Understanding the film market

25.05.2017

Interview with Štěpán Hulík and Tomáš Hrubý

How did you gain HBO’s interest in your script of the “Burning Bush”?

Štěpán Hulík: At the beginning it was just my bachelor script at FAMU so actually that was something that I had to write down. Of course the theme was chosen on my own, I was really interested in the story of Jan Palach. I tried to offer the script of the “Burning Bush” to Czech Television, the only public broadcaster. They were very enthusiastic and told me that they would call me later which of course never happened. I kind of left that script and had started to do something different and only then I met accidentally Tomáš Hrubý on the tram. He told me that he read the script and he liked it. Tomáš suggested that a friend of him Tereza Poláková is now a producer at HBO. He asked me if I wouldn’t mind if he brings this script to the HBO which of course didn’t sound that bad… I agreed and the rest is probably a fairy tale.

And the fairy tale keeps going, shortly after the “Burning Bush” HBO offered you another TV series to write. Did they suggest you any genre or theme that the “Wasteland” should include?

Š.H.: At the beginning there was no obligation from HBO, they just wanted to make another project with us. I would say it was more or less up to us what kind of  project it would be. We definitely know that for instance comedies are not a genre that we would be able to write.
Tomáš Hrubý: It’s obvious that such a show would probably find an audience and would be an attractive for HBO so of course at that time when the crime shows were on the rise and we were watching those and in a way we felt that this is something that we could do as well.

This kind of 8-episodes TV series was something new in the Czech film industry.

Š.H.: They allowed us the comfort of setting up a writers’ room which was crucial to this project. We were really making up this ideas together. There were producers Tomáš and Pavla Janoušková Kubečková from Nutprodukce me, Lukáš Kokeš  and some friends coming in and out. It was very living process. We had meetings for maybe one year and we were developing the whole story. We’ve  managed to develop the plotlines and then I took it and wrote a script that was based on all this ideas that we’ve managed to make up together. There is something probably impossible under circumstances of Czech Television to pay scriptwriters for a year for just developing the story.
T.H.: It is not just the financial aspect even though it’s crucial, also creatively HBO really understood that process. There were moments that we thought that some solutions, some ideas even some scripts were good and they told us that changes are necessary and it turned out that they were right. People from HBO like Teresa Poláková, Steve Matthews and Anthony Root helped us how to develop the show without destroying  in the process. It is very important because you can get as high as your talent allows you to get. But if you have partners who will somehow put the obstacles in your way than the result would be probably worse than the maximum of your skills. But if you have partners who will just lead you all the way than the show will reach its full potential.
Š.H.: This obviously doesn’t mean that we are not having some arguments but it is natural. It is all about finding the best possible options for the project.
T.H.: You also have to understand one very simple principle. You got pay for the job but the TV series sector and the entertainment job is rarely about money it is also about the credit you receive. On a series you get a lot of people that have to cooperate even creatively to achieve the goal. They fight also of the attention of the public. If you have the “Wasteland” whose show it is? Is it director’s Ivan Zachariáš show? Is it Štěpán Hulík’s show? Is it the show of HBO or Nutprodukce? Even though we are all cooperators and we try not to fight, it’s not even just your ego, it’s your future carrier as well. People, funds, other filmmakers if they think the show is because of you, you get better chance at working with some other people in the future. Of course people fight for that because you have the limited space for the attention of others who will judge you.

That reminds me the way of working of film units in Barrandov from the past.

Š.H.: Maybe to some extend you are right. Of course the situation with Barrandov was different because the studio was founded by the state. But in terms of having a common goal which all of filmmakers are trying to achieve that might be similar. Also as Tomáš said, HBO was able to brought in a very skillful script editor and producer Steve Matthews which is again something similar that happened all the time in the film units. There were very experienced script editors in Barrandov.
T.H.: I think that Czech TV is trying to get this system as well. Other televisions also start to understand that it is necessary to hire people that are somewhere between producing and scriptwriting that would be able to work with the creative team, with authors and scriptwriters to maximize the potential of the script. They are on the verge of someone who is creative and of someone who also understands the money. I think this position is what Steve Matthews is about he is really able to think in that both dimensions. If you want to succeed you have to grasp that both dimensions. I think that is true in general. Agnieszka Holland used to say that the best directors understand the budgets and they understand even the campaign. David Fincher has in every agreement the quote that he has to be able to greenlight every campaign that the studio does for his film and he understand why it is essential.
Š.H.: Of course it’s relates to his personality because he is a detailed freak.
T.H.: Ivan Zachariáš  is control freak as well. But he also understands that his future career is depended on the box office result of his current film and that there is a danger that there are some stupid people doing some stupid calls and they will just maybe diminish the box office results and thus will lover his chances of making a further film. That is very smart move, it’s nothing irrational about it. Even if he thinks he is good at marketing, which I think he really is, than it’s just logical that he uses his power to have a control over there. He doesn’t have to use that control, if he sees a good campaign he might not get involved but he has the possibility to do that. It is a complex world and you have to understand the complex system.

Speaking of this complex system you are one of the coproducers of “Spoor”. How did you promote this film in Czech Republic: as a film of Agnieszka Holland, Nutprodukce production or Silver Bear for outstanding artistic contribution winner?

T.H.: I don’t think that promoting anything from the producers works at all and makes any difference. If you think about it as the goal to get most people to the cinema it does have any sense. To say that it is film of Agnieszka Holland that is how we promoted it and we also used the Czech actor who plays in that film very small role but he is on the Czech poster. To be honest it didn’t work at all, because the film just went to the cinemas and the attendance was a thousand people which is really bad. Silver Bear also doesn’t work at all. That is the biggest illusion of filmmakers’ world that prices of the festivals play any role.

© Mikołaj Góralik