Bold and exciting interview with Minja Jovanović from She Films is a story that anyone who wants to become a producer or start their own production company should read. Minja told us how she got her first job and entered the advertising industry, how her company got its first project and how in just a few years she managed to wrap dozens of commercials, position the company in French market, and built not only reputation but also a specific style of work.
What was your entry ticket into the advertising production?
I usually say that my entire career, which lasts for 10 years now, has happened accidentally. Those who know me well would disagree with such statement because they know how unquenchable my passion for this job was. For me, nothing else was acceptable, literally nothing.
On the first year of my studies I worked on 7 student films at the same time, and one of the directors has recommended me to the producer of the film Parade, where I volunteered. My first task was holding an umbrella for actor Nikola Kojo, every time he goes out on/in the sun. When my university colleagues heard that, they were laughing, but I was happy just for being there, on the set. After that movie, costume designer has recommended me to colleagues in Red Production, which at that moment was one of the largest regional production companies. We wrapped one project, but I kept coming to the production offices waiting for another assignment or in case they need some help. After few weeks, at the age of 19, I started working for Red Production, and stayed there for the next 6 years.
How do you perceive the job of a producer and his/hers role in international advertising production? What kind of skills did you learn while working?
Working with international productions is something I have always been good at, much more than working with local productions. Somehow, it turned out to be my focus. I became a producer when I was less than 21, and on local projects I felt very prejudiced because of my age, which was never an issue with foreign projects. Foreign projects were always more demanding and for me it was so natural to work only on them.
I always point out that one of the most obvious problems of local productions is that every good organizer thinks he/she is a producer, and in my opinion the difference between these two is huge. A producer is a person who creates all the emotional and technical preconditions for a project to be realized in its full capacity. He or she must creatively understand the project, be able to encourage the director when his spirit is weakened and remind him of what is important for the project and what he does not have to spend energy on. Producer should create a comfortable working atmosphere so that everyone give their best, recognize potentially bad communication and energy between its members, fix it and direct it to the right path, for the benefit of the project.
As you gain the experience, your skill of predicting the upcoming events develops, at least two or three steps ahead. And I have to mention the proper delegation of tasks, because a producer can reach a higher level of his development only if he/she knows how to distribute the job to people whom he has learned to trust.
What was the last thing you’ve learned that was useful for your job?
I’ve thought a lot about this. The advice of my older, more experienced, and above all friendly colleagues was that I shouldn’t show emotions that much and that the producer must have some kind of a “poker face”. I tried to apply it, although for a short period. I realized that this is not my way of doing things – for me it is completely okay that everything can be read from my face and I do not have to build the self-confidence by hiding my emotions.
Is that fact liked to the name of your company – She Films? Introducing the female principle in your business?
I don’t think this has anything to do with the name She Films, rather with a new approach to modern business. I won’t say it’s a female principle of business, but it is a principle that women can present to the world. I think that boys are also quite emotional, but no one told them that they can go through the world like that.
When I started She Films, I really wanted to shake a little bit our market, to enable some new directors to enter the advertising production, to encourage clients to be be brave and to take risks if they like the idea, without a fear that it will not be good just because they are working with debutante. Now, three years after starting my own job, I can proudly conclude that, at the beginning, we had 80% of debut projects including directors like Đorđe Stanimirović, Sara Marković, Leonard Finstner and Lazar Bodroža. I think this high success rate is very much related to showing that emotion, which increases the trust of our clients because it is real and evident.
Aside from pandemic, what are the biggest challenges of producing in advertising? What does it look like to be the head of a production house?
When I started my own production company, I knew I was a pretty good producer, but I didn’t know what kind of business owner I was, because it’s something totally different. Suddenly everyone is consulting with you, and you have no one to consult with. You have to accept that as a role and make a lot of decisions on a daily basis, from some simple ones like choosing the right espresso coffee in the office, to some really big ones like strategic or financial decisions. Personally, I believe in power of details and the impression it leaves on the clients. I think that every decision is important, and believe it or not, what kind of coffee you serve in the office is also very important.
She Films is a production company that is very much into details. This is really one of the basic mantras by which I measure the success of a project. I included that principle in a mathematical formula. In that sense, She Films is mostly dedicated to the returning clients. It’s definitely a bigger challenge to fascinate those who already know you, than someone you recently met. She Films really wants to show the opposite, to focus on maintaining regular clients, and to look forward to them as if they come for the first time. I believe that is the thing which makes us special, or at least that is the most common compliment I get.
What are the biggest challenges on a daily basis, and what are the biggest satisfactions of this job?
We were lucky to get our first project 7 days after starting the company, and soon it was followed by others, much more than we had planned. So, I didn’t even have time to think too much about each step, which is good as otherwise I would over think. We know how much a quick response is important in this business as well as keeping the right working temperature among the team. On a daily basis, the biggest challenge is not to leave anything for tomorrow, even those things that you actually can do tomorrow.
The greatest pleasure is when you make a decision and it turns out to be the right one. Butterflies in the stomach are generally a good thing in work, and I feel them often. They are very important to me and I do my best to keep them alive.
What was the first project you worked on under She Films?
The first project was a worldwide campaign for Renault. We had 5 days of filming, and immediately after that we did same for Dacia worldwide – 4 days of filming, which is really big thing for a new company, not just because of contacts, but more for the positioning of the company at the very beginning.
When I opened my production company I didn’t know how to reach new clients. I just knew I didn’t want to work with clients of the production I worked for. I sent a dozen of “blind emails” to the productions I found on the Internet, and no one answered. I complained to my friend who works at JP Morgan in London. He told me there was nothing to complain about since I sent 10 emails and that I have to send 330 to get 10 back. In the end, that is what I literally did and got about fifteen answers. One of them was from the Renault. I went to Paris and had 7-8 meetings, and each of them resulted with a project. The last job we did a month ago dates back from one of those meetings. Most of our clients come from France, which is quite good for us considering that France has significant influence in visual and creative expression.
What is the biggest project you have done so far?
It was shooting for Honda or to be precise, it was a commercial for new models of four types of their engines. We filmed for 15 days all over Croatia, in Zagreb, Istria and Dalmatia. It was very demanding logistically, and at that time I was still a young producer with not so much experience. The most demanding thing was their style of organization and producing, with 3 producers working in turns. I was the only one from our side on that position. It is one of the few projects that really went flawlessly, and the whole team learned a lot.
What does it mean for you to be part of a larger network or professional association?
I think it is very important to be part of a larger network or professional association. This is crucial for the advancement of film industry on the national level, and the network itself is as strong as its weakest link is. The professional association enables the standardization of the work, which is very important in order to progress. I don’t like when I hear that a project of my colleagues went badly, because it’s bad for the reputation of our country, and professional associations, such as SFC, are dedicated to building the reputation.