Gonzalo de Lucas: “We need to create work spaces for young people to demonstrate their vision of films”


We interview Gonzalo de Lucas, tutor of the final projects in directing on the UPF Bachelor’s degree in Audiovisual Communication. The next generation of filmmakers is being successfully trained in the public university. We talk to him about the Bachelor’s degree, but also about the films that have succeeded in making the leap from university to cinema screens, festivals and awards.

Yo la busco, Las amigas de Àgata and Júlia Ist are films which have come out of UPF. The work of the university as a tutor for this type of project is becoming known. Not just for its studies but also on giving its students the opportunity to direct for the first time. How did this project arise?

We devised a transformation of the concept of the final Bachelor’s degree project, which until then consisted of projects which were almost always limited to the university sphere. We thought that we had students with great potential, and that over a year a space could be created for reflection, work and creation, where they could develop feature films, for example, which would then have public visibility.

The production of these films comes within the specific possibilities of work in the university space. For example, we take full advantage of the fact that the students have time to investigate, think, work and form a common team. The projects are usually carried out in groups of four or five students. This creates a very strong dynamics of trust, of collaboration and of shared intensity. It is a privilege that it occurs during the education period of life, when you meet people with whom you are in tune and you have shared experiences to express, and there is not yet any financial pressure. For them, it is not just another assignment for their degree, but rather their first creative project in almost professional terms.

But before anything this is a training project. We believe that the university is a space in which students should be active and at the forefront. You learn a lot more with involvement, giving the best of yourself, enjoying and fully absorbed, creating a project which motivates you. Interaction with the lecturers, filmmakers or tutors is also very important: personal dialogue. Finally, we encourage them to learn through a complex process, making a film. We do not go to the shoot; we have full trust in their self-management of the production, they make the films themselves... It is moreover a question of focusing on a single project, sustained over time and matured (while nowadays it is very common for us to do many things at the same time, which we leave half done or which we do not analyze in depth).

We also promote the preservation of the immature, imperfect, amateur nature of these projects, instead of intending them to be very professional, at a time when the students do not yet have these technical skills or experience. We also tell them that they do not want to make the film that they will make when they are 30, but rather the one that they can make now, at the age of 20. It was heartening to see the good response from many audiences, festivals, critics and producers, who appreciated this more specific and genuine nature. In this respect, for everyone it is very stimulating to see that there is a context which is open to appreciating these films, and willing to place them alongside professional films made with a great deal of money.


In relation to the project team, do they all come from the directing degree or do you mix them with those from scriptwriting?

There are separate scriptwriting and directing itineraries, although there can sometimes be hybrid projects, where someone is developing a script and works on it jointly with a director. I’m talking about feature films, although they also make short films, television series; it is quite varied. There are several different tutors. For example, in directing, Jordi Balló is in charge of tutoring the documentaries and projects in new and television formats, and I am responsible for the fiction films. The project teams can be distributed as they want, without a hierarchy. For example, for Las amigas de Àgata there were four directors who did everything: the script, the photography... It was a very united group which had already worked together on many practical projects and who got on very well; they were very well synchronized. With others, there is just one director, such as Elena Martín for Júlia Ist or Sara Gutiérrez, for Yo la busco. People from other schools sometimes intervene in the shooting. This is an aspect which interests us a lot. For me, this project is about the training context and, the more open it is, the more complicities and connecting points we have with what other schools are doing, the better. It should not be seen as a specific thing of one university.

The UPF is, however, a public university, and as such it has the challenge or the objective of creating a bridge with society in order to stimulate and demonstrate the ideas of young people, but it is a question of improving this common space all together, and of giving visibility to the creation of young people. It is indeed difficult that afterwards they will be given the opportunity to make a film, and to a certain extent it is necessary to somewhat violate the system. In this respect, it is no coincidence that so many projects by girls emerge, when we know that afterwards there is a disproportion between genders and that few of them will be able to direct. And this means that we lose their stories, experiences, views. For example, very often in films if there is a female main character, she has to have a “great” dramatic story behind. But this does not have to be the case.  Indeed, many films are made about the small things which happen to men, but this is more difficult to accept if they are women. At present there are interesting changes taking place with this, and the narratives are gradually expanding. 


How do the workshops operate, how do you choose the lecturers and what is their task?

They are normally filmmakers that we know personally and who are closely committed to and involved in this transmission task, and who like to work hand in hand with the students. Last year we had Jonás Trueba, Carla Simón and Javier Rebollo. Other very important people in the history of this project are, for example, Elías León Siminiani, Mar Coll and Isaki Lacuesta. This year Carlos Marqués-Marcet is joining us. They intervene through workshops which we organize in collaboration with the SGAE, which has subsidized them for four or five years. We are very lucky to be able to count on them.

It is very good for the students from an educational viewpoint, because they have seen Verano 1993 and they loved it, but suddenly they have Carla Simón working next to them, in a very direct manner. The workshops also motivate them a lot because they have to present the projects publicly and this makes them work hard to be able to make the most of the dialogue.

In the tutorials and workshops we work to discover and open up the creative methodologies, to make them more diverse, flexible, without generating stress or excessive pressure, as occurs for example when you concentrate the entire production, all of the money, on a very concentrated, costly shoot with a very big team. Rather than that, this is a very special project to try things in a lighter way, to make mistakes, to find your style and feel at ease during the process.

The academic year is thus a process of investigation on a project and, for example, we advise working a lot and in a very close way with the actors, incorporating them fairly early into the process. Sometimes I saw that a lot of work was being done with the script and the final choice of the actors was being neglected, and I believe this is often a mistake. Moreover, here there are very good young actors, some of whom are doing very interesting and personal theatre, and they become heavily involved in this kind of project. The students work with the actors for one year, and as they do not have much time to write a very sound script, they gradually create it with them and recording scenes which in some way teach them what they are doing wrong or what they do not like. Suddenly, they find the scenes with which they feel identified, the tone that they want. We encourage them to end up with 15 or 20 minutes of material in which they trust. When this occurs, they all continue for one or two years to finish the film, and this is where the producers intervene. We thus leave the somewhat rigid framework of the university space, of one academic year or one term.

The dialogue takes place between the university as a research space and the world of the producers as a space of collaboration with young people. The students realize that they have contacts outside the university who trust in what they are doing, and who respect this idea of trial and error, of shooting, editing, rewriting, re-shooting, etc.

The response that has been received from outside is also a stimulus, and I know that more and more producers have become involved, as Lastor Media did with Las amigas de Àgata and Júlia Ist. Now, at a certain time, almost all the projects find a partner producer who trusts in them.

I would like to return to the nature of the workshops and the tutorials. In this first year we place great value on what we call the heart of the project, the emotional root of what you want to show, undoubtedly the film that you have inside you and that must be found in the deep sense. When this is identified, which in verbal terms is something very brief, the projects really have a very good orientation. And when they are finished, it is good to go back to those documents and to see that the film corresponds precisely to that heart. We want to place this emotional part in the foreground, since sometimes in schools this is not achieved; much more value is placed on technique. In this process, we try to develop visual thinking and above all to discard, eliminate, to stay with and sustain a small idea which can become expansive, nuanced or complex, instead of accumulating a lot of ideas or occurrences which end up creating a more arbitrary, less organic shape.


Indeed, isn’t more value sometimes placed on technique when you are training?

I am convinced that in the end what you remember about a film is what you felt on seeing it and what kind of emotion, sensorial effect and rhythm it generated inside you. We place a fair amount of value on getting the actors to be authentic or natural, on getting you to believe them or on there not being overwritten dialogues. Maybe they are not yet great creators of dialogue, and they cannot yet write great scripts, so they have to work a little with the specific potential that they have in this context. Afterwards, when they make their second film, they will be in another context, but at this time of their education I believe that it is good that they do not make films like those that they would make with money. It would be a simulation which limits them.


There is fiction, which is what is best-known, but also documentaries. Do the students maybe prefer fiction?

In actual fact, the first feature film that was launched within this project and which had a repercussion was the documentary Sobre la marcha de Jordi Morató. It premiered at the Rotterdam Festival and won the Iberoamerican Fénix Film Award for best documentary. A film like this, which came out of the university, was very significant for us. And, last year, Clase valiente was released, about political language, which has also been in festivals and won the Abycine award for best film. The UPF has a fairly long tradition in documentaries, with many important films which have emerged from the Master in Creative Documentary. The documentary substrate is also very valuable to inject into fiction, for example, with the authenticity that can be achieved on working with the actors, who can actually experience the situations raised rather than acting in scenes.


The university offers tutoring, but does it help or provide funding for the projects?

They also have production tutors: Sergi Moreno, from Lastor Media, and Aitor Martos. With them, they work on the design of the production. But we are talking about university projects, and I believe that it would be a mistake to subject them to great financial pressure. There are many risks involved in making your first film when you’re not well prepared, because it can get out of hand, the professional inertia may be too strong and not leave you any space for doubt or strictly speaking for creative discovery during the shoot. It is better to work with time, relaxed, managing the pace of the process according to how the film works out, how you work with the team. I believe that like that there are much more possibilities that the people who make it will feel good and involved, and can give more of themselves, then when you are creating with too much pressure at such an initial moment.


How do you make the connection with the industry, through pitchings?

In different ways. Sometimes with a pitching that we have assembled. We do not do them every year, it depends. With others the students know a producer, or producers have asked us whether we had any projects, or lecturers who know a producer and think that they could be interested in those projects... Some through the Audiovisual Cluster, which is an interesting initiative for them. I think that some producers are receptive, that they want to see what the people who are starting out are doing. They approach us quite a lot. It’s not us seeking them out. It has occurred in a very organic manner.


Were you surprised by the success of films like Júlia Ist and Las amigas de Àgata?

The truth is that we were, because we work so that students learn and end up wanting to do more projects. But the world of the industry works with a great deal of promotion and a high budget and you never know whether such small productions can fit in. It was very pleasing and surprising, above all because as part of this learning process it is also very useful for them to meet distributors, to do interviews, to present the films... These are experiences which are added to and which complement the whole process. It also closes the entire cycle very well when they feel that they have an audience and that there is visibility in relation to what they have done. This shows us that there is a more open context than what we thought.


Do you think that it influences the students who are now carrying out their projects when they think: we can get that far?

They have created expectations, which it is always necessary to control, but you shouldn’t make a film to be successful, as you will probably consider it from the wrong viewpoint. You must make it because you have something inside you that you want to discover and to show, and because you want to explore the specific potential of film in depth. We have people who are 21 and 22 years old who have a very strong motivation and who are eager to work. It’s important to trust in them, and in everything unexpected that they do. I believe that sometimes there is a certain paternalism with young people; you think that they are not ready, that they will not know how to do anything... But, in the end, we all manage and, if you show them this trust, they respond very well. They do, however, already know that when they reach the final year, if they want to make a film, there is a whole structure, with the workshops of the SGAE with filmmakers, or festivals which have shown an interest in these films, and that if everything goes well they can end up with a film which is even released.


There are many students who prepare final projects, but who never direct again, although they work in the sector, for example.

In this respect, it is very important that everyone finds their own space. We really encourage people to do art direction, photography or production. For me what would be most desirable would be for good, young and creative producers to emerge, and I believe that we should stimulate this further. These groups also distribute the tasks and it is important that they end up satisfied with the process that they have experienced. In the end it’s like going on a trip with friends, being able to share a long period of creation and work with people that you get on with very well.


Are there many people who want to become a director and not enough students who consider production or photography?

The tasks are distributed in a very natural manner; there are no problems in this respect. The idea is always that the film belongs to everyone. And this really is the case because, otherwise, we couldn’t make it. If they treat others as their subordinates, and they are not even paying them, they will not give the best of themselves, but if this person feels fully involved, the joint creation will undoubtedly be strengthened and everything will work out much better. This is fundamental. We try to get them to start from a position of modesty. It is much better to make films with modesty than with a very strong ego. That sounds silly, but it is very important. Sometimes there is the idea that the director’s view is everything, but almost all films are made as a team, and therefore it is much more important to know how to acquire an education and to learn to work well. These are ideas which seem to be secondary, but which are very important because, otherwise, the whole process goes to waste.

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