Anna Soler-Pont: "The synergies between literature and audiovisual are unstoppable."

01/28/2019

We interview Anna Soler-Pont, the founder in 1992 of the literary agency Pontas. After a journey to Cairo and a meeting with Naguib Mahfouz, her life changed and a young language student became a literary agent. The agency also evolved toward the creation of Pontas Films. It is thus on both sides of the book, both managing the literary rights of its authors to adapt them to film and producing films based on books or helping others to adapt them to film.

How did an Arabic student end up creating a literary agency like Pontas after meeting Naguib Mahfouz?

With huge doses of enthusiasm, many hours of work and the clear will to try to act as a bridge between cultures, literatures and readers.

 

You are entirely self-taught. You didn’t have any experience as a literary agent. What was the beginning like?

With hindsight, it was very tough, because when you are young and you hardly know how anything works it is very difficult to get people to listen to you and to take notice of you... But, with a great deal of work and perseverance, 26 years have passed and the current Pontas agency is the one that that young adventurer dreamt of.

 

Before creating Pontas Films, did you always bear in mind the film potential of the works of the authors that you represent?

Almost always. Films have always been one of my passions and, if when I read “I saw” the film, that work undoubtedly attracted me more than another when considering representing it.

 

How does a literary agent make the leap to the world of audiovisual and decide to create Pontas Films?

It was a very natural step. Maybe after trying so much to get producers to purchase the audiovisual rights to adapt novels, and after trying so much to understand how the audiovisual industry worked, we ended up producing...

 

Your first project as a producer was also your first project as a scriptwriter. What did Traces of Sandalwood mean for you and for your production company?

It was a project which took seven years to reach the audience, from the first version of the script until it was released in cinemas, and I would say that it was a learning journey and my own bridge between literature and film. It will always be a very important film for us.

 

In the face of the masculinization of the profession, Pontas Film decided that the main teams for its productions would be led by women. This is something that has always been very clear for you, isn’t it?

Yes. We made the decision in 2013, when the current debate had not yet emerged so strongly. It is true that ideally you should always look for good talent, good professionals, whether men or women. But I realized that, if we didn’t pay attention, almost the entire technical team would have been formed by men, all great professionals, but men. And I always pay attention to this. To balance the scales and break the inertia. The same thing happened to me as a literary agent. If we don’t pay attention on deciding who we represent, despite seeking quality and literary talent, we would have a catalogue mainly formed by male writers... and in the Pontas agency we always wanted to prioritize the representation of female writers. 

 

The Pontas agency does not only represent writers, but also manages the rights to adapt their works to film. What projects are you developing at the head of the agency in the audiovisual sector?

For example, the adaptation of This Too Shall Pass by Milena Busquets, developed by Lastor Media to convert the novel into a feature film, or that of Amnesia, by the Argentinian Federico Axat, which is being developed there as a television series, ... and so many others!

 

A good example is the success of the novels by Dolores Redondo with the “Baztan Trilogy”, of which the second and third parts are currently being shot in our city. How is the agency involved in a project like this?

We sold the adaptation rights of the three novels to a producer and, from then on, our mission is to ensure compliance with the contracts, check that the scripts, despite the betrayal involved in any adaptation, respect what I call “the book’s DNA”, and also ensure that the author is kept informed about each step  (everything is slow at the beginning and it seems as if nothing is happening and at the end everything accelerates and the day to invite the author to the shoot arrives - and even to invite them to appear in a scene as an extra!).

 

What is the role of the literary agent in the purchase of a book’s audiovisual rights?

To find a producer interested in adapting the book or to answer a request from producers who have discovered the book by themselves, negotiate the contract, draft it, support the authors throughout the waiting process right up to the shoot and the release of the film, etc. We always want to read the scripts and ensure that the authors that we represent agree with the adaptation (despite it being clear that there will be many changes, because a book is a book and the adaptation is a new cultural product in which not everything fits and which cannot be “translated into images” exactly as it is). Or, at least, to ensure that they are well-informed and prepared to accept “the betrayals”.

 

What elements must a book have to be adapted to film and what is the path taken?

A good story, interesting characters... each film is a world of its own and it depends greatly on the view of the producers, and the director.

 

It must be difficult to make a project attractive to the eyes of the producers. How do you help or support your authors to take this step?

We prepare support documents; we are very sure about the references, or the reasons for a possible adaptation... We try to get the producers to read the novel, and this is the most difficult part, because everyone has too many projects on the go or in the pipeline.

 

Meeting points have been created between producers and stories through pitching sessions such as Taboo’ks which takes place in the Sitges Festival or experiences such as Rodando Páginas. How do you think that this type of project helps?

They are very interesting and we have participated on more than one occasion. Everything which enables meeting points to be created between books and the screen is positive for me.

 

The ICUB, through the Barcelona Film Commission, has set up the LAAB, the laboratory of audiovisual adaptations of Barcelona. The aim of the initiative is to favour the acquisition of intellectual property rights of literary works by producers or programmers from the audiovisual sector. The 30 literary works that are submitted to the call will be analyzed, and six will be chosen and will be offered initial financial support in order to be converted into a script. What do you think about this kind of initiative when it comes to promoting audiovisual production?

I can only say that I find that very positive. However, I know that the producers have very little room for manoeuvre when it comes to becoming involved in many projects at the same time. The process for the development and production of a film is slow; you need at least two years (going very quickly)... and therefore there are more books than possibilities of seeing them adapted. It’s a bottleneck!

 

Do you think that it will facilitate the connection between the publishing and audiovisual sectors?

Yes, and that is always good. The synergies between literature and audiovisual are unstoppable.

 

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