Interview with Gabrielle Tana

Gabrielle Tana, producer & co-founder of Magnolia Mae Films, spoke of the future of the independent film industry at NEM Zagreb.

You received an Oscar and a BAFTA nomination in the Best Motion Picture category for Philomena– do you personally think that is your greatest professional achievement? Do you have a favorite project you worked on?

Of course the Oscar nomination was a high point.  Making the film was a wonderful experience and telling that that story was important.  That same year “The Invisible Woman” was also in the awards race. Ralph and I had struggled very hard to get that made.  It was almost like having two children competing against each other. Two very different films with very different merits.  So much about a films life has to do with the timing of its release, the zeitgeist and the support behind it.  Philomena, had the massive support of the Weinstein Company behind it, The Invisible Woman was literally invisible in comparison.  Getting to know the real Philomena and sharing her experience of putting her story out into the world was very special.

The White Crow is one of the recent movies you produced, with Ralph Fiennes in the director’s seat – you two are once again working together. How do you two get along in this business?

Working with people who share common values and vision is really the key for me.  If you are not on the same wavelength, it’s not going to work. Making films is team work. You build a sympathetic team around you to tell the story as you see it. Ralph and I are sort of kindred spirits. For the most part we see eye to eye on things, so we work well together building that team and then enjoy most of the forward process, even if it’s challenging.  Ralph is a perfectionist in all he does. He is very honest with his feelings and point of view which is demanding but it keeps the work vital and hopefully truthful.
I have just finished production on a film where Ralph just acts and doesn’t direct.  Although less challenging for him than directing and acting, I was still a witness to the same extraordinary commitment to the work from him.  He is a master actor.  As a producer, a key aspect of my role is to support all the talent.  They are on the line, up there exposed to tell the story.

What do you look for in a script, what kinds of stories do you love putting in motion?

To be fascinated, moved, enlightened or maybe just entertained.  Stories about ordinary people doing extraordinary things are almost always compelling.  Good writing. A good story. Something surprising.

With all the changes that happened in the TV industry in the last ten years, is it difficult to find resources for an independent filmmaker like yourself?

Yes and no – I think it is changing as we speak.  The revolution is in how people are watching.  Technology has changed everything.  I never thought people would be watching films on their phones.

There is nothing like a theatrical experience with an audience.  I just hope that going to the movies does not become extinct.  The craft that goes into making a film should be celebrated not marginalized – only on the bigger screen can you really see all those details.

How revenue flows will determine if independent films can keep happening.  I have just finished production on my first film with Netflix.  I had been combatting them but I have to say so far it has been one of the best experiences and most supportive, I have had to date.  Of course, only in a year when it’s finished and released out there will we really know.  So much has to do with how a film is launched out into the world.

Do you ever think about working something other than producing, maybe directing or writing? Or is production your one true love?

Yes and always.  We will see.  It takes precious quiet time to develop something.  And you need support.  I have been perpetually busy producing which is all consuming.