By Anna Spyrou –
Dorothea Paschalidou, producer of Worlds Apart, written/directed by Christopher Papakaliatis, and starring J.K. Simmons, spoke to SEEfest about the movie and her producing career in Los Angeles.
SEEfest: Can you tell us a little about yourself and how you got involved in the film industry?
Dorothea: I was born in Athens, Greece. I was raised in an artistic environment as my mom is an art dealer, and my dad is a landscaper. I have an eye for art and I like to support artists and their vision. So, that’s how I got involved in the world of cinema.
SEEfest: What brought you to Los Angeles?
Dorothea: I always wanted to come here; it’s the mecca of the film industry. I studied Media Arts at the Royal Holloway University of London, and then I took my masters degree at the University of Southern California, specifically at the Peter Stark Producing Program. During that time, I worked as an intern for Alexander Payne’s production company. I was doing development work for them and I fell in love with development. Afterwards, I moved to 20th Century Fox Studios as the executive assistant to the Chairman & CEO of the studio.
SEEfest: When do you know a script is ready to produce?
Dorothea: Well I don’t, (is my) straightforward answer (she laughs). When the story is there then it’s ready to go out. Story is the king. A script is not producible when it’s not contained.
SEEfest: What is your process of getting the script produced?
Dorothea: The starting point and most important element is the team. Entering the production process is like entering a marriage, but instead of one person, there are a lot of people you need to “get in bed with”. You should set your boundaries, balance and trust your team. So the process is getting your project together and then you take it from there, the journey begins.
SEEfest: What first attracted you while reading the script for Worlds Apart?
Dorothea: I loved it immediately. I love how the three different stories/worlds, seemingly unrelated, weaved together and intertwined to connect in the end, creating this great narrative about love, politics, and everything human.
SEEfest: How did you get in touch with J.K. Simmons?
Dorothea: I had attached the senior producer Chris Papavasiliou based in New York to Worlds Apart. He knew J.K.’s manager, Stephen Hirsch, and he sent him the script. J.K. has just completed Whiplash (big hit at Sundance). He read the script and loved it. “That’s the role I was looking for, a romantic character who appeals to an older demographic” he said. So he was in, just like that.
SEEfest: What was his stand as American towards the social economic turmoil in Southeast Europe?
Dorothea: From his interviews and what we’ve talked about, I know J. K. is a very sensitive person. He is concerned about the situation and how it creeps up and affects his country and other countries around the world.
SEEfest: Was it easy to release the film in the United States?
Dorothea: It was a challenge at first. Of course, J.K.’s role was vital. That made things easier, but nonetheless it is a foreign language film in a foreign country. The journey is never easy for such movies, but we were very lucky and found a distributor here, Cinema Libre. Cinema Libre brought it over from Europe, what we called ‘Platform Release’. We went from city to city – from New York, where the film was very well received and played for multiple weeks, to Hollywood, then to Chicago, and the journey continues. We do it city-by-city, country-by-country, step-by-step.
SEEfest: How was the American audience’s reaction at Arclight Hollywood screening?
Dorothea: Actually, they were ecstatic about it. I was very impressed and proud to see how in Q&A’s they were asking questions, and they were saying how much they loved it, and how they fell in love with the characters. As a matter of fact, we had this really funny lady who raised the hand during the Q&A and she said: “ You know what, I brought my first time date here and we kissed during the movie. Thank you for that”. That was very touching and exactly the effect you want to have as a storyteller.
SEEfest: We get noticed because of our successes, but we create them on the back of our failures. What failures (of your own) have you been able to learn from? How did they change you and your process?
Dorothea: The only “failure” career-wise that I can think of was my time in a production company when I worked under a very unhealthy environment, but I don’t want to consider it a failure. I learned a lot of things such as how to stand up for myself and when it is time to walk away. Right after, I found my first Creative Executive job at Hyperion Media, which was a great experience, and after that I went back on set to work as the Talent Supervisor for a show with Peter Stormare and Keanu Reeves called Swedish Dicks. So, I’d say it was a failure turned to success.
SEEfest: Are you on social media and do you use it in your work? Why or why not?
Dorothea: Social media is very important nowadays, but I’m not obsessed with it. My life is not revolving around it. However, I do recognize how important it is to promoting your work, getting things out to the world. People use it every three seconds, if not more often. It’s the best and cheapest way to get yourself out (there) or your work or whatever it is you do.
SEEfest: What role have film festivals played in your life so far? Why are they necessary?
Dorothea: I have not been very well acquainted with the film festivals. I have submitted short films and obviously our feature Worlds Apart to multiple festivals around the world. They are very important especially for younger filmmakers to get their work out there, to get noticed, to network, and get introduced to key people who can help them with their career. A lot of careers have been made through film festivals. They are definitely an important vehicle. I’m happy to attend as many as I can because I can see works of people that otherwise I wouldn’t be able to.
SEEfest: What do audiences want nowadays?
Dorothea: This is the one million dollar question, isn’t it? I don’t know what exactly they want at all times. I know they want a good story. They want to relate to the characters, to follow their journey, to fall in love, to escape, to get heartbroken the same way the characters do on screen.
SEEfest: If there is one or more things you think would make the film industry better, what would it be?
Dorothea: It definitely needs more diverse stories and voices. People want to know about unique stories.
SEEfest: We are all here presumably because we love cinema. How did your love for movies get sparked and what can we, as a Southeast European community, do to help others discover a similar pleasure?
Dorothea: My love for movies started when I was a little girl. I always loved spectacle. Everything was related to cinema. I knew I didn’t have a natural talent for directing, and I was never interested in it either. But I believe I am good enough to detect talent and good story, and help the person who has a vision to bring it to fruition. My role is completely supportive and completely accommodating.
The role of SEEfest is very important because it bridges the gap between Southeast Europe and here, an ocean apart. I think as European filmmakers we are sitting in a goldmine of ideas. We can educate with our history, as well entertain with our personal stories from our cultural background.
SEEfest: Do you have a project in the works right now? Would you share some details about it?
Dorothea: As a producer, I always have projects in the works. I read a massive amount of screenplays, stories, decks, and presentations. So, 50% of these are projects that interest me. I do have a few projects but they are still in very early stages. In a couple of months, I’ll be able to talk more about them.
SEEfest: What words of wisdom would you share with a filmmaker just starting out?
Dorothea: The only thing that I have to tell them is: listen, be aware, write your own story, and make it as unique as possible. Make it yours.
Anna Spyrou is an award winning writer-director passionate about storytelling and living in Los Angeles. She has been involved with SEEfest social media team since 2016.