This week, we’re celebrating the people who made some of the best films of the year possible from behind the scenes.
Shortly after Jonas Carpignano’s “Mediterranea” premiered at Cannes in 2015, Rodrigo Teixeira asked what the writer/director wanted to do next. In Carpignano’s case, it wasn’t actually what was next so much as what he’d already been doing, knee deep in a seven-year process to tell the story of the Romani living in the small village of Calabria in Southern Italy. It was a delicate undertaking with perhaps the roughest of subjects — Carpignano had been drawn to the marginalized community because they were rich in spirit, even if they had gotten by on stealing cars and committing other small-time crimes, and was so adamant about getting their story right that he spent years taking notes of conversations and rewriting them over and over as certain family tales deepened over time. Making matters more challenging was that the story Carpignano wanted to tell rested on the shoulders of a teen, who like the rest of his family had no training as an actor, though the young Pio Amato had appeared in various capacities in the director’s other films. For most producers, any one of these elements might’ve looked like red flags, but for Teixeira, they were reasons to do the movie, as was Carpignano’s clear passion for the project.
“I like to talk to strong filmmakers [who] have personalities,” says Teixeira, who has done well in placing his faith in filmmakers who may not have the longest resumes, but the most original voices, as the founder of RT Features. “If you look at all the films we make, you can see we are director-driven. It’s not talking. It’s a real thing. We believe in the director’s vision.”
Adds Carpignano, who repaid Teixeira’s trust when “A Ciambra” won raves at Cannes and became Italy’s official entry into this year’s foreign language competition, “We never thought this is where we’d be with it. We never thought it’d be a huge moneymaking film, but [Rodrigo] still felt committed to telling this story because he knew how much I believed in it and that inspired confidence in him to say, ‘Let’s go for it.’ He looks less at the sexy things about a project and more the artist’s connection to it and his own connection to it.”
As with many great producers, there is some mild irony in the fact that Teixeira is a believer in the auteur theory when it’s filmmakers like him who expose its main design flaw. If there is a signature to his work, it’s his fearlessness in backing some of the most distinctive directors around, producing films for Gasper Noe (“Love”), Kelly Reichardt (“Night Moves”), Ira Sachs (“Love is Strange” and “Little Men”) and Noah Baumbach (“Frances Ha” and “Mistress America”), yet naturally no two of his productions look alike. While cinephiles are likely to instantly recognize the films he’s helped make possible, they are likely unaware of the infrastructure that Teixeira has steadily and quietly built up out of his home in Sao Paulo, Brazil to finance projects that may not make sense on paper, but magically come together on screen. This has been particularly true in 2017, a year that has seen three RT productions make waves around the world, from “A Ciambra” to the Sundance sensations “Patti Cake$” and “Call Me By Your Name,” each of which were the result of years of nurturing and Teixeira’s ability to secure production start dates by forging canny partnerships.
It was shrewd dealmaking that first brought Teixeira into the film business in the first place, developing his business acumen in the financial services industry and eventually the publishing industry though his true love was always films. He saw a way in after the success of “Camisa 13,” an anthology of short stories about soccer attracted interest from filmmakers looking to adapt it’s various tales, most notably Bruno Barretto, who had eyed “Romeo and Juliet Get Married,” in which the warring families of the two lovers were replaced by rival soccer squads. Rather than simply hand off the rights to others, Teixeira insisted on staying on as a producer and the experience not only provided him with an entree into making movies with an experienced team, but also a business model where he’d parlay the rights to books he owned into films he could produce with others. His taste in picking material immediately set him apart, catching the attention of U.S. producers and agents with such eclectic acquisitions as Dash Shaw’s “Bottomless Belly Button” (drawing interest from Ben Stiller) and Bob Dylan’s album “Blood on the Tracks.” Still, locating potential projects without participating on the follow-through had its limits.
“Being only in development, you’re always an outsider,” says Teixeira. “If you [aren’t involved in] the production, you’re out of the game. People don’t recognize you as a producer and I think we have much more to offer than being only development, only working with publishing and editing books. I realized that I really wanted to be in the production side and to prove how we could be producers and help the films we like.”
While Teixeira had honed his hands on skills on a number of Brazilian productions, the opportunity to make his mark internationally came when his agent at the time, United Talent Agency’s Rich Klubeck, approached him with the opportunity to finance Noah Baumbach’s “Frances Ha” under the radar, with few knowing about the $2 million production before its premiere was announced at Telluride in 2013. Other potential financiers may have shied away without recognizing names of Greta Gerwig, Adam Driver and Mickey Sumner before they became well-known, but Teixeira committed to fully backing the project knowing who Baumbach was. After the director turned in his most inspired film to date, “Frances Ha” proved to be a sensation, finding a whole new audience for his work as well as a whole new set of admirers for Teixeira.
“Scorsese saw the film, liked it and he talked to Mark Ankner, one of [his] agents,” says Teixeira, who with Ankner had spitballed the idea of a film fund for burgeoning filmmakers across the globe that could pair the infrastructure he had built at RT Features with the weight of Scorsese lending his name as an executive producer to open doors. “[Scorsese] likes to engage with the young directors and saw this as a way he could come onboard and work with the young directors and we are like a filter to bring good projects to him. He looks at us as producers who are going to make the film happen.”
“A Ciambra” is the first of up to a potential of five projects under $5 million that the two will partner on together — just one of many relationships that Teixeira has fostered that has allowed him to take risks on up-and-coming directors. Captivated by the gnarly Jacobean English of Robert Eggers’ “The Witch” upon learning of the script at one of Sundance’s Catalyst forums, he quickly corralled the budget for the writer/director to build authentic Pilgrim-era cabins with thatched roofs and chimneys to give the horror film credibility, alongside a team that included Jay Van Hoy and Lars Knudsen’s Parts & Labor and Chris & Eleanor Columbus’ Maiden Voyage. Not long after, “Beasts of the Southern Wild” producers Dan Janvey and Michael Gottwald introduced Teixeira to Geremy Jasper, who had penned a love letter to his upbringing in New Jersey making music before ultimately directing music videos for the likes of Florence and the Machine. Upon hearing the pitch about a young white woman who aims to transcend her working class background with her gift for rapping, the producer, again, wasted no time.
“I came onboard in the first meeting,” Teixeira says of signing onto the comedy which was recently nominated for a Spirit Award for Best First Feature. “Geremy, Dan and Mike, they started to tell us about this project and I loved it…the veteran directors and the young directors we work with, they have something in common – they are cinephiles. They love movies. They can talk about [both] movies and life and this is the way we do the best.”
This belief of Teixeira’s may stem from the fact that his own life has been intertwined with films, having John Wayne westerns dominate Brazilian television when he was growing up and seeking out everything from Buster Keaton to ‘70s work of Scorsese, Brian DePalma and Bob Rafelson by the time he was going to college.
“The first movies I saw were American movies, but I saw them with the perspective of a person outside of an American system and I think this gives me the perspective to look for international hits,” says Teixeira, who keeps an international office of six in the States while maintaining a base of operations with 11 employees in Brazil. “Sometimes our films are not successful, but I think being a foreigner and looking for the American market with this perspective helps us choose the material.”
This set the stage for “Call Me By Your Name,” arguably RT Features’ biggest international triumph to date. The adaptation of André Aciman’s romance between a 17-year-old named Elio and Oliver, a 24-year-old protege of his father, had been pushed uphill for some time by producers Peter Spears and Howard Rosenman, who brought in Luca Guadagnino to consult on the project amidst an increasingly busy schedule with the success of directing “I Am Love” and “A Bigger Splash.” During this same time, Teixeira and Guadagnino had flirted with working together on another project and a mutual friend of the pair Franecsco Melzi suggested Teixeira read James Ivory’s script for the film. Once Teixeira did, the project had a greenlight after nearly a decade in development, just in time for Guadagnino to actually direct it himself in the summer season when it’s set. While Guadagnino gave himself the luxury of shooting in a place he knew well — his hometown of Crema in Lombardy, Italy — the production was logistically challenging given that the director wanted to squeeze filming in before his adaptation of “Suspiria,” making for a tight schedule that was even more complicated by the desire to shoot in sequence and immerse his actors in the environment well before cameras started rolling, requiring stars Timothee Chalamet and Armie Hammer to arrive a month ahead of when shooting started.
“I’m a true believer in rehearsal and when the actors come before and work with the director that definitely this work is going to be much better than an average film,” says Teixeira, who budgeted the film to make such quality time possible. “It’s tough to engineer, but we had a really mature crew and Luca knows how to deal with that and he had all the film in his hands.”
The result is a leading Oscar contender that has already caused a stir globally during a celebrated festival run since its premiere at Sundance last winter, its success even catching Teixeira off-guard.
“’Call Me By Your Name” is such a achievement for us,” said Teixeira. “It’s such an important movie all over the world and it’s a great moment for us. I suspect we’ll have [the] luck and consistency to still be doing that in 2018 and 2019 to 2020 — to still making great movies and working with great directors.”
Already, RT Features has a head start, recently entering post-production on their most ambitious film to date with James Gray’s first foray into sci-fi, “Ad Astra,” starring Brad Pitt, and Texeira’s already looking forward to a return trip to Sundance with “Skate Kitchen,” the narrative debut from “The Wolfpack” director Crystal Mozelle, saying that the drama about an all girls’ underground skating squad “is a really special one, and I’m a true believer in this film.”
By continually pushing the envelope with where cinema can go, Teixeira is making a believer out of all of us.