• Interviews

Producer Rodrigo Teixeira on Working in Hollywood and the Future of Brazilian Cinema

His name is synonymous with independent cinema, both in his home country, Brazil, as in Hollywood, where he was involved in films like Call Me By Your Name, The Witch, The Lighthouse, Frances Ha, Mistress America, and Patti Cake$. And he has acted as co-producer for international projects such as Mia Hansen-Love’s Bergman Island,  Olivier Assayas’ Wasp Network, Leonardo Brzezicki’s Wandering Heart and Jonas Carpignano’s A Ciambra.

During the last edition of The Mostra, the São Paulo International Film Festival, Rodrigo Texeira introduced in person one of his last efforts, James Gray’s Armageddon Time. A few days later, we interviewed him via Zoom to talk about that film and the important work he has done behind the cameras.

How did you feel bringing Armageddon Time to the Mostra? For most Brazilians, as any Latin American, usually these Hollywood productions seem so far away.  But this movie has a Brazilian company on it.

When I bring something that I have produced outside and I show it in my country, it’s definitely a big emotion, not only in São Paulo but also in Rio De Janeiro. When I show the films in the Rio Film Festival, I am always happy with the reaction of the crowd and the audience, it’s very good. Still, I have been working in the United States already for 12 years. And for me it’s something that became more regular and common and brought to the films I made. Because I am a Brazilian producer who produces films outside of Brazil, not only Brazil. And for me, it’s easy for me to work outside, not only in Latin America and Brazil because I am a cinephile, I love movies and I see movies everytime. And I read about movies and I don’t like that I should only do films in my country. 

How close did you work with James on this film?

We worked very close because the development was with him. We worked on the development for two-and-a-half years. And we spoke a lot about the story. We paid for the screenplay. We discussed the screenplay and where we went for the production last year.  I worked very hard to find the cash flow, the capital to go between from pre-production to production. And on the production, I traveled to the U.S. to stay with James on set and I would be there for 20 days, 30 days of shooting, more than half.  And on post-production, we are developing cuts and we spoke a lot. And now we are seeing the results of the work of everyone. And also, James is a very collaborative director, but in this case, it’s not a question of collaboration, it’s a question of telling his personal story. And it’s difficult for us to say that is not good and don’t put that on the screen, because that’s his story and we need to understand and support the vision of the director because every time they are doing something very personal, I think we need to look differently at it.

In Armaggedon Time the kid is key because he basically carries it all, even if you have big stars in it.  Did you participate in the casting process or you left that to James?

No, we participated, James gave us the material to get our opinion.  But this kid specifically was an easy choice.  Our casting director, he is an amazing guy, he worked with James for a long time and he worked with me on other movies and he’s definitely one of the best.  And this kid, if you saw the test, you would already say he was the star.  And also, Jay Webb, the other kid, was a very good choice and he also did great work. 


Is this a special film for someone that does so many things at the same time?

Yeah, it’s actually a very special one, working with James Gray is a special one.  When I moved I was represented by UTA and then I started being represented by CAA and the first thing I asked was to meet James Gray, who is a director I really admire.  And having this partnership together for the last 10 years, working together and creating this relationship has been a pleasure.  And to see how James works, he is a huge cinephile, I admire James as a person, as a father and as a professional, it’s very good to work with him. 

You still do Brazilian films such as Welcome, Violeta!, also showing in the Mostra and you have an upcoming Chilean production. Why do you stick to your roots? it is an ideological reason or it’s financial?

No, it’s not ideological or financial, it’s something I like. I like to produce what I like to see.  That’s my vow.  I produce I believe only one or two Hollywood movies a year, because all my American movies are independent movies, which are very different.  The Witch or Frances Ha, they are not studio movies. They are acquired by studios in the end, but the processes are independent. The only time I worked in Hollywood was with Ad Astra, even Armageddon Time was acquired by a studio, but on the marketing campaign we are being treated like Hollywood. But before that, the production was completely independent. And I like to do independent movies. I understand the value of  foreign films, because I am a foreigner and the best stories are not only from the United States.  They have an industry there, that’s the difference, but we have amazing stories coming from all over the world and if you can make that happen, you can show American audiences better films and shape the market to be more open for the foreigners.

Do you feel that you have a responsibility because studios won’t probably finance directly Armageddon Time, that they need producers like you to take a risk in smaller productions?

I think the studios, it’s impossible for a company to cover all over the world. They will need independent people to find material, to finance material and then they can acquire it after. And if you prove you are good, when you start doing something you can show them, oh it’s a production coming from this company, they know how to do it, let me acquire it in the beginning. And that’s the way we create relationships with the studios and make the best possible work that you can do. Now again, we live in cycles I believe, and now the cycle is develop and show it for the studio and to sell the movie and you go and make the movie happen. You need to have a good person on the other side who can talk to you and understand your vision and respect you. We need to generate art also with entertainment, and that for me is the movie business. 

When you started, was it your plan to be in the movie business all along or it just happened as an opportunity.

I have always liked cinema. I am not from a traditional family in the art business, I am from banks and industries. But I love films and I didn’t have any connection until I was about 22 years old. I am 46 right now, I have been working on this since I was 22, already 24 years working. But I started making my own connections by my work.  And that was amazing and I always knew I was going to work in movies. I didn’t know in which capacity, I didn’t know if I was going to be a director. The only thing I knew is that I was not going to be an actor. I found myself being a producer because my mind is the mind of a producer.  And I think my work is to show the world in my films how producers work and the career of a producer and people recognize not only the director, but they recognize the producers too, that is very important.

The general public is usually confused about what a producer does. Because really a producer can do so many things and people are listed as producers sometimes for just facilitating one thing and another time they are the ones who are behind the project from the beginning to the end. So for you, what is a producer in the cinema of today?

It is a difficult answer, because a producer could be a lot of things.  I think the complete producer is the one who thinks the film, it’s the one who make it film happens, who understands the director, and who delivers the picture to the studio. That’s the producer’s job. You have financiers, you could change the name in the credits, because sometimes this person doesn’t have any creative relationship with the film, they give money and they make the film happen.  And that’s important too, but that is the financier production, not a creative production. But to be honest with you, the people who work in the movie industry knows who the producers are, they know who produces and who doesn’t produce.  And that is the way.

How did Call Me By Your Name change your career?

It changed it a lot. I have some changes in my career often, starting with Frances Ha, after with The Witch, after with The Lighthouse and Ad Astra, and now with Armaggedon Time, I have like five cycles already. And also with Invisible Life, one of our best films of 2019, these are the big points of my career and I hope to have more in the future years.

Ad Astra probably didn’t perform as you expected and you also produced Wasp Network, which was a movie that generated some controversies in the US.  How do you deal with things when they don’t go as you wanted?

That’s the reason of the market. Not everything you do is going to be a successful project in the end. I think Ad Astra was a very successful project. When you have a film that starts from scratch, James Gray never did a film like that, never worked in Science-Fiction, having Brad Pitt accepting to do this role for you and having a film studio financed with that price, for me it’s already a success. Financially speaking, it is not my risk, it is the risk of the studio and they know how to handle that risk. And it was not an acclaimed film, it was not a film which won Oscars, but a lot of people loved it. And Wasp Network was the same, to shoot the film in Cuba, did the film the way we did it, from that point of view. People have points of view on this story and obviously people din’t like it, because we talk about politics, and when you talk about politics, some people are on your side and some people aren’t.  But it was a very important film for me to do, not only because of the story, but also because of the relationship with Olivier Assayas, who is a director I really admire and who became a very good friend of mine. 

When you produced The Witch, did you imagine Robert Eggers and Anya Taylor-Joy were going to become so famous?

When I first spoke with Robert Eggers, to be honest with you, I saw an amazing artist. I don’t know how to explain that conversation, but after it I said this guy is going to be a huge star, a huge director, and he became one.  And I am very happy to have collaborated with him, to help him achieve that space.  I’m also lucky because Anya Taylor-Joy, one of her first films was with me, and the same happened with Adam Driver and Timothée Chalamet. And also Ana de Armas, I am very happy to have worked with these actors before they became stars. And for me that’s also a good way to work with the directors because we trust them when they show you actors who are not well established and then you back up these actors and in the end you made the correct choice and they are doing amazing films all over the world.

As a cinephile, working with Martin Scorsese was a dream come true?

For sure. A dream come true and to have your name along with Scorsese. One of the reasons I work with films is because of him. I saw Goodfellas in a movie theater in 1989. I remembered the feeling I had and I thought that I needed to do something. I don’t know how I am going to meet this guy. I was in São Paulo, I was 13 years old, and 25 years later I was working with this guy. And talking to him, learning from him, I really would have liked to have met him before when I had much more time to talk to him. I would really liked to have met Scorsese when Scorsese was just starting. But I met him 12 years ago and that for me was a big point in my career. 

Brazil went through a very difficult time culturally in the last four years. How hard was it for you to keep producing Brazilian films and did you do it because you felt it was important?

Actually I shot three films during this period in Brazil. The pandemic helped this crazy Government to not do anything. But I am looking for a bright future because we are looking for something that I know will be better, knowing how Lula works. He’s a guy who goes to see movies, he reads books and he goes to music concerts.  Brazil is going to be happy again and when Brazilians are happy the productions are much better.