Mercedes Barbod on set of The Man Who Killed Don Quixote
Mercedes Barbod on set of The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. Source: Courtesy of M.B., photo by Diego López-Calvin

"We are looking into more creative ways of filming"

Mercedes Barbod, Line Producer of the new Netflix series “White Lines”, the hit of this summer, shares with us her thoughts about the film industry and the uncertain post-Covid future.

She started as a runner at a production company and today she is an Executive Producer at Telecinco Cinema. She has worked as UPM and PM in numerous international films and TV series, from “Exodus” to “White Lines”, with the greatest and most challenging directors, like Ridley Scott, Terry Gilliam, Alex de la Iglesia or Paul Greengrass. Enthusiastic and reliable, Mercedes Barbod shares with Willco her passion for producing films and her thoughts about the film industry’s uncertain post-Covid future.

Why did you choose production?

I have always loved cinema, I used to watch movies with my father when I was a little girl. Due to life’s circumstances, I ended up studying Economics, but I soon realized that it wasn’t my thing and what I really liked was management, solving problems, and finding a better way to do things. After my internship at a telecommunications company I had a clear idea that I wanted to work in cinema.

I didn’t know how I was going to do it, but I knew that it was what I liked. I was able to start working in a production company then called Kanzaman, now Babieka, it was my school. I started as a runner, making photocopies, understanding the film production process from the bottom.

After that I jumped to the Locations department, where I stayed for a few years, and from there I became Production Manager and Line Producer, it was all a very natural process. Then, I was given my latest opportunity and I started a few months ago in the position that I am now in. In this new position I supervise different projects and I follow them from the scratch, when they are just a synopsis, to theatrical release. It’s a big challenge to manage the timing and needs of every phase of a film’s production: development, shooting and post-production. These all have very different speeds and requirements, and you need to understand them all.

What do you love most about your work?

I like to have an overall vison of the project and then be able to execute it.

I need to think what is the best for the project, communicate with the crew “what do you need, how can I help you…”, create an empathy with the person in front of me to understand the situation they have. However, every department should be aware of its own responsibilities. What I try to do is create a working atmosphere where decisions are reached jointly. But in the end, it’s true that I’m in charge of the budget and everyone comes to me with different requirements that sometimes affect it, and you need to decide what you can or can’t do. I believe the most beautiful part of my work is managing all this. I like working with people and I really enjoy my job.

You started a few months ago in Telecinco Cinema and then this big pandemic hit. Covid-19 has brought a huge crisis which will particularly affect the cultural industry. What impact do you believe COVID is going to have on Spanish cinema?

I do believe that COVID-19 has hit the industry pretty hard. We have gone from having hundreds of productions being shot or in pre-production or in post-production, to two minutes later, them being completely stopped. Now we need to look for some new and creative ways of shooting.

At this moment we cannot go back to the old ways of: just get the camera out and shoot. We need to create a secure environment and implement health and safety protocols for the crew. All this affects everything. It all depends on the project. I believe that each production company will treat each project on a case by case basis, with greater caution and common sense. There will be more possibilities for smaller productions, with fewer crew and cast. I have asked myself, what will be the chances of a fairly regular production starting, say for example a shoot with 80 crew, with scenes including kids or big crowds? Time will tell and it will all come with experience, the best minds in the industry are working on it.

During the lockdown we have been consuming series, films, music and books online as never before. What does this make you – a person who is behind the production of visual media – think?

The consuming of media has increased enormously during the lockdown. So obviously, as people have watched high volumes of media, you need to keep on creating new content. But in this new climate it is going to be an enormous challenge.

I don’t have a simple answer to that question but what I do know is that we cannot just give up. The industry depends on us thinking up inventive solutions to the problems ahead, and that is something that as a sector we have always done.

This situation also applies to the traditional exhibitors and distributors. The cinemas are still locked down, and the question is how are they going to open? And which movies will be released? The cinemas are working on creative ways of being able to go to the movies and one of the first things that I will do when the cinemas open is go to see a film. I really miss sitting-down in a movie theatre and watch one on the big screen. I know is going to be different but you have to adapt to the new situation. Who knows? It maybe a different sort of fun!

You mentioned two things that are very interesting and that are related to our next question. You said that there is a need to find a new way of working, you related this with the present health and safety requirements.

Do you think that this is going to make us think about working with digital tools from a different perspective? How important do you think it will be to choose the right digital tool, for example Willco, when you plan a new production?

I do believe that these kinds of tools are right now more important than ever for audiovisual productions, they are collaborative but do not require people to be face-to-face. That means that I don’t have to be physically with a colleague to be able to share information. The most important thing is that the information is available remotely.

On my last production I used Willco, it’s a great program.

I could be anywhere and I could approve things, I could sign things, I could send a link from Willco to another person and say “Hey, can you check on this”? I was in Madrid and the other guy was in London. You need this sort of tool in order to make your production more time effective and efficient.

Willco allows you to create your own online workspace, with tools that help you when you need to go and check some info or solve something quickly.

You can update a piece of information and automatically it changes for everybody. So, any team member working with the program in another place gets the same information at the very same moment you updated it. It’s pretty amazing. And it really does help. For me, it’s the best.

Besides being an entirely smart digital workflow, Willco has been focused from its beginning in offering sustainable shooting. It redirects production tasks to a paperless and sharing strategy, helping to consume less and re-use resources. COVID-19 has brought the environment to the center of the debate about what is happening to the planet. Is green filming something that is being currently applied in Spanish productions or is it still a work in progress for the Spanish film industry?

It’s getting there. Film productions are trying to get rid of plastics, eg. refill bottles instead of plastic cups. Also, in our office we are paperless. We try not to print unnecessarily and avoid throwaway plastics. When applied to productions, Willco is a great example of how you can be as sustainable as possible, because by having this program, you have everything in your computer, mobile or tablet.

You don’t need to print, you have all the documents in there, and your information is available for anybody who needs it without any need for printing. For instance, the Unit list, we used to print it out so people could have a hard copy. Now we send it by email to the crew. This is also the case with the cast and crew contracts, now they can read and signed online. We try not to print at all, and Willco helps you to do that, because of the “paperless” nature of the program.

The recent crisis has made us reflect on our lives; and the levels of stress and pressure that we live and work under. We have been forced to slow down, in a way that we would never have thought possible. Film production is a particularly stressful industry do you think the experience of the last few months will have an impact on the way we work when we go back?

I think you always have to try to find an equilibrium with the pressures of work and with your stress. Speed and efficiency don’t always match, they don’t always go together because every process needs its own pace. In pre-pre-production, you shouldn’t be under too much pressure. Once you are closer to filming the workload increases. I think that the intention here is to give enough time for each process. That will be the best thing, but obviously it’s not always the case.

I’d rather say that although each process has its own rhythm, it is important with all of them to be efficient.

It shouldn´t always be stressful, although sometimes you’ve got all kinds of problems to solve which keeps you on your phone 24/7.

To finish, we’d like to know what has been your playlist at this lockdown. Can you pick for us one film, one book and one song?

A movie… I would say one I really liked. A film from Ryan Johnson called Knives Out.

A book… I just finished Una temporada para silbar, from Ivan Doig. Nice book, feel-good book, and we need to feel good at this moment.

A song… I am going to say Stevie Wonder’s Don’t you worry ‘bout a thing.