• Interviews

Producer Daniel Marc Dreifuss: “I think we need more representation and more diversity, for sure”

Producer Daniel Marc Dreifuss is very busy. Right now he is in Northern Africa in preparation for a new project. At the same time, one of his films is shooting in Los Angeles and the recently wrapped All Quiet on the Western Front, shot in the Czech Republic, starring Daniel Brühl, is getting ready to launch on Netflix.

My grandfather fought in World War I, he was injured in World War I, and his first cousin was named Daniel as well,” Dreifuss recalls in our video conversation. “Apparently, he died on the last day of the war, which is the day where the bulk of the film takes place: the day of the armistice. And so that story was always near and dear to me for family reasons. I also felt that it was a story that was timely and unfortunately still resonates with the world today, as evidenced by all the conflicts that are going on.”


Born in a Brazilian family with deep European roots, Dreifuss started his career as a representative of the Rio Film Commission in the US, and later at the MPAA. With a master’s in production at the AFI, Dreifuss began his producing journey in 2008, with shorts and a documentary. Four years later, he would have a turning point with Pablo Larraín’s No, starring Gael Garcia Bernal. With the historical drama Guernica in 2016 and, in 2020, the biopic Sergio, starring Wagner Moura and Ana de Armas, Dreifuss was firmly on his path.

And now here he is, with a long list of diverse projects, about, in a nutshell, humanity. “I have been challenged, or if not a challenge, there’s a curiosity as to why I’m not churning more stories that center on an LGBTQ+ thematic,” he says. “I think that perhaps I find my stories to be these stories of these individuals in complex times. And hopefully, they always carry a universality of themes, so people can look at them in any part of the world and say, I don’t know anything about Chile. I don’t even know where Chile is on a map, but I relate to the story of people striving to have a voice and change their reality and be, and that their reality is what they wanted to be.”


You have plenty on your slate. Beyond All Quiet on the Western Front, which other projects are you tackling?

Solidarity is filming now. It’s a small, independent film with a very meaningful story. Directed by a first-time filmmaker that I think has immense promise, Dustin Brown.

And it’s a film about immigrants in Los Angeles. As an immigrant myself, I’ve been wanting to touch upon the story of an immigrant or immigration, but I didn’t feel like I personally had anything to add to all the amazing movies that have been made about border crossing. So I wanted to talk perhaps about the experience of immigrants in the city as people, and also deal with the isolation in the metropolis. That all of us feel regardless of being immigrants or not at times, especially in a city like Los Angeles, and the anonymity in the metropolis.

And so, this is the story, an unconventional story of two immigrants whose stories run parallel, but they never actually meet until the very end, where maybe they meet or not. It’s a really beautiful project

And now, we are in the process of raising funds to shoot the bulk of this story. We have shot a portion of his story, and we’re looking for the funds to support the rest of his story. And it’s a project that I really believe in.


Do you have other projects that are still in development and different stages that you can talk about?

I have many projects that are in development in various stages. I have projects that are at the script stage. I have a project with directors attached and now out to cast. I have a project entitled The Art of Starving, based on a book by Sam J. Miller.

I have two fantastically exciting directors who come from live performance and music videos, R.J. Durell and Nick Flores. They are the directing duo. They’ve worked with all the divas, Pink, Katie Perry, Madonna, and did all their tours. They are super.

They have done a lot of things, and this hopefully will be their first feature film. We’re actively casting right now for the lead role of that story. It’s a coming-of-age story, but it’s super visual, which is something that I’ve been looking for. I am a big fan of coming-of-age stories, but sometimes they feel not as cinematic. I wanted to find something that would give me that cinematic visual experience and something fresh and exciting, coupled with the heart and the conflict of a coming of age with darkness and gravitas. So, I’m very excited about The Art of Starving.

I have another project that I adore called Light on Broken Glass that I’ve been working on with Patricia Clarkson. And that’s something that we would like to do later in the year as schedules permit. It’s a stunning tour de force amazing performance role for her and her talent deserves this level of role.

It’s a very European film and sensibility, but set squarely in New York City, in the world of theater. It’s also a very visual and interesting film. Reminds me of Opening Night and Cassavetes movies. And some Bergman elements, but it’s edgy, it’s contemporary, it’s sexy. It’s exciting. And it’s very right now.

I am very excited about the prospect of working with Patricia. So, those are the things that I have more in the foreground, and that’s what I would perhaps highlight at this time. I also have obviously the (modern dance master) Martha Graham story, which I am revisiting now and hoping to lock the director very soon… The director will guide us through this story.


That could be a very exciting film…

Yes, but that’s a difficult project in the sense that if you’re going to tackle an icon and somebody on that level, we need a director who can perpetuate her legacy to the same level of excellence. And so it’s a delicate story. It’s an incredibly deserving rich story. I have a very specific in on the story and take, and it will happen when the right elements come together. And hopefully, it will be very soon.


Are you interested in other formats beyond features?

There’s an aspect of my work that is moving into mini-series. I’m very excited about what’s being done in the mini-series space right now. That’s what I’ve been watching the most during the pandemic. I love the format. You dive into a world and you’re immersed in that world for 6, 8, 10 episodes. And then you live in a different universe and it allows you a lot of experiences. So, I’m finding myself gravitating a lot towards mini-series.

I have one mini-series project called Jornalista. About a Nicaraguan, young woman in her early 20s who finds herself in a very lost, aimless party/city life, and finds her purpose in exposing the truth. And I really am hoping that we find a home and lock that very soon.


How do you go after ideas or do ideas come to you? Or do you develop ideas in your mind, that yeah, this will be a good movie or from reading a book or something?

In a variety of ways. So each of these projects that I mentioned came to me very differently, some came to me as a script, that I see. Either it’s a script that I like or a script in which I see the blueprint for something that I can build and develop. It could be a book that I read. It could be a story that somebody tells me. And I am like, oh, this can’t be true, the story’s too hard to believe. Those are the best ones when they’re so hard to believe, it can only be true.

Or I seek a writer, I partner with a writer to develop a story that came from, as I said, some source material that I’ve read. I am also working now on a new project called Today. It’s a romantic comedy with sci-fi elements with (director) Gabriela Tagliavini, who just did a film for Netflix and one for Sony, both last year, coming out soon. And we just started talking about the project, out to cast.

I have also never done anything in that space of romantic comedy because I have done so many things that are based on true stories, societal issues, and periods. So it’s exciting to also be working on some stories in parallel to this, which has been my trademark.


Your slate is full…

To be working on stories that are contemporary, fun, and exciting in a lighter way and are set in our world or in an alternative universe, but very present time… It’s a lot to juggle, but that’s the way it has to be because one project gets a talent, and then it advances. One has talent looking for a director.

One is a script that’s being developed for somebody. So they all inch forward. They are like all my little horses on my little horse race and they keep inching past each other. I just hope that they cross the finish line. Sometimes they take a little while to get there and they need to be guided, but those are the best ones, too. When they happen, it’s all the more special.


Has anybody ever challenged you, as a gay man, to produce more films about LGBTQ+ themes?

I have been involved with one movie that I’m an executive producer on called You’ll Never Be Alone. It won the Teddy in Berlin. That’s a Chilean film by Alex Anwandter. It’s a beautiful story with an LGBTQ+ component. It’s a father who rediscovers his son and his own existence in the Chilean society after the son is brutally attacked. Loosely inspired by the case of Daniel Zamudio which I believe became the name of the hate crime legislation in Chile, very loosely inspired.

I think that perhaps I find my stories to be these stories of individuals in complex times. I would hope that people find the universality in these stories, whether they’re period or not, or whether they take place where people are watching them or not.

But I have been pressured, questioned or suggested to make more LGBTQ stories or to have that representation on screen. And I believe in representation, even if the story doesn’t center around that character. Obviously, when you deal with historical fiction, you’re somewhat bound by the realities of the story that you’re telling. And sometimes, those people and diverse people did not exist in certain spaces and times. Sometimes their non-existence is the way I address the issue. And some of the stories that I’m telling when I am more restricted and bound by the true stories.

Otherwise, I absolutely believe in representation. The Art of Starving, which I mentioned earlier, is very much a project that centers on a character who will have that theme. Although if the character at 16 perceives himself or not with labels, it’s a separate conversation. But the core question is very much an LGBTQ+ story that has a lot of other human conflicts as well.

Then I want the same way that I said, if you don’t know where Chile is on a map, for whatever reason, you never heard of Pinochet, you relate to the story of No. Or you don’t know who Sergio Vieira de Mello is.

I would hope that if the story centers on an LGBTQ character, the universality is there all the same. And I understand the curiosity because I think for a long time, the LGBT community was so invisible that anyone who was part of the community and had access, had to tell their own stories. Otherwise, we would never leave this place of being invisible or being the villain or being the joke in the story and…


Or caricatures sometimes.

Or the characters. And we had to normalize the existence where the issue, the story can be about something else. It can be an action hero. It can be somebody who flies and has magic powers. The fact that they are LGBTQ is a footnote because, at some point, we have to normalize, but for a long time, we just had to make people visible.

Otherwise, it would go on forever and continue to not exist. They had been erased from TV shows. They had been erased from literature. They had been erased from conversations. They lived all around us. They were us. Everybody knew us. Everybody knew people, but it was whispered, it was not talked about. It was frowned upon.

And until we, these people were put front and center and had a space and young people and children, youth could look and say, I don’t know much, but this person reminds me of myself and I can see myself in them. And they are not to be laughed at. They’re not evil. They’re not bad. Well, then I can be that too, because that’s who I am, and I can speak that out loud.

I think that is extremely relevant. I would like to think that in parts of the world and of this country, we have evolved. And I think that the product that out tells us that we have evolved immensely, to where we can begin to not only put the characters front and center. But also normalize them where the stories don’t have to. They will have LGBT characters.


Things have changed in this century. Do we need more representation?

I think we need more representation and more diversity, for sure. I think we’re also striving. I think that we have very few actors who are leading men who are out or gay or out and are able to still bank large productions. I think it’s much easier to have a character who’s gay than an actor who is gay, perhaps in big broad commercial projects.

I think we’re also at a time when we’re discussing who can play and tell whose stories and that conversation also needed to happen to assert to this extent that for many years, many people couldn’t tell their own stories. Now, we have more of a voice.

And that goes for all minorities. How many Asian American directors we had, how many African American directors we had with visibility, with budgets that were as big and supported as any other production. And we need more Latino voices.

And we’re inching towards that, but we still have inequality, of course, and we still need more representation. And that includes the LGBTQ+ community. And so I’m very proud of all the people who fought so hard for so long to make movies in any way they could just to say, the LGBTQ+ community exists. We are here. This is who we are. I acknowledge, I recognize myself. I include myself as part of the LGBTQ+ community.

That doesn’t mean that I am always a producer of LGBTQ+ content. There are people who are amazing, and they are needed. I applaud and commend them for always finding amazing stories that speak to them. I am hopefully also touching upon topics that are relevant, interesting, and worthy, and that show the human conflict from a variety of aspects. And I hope that’s valid, too.