PRODUCER, STUDIO VIRC
Boštjan Virc was born in 1972 in Novo mesto, Slovenia. In 1992 he co-established a production company Studio Virc that is a base for his career for almost three decades.
He is a film & TV producer capable of handling the entire process, from development and funding to production, marketing and distribution, all of them at an international level. He co-owns Studio Virc (Slovenia) and Levante Produzioni (Italy).
He has MA in Communication & Media Studies and BA in Economics from the University in Ljubljana. He attended various workshops and programmes like EAVE Producers workshop, Documentary Campus Masterschool, Ties That Bind, etc.
In 2017 he was a guest speaker at the Universities of Columbia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and was lecturing at various workshops and masterclasses of Re-Act, Midpoint, Balkan Documentary Center Discoveries, Documentary Campus Masterschool and various festivals.
He managed the 2017 Oscar campaign for Best Foreign Language Film Award for the submission HOUSTON, WE HAVE A PROBLEM!
Boštjan has co-produced with 13 countries so far (Slovenia, Italy, Germany, France, Croatia, Serbia, Austria, Finland, Czech Republic, Ireland, the Philippines, Singapore, Qatar) and was supported or acquired by national funds, Creative Europe MEDIA, Eurimages, Netflix, HBO Europe, Warner Media, Arte France, Doha Film Institute, RTV Slovenija, WDR Germany, Al Arabiya, Al Jazeera , RAI Italy, YLE Finland.
His films premiered, selected or awarded by major festivals like Tribeca, Toronto IFF, Karlovy Vary, Tokyo IFF, BFI London, IDFA Amsterdam, Minsk, Chicago, Palm Springs.
What attracted you to Inside Pictures (IP)?
The main attraction was the chance to expand my network via the other film professionals I get to share the course with. I don’t look at it only opportunistically, but I believe that when you have good relationships people, this is much more lasting than just jumping on someone you happen to meet at a festival just because they work for an important and/or globally recognised company.
Through Studio Virc and Levante Produzioni you straddle Slovenia and Italy.
The Slovenian company is the main one. It was established 1992. We mix public funded work with some commercial projects. NB. There is only one commercial broadcaster in Slovenia.
Where we opened in Trieste, it is on the border between Italy and Slovenia. This part of Italy, has their own regional fund. Plus, there is a strong Slovenian ethnic community that’s been there for centuries. You could argue that Trieste is not really Italy from my company’s point of view because the whole business is so connected with my main company here in Slovenia.
Historically speaking, this north east region of Italy, for many Italians doesn’t really feel like proper Italy. It would be another story, if I opened up an office in Rome. Being in Trieste is more of a way of getting formal access to forms of funding that I don’t have in Slovenia. Ljubljana to Trieste is only one hour by car, but doesn’t ever really feel like you’re going to another country.
Italy and Slovenia, like most European countries that we work with, have similar systems of public funding or selective funding schemes, but for a Slovenian producer, Italy feels like a bigger opportunity. The biggest obstacle for me, at the moment, is that I do not speak Italian. In Trieste, my accountant, lawyer, and bank, they are all Slovenians.
As a producer you handle the entire process from development through to distribution. What aspect do you most enjoy and what stage of the process do you consider the most challenging?
I enjoy being in the office putting all my efforts into the development of a project, and organising the production process. I’ve worked as line producer, and I am more than capable of performing this role, but given the choice I’d rather not. Of course, you can never entirely escape these responsibilities. If I’m needed on set, I’m there straight away.
I will be 50 in early 2022. When I was a kid, people who were 50+ felt extremely old. As I approach my 50th, I do not feel old, because I am still making personal and professional progress. I don’t feel that I have peaked yet.
Film is an uncertain business. You are often dependent on being selected by funders, festivals, sales agent etc. And it’s not always a judgement based on the quality of your product. You have to be lucky. You have to jump on certain opportunities. I’m not sure how much we can influence them, but for much of my career, there are always going to be people/organisations, outside of my control, who will determine my successes to a lesser and greater extent. You have to endure a high percentage of rejections before you get a ‘yes’. I would probably say that at least 70% of all my actions are unsuccessful. Studio Virc has 10 full time employees. When a project goes into production, there can be another 50 people who all depend on you too. Psychologically, this can be exhausting.
The dream job for me, would be an executive producer overseeing development. Getting seed money to develop new projects, maybe being invited as an expert to some workshops, or visiting festival markets. I don’t know if this business model is attainable, but emotionally, it’s what I would like to do, and what I feel I could do best at, medium and long term.
In 2020, we secured the CREATIVE EUROPE MEDIA ‘slate support’. €150,000 for developing new projects. This work has been something I’ve really enjoyed. I’m considering how to transform my business to be more about this aspect while finding financial satisfaction at the end of the day too. This is my internal conflict at the moment. I have a successful production company. This comes with many challenges, but I do not really enjoy a big chunk of it, but I definitely enjoy the development process and being more relaxed about being able to pay my staff and myself where possible.
What in your opinion makes a good co-producer?
So far, I have co-produced with 12 countries. The biggest challenge is understanding cultural differences. As well as understanding how differently people might work, it is important to understand what your co-producers want out of a project and what capabilities they are bringing to support it. Only then can you unify everyone around a single vision for the project.
Inevitably, co-producers will come into conflict with one another. Sometimes your role is to be peacemaker. I believe I am relatively good at dealing with the emotional aspects of film projects. In most cases, the outcome is win/win for everybody involved. That’s always my intention when we hit a difficult stage of a project. For co-productions, these soft skills, for me, are really, really important.
When considering new co-producers to work with, I will definitely be trusting my instincts more. I’ve lied to myself too many times, but later on my gut was proved right. I’m not the best at mingling at festival parties and meeting new people that way. I believe a network is more meaningful when relationships are based on positive experiences gained via working together. I definitely value long-term working relationships. For me, it’s quality over quantity every time. Maybe it’s a matter of my European sensibilities, but I do not believe in the so-called elevator pitch mentality for grabbing people’s attention.
Please talk about the 2017 Oscar campaign – Best Foreign Language Film Award – for your documentary, HOUSTON, WE HAVE A PROBLEM.
The Oscar campaign was a mixed blessing and I certainly have mixed feelings about what was achieved. On the one hand, you achieve your wildest dreams possible, but on the other hand, you understand that in Hollywood, your achievements are tiny in the grand scheme of things.
Since 2017, I have not been able to repeat this level of critical success. However, acclaim is only one aspect. There are projects I’ve worked on since that were financially more successful, but this first, relatively big, international success stands tall on my CV.
This biggest effect was on me as a person from Slovenia working in film. From 2017 to this day, I grew as a filmmaker. I have no desire to move to LA, but as kid who grew up watching American films, I do want to work on a projects that will continue to get Hollywood’s attention.
What’s been the greatest impact from COVID? What about your medium/long term visions/plans?
Ironically, 2020 was the most successful year for my company. In March and April 2020, like many others, we were afraid that we might need to fight for our food, but really quickly the consumption of audio/visual content went up via broadcasters and streamers because almost everyone was at home. As I say above, we secured ‘slate support’ from CREATIVE EUROPE MEDIA.
Because Slovenia is a small Eastern European country, that has only been sovereign since 1991, there is a certain mindset. We can be more flexible than colleagues in bigger EU countries, but the downside is that people here think too small. Consequently, we are not confident enough, as a nation, to push forward with the big ideas and say, yes, I want to go to the moon or whatever. It’s a nice place for tourists to visit, but if you live here and have some ambition it can be difficult.
Slovenians are traditionally thought of as hard-working people, who don’t cause any problems. We are all too aware of our place at the world’s table, but when you try to transform this mindset, you are anchored to this past. When you compare Slovenia to countries like the UK or Germany, the national mindset is often the main reason we aren’t as competitive as we could be.
To help myself, I’m trying to understand the mindset of successful people. Not all of them are compatible with my way of thinking, but I believe in having a positive outlook and appreciation of my life in the here and now. A big game changer, for me, happened 15 years ago when I began to see there is no direct correlation between working hard and your success. Sometimes you need to step back a little, have a break from the work.
I like life on the on the road, but the pandemic put that on hold. In July 2021, I went to Cannes – my first international trip in over year. It felt great. The market was a ghost town, but I felt like I was living my best life again. You cannot just evaluate success purely from a business/financial perspective. I am getting better at my work/life balance moving forward. Now, I skip over some grant applications, or say no to work opportunities. I believe it will bring me a higher quality of life.
It’s a Sunday afternoon, it’s raining, you’ve nothing else to do that day, what film are you putting on to relax with?
I would probably go for unpretentious films like RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK or INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM, or alternatively binge watch stuff like HOMELAND on Netflix.
I enjoy going to an art house screening, but when I’m tired. I just want to have fun. So, Indiana Jones will do.