“Some people do skydiving, while others work in the cinema,” laughs Svitojūtė, who has been working on TV series and feature films shot in Lithuania for more than a decade, and contributed to such projects as “Chernobyl”, “Paradise”, “Stranger Things”, “Young Wallander” and others. The former production coordinator, currently production manager admits: working in cinema is not for everyone, but one can be certain that not many other jobs bring such powerful emotions and such great satisfaction with the result. In a recent interview with the Vilnius Film Office, she spoke about the peculiarities of her job, unexpected producers’ requests, and the changes she is witnessing in the Lithuanian film industry.
– Ieva, you have been working in the cinema for over a decade. How did it all start and what brought you to this career choice?
– After graduating from university, I was looking for a job, so, among other opportunities, I sent my CV for a job in a film project. They contacted me but said they found another candidate. An hour later, I received another call from them and a question: “Do you still want this job? When is the earliest you can start?” It was 11 am and we agreed to meet them at 1 pm. I grabbed my laptop, came over to the set and I’ve been in this “temporary” job for more than 10 years (laughs). I remember there was this one time I got home very late and I overslept even though I had another job interview in the morning for a position at a law firm. I took it as a sign.
– What impressed you about the cinema industry and seduced you to work here?
– Maybe it was the fact that the cinema allows you to be in situations and places where you would otherwise not find yourself in real life. Sometimes friends say that we, those who work in cinema are adrenaline addicts. Indeed, people working in this industry often do not fear a fast pace, excitement, and stress.
There was a point when I considered leaving my job at the cinema, but my and I colleagues share this joke: “Let the one who has never wanted to leave this job throw the stone”. Elsewhere you simply don’t get as many emotions, or satisfaction with the result, as in the cinema.
– Perhaps you remember the first project you worked on?
– The first project was called “Wolfskinder”(“Children of the Wolf”). The director told a family story about how, during the war, the Germans would send their children to Lithuania across the Nemunas to survive. It was a very beautiful film with good chemistry, and the shooting took place in the summer, so I still remember it very fondly.
– You worked as a production coordinator for many years. Could you tell us more about your duties and responsibilities?
– The production coordinator is one of the first people who makes sure that everything is in place and on time at the movie site: from rented premises, working tools, and trips from abroad to equipment delivery. In other words, the production coordinator is the person who knows everything on the set: sometimes they have to put out fires and help solve unexpected issues. We sometimes say that if something terrible or unexpected can happen on set, it definitely will.
We usually have several people working in our office. For example, during the shooting of the series “Chernobyl”, we rented about 50 apartments: someone needed to organize and take care of accommodation issues. Meanwhile, the travel coordinator takes care of the actors’ and other team members’ flights. We also have the so-called “office runner”: a person who rarely sits still during the last weeks of preparation, as he or she has to deal with various small but necessary tasks, for example, buying things that may be needed unexpectedly.
– What kind of qualities do you think are the most important when doing this job?
– I think that the two most important things are organization and communication. You have to be the person who everyone wants to come to when issues arise and to create a safe environment. Sometimes we do 12 hour-shifts and it lasts for more than one day, so occasional emotional meltdowns and great physical fatigue are inevitable. When you work with very creative personalities, you realize that their world is more complicated, they give all they’ve got to the film and they are very focused on the creative process. Therefore, it is important to feel good about people.
– Probably, in such a dynamic work involving many people you’ve had more than one curious moment…
– There are certain things that may seem strange. For example, once I had to search for the last issue of the “New York Times” magazine in Lithuania for one world-famous producer. And another producer always had to have chocolate cake and a cup of white tea for breakfast: otherwise, he could not start his day. There are a lot of quirks, but you get used to them and they surprise you less and less.
Strange things also happen. Once we were shooting with well-known actors in a small town where all the teams – about 200 people – were accommodated, there was simply nowhere else to stay. We rented not only all the guest houses and country houses available, but also a manor, and all the sports centers within a radius of 100 km. And once a foreign actor who was staying in a rented apartment accidentally turned off the faucet of the radiator for the entire staircase. It was 20 degrees below zero outside – no wonder all the city services were called, as the residents thought that the heating system was no longer functioning in the building.
– You have already worked on a number of very different projects. I would like to ask, which one was the most memorable, the most expensive, the most educational on the professional path?
– Every movie or series is unique, and maybe that’s why people come back to the cinema. My favorite project is probably “Chernobyl”: the story was a little personal, because my parents remember the event, and I’ve heard a lot about it. I think it was a very big, meaningful project that I hope gave the whole world time to stop and think for a minute. The scale of the project, the constructions built for the shooting, and the electrical props that were blown up for the shooting were also impressive.
– Looking from today’s perspective: has our film industry changed during those 10 years and if so, how?
– Times have changed and we can be happy that it is for the better. In the past, it seemed that if 2-3 projects are underway in Lithuania, it was already a lot, but now I wouldn’t be able to count how many projects there will be launched this autumn alone: we have at least 14 scheduled. We are a small country, but we can do a lot.
It’s great that our people are starting to be valued and get hired abroad. In the past, it was difficult to gain trust, but the further you go, the more everyone understands that Lithuanians are international-level professionals. We are proud of our work, we do everything sincerely and maintain high standards. Before, I didn’t even dream of making a film for HBO or BBC, and today we are already well-seen on the cinema map.
– Thank you for the conversation.