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 »  Home  »  Culture And Arts  »  (E) Would you ever consider making a film in Croatia about Croatians
(E) Would you ever consider making a film in Croatia about Croatians
By Nenad N. Bach | Published  12/2/2001 | Culture And Arts | Unrated
(E) Would you ever consider making a film in Croatia about Croatians
In light of discussions on "Storming over Krajina", Croatian films, 
culture etc, this excellent piece by Drucilla Badurina may be of interest. 
 
 
Published in Oluja No.31 
 
Conversation with a Croatian American film student 
 
by 
 
Drucilla Badurina, President of Badurina & Associates 
 
 
Motion pictures. This mighty medium entertains us and sometimes enlightens 
 
us. In the United States, since the early part of the 20th century, films 
 
have become a regular part of the lives of millions of people. Today, while 
 
they continue to patronize movie theaters, the American public also pops 
 
films into VCR's, disks into DVD players, watches films on cable and 
 
satellite TV and on computer display terminals. Filmmaking is an interesting 
hybrid of art, craft and business. Since it generates billions of dollars, 
it's called the film 
 
industry or movie business for a good reason. 
 
 
Immigrants and children of immigrants have been an integral part of the film 
 
business since the very beginning. From the early 1900's when "Westerns" were 
made in Ft. Lee, New Jersey and shown on the silent screen, to the 
blockbusters of today; from small producers with hand cranked cameras to 
those who created a powerful motion picture studio system, these immigrants 
and children of immigrants laid the foundation for current film 
entertainment. Though filmmaking and films have been constantly evolving in 
the hands of succeeding generations of filmmakers, 
 
many the offspring of immigrants, it still remains basically the same---a 
 
blend of art, craft and business. 
 
 
One of the new generation of aspiring filmmakers is 
 
Jason Gabriel Varga, a young Croatian American in his early twenties. Jason 
 
is a graduate student in film pursuing a Master of Fine Arts degree at the 
Graduate Film 
 
Conservatory at Florida State University's School of 
 
Motion Picture, Television and Recording Arts. He is the 
 
great-grandson of Croatians who immigrated to the United States in the early 
part of 
 
the last century. They and their descendants successfully maintained their 
 
Croatian identity, language and culture in what was then known (prior to 
 
the nation's current stance of pride in its ethnic and racial diversity) as 
 
the U.S. melting pot. 
 
 
On a bright, winter afternoon at the beginning of this new year, Drucilla 
 
Badurina, president of Badurina & Associates, sat down and talked with Jason 
Varga. 
 
 
B&A: When did you discover that you wanted to be a filmmaker? 
 
VARGA: When I saw E.T. at the age of five. No, it wasn't quite that early 
(laughing) but I was fascinated by movies even then. I can't say exactly 
when because it was more of a process. As a youngster, 
 
I was constantly writing little stories or scenarios and drafting my 
 
brothers, sister, cousins or neighborhood kids--they weren't exactly 
 
thrilled--to play the various parts. My first real stage performance happened 
when I was 8 or 9 years old and played one of the children's roles in a local 
high school production of 
 
The Music Man. I continued to act and work in stage productions all through 
 
my high school years. It was a class project when I was around 13 years old 
 
that really started it all. The assignment was to select a character from 
 
ancient history and do a presentation. I didn't want 
 
to do something boring 
 
like reading a paper, so I decided to make a video 
 
about Hannibal, the 
 
general who crossed the Alps. I rented a camera and 
 
made a video. Everyone 
 
who saw it was blown away. They loved it. It might 
 
have been cheesy and 
 
goofy but I had so much fun doing it and it opened up 
 
my eyes about what you 
 
could do with a movie camera as opposed to working on 
 
the stage. It was then 
 
that I looked at movies and television in a different 
 
light. I always knew I 
 
wanted to do something visual and this made me even 
 
more focused on that. 
 
 
B&A: What influence did your Croatian heritage have on 
 
your love of 
 
filmmaking? 
 
VARGA: I remember the Croatian picnics, weddings and 
 
even funerals where I 
 
would sit with the adults rather than play games with 
 
the other kids and 
 
listen to the stories they would tell about their 
 
lives and experiences. It 
 
was fascinating. That was also true of family 
 
gatherings or one-on-one times 
 
with my baka, mother or teta or other relatives and 
 
Croatian friends who 
 
would share stories about their Croatian heritage and 
 
its many facets. I'm 
 
sure all of this had both a conscious and subliminal 
 
influence on my love of 
 
the narrative translated into the visual. 
 
 
B&A: You have an undergraduate degree in film. Has 
 
your undergraduate 
 
experience helped in graduate film school? 
 
VARGA: Only in the sense that my undergraduate 
 
experience solidified my 
 
determination to do narrative films. The university 
 
film school I attended 
 
at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County was 
 
part of the fine arts 
 
department and the prevailing philosophy was that film 
 
was only art, not art, 
 
craft and business. It was geared to the avant 
 
garde--fifteen minutes of 
 
filming a wall, things like that--rather than telling 
 
a story visually. But 
 
I did have access to a lot of nice equipment. As a 
 
creative, artistic 
 
person, I can appreciate the avant garde. In 
 
cinematography, I love 
 
exploring elegance and composition, but that must 
 
serve and enhance and 
 
support the main focus--visual narrative. 
 
 
B&A: What kind of films have you made? 
 
VARGA: I've made a number of films as an undergraduate 
 
student. Most were 
 
short films. I haven't done any feature length. I 
 
discovered that I was 
 
more successful making a film from stories written by 
 
others or adaptations 
 
of stories by other writers rather than something I 
 
had written. And other 
 
people made films from my stories or screenplays. As 
 
an undergraduate 
 
filmmaker, I also came to appreciate that you learn a 
 
lot from your mistakes. 
 
Sometimes you learn even more from your mistakes than 
 
your successes. It's 
 
better to learn that early on so you're prepared to 
 
try and eliminate or 
 
minimize mistakes when you're in the film industry 
 
working with other 
 
people's money. A film is made three times: 1) when 
 
it's written; 2) when 
 
it's filmed; 3) when it's edited. The story is written 
 
a certain way and 
 
when it's being filmed things usually change. Editing 
 
also brings changes. 
 
A good film allows that process to unfold. 
 
 
B&A: Why did you decide to enroll in the Florida State 
 
University graduate 
 
film program? 
 
VARGA: Even though I had an undergraduate degree in 
 
film, I felt that I 
 
didn't have enough experience working on a movie set 
 
and I wasn't sure I 
 
wanted to spend all my time trying to find a job that 
 
might or might not give 
 
me that experience. I knew a lot about theory and 
 
technique but little about 
 
the practical aspect of working on a movie set. I knew 
 
that FSU was one of 
 
the very few schools that worked as a graduate 
 
conservatory, essentially a 
 
mini movie studio making films. Its graduate film 
 
program offers each 
 
student the opportunity to work in all the positions 
 
associated with making a 
 
film. You get a chance to do everything. FSU gives you 
 
two years of 
 
intensive movie industry experience. It's literally 
 
OJT---on the job 
 
training. 
 
 
B&A: Tell us more about the program. 
 
VARGA: Entry is competitive since only 24 students are 
 
accepted each year. 
 
That's why the professors know every student and the 
 
students know each other 
 
in a both a classroom and working environment. Faculty 
 
members are 
 
professionals and veterans of the movie industry and 
 
filmmaking. They aren't 
 
just teachers but also advisors, coaches and 
 
facilitators. The school acts 
 
as studio production heads and decides the parameters. 
 
Unlike many other 
 
film schools, films at FSU must be made within a 
 
defined, limited budget--a 
 
student can't add personal funds to enhance the film 
 
he or she is making--and 
 
you sign a "contract" agreeing to adhere to that rule. 
 
It creates a level 
 
playing field among the students and is actually great 
 
experience in staying 
 
within budget, a reality of the film production 
 
business. In the two year 
 
program, graduate students will have rotated working 
 
in all positions on the 
 
set during filming and in pre-production and post 
 
production. Even though 
 
during the two years you eventually decide what jobs 
 
you like the best or do 
 
the best this system gives every student the chance to 
 
learn, understand and 
 
appreciate what everyone is doing or should be 
 
doing--the cinematographer 
 
knows what sound design is doing, and so on--which is 
 
great preparation for 
 
working in the industry A process that might take many 
 
years in the industry 
 
is compressed into two in this program. Since there 
 
are about 20 films made 
 
each semester this system provides opportunities for 
 
everyone to get 
 
practical experience in various jobs. 
 
 
B&A: What's it like as a first year graduate film 
 
student? 
 
VARGA: Well there is no typical day. I had regularly 
 
scheduled classes this 
 
past semester--directing, producing, editing, 
 
screenwriting, cinematography, 
 
sound design, etc.--which will repeat in the summer 
 
and next fall. In 
 
addition to the regular classes, there are required 
 
extra seminar classes 
 
that somehow end up being held during what you 
 
expected to be a "free" day on 
 
the weekend! (Laughing.) You might have a night 
 
shooting schedule as well 
 
as day shoots depending on what films you're working 
 
on and your job on each 
 
film so your schedule is packed and days or nights are 
 
long. We work year 
 
'round with breaks between semesters. For instance, I 
 
was home for Christmas 
 
but won't get back home again until sometime in 
 
August. The fall semester 
 
classes immediately translate into practical 
 
application on the set. During 
 
last semester, the eight classes I took in the first 
 
four weeks----directing, 
 
editing, writing and the rest--were focused around 
 
pre-production--story 
 
development, budgets and the like. When classes are 
 
over, production begins 
 
on the sets for the various films, followed by 
 
post-production. Film shoots 
 
last one or two days so you're involved in many jobs 
 
on many films. Every 
 
film is different although all are narrative; there 
 
are no documentaries. 
 
We're graded not just on classroom work but the work 
 
we do on the sets. Last 
 
semester I had classes plus production work; this 
 
semester I have no classes 
 
and all production work. The first semester you're in 
 
the trenches helping 
 
others make their films. If you're good at particular 
 
jobs, you might be in 
 
demand as others request you for their films. The 
 
highest position a first 
 
year grad student can reach is unit production 
 
manager. I'll do my producing 
 
project this semester and my second directing project 
 
this coming summer. 
 
I'll begin work on my thesis film the following 
 
spring. It's an intensive 
 
program about film as art, craft and business; as 
 
independent and 
 
collaborative effort; theory put into practice. It's 
 
the ultimate in "on the 
 
job training" and it's great! 
 
 
B&A: During your undergraduate years and now in 
 
graduate school, did you 
 
study or encounter any Croatian filmmakers? 
 
VARGA: Not really. From my own knowledge about 
 
Croatians in the industry 
 
right now, the person who comes to mind is Branko 
 
Lustig. He's high profile 
 
and essentially doing the job on a much grander scale 
 
that I'll be doing next 
 
semester. I suppose he might be considered a role 
 
model because he's doing 
 
now what I want to be doing in the near future. Lustig 
 
has worked on a 
 
number of films that I've liked, for instance, 
 
Gladiator. I bought it on 
 
DVD, by the way. (Laughter.) 
 
 
B&A: What about Croatian films? 
 
VARGA: No, Croatian films never appeared in any part 
 
of my four year 
 
undergraduate film studies curriculum or program. You 
 
know, if a Croatian 
 
film is made for an independent art house release, 
 
then whoever is promoting 
 
them should consider putting them on the university 
 
circuit, showing them at 
 
colleges and universities, especially those with film 
 
schools, throughout the 
 
U.S. 
 
 
B&A: What advice would you give high school or 
 
undergraduate college 
 
students interested in a filmmaking career----go to 
 
graduate school or 
 
directly into the industry? 
 
VARGA: I'd have to give the same answer that used to 
 
annoy me because it 
 
seemed trite, but it's true: there's no defined or 
 
best way to get into the 
 
movie business. It's whatever works for you. 
 
 
B&A: What film job is your ultimate goal and what do 
 
you want to do after 
 
graduate school? 
 
VARGA: As far as what I want to do in films, it's 
 
producing, directing or 
 
cinematography, probably producing/directing. After I 
 
complete this program, 
 
I hope I'll be doing this and getting paid for it and 
 
working on feature 
 
length films. 
 
 
B&A: Would you ever consider making a film in Croatia about Croatians? 
 
VARGA: You bet I would, given a good story. I suppose 
 
then my Croatian heritage will have come full circle. 
 
 
===== 
 
Brian Gallagher 
 
 
distributed by CROWN (Croatian World Net) - CroworldNet@aol.com 
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