IEM is proud to be a media partner of the third annual “Production Without Borders” special event that will be held during the 2020 virtual film market on November 10, 2020 at 11 a.m PST.
The event will feature top industry professionals Yasmine Al Massri (Quantico), Larry Kasanoff (Mortal Kombat), Christina Rose (MirrorWater Entertainment) and directing duo Jason Greer and Vanessa Cicarelli, with moderator, award-winning filmmaker Kate Rees Davies.
We had the opportunity to interview event panelist Christina Rose, co-founder of MirrorWater Entertainment.
Christina, your experience in the international entertainment production industry is very impressive. As part of the new “Hollyworld Movement,” what are some of the most significant changes (or observations) you have noticed over the past several years?
Thanks to the SVOD platforms, it has truly opened up opportunities to explore content that might have roots in an individual country but have a very global appeal. Having grown up in both the United States and Europe, I see things very differently than those that have not traveled and lived abroad. This is a perspective I want to bring to others.
How has COVID affected your “grand plan”?
I learned early on in life that with every crisis comes an opportunity. I refuse to allow COVID – a very serious issue requiring an international response – to define my life or my profession. What a wonderful opportunity to ‘think outside the box’ and find ways to succeed when others do not.
Well, this is a bit of a hard question to answer because I’ve had numerous moments in my life, my career and during the existence of my company that like COVID have set us back and basically threw a curve ball towards our grand plan – So, I want to say I’ve become very good at thinking outside of the box quickly and being able to adjust to new circumstances. I learned early on in my life that in every crisis there is a chance for us to take advantage of the situation and become better. I believe we are seeing that something like COVID is changing our industry and we have to come to understand that we have the choice to still do good things in these situations.
For example, we were in the middle of production for our documentary series Wonder Women and finishing up a documentary entitled Cancer Free Recipe, which follows a person who’s been diagnosed with cancer and chooses to change his diet to beat the disease. When COVID shut down much of what we could do, we adjusted our production schedule and took the opportunity to create supplementary material, such as a cookbook and cooking videos that give more detail into certain recipes into beating cancers. If the pandemic had not happened, we would have never done this, and so, we are pleased that we still found a way to continue producing content even if it meant making adjustments to our schedule.
What are some of your most exciting, upcoming projects? And past projects of which you are most proud?
All of our projects excite me. It is hard to pinpoint which one is the most exciting since they all have features and elements close to my heart and mean something to me personally, or simply are stories and characters that are asking questions about life and our current state of mind.
Perhaps I could highlight three projects. The first is about a Cold War intrigue between the United States and Soviet Union as both nations attempt to influence the election of the Pope. The setting takes place in October 1978. It’s based on a book written by Tom Davis. Tom is a retired army officer and served as military assistant to the Secretary of the Army and oversaw part of the US Army Special Operations program. He wrote Conclave, which is loosely inspired by his past experience. It’s a really fascinating and intriguing spy thriller story that revolves around the controversial election of the first non-Italian pope in the entire history of the Catholic Church. Tom researched this period so well and it’s a true page-turner that I immediately fell in love with the story. Together with Tom, we have developed it into a mini-series and are currently looking for co-producing partners.
We also have a project called Inside Germany, which is about the neo-Nazi’s movement in Germany, certainly a touchy subject, but we’ve seen the spread of nationalism and right-wing ideology all over Europe and the world. The thrust of the story cannot be ignored. It’s basically your Homeland story, but this time it’s about domestic terrorism. Again, it’s heavily researched and inspired by real insights that happened in Germany of which very few people are aware. We managed to create two polar opposite characters that face corruption and manipulation and instead of taking the easy route are fighting for change and justice. It’s absolutely a very necessary story to tell and one I think that will appeal to a global audience.
On the documentary slate, we have a fascinating project called In Genius. We are working together with Lani Evans who used to work for Prince and Justin Bieber. Lani is truly a very special and such a smart, talented woman who researched and put together this docu-series about looking at innovations that are simple and effective in areas of the world that are facing the impossible when it comes to climate change or other critical issues. They don’t have the most modern technology, but what they have are smart innovative ideas and it’s simply a fascinating project. We were hoping to get this started, but then the pandemic hit. So, we are currently re-thinking and reworking the project to make it work in the current times.
And a project that I’m most proud is one we are currently working on. Wonder Women is a six-episode documentary series about women in leadership positions in underrepresented industries. It’s been the most challenging project personally, mentally and physically, but one that I’m truly very proud of because it really sets out to show women from different backgrounds and different career fields from all over the world doing the impossible – and they are all truly amazing women. We’ve been able to finalize four of the six episodes when the pandemic hit and put the other two episodes on hold but the women who we are featuring are truly amazing – their sheer determination, dedication, and persistence because of what they have had to overcome. To see them succeed when faced with overwhelming odds stacked against them is simply something that has inspired me, and I will forever carry this with me.
You work on documentary and feature, television and film projects. How is your approach different with respect to the different genres and platforms?
There are two things that have always been important to me. First, true and real life stories which are the reason why documentaries have played a pivotal role in our company because we get inspiration to tell real stories in a fictional way. I used to think that I always wanted to make feature films, but working on documentaries – the amount of research that goes into it and filming stories and moments that aren’t always planned – have really helped me become a better storyteller. Moreover, I’m just simply a fan of true inspirational stories. And second, stories that have a global appeal are important to me. I grew up in a very international environment since my dad was in the military and because of this international exposure, I heard stories about people and history that I wasn’t aware of growing up. There are so many hidden treasures lost in our history about people from all over the world who had to face the impossible and succeeded or sometimes, failed.
There’s so much to learn from these stories. This is truly my passion. For example, our mini-series Men of Bronze about the true story of the first African American unit in World War I. Few people know that story, but it’s such a fascinating history that really needs to be told. Another example, in Germany we have the story about how prisoners were bought out of Eastern Germany starting in the early 70s. This prisoner exchange program between East and West Germany lasted until the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 and helped the Eastern German government sustain itself since the money they were receiving from the West German government was their largest source of income. Our story tells of those from the political level and those who were victims in this system. Without doubt, these are the hardest stories to tell, but we’re not here to make easy stories and content. Our company is focused on really challenging ourselves and making us better people from the stories we tell.
What are the biggest differences with regard to working in the European (International) and U.S. markets?
Without a doubt, the U.S. markets are the strongest, both in terms of the creativity and simply the business. If you have a U.S. broadcaster attached, Europeans often follow very quickly. To start big projects in Europe, the result is often what people know as “European Pudding,” which has its own challenges. I produced a show that was a German-Danish-Belgium co-production and also included financing from Austria. Those are voices from four different broadcasters that all have something to say. It is very challenging to find a compromise and be able to serve the needs of very different cultures, while at the same time telling the best story we can tell – this is where too many cooks spoil the broth. This is something you don’t have in the U.S. There are really different ways of developing content and creating content in these countries too, and simply put. some countries are stronger than others.
Can you tell us about your experiences working in India and Africa?
I have to smile when I think back to India. It was perhaps one of the craziest productions I have ever worked on because of how different things are done in India. For example, so that other production companies don’t steal stories, the department heads would only get the scenes a few days before we were shooting. So, literally the art department had maybe a day or two to build and create the set and put together all the set pieces and props for us to shoot. An unbelievable setting and situation.
But what really sets that experience apart from anything else is the respect I got from the crew. We were four women working on this project. I was working as the assistant director and director, since the primary director was also the lead actor. Whatever it was that I asked for or needed, the whole crew worked very hard to make happen. Keeping that production on schedule with the many problems we had was truly a challenge, but I had the hardest working crew giving me so much respect that it was a very special experience. As a matter of fact, I’m currently working with a colleague from that time – Manav Shrotriya — he’s the sound designer for our Wonder Women series and he’s doing an amazing job. I’m happy that we are working together again.
What is your educational background?
I received my MFA from University of Southern California and went to the film school there. I really am so proud to be a Trojan. I had the best professors and truly it is where I learned the fundamental tools of becoming a good filmmaker.
I earned an undergraduate degree in English literature. While I always knew I wanted to go to film school, I decided that to really understand storytelling, I needed to hone my skills in English creative writing. Since a lot of literature is turned into films, I needed to understand how to tell a story before learning the cinematic language. It was as simple as that
About your company, you comment “We are also a family-run business working in collaboration with handpicked producers that care about more than just the bottom line.” Can you elaborate on this company philosophy?
There are two moments that have really shaped my life and ultimately my vision for my company.
First, I vowed to do everything within my power to always help and support and cultivate filmmakers and voices that are fresh, young and new. I have worked really hard to get where I have and I’m still struggling now and then. I’ve probably had more setbacks in life than successes, but as long as my heart and passion is beating for making films, I’ll continue pursuing my dream and goals. There are many who are struggling and if I can support them, I will. I think we need to support each other and lift each other up to help achieve our goals through collaboration, engagement, and simply lend a helping hand sometimes.
Second, the most important thing in life is being able to do something that means something that we are passionate about and something that really matters. So, I tell people you can have a job and career or a vocation. And it just happens to be that the people who love what they are doing will make the difference. Yes, we all need to make money, to have enough food on the table and a roof over our head. But life is more than just making money. I want people to not just be the best they can be in the work they do, but I truly want our team to also become better people – in life, in their community and do something that will make a difference. It’s something I try to invest in when I work with people. I personally want to surround myself with these types of people. These are the people I learn from and they make me better. This philosophy has weaved itself into the fabric of our company and it’s something I try to nourish.
How much time do you spend in Germany versus the USA?
I usually spend half of my time in the USA and half in Germany. It certainly depends on the current projects we are working on, but it means a lot to me to be able to spend equal amount of time in both countries and work in both countries. They are both my homes and it’s part of who I am as a person.
What do you wish to communicate to the film market attendees of 2020?
I’m always looking for collaborators and co-producers because I know very well how hard it is putting projects together. Our company is a small fish in a very competitive industry, but we’re not going away. There are certain things we can offer especially due to my international background in working in Europe as well as also other places around the world. Currently, we’re able to safely film shows in Europe despite COVID that might be easier and more financially rewarding than in the United States. We hope to find co-producers and develop content and put together the best team to make the best content we can make.
Can you tell us a little more about your book project?
The topic of leadership has always been very interesting to me because not only do I have a father who has been a great leader throughout his career, but I have had so many different experiences in the past. So, I’m not trying to answer what makes a good leader or what are the qualities of great leaders – there are many books about that topic. Instead it’s more of a personal exploration about finding that inner voice as a leader within you and how to champion. I think we all have that leader in us, possibly hidden. What I want to say is, how do we become the best person for our communities and ourselves? This is something that I’ve researched for our Wonder Women series, but also just something I have found very interesting and it’s become a small little side project I enjoy working on.
Along the way, who has been the biggest influence on you? Do you have any mentors?
Dominic Jackson. He has worked in the film industry for many years but also in government. Dominic’s work, the path he chose in life, his endless positivity and determination have truly inspired me. He’s always very honest and upfront with me when I need any advice or feedback on a project I’m working on, but it’s really his work ethic of staying true to yourself and never, ever selling yourself short or compromising your own personal values. I know that in life this mindset has set me on a path where achieving success might take a bit longer, but I wouldn’t want it any other way and that’s something Dominic not only stands for but he’s living that by example. And that is hard to find these days, so I am very thankful for his guidance and help along the way in this very difficult industry.