Of all the upcoming talent in the recent weeks in Mexico at the writers residency “Pueblo Magico”, at FLICC, the Latin American Forum for Coproduction and
New Talent, in Morelia and at Los Cabos, producer Nicolás Celis (“Heli”, “We Are What We
Are”) stands out on many fronts.
I have created my own unique creative process and have learned about financing and distribution as well as production.
SL: I noticed you work with Sebastian Celis. Who is that?
When our father died, my older brother who was a physicist wanted to do something with me. It was easier for him to go into film than for me to go into
physics. We like spending time together. Really he is the perfect partner — 100% trustworthy: we won’t let each other down. We like the the same movies
and both work a lot. Working with him brings us very close and we are more attached than ever and more interested in making long term plans. Working with
my brother is very interesting. He can work well with the abstract and can understand ideas before they are totally conceived and then put those ideas onto
paper. What’s beautiful about film is your background is irrelevant.
SL: What is your approach to producing films?
We always try to budget carefully. We aim to make the films for a reasonable cost which can actually be recouped. With low budgets, you can shoot quickly.
We believe now is a very good time to make movies in Mexico. There is a lot of money available here through the various funding schemes, even if there is a
lot of competition for that funding. With more and more people coming out of film schools that competition is only going to increase. So we are
aggressively looking for private equity as well.
SL: How did you get into film?
I was never formally schooled in filmmaking. I was rejected twice by CCC (one of the top film schools in Mexico). In time though by helping to make shorts,
I realized that I had skills that directors needed. My first short, “Ver llover” (2006)–I was unit production manager—was directed by Elisa Miller who did study at CCC. The film went to Cannes and her second
short—which I produced – went to Critics Week in Cannes and won the Palme d’Or She has returned to work with me on our upcoming feature “Skin Deep” which
is now being presented as a project in development in Los Cabos. I came to realize I did not have to go to film school to be sought after. Directors seek
me out now because we enjoy collaboration and they value my ability to work with them.
SL: What are your most recent and upcoming films?
I have a number of films that are in post production or just completed.
A private screening of the documentary “Tempestad” was held in Morelia just weeks ago in its
first edition of Impulso, which is only for works-in-progress. The audience for those screenings is exclusively sales agents, distributors, financiers and
festival programmers who want to see films that are currently in post-production. We have big expectations for that film . We are aiming at Berlin or
Cannes. This is the second documentary film by Tatiana Huezo whose first doc, “El Lugar
Mas Pequeno”/ “The Tiniest Place” (which I also produced) won numerous Best Picture prizes at festivals around the world.
“Soy Negro” now is also in post. It is by Rafi Pitts from Iran and tells a story of migration to
the USA from a different point of view with a Mexican touch. It has received support from the French CNC, funds from Eurimages, FFA in Germany, Medienboard
Berlin-Brandenberg support, and ZDF/ Arte support. The Match Factory will represent the film
“Desierto” directed by Jonás Cuarón premiered in Toronto where it was acquired from IM Global for the U.S. by STX, the new China-backed company
headed by Robert Simonds and Cathy Schulman. “All of Me“, the emotionally touching doc about Las
Patronas, premiered in Los Cabos festival last year, won a top prize and was picked up for U.S. by Outsider Films from the new Berlin-based boutique
international sales agent for award-winning docs, Rise and Shine.
“Semana Santa” whose international sales agent is Mundial was coproduced with Jim Stark, our new
partner. He is the U.S. indie producer of the early Jarmusch films, Icelandic director Fridrik Thor Fridrikson, Bent Hamer and many others.
SL: How did you join up with Jim Stark? I used to buy his films for the U.S. so I am very interested in what he is doing these days.
Jim was giving a workshop in Morelia four years ago that I attended. Later, he introduced me to Rafi Pitts in Guadalajara. And now he and I are working
together on a lot of projects.
Jim makes the same sort of movies we do and is also good at raising money and making international connections. He shoots everywhere and has a couple of
projects in Turkey, is still working with Icelanders and even has a project in Africa in Ivory Coast.
We’re now working together on a Georgian doc and talking about other coproductions with international co-producers.
We just finished “Semana Santa” together and are finishing Tatania Huezo’s new film “Tempestad”.
We enjoy the process of working together. We’re developing a couple of scripts based on novels we like and on our own ideas. We never know if the film will
be a success or failure but we would rather have three years of a good experience working with directors we enjoy on projects we believe in than making
“sure hits” or commercial films with directors we don’t get along with.
SL: You’ve done very well so far.
This is the most important year for us. We have finally established ourselves as an important Mexican production company involved with good directors.
There are interesting voices in Mexico. We’re now expanding into minority coproductions to do post and at the same time looking at foreign projects at the
script stage. It’s cheaper to work in Mexico than in Europe and Mexico is ready for coproductions.
It is a way to widen our reach. That’s why we’re working on Colombian Ciro Guerra‘s next
film. His last film, “Embrace of the Serpent” (Colombia’s submission for Academy Award Nomination for Best Foreign Language Film) is a
Colombian-Argentinean-Venezuelan coproduction being sold by Films Boutique, a French-German international sales company. Its U.S. distributor is
Oscilloscope. Its French distributor, Diaphana, is a producer as well as a distributor.
Our long range goal is to grow our slate of coproductions. We think it is our best strategy for beating the competition which is quickly escalating here in
From our side we can offer all the opportunities we have for financing and the high quality of Mexican services and crew. Also the low costs here mean
shooting in Mexico is not a big risk. But having access to international partners and getting additional funding from Norway or Denmark is very prestigious
and increases the chances that our films will be seen and appreciated outside of Mexico.
When I can, I like to participate in international workshops, coproduction meetings and even residencies like the new one in Tepoztlan where I met you. I
went to an EAVE workshop with ten other producers. We still keep in touch, we work together and try to spend some quality time together and when links with
these other international producers are strong it increases the likelihood we can collaborate in the future.