Students impressed me. They have a huge practical experience, says creative producer Lenka Szántó

Students impressed me. They have a huge practical experience, says creative producer Lenka Szántó

She came to Brno to see the exams of the CME Content Academy students. We talked with Lenka Szántó, the TV Nova creative producer at Hotel International in Brno. She presented the espionage series Extractors last fall, which is getting a phenomenal success on Voyo. "It is  among the top 3 Voyo Originals in all parameters we measure," says the producer. 

Did you like the CME CA exams? 

The first significant impression is the fact that in just one academic year, people have transformed into incredibly cool personalities. At first, it’s a group of insecure students who are reluctant to speak in front of us, and after a year, they get an intensive practical and theoretical experience. And now they look like this. The pitching session today is comparable to international festivals pitches. Not just comparable, but the same level. Students truly embody discipline; they know what to say and what matters. 

Were you surprised? 

Surprised. It's only been a year since they started studying. In comparison to students from other schools, CME Content Academy students have much more practical experience. 

 You worked as a journalist. How do you use what you learned in journalism to your current profession? 

 I use everything. Especially the performance drive. In journalism, you have to be the quickest. When something happens late in the day, it has to be in the news no later than the next day. Afterwards, the news is old. The drive to finish quickly and well is something that remained in me. From time to time, I say to myself how filmmakers are so slow. Before working on true stories, I research everything. I also make authors do the same thing. That's the essence of journalism that stayed with me. 

 You learned to write for paper. How did you learn to write fiction? 

 Very slowly, and it was not easy. I learned journalism and found myself in a higher position as the head editor, where I coordinated teams. I could have continued in that direction, hadn’t I had children. Working at newsroom with a small child is impossible. You work fourteen hours a day and can't leave when the kindergarten calls. For a woman who prefers to be a good mother over being a good editor, news isn't the right thing. I left news. Matěj Podzimek, one of the creative producers at Nova, called me. We had founded Víkend show together, and he said he thought I was bored. He suggested I write for a TV show Ulice. Matěj helped me with it for a long time; sometimes he did the rewrites for me. The whole team helped me, of course. Tomáš Baldýnský, who later became the head writer, taught me a lot. He took the time. In the end, I got into it, but it was tough. You think you can put words together, but suddenly you don't know how to put drama together. 

 What journey did you take as an author from the point where someone had to rewrite something for you to a TV show Metanol? 

 Yes, I wrote it with Matěj Podzimek. When working on Metanol, we had a great topic. Michal Reitler (the TV Nova head of development and then Česká televize's creative producer) really wanted it. Michal insists on doing outlines, and he tormented me a lot. According to him, the outlines still weren’t right. The disadvantage was that I was writing it remotely from Israel: when you can't make an offline appointment with a person and explain what each one thinks, it’s hard. Notes would come in various colors from Michal. Purple was for dialogues, blue for characters, and yellow for questions about the plot or research. I received a colorful document, like a rainbow, and I really wanted to kill myself. In this terrible moment, I found out that Tomáš Baldýnský wanted to write Metanol. I thought I was in deep trouble because he had taught me to write and would have beaten me. For two days, I thought I would give up. Usually, I don't want to give up right away, and I thought: well, but he is lazy, he won't do research. I will beat him because I have journalistic background. Tomáš will come up with something based on Metanol's motifs, while I will have a reconstruction. I didn't let it go, he let it go. But after Metanol, I can’t say I can write, no. 

 What was the advantage of writing in Israel? Is there peace and quiet for writing there? 

I was constantly a mother-taxi driver. I drove children twenty-five kilometers back and forth from school. The advantage was that my husband supported me. That's why Michal Reitler later praised that it was thoroughly researched. I had time for it, and I wasn't in existential need, where I had to write to have money for the next month. Writing Metanol took two and a half years, one year of which was spent on research. Even though you get lower tens of thousands crowns or it, I could afford it. 

 You wrote Metanol abroad, and Extractors, the espionage series you produced, takes place abroad. Did you have to push for the spy genre a lot? 

No, when the scripts weren't going well, I didn't tell anyone. We struggled for six months, then we changed the writer, and suddenly it started to work. Both the new writer and I are fans of the genre, so we had an idea of what we wanted. When the script was successful, it spoke for itself. The executives are not idiots; they recognize a good script. And they recognized a good script. 

The script was good. With Metanol, it was similar. Everyone praised the text so much that they tried not to mess it up. The actors played well, the director directed with respect for the script. 

 What was the most challenging part of Extractors? Shooting abroad? 

Definitely. The budget for Voyo projects is not small, but it is not comparable to the budgets of Czech TV productions. It's always tense, especially when shooting abroad. So we sent a small crew; we knew we couldn't do any big shots. Adam Dvořák, the producer, sacrificed all the resources for the camera. This was so that Vladimir Smutný (director of photography) had time to install lights, make a dust the way he liked it, and everything was sacrificed for that. So, in the end, the main actresses sat on stones in a cottage made of polystyrene. It wasn't smoked with a smoke machine, but with polystyrene dust. The girls got sick several times, and everything else suffered. During the shooting in Turkey, everyone suffered, and the shooting in Prague was just the echoes of suffering. 

 For, you said that you aimed to be authentic but not documentary. How do you find the balance between being accurate and not revealing anything about the work of secret services? 

We knew that the girls who experienced the kidnapping wouldn't talk. Moreover, I didn't want someone to say: you took the most devastated girls in the country, and now you're making money off them. Ethical questions in true stories are essential to me. Extractors are not a reconstruction of what happened to the actual kidnapped girls. 

 Are you considering a second season? 

 Yes. Extractors achieve phenomenal numbers on Voyo being in the top 3 of all parameters we measure. We have an idea for season 2 but it hasn’t been approved for the production yet. 

 -Matěj Škop-