Monika Sakalauskaitė Tells Us About Working as a Line Producer, 20 years in the Film World and Shooting “Paradise”
Monika Sakalauskaitė is a line producer with over 20 years of experience in the cinema world. Having unexpectedly found herself on the movie set in her youth, today Sakalauskaitė works with the most important foreign projects shot in Lithuania. Among them was one the most anticipated futuristic thrillers: “Paradise”, which will be presented to the audience on the Netflix platform on July 27th. In this interview initiated by the Vilnius Film Office we talk about the film, the most memorable projects and working in the cinema industry.
Monika, could you tell us about how you got into the cinema world, what was the beginning of your professional path?
I started quite by accident; when I was 19 years old. I was in my first year of studies and decided that I wanted to change my life, but I didn’t know how. My grandmother, who had worked in a film studio for many years, told me then: “Until you know what you want to do, go to the studio to fetch coffee.” Today I laugh that now they sometimes fetch me that coffee too. Starting from the bottom rung, I have been working in cinema for over 20 years and I think this is the best possible start of a career in this industry. Afterwards, you know very clearly what you can demand from your team.
You have been working in cinema for many years. What fascinates you the most in this industry?
It seems to me that you are either born a cinephile or not. When you get tired, and you get tired every time, because there are no easy and simple projects, you say that you will never go back to the cinema again, and yet, after the project ends, you ask – when’s the next time?
Why is working in the film industry so engaging? Because it’s never boring: different people, stories, places, you always learn something new that you didn’t even think you’d need. I like the idea that every job on a film set is important because one person can never make a movie. If someone doesn’t bring coffee in time, doesn’t clean up, doesn’t do the most basic, simple things, other plans won’t work out on time. Even the smallest contribution of each team member leads to the final result on the big screen.
You worked as a line producer for many years and you are currently a production manager. What are your tasks and responsibilities?
When a director and producer decide to make a film, they usually choose from several countries where to shoot. This is where the work of the line producer of a specific country begins – to calculate the budget, to assess which plans are possible, which ones are not, and so on. If the offer is good, we start thinking about other things. The line producer is the first person to start work in the selected country. And one of the first people hired by the line producer is the production manager, who takes over the more “domestic” part – renting equipment, overseeing daily life on the set, etc. For the production manager and the line producer to work very closely, it is necessary to share responsibilities clearly. At first glance, it may appear that these are jobs with little “poetry” to them, but when you realize that the future reality is hidden behind each budget number, that it is not an endless series of numbers about nothing, but rather a carefully thought-out logical sequence, it becomes very interesting.
Sounds like a very responsible job. What human qualities are most useful in this case?
The more experience you have, the more you get to work on bigger projects, the more your responsibility increases – over the years, more than one gray hairs have appeared on my head. When working in this field, teamwork skills are very important, the realization that you are not a lone soldier in the field. It is important to quickly solve problems that arise here and now and that you wouldn’t have thought about: from changing weather conditions to infections during a pandemic. In crisis situations, you have to keep your cool or at least quickly regain your composure, and if you make a mistake, you must have the courage to take responsibility. In general, responsibility for each decision is a constant companion of these duties.
However, in addition to great flexibility, a line producer also needs a solid backbone. It’s a kind of mom-and-dad-rolled-in-one position that’s complicated and pretty lonely. In order for people to listen to you and know that you are a team leader, they need to respect you. Respect should not be based on fear, but rather come from knowledge, professionalism, behavior, the way you work and communicate, the humanity that makes people want to work with you.
Could you tell us about your most memorable projects?
There were quite a few such projects, because when I started working, we experienced a real boom in cinema. From 2005 until the economic crisis of 2008, many foreign film makers would come to Lithuania. One of the first projects I worked on was the Japanese drama “Visas for 6000 lives” based on real facts about Chijune Sugihara. I remember that 60 Japanese came to Lithuania that time, and only one of them spoke English. At that time, we found only 5 Japanese translators in Lithuania, and only one of them actually understood the language well. There were all kinds of misunderstandings, from cultural to linguistic, but the result was not bad.
Going back to the present day, one of the most memorable projects was a Norwegian film based on the book “Ut og stjæle hester” (“To steal horses”) by Per Petterson. This is one of the most complex, but at the same time one of the most beautiful projects I have contributed to. There were all sorts of obstacles during the shooting, some of which seem funny now – for example, we sowed the field with seeds of special plants that grow in Norway, and because of the drought, nothing sprouted…
We always work for the result on the screen, for the final audience. Wherever you work, in the office or on the set, we all strive for the same result. We felt this very clearly while working on this project. The director was very appreciative of the team, everything that was done for the film. To this day, I remember this difficult project very fondly.
And, of course, I must not forget the latest project I contributed to: “Paradise”.
“Paradise” is one of the biggest film projects shot in Lithuania. Can you tell us more about it?
I started working on the project in November 2021, and in January 2022, a foreign film crew arrived and stayed in Lithuania until the beginning of June. We had a very large crew, on some shooting days, there were over 250 of us, with four separate teams at work.
In recent years, we had been used to Scandinavian TV series of the Nordic noir genre, and suddenly we had Germans here, with a completely different approach. Everything was done not cheaper or simpler, but more beautifully and impressively, responding to the needs of the script. This attitude is very close to mine.
What impressed German filmmakers here in Lithuania and Vilnius?
A German producer, who had already been here before, suggested shooting in Lithuania and Vilnius. Vilnius left a good impression on him, he remembered what the city looked like, so when he received the script, he offered to work here.
The German crew looked at Vilnius from a completely different point of view. The film depicts a not-so-distant dystopian future. It is multifaceted, with not only splendor and aesthetic luxury, but also Soviet futurism and abandoned districts. We showed the visiting team members everything we have in Lithuania, part of Latvia and even Warsaw, but in the end we settled on Vilnius, Kaunas, Palanga and, of course, Berlin.
One of the main requests of the German producer was that the majority of the team should be Lithuanians, because according to him, we know what we are doing.
Which aspect of shooting was the most difficult, most challenging?
As soon as preparations began, war broke out in Ukraine. This affected us very much – a colleague who was supposed to contribute to the filming never came from Ukraine, we lost part of the team because they felt unsafe in Lithuania. While filming the shooting scenes in Palanga, we tried not to disturb the people who had fled the war zones and found refuge in Lithuania.
Of course, there were also funny situations. We used quite a few electric cars during filming. We unexpectedly encountered a problem: how many luxury electric vehicles are there in Lithuania and how many are available for rent?
20 years in cinema is a lot of experience. How, in your opinion, has the Lithuanian film industry changed over the years?
Employees of the industry in Lithuania have started to talk about the rights to leisure time, paid overtime, and are paying more attention to what seems to be taken for granted in the Western world. The more these rights are executed, the more chances people have not only to make movies, but also to have a family. However, before talking about it, you need to do a good job during your hours. Therefore, when declaring your rights, you must also remember your duties and assess the adequacy of each claim. Many other things have also changed: for example, today foreign filmmakers come to Lithuania from other countries than before. Finally, the old film studio is no longer in Vilnius.
Photo credits: Veronika Gendrikiene