Hungary Today recently had the opportunity to interview Producer Dorottya Mathe, who, nearly a decade ago, decided to give her Hungarian career up and follow her dreams to become a movie producer. As part of her long-time plan, she has moved to New York City and started everything from scratch at New York Film Academy. By 2018, Miss Mathe has worked on multiple independent movies and art projects together with Oscar-winning talents, such as Melissa Leo, Anna Paquin or Whoopi Goldberg, while she has also became an instructor at New York Film Academy.
This interview has been edited for clarity and concision, and translated from the original Hungarian.
Let’s clear things up a bit for the readers, because there are many different producers working at once on the same production. What does a producer exactly do?
People always have this image in their head of what a typical producer looks like: a gentlemen in their 50’s or older with a big cigar in their mouth, seated in a comfortable armchair, with the inevitable swimming pool and swaying palm trees in the background. This is a pretty hard image to get out of peoples’ minds. There are several different categories of producers. The Executive Producer is expressly responsible for securing the funding for the film. The task of a Producer is to ensure that the film based on the given script is completed within a certain timeframe and budget allotted by the Executive Producer. Furthermore, the Producer is responsible for the entire production process and participates in every phase of it. The Producer has a say in the casting, the decisions about logistics, finalizing the shooting locations – especially when these entail significant expenses. The Producer is followed by the Line Producer in the hierarchy, perhaps in Hungarian this would be synonymous with ‘főgyártásvezető’, whose task is to prepare the budget, to hire the crew together with the Producer, to finalize the schedule that was made by the 1st AD (Assistant Director) and staying on budget throughout shooting.
The role of Associate Producer is harder to define and varies from film to film. It can be someone that adds an element to the project, such as winning over a famous star to participate in the production, which will then significantly help to distribute the film.
How do you place yourself on this producer scale?
If I were to categorize myself then I would be the Producer. Usually, I receive a more or less finalized script, an outline of the shooting schedule and information on the amount of money that can be used for film. Most of the time, the necessary budget for the film has been already secured at this stage and is available for the production. On other films I get involved before the funding is in place and we have to wait years to find a backer for a film, even in New York. Investment depends on the global economic situation, but also on private interests. It can happen that the backers are insistent on specific actors to be attached to the film, but those talents are already booked so then the production of the film stalls.
Based on all this, how much say does a producer have in the making of the film?
It depends on what stage of production the film is in when the Producer joins the project. Sometimes they are involved in the entire life cycle of a film, from the first idea all the way to screening it for the audience. When this is the case they often collaborate with the writer and the director to create the screenplay together, which is a better position to be since possible shortcomings of the script can be corrected at an earlier stage.
In other cases a Producer joins the project when the script is almost finalized. For instance, the creators are already in talks with the investors but only the 75% of the budget has been secured. In this scenario my job as a Producer is to provide suggestions to modify the script or to suggest alternative approaches to producing the film in order to compensate for the budget constraints without jeopardizing the quality, distorting the story or the visual world envisioned by the director. The screenplay is the soul of the film, which significantly defines its success, regardless whether we mean by that the number of viewers or the profit of the film. If the script is weak no amount of money or producing can save it.
How does a woman at such a young age, 19, get involved in the movie business?
I wanted to be a physical education teacher, this is why I was an athlete throughout my years of secondary education, but because of my tall and thin body composition I wasn’t an ideal candidate at the application. Later I participated as an audience member at the filming of an episode of the Friderikusz Show where I fell in love with the crew’s cohesive teamwork. While studying at the College of Hospitality and Commerce I applied to be a hostess at the show. I got a job as the interpreter and the tour guide for the foreign guests arriving to the show and within a year I was coordinating the hostess’ work as manager. I never attended any film or television school, but I worked part-time in the Friderikusz Show for 5 years straight while I was a college student. I sat through all of the crew meetings, I saw all of the rehearsals and I witnessed first hand how a production is built from the ground up. In the meantime I also graduated from the College of Foreign Trade and I started to work at Friderikusz Production full time, where I gradually received different assignments such as handling the press, working as the editor and eventually as the assistant of Sandor Friderikusz.
With such a career how did you find yourself at the New York Film Academy?
I knew that the next step would be to overcome any shortcomings I had, that I hadn’t encountered at my work environment at the time, such as camera techniques, cutting, etc. My goal was to be a Producer and for that it is important to know what can be expected from the crew, how can I decide who is the best professionally for any given position. I was considering going to the Academy of Drama and Film in Budapest, but I did not want to study theory for another three-four years, as I was looking for a hands-on training, where I could also measure myself in the international market. This is why I choose the New York Film Academy’s one-year producing course, which I finished in 2007. A few years later I was asked to return to the Academy to teach producing in the Documentary Faculty, which I still do.
Since then you have worked on productions such as Flatbush Luck, The Independents, Impossible Monsters, and Furlough, including actors such as Tessa Thompson, or Alan Rickman and Oscar-winning talents such as: Melissa Leo, Anna Paquin and Whoopi Goldberg.
The Independents that you mentioned actually will be premiering at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival in February while Furlough will be opening at IFC Center in New York in March 2018.
After every shoot I promise to myself that during the next one, regardless of how hectic it gets, I will take the time to enjoy every moment of it. But by the time I come up for air, the wrap party is already over.
An internship was built into the Film Academy curriculum and I began working almost immediately. It took nearly ten years to reach the goal I set out to accomplish when I initially went stateside, which was to produce feature length fiction films; if it were not for the poor economy at the time (2008) I could have reached this dream probably in half that time. Over the years I had the opportunity to work in many productions that represent different genres – I produced documentaries, music videos, short fiction films, large-scale outdoor installations, as well as theatre productions and even an opera. My work is rather eclectic, which is a big advantage as a Producer. I need to have a wide network in order to gather a harmonious crew and create the best team for the director.
As a producer, what was your biggest challenge in life thus far?
Lets start with this, as far as I’m concerned if everything on a film goes smoothly, it means that I did not challenge myself enough, that I did not push my own boundaries. I would see that as a missed opportunity for growth. I’m in it for the challenge.
I am extremely grateful for my involvement on this particularly challenging movie, which I refer to when answering to your question. I joined this film 5 weeks before starting principal photography. In the two condensed months of working on the movie, my problem solving and multitasking skills advanced to such a degree, as if I worked on the film for two years. It’s an adrenaline rush that keeps me going and helps accomplish every shooting day as planned regardless all the difficulties.
I was “only” the production supervisor and a lot of decisions had been made before I came on board. Therefore my job was to secure a smooth production and to solve any upcoming challenges. A week into filming the entire 1st AD team resigned from the production and walked off the set. This was on a Friday, we managed to get by somehow on Saturday, but by Monday I needed to hire a completely new 1st AD team from New York while being two hours away from the city – otherwise the production would have been shot down. It was important to have a new 1st AD who is member of the DGA (Director’s Guild of America), whose personality fits well with the director and the principal talents. I had to find someone over the weekend who was suitable for the job and immediately available for three weeks, who has already worked with someone from our crew and able to gather his team of four, who can work together in harmony and can quickly pick-up from where we left off. Well, certainly the brand new 1st AD team was ready on Monday morning at call time and did a marvelous job carrying the film to the finish line.
In the last couple of years many Hungarian films won acclaimed international awards. Having worked in New York what can you say to this?
The quality of the scripts has improved a lot, the available budget is much higher than it used to be and this makes it possible to create films that are ‘standouts’ at film festivals abroad on their own right. Furthermore, there is money allocated for the marketing, which is very important since the distributors get to know the films at the film festivals and they help to deliver the movies to the audience. I remember being shocked by how strong the PR’s work was on Son of Saul as I watched Géza Röhrig and László Nemes Jeles appearing as guests on the Charlie Rose Show. The show has had a huge prestige in America. I was proud to see them on the program.
What movies would you recommend for the viewers from recent years?
The first movie to come to mind is Human Flow by Ai Weiwei, a documentary film about global migration viewed from a different perspective than the one presented by news channels. There’s also Crystal Moselle’s The Wolfpack, from 2015, there’s the German produced Happy People: A Year in the Taiga directed by Werner Herczog. From fiction feature films I would highlight Maudie, Room (2015), The Fencer, or Mustang and the The Patience Stone.
But let me recommend a Hungarian film as well – though it is very hard to only mention one since fortunately we have a wide selection to choose from. In Budapest Noir the visual world that recreates the Hungarian capital of the 1930s by Elemér Ragályi and Marcell Ragályi. The stunning period costumes, the meticulous production design all cohere to reflect the soul of a city that one could not help but fall in love with. I wish I had produced this film.
Reporting by Balázs Horváth
Translated by Gergely Edward Nagy