Armando Bó: High Flyer

Everything changed for Argentine director Armando Bó when his script for Birdman won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. Now based in Los Angeles, he splits his time between writing for TV, preparing his new feature Stand By, and running his 10-year-old production company Rebolución. “Advertising and movies can coexist,” he says. 

 By Majo Acosta, content director of Reporte Publicidad, Argentina

 

What are you doing in Los Angeles?

For years I was one of those people who said they didn’t want to live in Los Angeles. But thanks to Birdman and a movie that I may film (Stand By), as well as a television series we’re writing, I felt I was a too far away in Buenos Aires. Here we’re “surfing the wave.”

 

What happened after the Oscar? Was it something you expected?

It was an enormous satisfaction; I don’t know if it was a goal…Working with and being close to (Birdman director) Alejandro González Iñárritu, you think this kind of thing might happen, but the truth is I regard myself as a director…and obviously now I’d like to make a movie of my own. But having been part of Birdman is fantastic. To be able to say, “I won an Oscar” is breathtaking. Except now everybody believes I no longer work in advertising – it’s as if I only work in movies. And I always make a point of stating that advertising and movies can coexist. There are directors who make films and advertising. I respect advertising very much. It’s wonderful to be able to play out this double life.

 

How did advertising help you when it came to being on the set of a feature?

On the one hand it gave me a lot of things – on the other it gave me nothing. It gave me visual resources and experience behind the camera, as well as with the rodeo of meetings and a heap of other situations that provided me with training from the aesthetic, human and professional points of view…In fact my path to film was staked out by advertising; it was there that I met Alejandro, so I have great respect for the industry. But it didn’t give me much from the standpoint of the story. The truth is that narrating a movie has no connection with narrating a commercial. They’re very different, which is why I want to keep learning when I’m participating in a movie or writing a script.

 

Does one of them motivate you more than the other?

No, but they involve very different timeframes. A commercial, from the director’s point of view, takes a month or two at the most – a film takes three or four years. There is a period in which you’re working on a movie that isn’t yet being made, and at the same time shooting commercials to keep yourself fresh. Then suddenly you have to work on the film and drop everything else.

 

And what did movies bring teach you when it comes to filming commercials?

They taught me a lot. I learned about delving deeper, about knowing what you are narrating and why, what you’re saying about a character, what’s important and what’s not. The tools of cinema allow you to view scripts with a perspective that’s more nuanced, more sensitive. And from the angle of the execution, they give you more ways of thinking about a story. Beyond the fact that a commercial is a short story, working with scripts makes you better at finding solutions. The brain is like a muscle, and if you’re constantly exercising it while thinking about films, of course that’s useful when you’re making commercials.

 

Tell me about your relationship with Alejandro González Iñárritu.

I have nothing but words of gratitude and respect for Alejandro. He’s a friend – I appreciate him greatly and at the same time I learn a lot from him. What I learned most is that he’s a guy who works more than anybody else. There’s no place for relaxing: on the contrary, you have to work harder all the time. And he has this obsession you need in order to do interesting things…Right now we’re making a series and it’s wonderful to see his creative process and be on his set. I’m learning not just about screenwriting but about photography, narrative, performances. It’s like being “inside the cook’s kitchen,” as he says.

 

What can you tell me about his series The One Percent?

It’s a series he’s writing with the Birdman team and that will have a full season on the Starz channel. It stars Ed Helms, Hilary Swank and Ed Harris and is about a family that has an organic farm and is having a lot of trouble keeping it afloat.

 

How is your production company Rebolución doing right now?

After ten years I’m pleased to say we’re still working, still motivated. The truth is I’m very into Rebolución; I’m trying to generate new things and of course film as much as possible. The idea is to keep growing – there’s a possibility of opening up here in Los Angeles. We have a lot of experience and contacts, and we still have that hunger for glory…It’s good to be able take advantage of this boost of mine in order to do original and very creative things. Yet we have a solidity grounded in years of production experience, which you can see on our reel.

 

How do you see advertising right now? The truth is, if we’re talking about pure commercials, it’s a tough moment in terms of seeing things that surprise you…There are a lot of ideas I’ve already seen. I’d love to see fresher stuff.

 

And Argentine advertising? There is always great talent and there are people I respect a lot creatively. But they work within a context, and Argentina today is in crisis, which impacts creativity and production. You can be a great director and have a great production company, but if the budgets aren’t there, it’s difficult...In general, we are good at making films “bigger,” but sometimes you need the extra support and trust of the client who wants to make a great commercial. In fact there are some who are willing, but Argentina has everybody on standby, waiting to see what will happen. We had a very good year at Rebolución, but we’d like to see more ideas whirling around. Luckily we don’t depend only on Argentina, since we have a global presence…The muscle is active and it’s yielding results.

 

I imagine that demand has changed after all this – how to you choose your projects?

The truth is that as a director I’ve always had the good fortune of being able to choose. I’ve never done anything I didn’t want to do…I always look for something that motivates me cinematographically, or for something I haven’t done before, so I can learn from it. My style requires production support because I like to film in a way that feels credible, powerful. And in general the stories I get are like that: they have scope, a different esthetic, a cinematographic weight. But to achieve that, financial support is a good thing…When I don’t have that support, I tend not to (make the film) because afterwards it may not come out so well. I try to go where my work is valued.

TOPIC: Production