Diversity in Film: Marta Cruañas Compés
BY Gina Hackett, April 15, 2020
Diversity in Film is a bi-weekly series covering underrepresented groups in Film.
This week, we sat down with current student Marta Cruañas Compés.
A proud Barcelonian with numerous feature-length and short films under her producing belt, Compés currently works as an Associate Producer at DoBeDo Represents, a boutique agency representing a roster of photographers, filmmakers, and artists. In this interview, we discuss navigating the co-production of her thesis film, Forastera, and how creative producing has allowed her to be a lifelong learner.
Normally, I frame these interviews by starting with a question about what animal you are, what painting you are, or what song you are. But for you, I want to ask what Rosalía song you are.
Marta Cruañas Compés: It depends, because for me, songs are states of mind, so it depends on which state of mind I’m in.
So had I asked you what animal you were, you’d be a chameleon.
MCC: Yes. I’m an aquarius!
I’m gathering that your taste in music is guided by how it makes you feel. That seems to be in dialogue with storytelling in film as well.
MCC: Music has always had a great impact on me. Back in Barcelona, I coordinated an electronic music festival, and at some point, I even considered going into that industry.
It’s probably ignorant of me to ask you about Rosalía, but she’s a fellow Spaniard.
MCC: Of course. We have to defend what we have.
The part that I really like from her last album, though I like the songs, is this little short interlude she has with Rossy de Palma, a famous actress. She used to be in many Almodovar movies. She’s the one who falls asleep with the gazpacho in Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. And in the interlude, she’s basically saying how she was reborn from the ashes after a toxic relationship. It’s just a really short interlude, but I really like this moment in the energy of the album.
You’re in the process of finishing up your thesis film, Forastera, which was an ambitious project that’s yielded gorgeous results. Tell me about that process. What was it like, as a producer, for a project like that to grow and grow?
MCC: My collaboration with [current student] Lucia Aleñar Iglesias, who wrote and directed Forastera, started before our thesis film. She had this feature-length screenplay that she wanted to share with me, because she knew that I was also from Spain. And I became really attached to the story. But I knew that if I wanted to make this feature come to life, I had to help Lucia do the proof of concept, or a short that proves you can write and direct, not to mention training you for the feature later on. So I decided that would be my thesis.
First, we sculpted it into a short format, which was hard, because we had to lose so many elements and actually accept that the short might be different from the feature. The core idea was strangeness in your body as a teenager and intergenerational relationships, so that didn’t change. Then we had to find a way to make it, so we started the process of applying to Columbia grants. We were also prepared to pitch it to a Spanish production company because we knew we wanted to shoot in Spain. So for me, as a producer, it was a beautiful opportunity, because I could bring what I’d learned back to my home country and put it into my thesis film.
For example, there was the challenge of the film taking place in Mallorca. Lucia spent her summers in Mallorca, and she has a house there, but I am from Barcelona, which is another region, and Lucia is from Madrid, so we didn’t have contacts in Mallorca. I had contacts in Catalonia, because I had worked there, and we attached a production company there. But because we were mostly shooting in Mallorca, we also needed a production company there so that we could apply for the regional film funds. Also, because equipment can be expensive, we needed a deal with a rental house in Mallorca, and luckily, Lucia had done an internship with Palma Pictures, which is one of the biggest service companies in Spain and Europe. They liked the story and the pitch, so they were willing to give us everything for free.
MCC: Yes. There were some things that they wouldn’t one hundred percent secure for us, because if a bigger project were to come up, of course that would take priority. After an extended back and forth, we managed to get everything we wanted, in the end only paying a small fee for the lenses that were coming from London. Raising funding was also challenging, as we had a plan that depended on a combination of public financing schemes. Luckily, we got the aid of the Europe Creative Media, the Catalan Film Fund, and a Balearic Television pre-sale.
Tell me about the experience of developing your producing skill set elsewhere and then bringing it back to your home country.
MCC: In this case, I was both production manager and producer, and each one informed the other in terms of co-production. I managed the co-production with my first feature, Júlia ist, though it was on a different scale and we didn’t apply for all this funding. And the production company from Barcelona was so kind to be open to this kind of co-production, because no one wants to do co-production with a short. It’s a lot of extra paperwork that people do with features, but not that much with shorts.
And is it a co-production in the sense that it’s between two regions in Spain or is it a co-production between America and Spain?
MCC: It's regional, but then for example in Spain, when we release the film, every company has a percentage of rights over the picture, just like slicing a cake. My biggest challenge in that sense was the paperwork and the contracts. Luckily, Distinto Films helped me navigate that. I was only familiar with the budgeting and accounting systems from the US, so getting used to the official one used by the Spanish Film Board was challenging. You have to be accountable for everything because we got a grant and will have to audit everything. But I think this is great training for later on, because you have to report to your investors when you make a feature.
It ended up being a true co-production, because we shot with a lot of people from Mallorca, but also lots of heads of departments were from Catalonia (either my friends, or people to whom I was connected).
I remember there was a point when Lucia didn’t know if she would get to make the film because the Spanish co-production grant process was delayed, right?
MCC: Yes, this is what happens when you depend on a public financing system. At that time, the Spanish political system was quite shaken, and one of the consequences was a delay on the budget approvals, which meant a delay on the film fund grant’s call for submissions. The same happened in the region of Catalonia, where we didn’t even know if that grant would be honored.
You’ve made several films in Spain now, but you are essentially an international producer. How do you feel your Spanish identity and background impact your work as a filmmaker?
MCC: When I was younger, I really disliked Spanish cinema, besides Almodovar. Somehow it seemed like cheap copies of Hollywood movies. It was impossible for me to connect. It wasn’t until I started to look to other directors who focused on what is local to Spain, such as Carlos Berlanga, Carlos Saura, Ivan Zulueta, or more contemporary ones such as Iñaki Lacuesta, Isa Campo, Elías León Siminiani or Albert Serra, that I started to admire our own tradition.
Also, since I became more actively involved in the making of films, I realized the responsibility we have as filmmakers. As a kid, I often compared myself with the characters and stories I saw on screen. This made me feel like I was lacking something. I wasn’t a hero nor a super beautiful actress.
All these factors draw my attention to small, local stories, which also translates to independent cinema, as it creates space and gives agency to creators to explore the best way to make their films. As a producer, independent cinema allows you to be more creative about how you want to approach your project. Of course, it has its disadvantages: there is less of an audience and less money. But if you really believe in something, you are rewarded in the process of making it on your own terms.
You’ve mentioned that you are open to going back to Spain to take advantage of the new filmmaking resources and development opportunities there. How is making a film different in Spain versus America?
MCC: I was born and raised in Barcelona and have a solid community there. I think it is very important to belong to a creative community in which you can all grow at a similar pace, which is something that, for example, Columbia’s program gives you.
There are undeniable opportunities for development once you get to know the Spanish granting system and learn to prepare your projects accordingly. But as with almost everything, there are cons; that money is limited to the politics of the moment and to a certain budget cap, whereas in the US, since it is a private investment there is more flexibility. Additionally, contrary to other countries such Germany or France, Spain doesn’t yet have a scheme that supports minority co-productions, which makes things more complicated when it comes to international collaborations. As a producer, I am very keen to explore hybrid ways of financing wherein I can combine a national grant with privately raised equity from America.
Have you found that people in Spain take you seriously as a producer despite your age and gender?
MCC: The younger you are, the more effort you have to put in to be taken seriously. People are used to their own methods, which are proven by their own experience, so it was hard to claim my seat at the table.
Perhaps one of the biggest differences I sensed was that, back in Spain, I would never call myself a producer (even though I was working as one at a production company and producing my own feature). Instead, I called myself an emerging producer but never a producer. It comes with shame and a feeling that you might be judged for bragging about yourself. Here, I feel it is very different. You can call yourself a producer and be taken seriously. It’s reassuring.
You’re also a writer and a visual artist, and you were recently hired to produce fashion editorial photography. Tell me about some of your previous projects and about how you decide which projects to work on as someone who is gifted at so many things!
MCC: Thank you for seeing it that way. I see myself more as an apprentice of different crafts without ever being an actual expert in anything. In the beginning, this bothered me, because I felt I was never excellent at anything. But then I learned that this is what actually drives me toward creative producing. You oversee so many aspects of filmmaking, and the more you know about each of them, the more you enjoy the process and the more creative input you can suggest.
My biggest project before Columbia was Júlia ist. It started as my undergraduate thesis back in Barcelona. Choosing to make a feature-length film as a thesis was something that, up until then, wasn’t a terribly common undertaking amongst the student body. Neither I nor my director had any experience. But we felt that the worst that could happen was that we would learn from making it, so we decided to do it. We finally succeeded in making the film through a super erratic process of trial and error by shooting between Barcelona and Berlin, then jumping into the edit room, then re-writing, then shooting again, and so on. Although it is not a sustainable approach to production, the experience of re-writing after editing and then continuing to shoot was very insightful and enjoyable.
When choosing a project, I take into consideration not only what the story tells me, but what I am going to learn in the process of making the film and what creative input I will be able to bring. At Columbia, I have been lucky to participate in projects that have taught me a lot. For example, by the summer after my first year, my classmate and friend, [current student] Constance Tsang, welcomed me to produce Carnivore, a short film shot on 35mm in upstate New York that was selected to participate in the Tribeca Film Institute’s AT&T Hello Lab. This experience taught me about the practical side of producing, which is something I lacked at that time.
What’s next for you? What projects do you have coming up that you’re excited about?
MCC: I currently have three films in post-production, one of which is my thesis, Forastera.
La Virgen, La Vieja, El Viaje, directed by [current student] Natalia Luque, is one of my Directing IV films and is a visual letter about distance and longing for home. We are collaborating with two other schools on the post-production end: Berklee College of Music, with whom we are collaborating on the film’s score and sound design, and NYU’s color grading class.
Solastalgia is a short documentary by [current student] Gabriele Urbonaite, for which Gabi won Mountainfilm’s Emerging Filmmaker Fellowship and most recently the New York Women in Film Short Documentary Grant, which was amazing news in such strange times. The film is about a Nepalese sherpa now working as a driver in New York City and how he tries to preserve his memory of his beloved mountains, which are changing faster than ever before.
Finally, I am in the development stage of Creatura, my second feature, directed by Elena Martín (who directed Júlia ist) and produced by Lastor Media and Avalon. The film explores the consequences of sexual repression, especially in terms of female oppression, and has been selected by the San Sebastian Film Festival Lab, Ikusmira Berriak.
I am also working as an Associate Producer at DoBeDo Represents, which is a boutique roster agency of filmmakers and photographers that I really admire, such as Tyrone and Frank Lebon.
Wow! Do you get the chance to watch many movies on that busy schedule?
MCC: Yes, there's always time for movies!
Read more from this series
Diversity in Film: Waleed Alqahtani
Diversity in Film: Constance Tsang
This week, we sat down with current student Constance Tsang. On the heels of shooting her most recent short film, Beau, Tsang discussed working with Cary Fukanaga, how shooting on 35mm makes her more present, and building sets that mimic the world we want to see.read more