When the eleven members of La Panda met in Los Angeles in 2011, they couldn’t imagine that, years later, one of their movies would win a Goya Award and would be about to be released in the United States. On the occasion of their third anniversary, we spoke to Elisa Lleras, co-founder and executive producer at La Panda, to go over this journey. She arrived to the Unites States in 2008 as a student at Columbia University, and ended up moving to Los Angeles “to make movies”. Now, she works between Los Angeles and New York, mainly in projects for La Panda, but also in Latin commercial content. “I must be the only stressed person in Hawaii,” she warns us. From Oahu, where she is shooting a movie along with Daniel Noah and Josh Waller, partners from Spectrevision, she gives us her first moments of the day before immersing herself in the movie’s preproduction.
How do you come up with La Panda? Why La Panda and why in the United States?
We met here. Some of the members of La Panda knew each other from college in Barcelona but we all met in Los Angeles out of the sudden in 2011 and became friends. We had a big group of people mostly working in cinema and we started collaborating with each other. We saw that we could work together, we worked well and we liked being together so we thought that this could have a future as a company. The group started the talks was much bigger than we are today. We spent nights at home drinking wine and talking about what we could do, what we were all interested in. At the end, we were 11 people and decided that we wanted to create content with Spanish talent in the United States. Of course, it wasn’t easy, because we are a lot of people. We were 11 people who agreed in mostly everything, but we are from Spain and we yell a lot. Always!
11 people is a pretty big number for a company…
That’s true but we understand it as a collaboration with each other. We agree in the basics and give members freedom to do what they think is best. If someone has a project they believe in and are passionate about it, we all support.
Trust is the key, then…
Pure and absolute trust. Exactly.
What difficulties have you encountered during these three years?
We started in 2012, so we are just turning three. We were lucky to start strong, with a contribution with Apaches for their movie Open Windows, which we shot in Austin, TX. It was there where we decided the path our company had to take. And that was making audiovisual material with Spanish talent, basically behind the cameras. The project could perfectly be American, as a matter of fact Open Windows was, and a lot of our projects have been and will be American. Others are purely Spanish, like 10,000 km., which director is from Spain and which was shot in Spain, in Spanish and Catalan. We are now studying the possibility of making movies with Latin talent for the Latin audience.
In Spain, the movie industry is still having difficulties after the crisis that started in 2008. There are no shootings there and they don’t even think about shooting overseas, which is our expertise. People are now understanding that shooting overseas is not that expensive, but it has been difficult for us to make people understand what we do and what we can bring.
What does La Panda bring to the international cinema and international content –which I understand is your expertise- that others don’t?
That’s the million-dollar question! We bring our content. Generally, we develop our own content so we bring something that no one else has: our ideas, our taste and our way of working, with is nothing like anyone else’s way of doing things.
Working with La Panda is not like working with any other company because we are all about collaboration. It is always about development, ideas, how to do things. We love talking, collaborating and dealing with things through communication. That’s what we do.
You mentioned 10,000 km. and its director, Carlos Marques-Marcet. We read that he left Spain to the U.S because, at the moment, it is not possible to make movies in Spain. Is that so?
No. And, actually, he explained it at the Goya Awards gala. It is possible and we are working on it. What happens is that, in the U.S., there is something that we always found very interesting. There’s a lot of support to young talent, to those who are starting their careers. And in Spain that’s not the usual. They don’t impend it but, in general terms, there is not as much support to those who are starting as we have seen in the United States. When someone finds your idea interesting, even if you have not done anything before, they will give you the opportunity.
It is indeed possible to make a movie in Spain and Carlos proved that. Sure enough, he was lucky to be a member of La Panda; we helped the movie and we’d like to think that, maybe, that’s why it had such an international outreach. The movie has also been sold in the U.S. and it will be released on July. That’s not the usual for a Spanish movie, and even less for such a small one. Carlos has a lot of talent, and I am not saying this because he’s part of our team! We want people to understand that this kind of movie can be done, well done; and, with some international support, they may have an outreach.
You also mentioned the difficulties for young people in Spain as opposed to the situation in the United States. Do you think this is due to the economic situation or there’s a cultural element involved?
I am going to say it’s something cultural that in Spain experience is more valued than youth. When you’re young and have innovative ideas, you’re usually not taken into account. Here, a good idea is a good idea and people are trained to recognize talent. A good example of that is David Martín. He made Stealing Summers and we are now producing his second movie. It is a bigger film, with a budget of almost $4 million. We have always gotten positive feedback; people read the scripts; we have investors and av agent in the United States and everyone is excited about the movie. David’s age was never an issue and neither was the fact that he was just making his second movie or that we were starting as a company. There’s usually some other issue, but we feel we’re playing in the same league as the others.
At La Panda, you organize activities with filmmakers. You recently organized one with people who had recently arrived from Spain. Have you noticed if there are now more people moving to L.A. from Spain?
We organize several activities. We just had The summer of shorts, which was a celebration for the short movies we made last year. Three young filmmakers from Spain came to make their shorts and La Panda sponsored them and produced their movies. We are also contributing with ESCAC film School to do The Summer of shorts every summer. Students in their last year will have the possibility to submit projects, some will be chosen and they’ll be sponsored to come to Los Angeles to shoot their movies with La Panda.
We are also organizing meet ups because there are a lot of Spaniards who want to come to Los Angeles. We did the first one a month ago with the help of ICEX, which representatives answered questions regarding life in L.A. and the industry. Basically, I think it’s been understood that the industries in the U.S and in Spain can work together.
La Panda is getting more and more interested in the Latin market. What brought you to this expansion?
I am not the expert on the Latin market at La Panda. That would be Jana Díaz Juhl, Julia Fontana and Pau Brunet. However, we have noticed, and that’s something we had already seen when we first started as La Panda, that the Latin market is opening up to creating content in the United States. What was happening was that Univision and Telemundo were shooting in Latin America and bringing the content here here for the Latin audience. We have seen a little of a reverse; they are now shooting here.
Getting into the Latin market was a logical evolution; because of the language but also due to our interest in anything related to immigration, anything related to a culture inside another one. That’s something we are naturally interested in. And we are also interested in doing that in Spanish. Content in Spanish is increasing in the United States; it doesn’t have to be in English to succeed anymore, and that’s new, it started a couple of years ago. Our project The Turned, that we’ll be shooting next year, is a horror movie that talks about immigration, Latin content in English. It’s very interesting to be in this evolution!
There is a general tendency in which people are not going to the movie theatres anymore because they have many more options when it comes to consuming content. What can filmmakers or the filmmaking community do to bring more people into the theatres? What went wrong?
Maybe we are not approaching the issue as we should. People didn’t stop consuming content; they are just consuming it in a different way. We need to evolve towards the way in which people are consuming content. They use Netflix, a service that will soon be in Spain. Why not? I think it’s a wonderful way to make your work public. We are more interested in content itself than in the way of watching it. We don’t think that we need to reverse the way in which people consume content, but rather work to create the content that people want to see.
How can platforms like Netflix help new filmmakers?
They can help quite a lot. Online content platforms give many more opportunities to new filmmakers who make small movies. We make content with budgets that range from half a million dollars to five million. There is room for this kind of content in the movie theatres, and that’s actually what happened with 10,000 km. which will be released, but online platforms give more opportunities. Netflix is buying, Amazon is creating things, we are seeing how some things are released on VOD and at the movie theatres at the same time… Working this way, we have a better chance to succeed.
10,000 km. Did you guys expect such a success?
You always hope it will happen but you never know. We always knew that Carlos had an amazing talent. We knew the movie was going to be great as soon as we could make it. When we won the South by Southwest (SXSW) Award, that was the boom, what put La Panda on the map, we got agents, we sold the movie. We have always known that the audience wants good movies, good stories, wherever they are made, in whatever language and with whatever money you have, but good movies with good stories. We couldn’t believe that the audience only wanted Transformers. It was wonderful to find out that we were right.
You all love the movie’s topic. Is it because you identify yourselves in it, is it based on your experience as expats?
Exactly, we feel it because it’s very autobiographic. We all have experienced this problem, having someone you love far away; your boyfriend, girlfriend, your parents, whoever it is. It’s something universal. From the very beginning, we have been interested in any topic related to immigration, to being far away, in a culture that’s not yours, adapting, feeling that you don’t belong anywhere… So, 10,000 km was the best movie to make La Panda known.
What advice would you give to a young filmmaker who wants to take a chance in the United States?
I like to recommend them to come as students if they can. The American industry has nothing to do with the Spanish one and if you learned cinema there you need to study it here. I don’t even know if I would recommend to a young Spanish filmmaker to come to the U.S. I would recommend them to work on their content, to find a voice, to find the stories they want to tell and producers who believe in it, wherever they are. And only then will they be able to move their careers forward.