected your work and creativity?
It has affected it for the good. Listen, there is a big depression associated with Covid world-wide. People are going crazy, but me, I love obstacles because they are there to jump. I like adversity. I don’t like it when things are going too well. In the first week it was like the movie World War Z with Brad Pitt; like the unknown; like Armageddon. Nobody knows anything, everyone is locked down thinking that there are mini-Martians in the shape of a virus coming to attack the earth, so we had better go and hide… there is no food in the supermarket. Nobody understood anything, which is when my philanthropic side kicked in and I took part in supporting Sean Penn with his NGO in organising massive testing and sourcing PPE supplies. Also, there is no more cinema because you cannot physically go to a movie theatre. You need to adapt to the new implosion of the digital platforms to a level that, when you hear Netflix, it’s as familiar as it was before with Columbia pictures. So, you need to adapt to this digital world and doing so, you waste less time with crap, and you go straight to the bone. Creatively, it focussed people because there is less things to be done. You don’t want to do the things that you don’t want to do. You don’t want to have a Zoom for no reason because you are in your house, so why would I talk to this person unless it’s for something that has a purpose. Previously, you fantasise a little bit, you have meetings, you listen to more things and at the same time, you are more reflective about what you do and where we are going. However now, in the case of films, you are more reflective about where it is going to be viewed. Will it be viewed on a computer or on the big screen with surround sound or whatever? So that’s the struggle that we have now. For example, I have recently completed a film with Sean Penn which is ready to go. It’s a beautiful film, a gorgeous film and I saw it in the cinema in July, where they arranged a private screening for me – a rough cut. Where are people now going to see it? Are they going to see it in their house, are they going to see it in the movie theatre, because it deserves to be watched in the theatre but there is no theatre…
How do you personally think the pandemic is going to have a long-lasting effect on the film industry?
I think that it is going to have long-lasting effects. I am curious to see in the new films and series that come out, if you will see actors wearing masks. Governments don’t have a clue what’s going on; nobody has a clue what’s going on. Four weeks ago, you were going to department stores or whatever, now you cannot even leave your street. So, nobody knows what’s next. There could be massive vaccinations, then there could be mutations or there could be whatever… We are in a moment that we need to live day by day, so with film, which is an art about programming in the future, we just don’t know. We don’t know if film festivals are going to happen or if they’re not going to happen. Nobody knows anything.
Are you positive about the future of film?
I am very positive about the future of film! Extremely! I will give you an example with the directors I work with. They have time to see what is essential for them and they have got time to see what is good for them. So, we are going to get some great projects coming out from this because we are not just making film because we have to, we want to make a film that means something to us.
Spring Breakers – A24
Spring Breakers – A24
You’ve secured appearances with Nelson Mandela and interviews with Putin – it will be hard to pinpoint, but what can you say has been the biggest challenge of your career, and what has been your biggest highlight?
Definitely to be up to the standards of the filmmakers I am working with. They are quite exigent, creatively demanding and I have to help them express their art and truth. I had such an eclectic career that every time we complete a project, it is so life-demanding that it becomes a highlight on its own. The level of energy that the projects take, is enormous. I would still like to continue with the philanthropic side, not saving the world as such, but continuing to make a difference and sharing as much luck as I have. I need to empower young or established filmmakers to make films that can make a difference for their own dignity as well as that of the viewer. That’s why I work with Oliver Stone, Sean Penn or David Lynch or people that I really like. Young filmmakers as well. I’m making a documentary at the moment on alternative energy. A practical documentary which is: there is a lot of ecological fashion and sustainable fashion that to me is fashion or as something that is the flavour or the month. But the environment is something that is the next pandemic, it’s happening now. What we’re trying to do together with Oliver Stone and my other partners, is to do a very practical documentary about what measures we need to take now, not just to have solar power and Teslas and all that – in order not to melt the Arctic and not to have a disaster. We’ve been working on that for the last year and we’re now filming, that’s why we’re in Moscow at the moment. I am constantly looking forward. I would love to film the President of China. I would love to film Kim Jong-Un. I am curious about these kinds of characters that don’t have a voice in the West. As we did with Putin – as we did with many people.
The first film you ever worked on, at age 25, was Spike Lee’s Malcolm X, which is insane – what would you say has been the biggest change in the film industry you’ve witnessed since then?
I think that obviously there is a generational change… the people that are doing film now, the people that are financing and the media, is in the hands of more corporate organisations and less artists. That means that the generation of the 80s and the 90s, which is when I grew up in film, those people were more culturally crazy. You have producers like Mario Kassar, a very colourful character. He did Rambo, he did Basic Instinct, he did Terminator. They have another level of craziness and fantasy that now is just fast-food creativity. There has been a change, but unfortunately in Hollywood, they create the software of movies for the world and the lack of culture of many executives down there and the lack of openness – I’m not talking about England, I’m talking about Hollywood in general – is not fun anymore. Like previously, the chairman of Columbia pictures was a former hairdresser, a hairdresser of Barbara Streisand and he got to be the Chairman of Columbia pictures. There was a guy called John Peters, he made Batman, the first Batman. Those guys they were fun and crazy and free. He was sending private planes full of roses to his girlfriend. Those were large characters, but now you pass through the ethics committee. People are more afraid to create, so it’s harder, so we need to unleash the culture.
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned in your career?
My biggest lesson is… I’m not going to say follow your dreams… but to keep your level of subconsciousness and do your “why nots”. Keep going, don’t think of obstacles, just keep going. If you fail so what? There’s a beauty in failing but you need to have fun on the way and you need to help and inspire as much as you can.
If you could give a budding producer who is looking to emulate the same success that you’ve had what advice would you give?
To a young producer? The fun you have making a film and that the less serious you take yourself, will improve the quality of the picture and it’s going to keep you in sync with reality. There is a lot of egos involved in this profession. People think that to be in movies or documentaries you become a better human being or you become special. So you then have all these big careers, these big people and then when they are discarded, because this is a cruel industry, they go down and nobody wants them. They become disasters; they break their hearts. At the end of the day, it’s just a job. Have fun, be as creative and positive as you can and don’t worry about who’s going to see your film. The important thing is to get it done the way you want. It is an art form and at the end of the day, it is a form of entertainment. We can be the inspiration for people to reflect but at the end of the day we are not doctors; we are not in the national health systems.
You’ve worked on a slew of iconic films and projects – has the reason you love film and want to make art changed since you first started out? What’s next for you? What are you looking forward to in 2021?
Yes, it changed… It’s a generational thing. Film requires a lot of energy, as a producer you need to support a director for a dream that he has for a year and a half, so it’s a lot of energy. Now, I measure my energy. I give it to someone that I’m going to have a great time with like Oliver Stone or Sean Penn. I love them, I have a good time with them, I like them as people and I respect them creatively. If someone else comes with a project and I don’t like the guy and I know I have to spend a year and a half with him, I’m not going do it! With Oliver. I learn every day. It’s not a question of whether you need to create groups and you don’t need to feel like you’re more special than anyone else. It’s just a job and it’s a great job but it’s not like one day you are going to become famous and your life is going be better. Your life is going be what it’s always been. My next project is called Bright Future – the nuclear documentary I mentioned. By May we’re going have it finished. This year, Sean Penn’s film Flag Day is coming out and I’m then thinking about what I’m going do next in these Covid times and enjoy as much as I can.