Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Paula Alvarez Vaccaro is an award winning producer, scriptwriter, journalist, and educator with more than twenty-five years of experience working in film, TV, online, radio, and printed media in three continents. Before founding PINBALL LONDON, in 2009, she had worked in films, series and shorts for international companies and broadcasters such as BBC, MTV, and ARTE. Under Paula’s leadership, Pinball London has won over thirty international awards across narrative and documentary features, series, animation, and shorts. Working with directors from over 15 countries — from well-known ones such as Emir Kusturica, Sally Potter, and Guillermo Arriaga, to newcomers like Ana Rocha, Aaron Brookner and Edoardo de Angelis—, their films have launched at most A list festivals around the world and have been distributed in over 40 territories while their series have been developed with international partners in several languages. She is currently a Vice-President of the European Producers Club, and the workgroup leader for their gender charter. She was an Emmy Juror between 2009 and 2014, an Official Jury at San Sebastian Film Festival in 2017; a Jury at Focal Awards for Archive Excellency 2010-2018, and a BIFA juror since 2018. She is also a Sundance Alumna, a member of the European Film Academy; a member and mentor of EWA, the European Women Audiovisual Network, and a full member of BAFTA and the Writers Guild of Great Britain. She received the prestigious Chevening Scholarship Award and holds a Masters in Media Arts from Royal Holloway, University of London.
What attracted you to Inside Pictures (IP)?
The chance to be in a collaborative community and the seniority of the program is what attracted me the most. There are many programs in the industry aimed at entry level but very few for more senior producers. The chance to be mentored and guided is exciting, especially when most times I am the one in the mentor chair. The 360 vision and the fact that the program expands internationally is also very attractive. After twelve years leading my own company, I know we need to expand both inside the UK and into the US and beyond, I believe Inside Pictures is a good place to hone my skills to be a better business professional, and a better leader.
Pinball London is a production company committed to creating content with an auteur zeal. You work with some of the most prestigious and talented filmmakers in the world… How are you discovering the filmmakers with the auteur zeal to grow your company?
I started in the industry working on projects with well known filmmakers as Development producer for Morena Films, a super prestigious award winning company based in Spain. Some of the early projects I worked on included films with Oliver Stone, Nanette Bursten, and Abel Ferrara. These were very difficult films with bold creators and showing I was able to do them led to Maradona by Kusturica, released in Cannes in 2008. We met Emir on the lobby of a hotel in Cannes with the idea to put him together with Maradona. We didn’t have Maradona yet and my first task was to get Diego, and I did. So I earned respect from within my team and with a tough filmmaker, like Emir. We worked four years and finally when it launched I founded Pinball London and continued my collaboration with Emir Kusturica into other films and within his festival, Kustendorf, where I worked as a film selector and supporting the jury. Our collaboration lasted over a decade with three films produced, the last one released in Venice in 2016 and winner of the Young Golden Lion (Youth Jury Lion). During our time working together, Emir only finished the films I was producing and this also gave me kudos and the confidence to expand my support of other auteur filmmakers as I had learnt so much from my work with Kusturica. He is a very bold character and probably the quintessential embodiment of a Cannes auteur in the 90s and 2000´s and one of a handful who had won the Palme D’Or twice, so for many years my career as a producer was shaped by my experiences working with him. As we were able to finish all the films we worked on, something that didn’t happen to all his projects, this resulted in some of the auteur driven industry to take notice. From that work, I was then able to support other filmmakers and had the knowledge to identify a newer generation of filmmakers as well as to return to writing and creating myself as I started in the early 90s as a journalist and writer in Argentina, where I grew up.
Pinball London creates original content for digital channels and platforms, including web series and animation via Pinball Digital and also creates books, art installations, events and music projects linked to films via Pinball Arts… How are you able to manage such a diverse offering of creative content/disciplines? How much does that complement creating films with an auteur zeal?
The main characteristic of an auteur is a sort of renaissance artist so it is very usual to see them writing books, creating art installations or participating in music and creating events. It is the case of many of those who we have worked with and that’s why we ended up doing all these. It came naturally and we just added the work. Also as a producer I founded other companies related to some of the work including Gloria London, a company at the intersection of technology and culture where we launched as an app the first film created exclusively for iPad in 2012, a very early experiment, so digital channels and platforms are just windows we have explored. And yes, there are auteurs also when it comes to animation. After all an auteur is someone with a personal zeal and vision from idea to screen.
Please can you talk a little about your work with producers, distributors, and publicists to target audiences for deeper engagement.
As an independent producer you learn to think about audiences as an integral part of your filmmaking process. You need to explain why you believe there will be an audience and where it is. But an audience can also be part of your film, it may be the main community you are serving or has even helped you create a film, and you have a mandate and an obligation to engage them and inspire them. We offer consultations to help filmmakers find these ideas and engagement strategies during development, production and also at distribution stage. Even for films we didn’t produce or will not oversee during distribution. Cinema as a tool has the power to change hearts and minds at enormous speeds, things we see on screen first happen or replicate in the world later. If you can see it, you can be it. This has happened with in-vitro fertilisation, abortion, divorce, and some many other topics. Before Barack Obama there was Richard Pryor or Morgan Freeman on screen. The stories we watch both shape the way we see the world and the radical inspiration we need to change it. Films have a social impact at every stage. At the heart of this is of course the belief that in order for a film to shape a more equitable world we need to engage a range of possibilities and a wide and diverse spectrum of visions especially when it comes to those filmmakers and voices who have not been engaged and given space. The hegemonic gaze (mainly white and male) has changed the way we see the world in hierarchical terms, where that gaze is dominant, and I think it has reinforced inequalities by providing a narrative that makes them “normal”. As we know the “norm” so well, after all the auteur world is predominantly part of this hegemonic vision, we also know how to turn it on its head and where we can push for change. We are interested in supercharging filmmakers using audience engagement as a tool for much needed social change.
What are the greatest opportunities/threat for you as an indie production company in terms of supervising the IP you create?
I am not sure it is about supervising IP, after all cinema and tv are a collaborative medium but certainly the role of the independent producer is at the heart of each project and involves creative development, budgetary and financial management, and its production. The value of this role should be recognised in the producers’ relationship to its IP. With the advent of OTT platforms the appropriate and proportionate remuneration, which is already provided for authors, directors and other copyright or related rights owners, should be applied to independent producers . When producers have to leave 100% of rights behind, this is money for today but nothing to build the future. Of course if you are an established producer with a huge library this may not be that problematic but for producers without the revenue of robust royalties this is key. An independent production company that acquires, creates or co-develops IP, needs that underlying IP, including the rights to make sequels, prequels, remakes, and any other derivative audiovisual works based on the initial film or TV series, as a way to make its own work sustainable. As an example, the production company that has produced the first season of a TV series based on an IP should be involved as the production company in all subsequent seasons of that same series and this is also not happening at times. The exploitation rights granted should be limited to the rights in the film or TV series that the exhibition window needs, and in connection with the primary exploitation of the work on its service, while allowing for the production company to authorise additional exploitation of the remaining or unused rights of the work, e.g. a theatrical release, where appropriate, and free TV exploitation after a reasonable period of exclusivity, and this is slowly being lost. And of course there is also the regular and comprehensive information on the exploitation of the work, which we are missing with most OTTs. We need detailed data to continue monitoring how our work performs.
Thinking of your role as VP of the European Producers Club, heading up the gender chárter, what is the gender charter and how will it help EPC improve/influence the wider film industry?
We launched a gender equality charter for our members aimed at encouraging equal pay, opportunity and representation for women behind and in front of the camera. This was the fruit of 18 months of consultations among the club’s 150 producer members and grew out of the heightened awareness around gender inequality sparked by the rise of the #MeToo movement at the end of 2017. The charter addresses four key areas of interest: sexism and harassment, equal pay and access to responsibilities, talent and content. We have encouraged our members to sign the charter on a voluntary basis and are also hoping national and European film institutions that work with its producers to come on board too. Some of the obligations range from arranging staff training around best practices to deal with sexism and sexual harassment to striving for gender parity on artistic, technical and management teams to ensuring equal pay and opportunities for all staff, regardless of their gender. As well as refraining from conveying gender stereotypes in productions and ensure there is gender balance in terms of the characters or non-fiction subjects, where storylines permit. The EPC was created in 1993 by 23 white men and this was a big step. To change the old boys’ club of any institution is a very long process. Inclusion and diversity didn’t stop with the gender charter, and the EPC has now moved to be one of the founding institutions of ARTEF, the newly formed Anti-Racist Taskforce for European Film announced on 1 July 2021. In it I am also part of the steering committee and I see the work there as an extension of my decade long work for gender equity in the industry. For more info see here www.artef.org
What’s been the greatest impact on you/your company from COVID?
Our company is at a strong place as we have a wide array of experience but also at a super fragile stage as the Covid pandemic has hit our business extremely hard. We had award winning films struggling to sell at take prices, productions stopped at the start of the pandemic, films about to launch on their key markets dropped. It has been a long year of turmoil that has not stopped but we feel strong because we have slipped into our role and purpose with precise determination and were forced to re-think how we approach our work and collaborations. We grew closer to partners we didn’t have and will bring to market wonderfully developed films and series that will hopefully propel Pinball London to new heights. It has been hard but I am positive we will come out stronger.
As we begin to slowly get back to something resembling normal, what changes to your own medium/long term visions and aims will go to what they were and what is likely to remain changed forever?
We will travel less for sure, we will not go to all festivals we used to go. This is the first time I skipped Cannes in 20 years (minus last year of course) and I don’t feel I am missing out. We don’t have a film in the festival and we are at stages with other projects where a one-on-one via zoom could provide a better space for conversation with someone I don’t know yet in person. We will also probably explore more options online before we jump to collaborate and this could be a good thing.
What’s changes, innovative or otherwise, have you seen in the film industry that have been in response to COVID, but will be for the greater good going into the future and what can’t you wait to be normal once again?
I can’t wait to have sets without hand gels, screens and PCR tests that is for sure, but I also think normal needs a rethink. The film industry is extremely pollutant and needs a greener approach on many fronts. On travel, on transport, on wastage… to me the fact that I have finally decided all my catering will be vegan moving forward is a big win for the greater good. Just the vegan catering reduces more carbon footprint than not taking planes.
If we were at the start the pandemic today, with what we know now, what do you think you and/or Pinball London would do different to make it better/easier on the company and/or your own well being … Advice, tips and tricks welcomed…
I think I would put my own oxygen mask on before putting one on others. For many weeks at the start I talked to many filmmakers, some who had done workshops with me or clients or colleagues and I jumped to help them think of alternatives to their problems, only to realise we were having some very heavy ones ourselves. Solidarity mode took over and I don’t necessary regret it but it certainly took a heavy toll on my well being and we are not over recovering yet.
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 have not had a day without nothing else to do for so long… but going along with the game I’d put any film by Lucrecia Martel. They remind me of my country of origin, Argentina, and are incredibly immersive. Zama, The Holly Girl, and The Swamp are my favourite. Just one piece of advice, if the rain is too heavy you need a good tv sound system and to turn the volume up as Lucrecia’s work starts with her masterful use of sound.