Author: Inga Khalvashi, Film Critic, PHD in Art Criticism (Film Studies)
As the credits roll at the end of each film, an extensive list of cast and crew members illuminates the screen. While many in the audience eagerly read the names of the creative ensemble - actors, directors, composers, and sometimes even cinematographers and artists - there exists a group of individuals whose roles are essential, yet often go unnoticed. These unsung heroes are the producers and managers, the true magicians behind the scenes whose expertise profoundly shapes the film's quality. With their remarkable ability, they can effortlessly transform a pumpkin into a grand carriage with a mere flick of their wand.
Today, we have the pleasure of introducing you to one of these enchanters - Zviadi Alkhanaidze, the executive producer with years of experience on set, who understands the intricate workings of filmmaking the best. Transitioning from television, Zviadi's initial encounter with the world of cinema was through the Georgian-Ukrainian project, "Russian Triangle," directed by Aleko Tsabadze. In those early days, his role primarily involved overseeing transportation and logistics. However, in the subsequent film, he took on the responsibility of a location manager, which meant scouting and managing the shootings in a selected location - a pivotal moment for Zviadi sparking a remarkable career progression.
“The role of a location manager involves accurate planning and organization of the shooting process at selected locations. This includes obtaining filming permits and securing agreements with individuals, private entities, and government organizations. The goal is to ensure a seamless and uninterrupted filming, which requires to strategically position the crew on set, find appropriate parking areas for transportation, and ensure all necessary conditions are met, including safety and hygiene measures. We do our homework well, we know requirements ahead such as three houses, ten streets, and day and night shoots, and we align our plans with the available budget. It involves diligent research, effective management and coordination, and flawless execution of your direct responsibilities at the set. And even after the filming is over, our task continues: we must diligently reinstate everything to its original state, be it a house or a street. We have direct connections with the mayor's office, city hall, and even the cleaning services. Being a location manager involves handling many other aspects.”
As his expertise grow, Zviadi ascended to the role of an executive producer taking on a multitude of increased responsibilities.
“So, from the moment we dive into the script, we take on almost everything except securing the funds," he explains. "That includes forming a highly skilled and efficient teams, renting all the necessary equipment and tackling a multitude of other tasks. it's a whirlwind of activity that spans around four months of non-stop work. During this intense preparation period, each department works with you in perfect synchrony. We tackle one challenge after another, to ensure the production comes to life in all its glory. And as the executive producer, you serve as the vital link that connects all the dots. Whether it's figuring out where to get the best paint, coordinating transportation and equipment logistics, or even negotiating with the Ministry of Defense for the airplanes or impressive weaponry in the film, your responsibilities are diverse and dynamic. Additionally, if the National Film Center or other state organizations provide funding, the documentation process becomes an entirely new level of challenge. We must present an exact budget and provide solid supporting documents to justify our plans."
He has worked with many acclaimed Georgian directors, including Dito Tsintsadze, Aleko Tsabadze, Merab Kokochashvili, Levan Koghuashvili, Keti Machavariani, Levan Tutberidze, and Zaza Urushadze.
“When you've thoroughly prepared during the preproduction time, the risks of encountering unexpected challenges are minimized. We carefully plan each day, going through every detail, mapping out exactly what needs to be shot. It's important to consider the individuals involved, their roles, and the level of difficulty, all while accommodating the unique working style of the director. Each director has their own approach - Koghuashvili, Tutberidze, and Urushadze - they all bring their distinct practices to the set. Urushadze, in particular, had an exceptional ability to envision precisely where an actor's dialogue should start and when the camera should stop. There was one occasion when I suggested taking an extra shot that could be useful during editing, but he refused because he knew the exact length of each shot, he needed. Urushadze never wasted a single shot during editing, and he never had to reshoot a scene. He could see the entire movie, scene by scene, in his mind. I remember one time when I asked him for clarification on some details for the next day's shoot. He replied, "Oh, it would take too long to go back to that scene as it's right at the end of the film. Sorry, I can't rewind; I'm too busy." In other words, he meant that he couldn't mentally replay the entire film to recall specific details, such as which hand the actor held the cigarette in. Working with Zaza was a great pleasure and comfort for me, and I hope he felt the same way about working with me. He was not only a talented director but also a genuinely good person. Was he a better person or director? I don't know; I believe he excelled equally in both.”
Zviad Alkhanaidze and Zaza Urushadze on the set of "Tangerines"
Zaza Urushadze was the director he worked the most with. Their creative partnership began with the TV series "Hot Dog" and continued with more ambitious cinematic projects, including "A Walk to Karabakh 3," "Confession," and "Tangerines," which achieved an Oscar nomination for "Best Foreign Language Film."
"Tangerines" was an Estonian-Georgian co-production filmed in Natanebi. The most challenging aspect was finding a landscape that had the exact look and feel our director and artist envisioned, with no unwanted buildings or distracting architectural details. When you view the film from this perspective, you'll notice that there are no extraneous houses or buildings visible in any shot. Everything you see on screen was purposefully built, created, and thoughtfully arranged. We discovered a suitable location in Guria, with slopes of tangerine gardens and a swamp below. We had to drain 120 tracks of gravel to dry the swamp and construct roads that would ensure safe and smooth transportation for the crew and cast. As part of the set, three houses were built. One of them was a fully functional house equipped with all necessary rooms and even a fireplace. Once the project was completed, we gifted this house to a local resident who helped us during the filming. The other two houses, which explode in the film, were constructed only halfway.
We faced a number of difficulties while preparing the set. For example, the camera needs plenty of space to move freely, unobstructed by anything that could affect its positioning or introduce unwanted elements into the shot. For this reason, we planted and carefully arranged every tree and bush surrounding the house. I remember this one time during the filming of our very first shot when the cameraman pointed out a vast empty space to the left of the house. He suggested adding some trees there would make it look so much better. Suddenly, our magician set decorator, Jimsheri, said, 'Give me 15 minutes,' and disappeared momentarily. After exactly 15 minutes, we heard a tractor approaching, carrying a massive pear tree. It took us another 15 minutes to dig a hole and get that tree planted. Can you believe it? In just about half an hour, everything was set for us to start filming again. And now, when you watch the film, you'll spot that very tree, adding its charm to the scene."
There is a fight scene in film, was it difficult to shoot that scene considering the small size of the rooms?
"As for the fight scene, typically, such complex scenes are shot in studios or pavilions where space can be manipulated to accommodate the intricacies of the shoot. We are well aware of this, but unfortunately, we do not have the luxury of such resources. This, of course, increases the difficulties on set. It's not just the cameraman; there are numerous individuals present during the shoot. In addition to the cast, director, and key members, we have a focus puller, technicians, and someone providing support behind the camera to ensure accurate distances are maintained. Each person has their own specific role to fulfill. While it requires more efforts to achieve those goals what sought to be done in a studio with relative ease, we still get the job done. We all know that this “ease” comes with a larger budget.
Everyone can agree that our profession is time-consuming and complex, demanding not only high levels of professionalism but also dedication, mastery, and a genuine love for our craft. The nature of our work constantly pushes us to make sudden decisions, whether it's resolving problems on the spot or determining the best course of action to continue shooting or postpone until the next day. This constant pressure can be stressful. Even when the day is over and everyone else goes to rest, we remain behind to clarify details for the following day: who needs to be present on set, outlining specific instructions, and so on. Those in key positions, such as the director, first director, executive producer, and cinematographer, never stop working.
What draws you to this work and motivates you to persist despite all the challenges and difficulties it entails?
“Well, there's something specially fulfilling that comes from setting a task and successfully accomplishing it. While some projects may turn out exceptionally well and others less so, the production process itself is alive and vibrant, offering opportunities for personal triumphs. For example, when a director expressed the need for a real tank on set within a tight deadline, it seemed like an impossible feat, but I managed to make it happen. Whenever something seems unattainable, we have to find creative solutions, celebrating small victories along the way. If someone desires a rare blue car from 1997 but it's not possible to acquire, they might have to compromise and shoot with a 2000 model. Personally, I have never compromised to such an extent; I always strive to deliver exactly what the director and creative team envision. It's the essence of my role, and if I can't fulfill it effectively, then I haven't done my job properly. When the final results come together and everyone is happy and satisfied, that's where I find solace and joy in my efforts. It's these moments that ignite my passion and drive to continue.”
“I remember the filming of the "Russian Triangle" at the cemetery. The sound operator said he couldn’t continue recording because of some rare noise coming in from a distant. It turned out to be an asphalt plant. The director asked if it was possible to temporarily halt the factory operation. Production manager attempted negotiation, but the management refused. As a result, the director had to stop shootings and producer was about to consider postponing. It was then that I stepped in and although at that time it was beyond my responsibility, I went to the factory, negotiated, and achieved a solution – they agreed to pause their operations, giving us plenty of time to complete the shooting."
What did you say?
"I don't remember the exact details now, but it was about gaining trust. The key to effective filmmaking in Georgia is to build strong relationships and trust. We often manage to solve problems because of these relationships. Otherwise, if we were to pay for every single issue that arises, we might not have a budget for finishing the project. Once, during the shooting of "Street Days," we had a school location overlooking a bustling street market filled with vegetable vendors. We couldn’t proceed with one shot, so I approached the vendors to discuss the matter and to my surprise, everyone except one woman agreed to temporarily relocate. I did not do anything, as other vendors handled the situation."
I believe that each film you have worked on has provided you with a unique experience, but I'm curious to know which one stands out the most for you?
I agree, each experience gives you something different and teaches you something new, but difficulties are the ones you remember most vividly. One of the recent projects I worked on was Criminal Man by Dimitri Mamulia. It was one of the most demanding projects, involving completing unrealistic tasks. For example, filming in the mine required to first stop all mine operations, then take the cast and crew into the mine, manage shootings there, and ensure safety. It was no easy feat. We also had shootings in Tsalka involving wild animals and actors in close interaction. There was a scene where a fox and an actor locked eyes for quite some time. We also had three days of filming where the director needed not actors, but ordinary people from the Roma community residing in Georgia. Negotiations were tough, and at any moment, anyone could just leave, and I had no control or power to prevent this from happening. It was a tremendous responsibility."
Why not actors though?
“I don't know, the director wanted real members of the Roma ethnic group. When the director asks for something, the producer has to agree. We always offer alternatives, and of course, we pointed out that it would be much easier to cast actors. However, the director wanted to feel the real spirit of that particular group, without any acting or performing involved. That's why his cinema is extremely naturalistic and emotional. Almost all of the cast was recruited from the streets. We found the falconer in Rustavi, which required me to arrange a long commute from Rustavi every day. We could have taken an easier route, but no! The director insisted on filming that exact boy and that exact falconer. In the film, the goalkeeper of the Georgian national football team is murdered. The role was played by the actual goalkeeper of the national team at that time. When the scene depicting the discovery of his murder was filmed, real medical experts were present. Samples were taken, evidence was recorded, and photos were taken—everything was accurately performed and photographed. The only thing that wasn't real was the corpse.”
Zviadi, having worked with international teams, do you notice any significant differences in working styles?
"The difference lies in the scale. It was a large-scale project and it also had its moments of indifference. While everyone was carrying out their tasks professionally, there seemed to be a lack of connection and teamwork across departments. Each person was focused only on their own responsibilities. In Georgia, our teams are interconnected differently; we collaborate closely, working towards a common purpose. When faced with daunting challenges, there are always people behind you offering support and backing you up. When you achieve success, it's natural to want others to succeed as well, and you offer a helping hand. In the end, everything falls into place. That's the distinctive aspect."
Do shootings often come with surprises?
“A lot. We were shooting a scene for Dito Tsintsadze's film at the Kukia cemetery late at night. The sound was being recorded, and there should have been absolute silence. We thought it would be straightforward and easy to shoot, but suddenly we heard loud singing in the middle of the graveyard late at night. It turned out that someone had come to his mother's grave and felt like singing. Due to the unique acoustics of the place, we couldn't pinpoint the exact location of where the sound was coming from. It took us more than an hour to locate the person and politely ask to stop singing – he stood there in utter disbelief, he couldn't understand why he had to stop singing."
"While shooting the same film, there was another occasion when it started to heavily snow during the set preparation, and we couldn't postpone it because the main actor had a flight the next morning. The director requested that there shouldn't be any trace of snow at the entrance of Kukia cemetery. I took on the task and I had to accomplish it, but to be honest, I had no idea how to. The first thing that came to my mind was to run to the fire station, there were two crew members and luckily, it didn’t take long to manage a paperwork. So, I got a firetruck and cleared the snow with the water. The happy director and the whole crew gave loud applause. I stood very proud there. We continued setting up the set and as evening approached and a temperature dropped, we watched the melted snow turn into ice before our eyes. In a moment of great embarrassment, I crushed that ice with my own hand, with the help of others, of course.
Often, we go to great lengths to shoot a particular scene, but sometimes it may not even make it into the final picture. There's a lot to talk about. And it's not just me, everyone in this role faces the same challenges. Massive scenes are not necessarily the hardest. It's the various small nuances that can create more challenges. For example, you might be shooting by the sea and find that a bottle is floating. Whether you like it or not, you have to go into that freezing water to quickly remove it, or else you can't take that perfect shot. Even the simplest things often can have the big impact."
I know you are in London. Are you still busy with your profession?
"I'm currently negotiating collaboration with the London Film Academy. I've had several meetings with students, as want to share my experience with the young generation of filmmakers and establish a formula for fostering Georgian-British collaborations and co-productions. My goal is to convince them that Georgia offers abundant resources and cost-effectiveness for production, enabling more output with fewer resources. This trend is already taking place, evident in the active presence of Bollywood and Hollywood productions in Georgia. Moreover, Georgia has a rich cinematic heritage, and a new generation of talented filmmakers is revitalizing the Georgian film industry. Our films are traveling to renowned festivals and receiving wide acclaim. By sharing experiences, expertise, knowledge, and resources between the two countries, I firmly believe we can achieve something remarkable that benefits both sides. Although it will require time and effort, it is certainly attainable. Building trust and demonstrating our capabilities are essential, and with my extensive experience, I am confident I’ll be able to accomplish this goal."