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Categories: Interviews

Jared Fryer talks with the award-winning producer who continues to make waves at Berlinale and across Europe.

Sol Bondy

Cinema Jam recently sat down with Sol Bondy, prolific producer and co-founder of One Two Films, to talk about his career, company, and the art of producing movies.

Can you talk a bit about One Two Films, how it came to be, and why you decided to create this company?

In 2009, I was finishing my studies at the German film school dffb [Berlin], prepping my graduation film (Reported Missing [Die Vermissten – below], a € 1,1 mil. feature) and working at another production company. Working at this other company made me realize I’m not really built to work for other people. The job was OK, but I was so used to doing “my thing” that I realized I’m losing my energy.

When I told this to my close friend Christoph he said “are you kidding? I’ve been waiting for you to finish your studies all the time. I have the know-how, I have the financing, we could open a company together!” I was amazed and shocked at the same time. But most importantly, I told him that I’m not this 360 degrees type of producer who is good at everything and that there are a lot of things that I don’t know – and that I would need another producer by my side to compliment me – because it was clear that Christoph himself (who had studied business and had another day job) wasn’t going to be that person. But Christoph said “well, go find that person and then come back to me.” And essentially, this is what I did.

Jamila was the perfect addition. She had studied at the other big film school in the region (Film University Konrad Wolf Babelsberg), graduated with an equally large feature film, but most importantly, she had more experience than me. She had been working on large feature films, international co-productions with budgets over € 5 mil. That gave me a lot of confidence that we could tackle everything we wanted to. Christoph agreed and we were good to go!

Still, we sat down for a long time and thought precisely how we are going to define ourselves and what kind of films we want to make, because the truth is, another production company is the last thing this world needs, especially in Berlin – so it was important to come up with a clear and distinct concept. Also, because we were going to start with using my friend’s money (and I wanted to keep him as a friend)!

This is how we came up with two different kind of ways a looking at projects, what we call “director-driven” and “producer-driven.” The former rather being arthouse films, directed by people we simply admire and want to grow with, the latter being projects with a clear commercial appeal, where no directors are attached at the beginning, but we reach out to who we feel is right at a later packaging stage. This clear approach has been very helpful in terms of acquisitions. If a project is in between, we won’t touch it.

dievermissten

What do you think is biggest challenge with being a film producer?

I think the biggest challenge is that you have to be good at so many different things. Sometimes you’re a salesperson, sometimes you’re a psychologist, sometimes a diplomat; you have to be good with numbers on one day, then you need to be good with words on the next, and on another day you have to give great feedback on a script or in the editing room. I’ve met nobody who’s equally good at everything.

How is the dynamic between yourself, Jamila Wenske, and Christoph Lange, and how do your styles compliment each other at One Two Films?

In the beginning it was quite clear who was bringing what to the table. After two years, we jokingly gave each other labels like the “foreign minister” (me, traveling to a lot to festivals, acquiring and selling), the “interior minister” (Jamila, who was holding the fort together with a brilliant eye for the essential things), and Christoph, the “finance minister.”

These dynamics have changed now, or kind of adjusted themselves, because in order to keep the company alive, we’ve had to take on many projects, so that Jamila and I are often dealing with projects more or less on our own. But we still have a lot of projects that we’re working on together, too. But we do have different personalities – which can lead to discussions – but mostly serves us as an advantage.

You have to be good at so many different things.”

Can you talk about your connection with Berlinale? Can you talk about Youth and the process you took to get such a successful film?

Being a Berliner, I’ve been visiting the festival for many years and since my second year of studies, I would rather say I’ve been “working the Berlinale” for more than 10 years now. Naturally, we know a lot of people that work there; some of them are good friends.

In 2010, the year we founded our company, I was introduced to another producer from Israel called Gal Greenspan by a mutual friend, who thought we would get along well. And we did. Gal had two projects and one of them was Youth (below). The director Tom Shoval was there for the Berlinale Talents, pitching the project. The pitch was great and I had in fact already seen Tom’s shorts, because I’d been around a lot with my own shorts during film school. We kind of immediately decided to work together and the plan was for us to raise a third of the budget and have the post-production in Germany.

Youth

We had a very hard time co-financing the film, though, because for international films, the German-French broadcaster ARTE is really the only way to raise money. And you can only access a fund in Germany after you’ve secured TV money. (I know that sounds strange, but that’s the way it is in Germany!) And at the time, ARTE had already backed so many films from Israel, that they didn’t want to support us – although the script was great. A year passed and we didn’t raise a dime. I remember that we met Gal and Tom back at the Berlinale a year later and they were looking for French co-producers this time. They still wanted to work with us, but “money talks and bullshit walks” – as one of my teachers used to say…

Luckily, and I really mean through luck (or maybe because we just didn’t give up) we found the smallest backdoor to ARTE, a door that nobody had ever approached before – and we succeeded! We secured € 200.000 and got another € 100.000 from our local fund Medienboard Berlin Brandenburg. We then attached a fantastic sales agent, The Match Factory, and the film premiered at the Berlinale’s Panorama section in 2013. It was sold to a few other countries (France, Australia, etc.) and won many awards at festivals, including the main prize at the Jerusalem Film Festival. It was our first international co-production and definitely put us on the map internationally. It’s a film we’re still very proud of today.

You were born and raised in London but spent time in Spain and Berlin. How have those experiences helped shaped your filmmaking career?

Well. Speaking other languages fluently helps, of course. I think there are other things that were more significant, though. For example, I used to be fully dedicated to sports between the age of 8 and 24. I played hockey, on an international level even. Filmmaking is very much a team effort and social skills are key. I think I learned a lot about teamwork and leadership through that. I guess it’s where I also learned networking. It sounds obvious, but I would say my strength as a producer is building and knowing and using my network. I met Christoph playing hockey when I was 14…

What business models are working for independent producers in regards to setting up international co-productions and surviving in today’s economically challenging industry?

Well, international co-productions are great, but they need to make sense economically. Not only are they more expensive, you’re also sharing the producer’s fee. If a producer earns 5% of the budget that’s OK if your budget is € 1 mil. for example. That’s € 50.000. But if you’re only contributing 30% as minor co-producer, do the math…you’re earning way less. But of course, you’re also sharing work and duties – although I have to say that international co-productions are more work-intensive than “normal” local productions. In Denmark, people only work until 5 pm. In Israel, the weekend is Friday & Saturday and Sunday they send you emails…just two simple examples of how different countries have their own work rules, ethics and laws. It’s also work to get accustomed to a new co-producer – and naturally more time-consuming. Or if you’re co-producing with the US, it’s not only an entirely different system, but a working day in LA just begins when you’re ready to call it a day in Europe. Sometimes you can end up working around the clock…

My strength as a producer is building and knowing and using my network.”

From the producer perspective, what do you think makes or break a film?

That’s really impossible to answer in a general way. It really depends on the film you’re working on. Some people might say “the script – of course” – but I have seen (and produced) great films where there was no script. This is exactly what a good producer is supposed to define. What makes or breaks a film for this specific project? Sometimes it’s the actors – then you should really spend so much time on casting until you have found the right people. Sometimes it’s the script – then please get it right. Sometimes it’s the location. And sometimes, you only know after you’ve screened the film for the first time. Ha!

What was the last film you worked on? Can you talk about the process that went into that?

It’s difficult to pick the last one because we’re constantly working on several projects at the same time. We finished shooting one film a week ago, Freedom by Jan Speckenbach, we’re in the middle of editing another, The Tale by Jennifer Fox, and we’re preparing the broad European theatrical release of Angry Indian Goddesses by Pan Nalin (below), but the most exciting news right now is a film that premiered in the official selection of Cannes’ Un Certain Regard this year. The film is called The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki and is a Finnish-German-Swedish co-production. We came in quite late, but with some significant broadcasting money, and the film was shot in beautiful black-and-white Kodak stock.

I met the director Juho Kuosmanen and producer Jussi Rantamäki at the Torino Film Lab where they were pitching their project. The pitch was great, but I didn’t book a meeting with them, because I was actually not supposed to look for new projects! I randomly ended up at the same dinner table with them and we started talking. They told me that they had a lot of meeting requests, but the most important meeting, one with ARTE, they didn’t have. Well, I had one scheduled for the next day so I invited them to join me… They sent me the script after, then Jamila and I met them in Helsinki and later, we found our way to ARTE’s money. After the film was shot, we were very active in helping to find the right sales agent, as we were slightly more experienced on that end. We ended up with a fantastic French sales agent, Les Films du Losange – and then we were in Cannes. It’s all very exciting!

angryindiangoddesses

Any films you’re looking forward to in 2016?

You know it’s strange, but given that we work so much in film, we’re quite lucky to see many films at festivals, which means I’m not really so excited about a new film that is opening in cinemas, because you already read and know about what’s coming. I can tell you that I was really looking forward to the new season of Game of Thrones or The Affair. This stuff really gets me hooked…

What are you currently working on?

We just finished shooting the second feature by Jan Speckenbach, called Freedom. It’s a story about a woman who chooses freedom over her own family – and leaves without saying a word to anyone. The structure is interesting, because first we see a woman (played by the fantastic Johanna Wokalek) who is trying to build a new life, and then the film changes the perspective radically, showing a man and two children, struggling with their lives and the fact that their mother/wife has disappeared 2 years ago. The last chapter shows the last evening as the family together. The film will be ready early next year.

Then we’re also working on our first US co-production called The Tale, by Jennifer Fox (below). Starring Laura Dern and Ellen Burstyn, it’s an amazing story of a woman who finds an old letter, one that she wrote herself at the age of 13. It brings back many memories, but ones that aren’t really reliable, because every person she confronts with what happened 30 years ago, seems to have a different version of the story. And it’s essential, because it’s about how she lost her virginity.

Then we will shoot a debut feature by the very talented Hungarian director Balint Kenyeres this summer. The project is called Hier (French for: Yesterday) and is about an architect who travels to Morocco to check on a construction site but basically loses himself there after he sees a woman that strongly resembles someone he met 20 years ago. It’s a six-country co-production with Germany, Hungary, France, Sweden, The Netherlands and Morocco – and Jamila is the delegate producer – a lot of work! Oh, and they will shoot on 35mm!

Finally, we are the project partner of a documentary initiative called OUT OF PLACE, where we’ve chosen 10 projects (5 in Germany, 5 in Israel) for short documentaries on the subject of what it means to be out of place. The great director Isabel Coixet will curate the films and they will be screened together at international festivals in 2017. The project was initiated by the Gesher Film Fund in Israel and our Youth co-producer Gal Greenspan is the Israeli project partner.

thetale

Future projects?

Oh my. There are so many! We are in the middle of financing a film called The Most Beautiful Couple by the well-known director Sven Taddicken. It’s a € 2.3 mil feature about a couple whose lives are shaken to the core after they unexpectedly bump into the person that robbed them and sexually assaulted her two years before. They are confronted with the question: what they are going to do about it?

Tom Shoval has a new project called Shake Your Cares Away about a super-rich woman who has the strong urge to help the needy and therefore volunteers in a soup kitchen for homeless people in Tel Aviv. She starts crossing borders soon and helps them with her own money. This film will be an Israeli-German-French co-production.

Then there’s another amazing project from Jan Speckenbach, a musical set in post-war Berlin, telling the several stories of the “rubble women,” the women that rebuilt the city with their own hands after the war. This project has already received a lot of development funding and Jan has researched so much that it might be better to turn this into a series.

Franky Five Star is a comedy about a woman who has multiple personalities but has learned to cope with it quite well – until she falls in love. My partner Jamila and the director Birgit Möller have managed to attach two of the shooting stars of the German film industry for the lead cast, Jella Haase and Edin Hazanovic.

Another historical project is Berlin Balagan, about the Eastern European Jews that ironically came back to Berlin after the war, because it was the safest place for them to be. In so-called Displaced Persons camps they brought back their culture and learned to live their life again – before moving on to Israel, the US or Argentina. It’s a blind spot in the cinematic landscape and written by one of the best German writers, Rolf Basedow, and we’re currently talking to A-list directors to attach.

Update: The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki won the Prize of Un Certain Regard at Cannes.

Find out more about Sol and his company’s work at onetwofilms.com

Jared Fryer

Jared Fryer, founder of Cinema Jam and editor-at-large of The Spread, is a London-based writer/director. After some early success in writing and directing theatre, Jared became well-acquainted with the Los Angeles film business while attending UCLA. Upon graduation he returned to his native England and worked for several years as a freelancer in London doing everything from producing to lighting to art department. Armed with this experience he returned to writing/directing and founded Cinema Jam to help other people in their film careers.

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Posted on Jun 2, 2016

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