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Interview with Greek Producers Nassos Vakalis & Dimitris Anagnostou of Declare Productions @ 72nd Cannes Film Festival

Interview with Greek Producers Athanassios Vakalis & Dimitris Anagnostou of Declare Productions @ 72nd Cannes Film Festival Dimitris Anagnostou (left) and Nassos Vakalis (right)

Animator/Director/Producer Nassos Vakalis, known for his work in the Animation Department of over 37 films including 'Thumbelina' (1994), 'Quest for Camelot' (1998), 'Spirit' (2002), 'Bee Movie' (2007), 'Puss in Boots'' (2011), 'Turbo' (2013), 'Smallfoot' (2018) and Producer Dimitris Anagnostou run their Declare Productions company out of Los Angeles and have recently partnered with production companies Miscellaneous Entertainment and Yafka, as well as have become key sponsors with events held by the Producers Guild America (PGA) and Pixomondo, recently at London Film Festival and the 72nd Cannes Film Festival where they co-sponsored a PGA mixer dinner event “The Power of Connectivity” with over 120 producers and filmmakers.

In an interview about their success at this year's Cannes Film Festival, here is what Dimitris and Nassos had to say:

 

How and when did you start Declare Productions?

NASSOS & DIMITRIS: Declare Productions LLC was formed in early 2016. Like many companies, Declare started out as a collaboration between four friends, Dimitris Anagnostou, Constantine Sekeris, Nassos Vakalis and Josh Deu. We were all at the phase of life where we were looking to go out on our own and establish ourselves, have worked a lot in the industry, had the relationships, resources, and ideas and we all knew that working the entertainment industry is not really entertaining. We all had stories...and we all wanted to work with our friends, spend work time with people we trust...and the decision was made in one evening!

NASSOS & DIMITRIS CONT’D: We created a production company as a holding entity for developing and producing our IPs. In the first couple of months we identified a need for post-production services, we received some interest regarding post and VFX work in Greece, so we formed a partnership with a Greek studio, Yafka, owned by another friend of ours and we started sending VFX work there. This side of our business has grown exponentially over the years to the point where we have several major television shows under our belt already and at the same time, we have more and more interest from bigger TV and Film productions. While all of this was happening, we officially partnered with another production company in Los Angeles, Miscellaneous Entertainment, with the goal to further develop our IP and securing additional funding.

 

What kind of films and side productions does Declare focus on?

NASSOS & DIMITRIS: We are currently working on several films and episodic shows, live action and animation, feature and short format. Our creative director, Nassos, is an animation industry veteran with the majority of his work focused on big-budget family entertainment. Nassos brought two projects into Declare, a live-action aquatic adventure for children and teens as well as an animated television series. Our other partner, Constantine is one of the lead conceptual illustrators and visual development artists in Hollywood, who together with his sister Christina Sekeris, brought in several high concept fantasy films which are already developed both on the story and visual front. In addition to these IPs, we are also working on an animated comedy web series, a screwball college comedy feature and a Chinese romantic comedy that takes place in Greece.

 

You’ve recently partnered with PGA and Pixomondo in LA and Cannes. How have these events gone and what do you hope they will provide for producers in the industry?

NASSOS & DIMITRIS: Our relationship with the PGA started when we met the International Co-Chairman of the PGA, Kayvan Mashayekh, last year at the Cannes film festival. We immediately struck up a friendship and as friends do, we asked the question “what are we gonna do together”? Kayvan is a man of action, with so many great relationships and ideas, we immediately began working with him and co-sponsoring his events.  Late last year we joined together with Pixomondo to sponsor the PGA event that Kayvan put together at the London Film Festival. This year at the Cannes Film Festival, the PGA International Committee and Declare joined forces, alongside a few more sponsors, to host a dinner event with the goal of bringing together producers and filmmakers. Both Kayvan and Dimitris decided to call this event "The Power of Connectivity". The event was very successful, bringing together over 120 producers and industry professionals who, like us, understood that relationships are at the core of the film the industry, creating the fertile ground for relationships, creativity, and business to grow. We invited some dear friends that are also thriving in the industry and we asked them to also recommend us a couple of friends they trust, look up to and would like to have at the event. As we met with Kayvan the year before, we wanted to set an environment for the ripple effect to happen with friends and friends of friends. In the end, most of all these Festivals and events are people you meet and do life - and films - with.

 

How was this Cannes for Declare business?

NASSOS & DIMITRIS: This was a great festival for us. In addition to all the people that we met at our "Power of Connectivity" event, we also met with like-minded companies who have a similar focus on the kind of films we are producing. We have also gotten involved with the Greek film industry rebate program and brought the Greek Film Commission into contact with several producers who are very interested in filming in Greece as well as doing their VFX and post there. One of these producers is now attached to our aquatic adventure film with the intent of being in production next year.  We also secured Chinese distribution for our Chinese film which will be shot in Greece. The festival was an amazing opportunity to draw attention to Greece's generous cash rebate program fund, which also benefits our post-production services, giving our company even more of a competitive advantage.

 

Why is it so important for producers to attend Cannes and other film markets?

NASSOS & DIMITRIS: Producers come from all over the world, not just to show their films, but to find new collaborators, funding, talent and distribution for their projects. If you don’t attend these festivals, you are missing out on so much of what is happening in the world of film production.

 

You are both Greek. What are the current advantages of filming in Greece today? 

NASSOS & DIMITRIS: We are four partners, and three of us are Greek or Greek American. As mentioned earlier, Greece has a new cash rebate program that has been running for about a year now. This rebate gives producers a return of 35% of the money spent in Greece. That incentive combined with the professionalism of the Greek crews makes the overall affordability and practicality of doing business in Greece undeniable. The beauty of the land and the diversity of scenery set Greece apart as one of the best filming and post-production destinations in the world. For cast and crew, Greece is an ideal location, both in production and on their days off.

 

Do you think the film industry has changed dramatically with Netflix and how are those changes impacting your work?

NASSOS & DIMITRIS: Netflix obviously changed everything! They spend billions of dollars on production and marketing each year. Apart from Netflix and Amazon, we are seeing a dramatic increase in the number of new distribution platforms. Here is an example, MyMixtapez, the world’s fastest growing music discovery App, specializing in the Hip Hop genre, now has over 60 million downloads and 11 million active users. Since they began in 2011, they have grown by utilizing a grassroots strategy, acquiring their user base and building their platform through word of mouth without the need to spend any money on marketing. Having 11 million active users on the app who are hungry for new content, Mymixtapez is poised to become a key player in the film, tv and short-form video markets. Unconventional success stories like this shed light on how the industry will likely continue to mutate and expand. All of these new platforms will dramatically increase the demand for production and post-production work and services. There is plenty of competition, but the overwhelming need generated by these increases in demand for film and TV work has allowed Declare to grow at a rapid rate. We have an extremely reliable crew in Greece, who have made it their mission to handle all of their business in a professional way, maintaining the high level of quality, keeping our rates competitive and nurturing the invaluable relationships on both sides of each deal.

 

What works have you produced thus far that you are most proud of?

NASSOS & DIMITRIS: We have several IPs that we have been developing the last few years, each having its own established production deals. As of right now, we are producing an animated web series with our partners, Mymixtapez.com. It is an original short format, animated comedy series that will air on the Mymixtapez platform. From our post-production service work, we are very proud of the VFX work we did and are still doing for HBO’s Westworld. This is the biggest budget show we are currently working on and the most demanding one. That project alone, validated our business model as well as proved the quality work and the level of our VFX team in Greece.

 

Where would you like to see a Declare this time next year?

NASSOS & DIMITRIS: We are looking into several opportunities. We hope to have our animated series with Mymixtapez.com performing well and at the same time being in production with another live-action episodic project we are working on together with this very dynamic platform. We have several ideas that we would like to see happen that can benefit from the platform’s business model as well as their millions of users. We also plan to be in production on one of our family films, that will hopefully be shot in Greece and have the Chinese/Greek feature ready to start after that. Lastly, we are also working on setting up a fund that would give us the necessary capital for developing and part-financing the projects we are working on.

 

What can we expect to see from Declare in the future?

NASSOS & DIMITRIS: Creating high-quality content with powerful and dynamic storytelling. We believe that we have unique and inspiring ideas and our vision is to bring those concepts to the screen, whether that screen is in a theater or a phone. We are storytellers at the core, and we are most fulfilled by telling stories that engage and emotionally move our audience. This is why we do what we do, and this is our ambition as a company. Without a good story, you can’t have a good film or a good webcast, storytelling is at the core of every aspect of our business.

 

Interview with Greek Producers Athanassios Vakalis & Dimitris Anagnostou of Declare Productions @ 72nd Cannes Film Festival

Producer Nassos Vakalis (Declare Productions) left & Panos Kouanis (President of The National Center of Audiovisual Media and Communication of Greece 'EKOME', implementing Greek cash rebates for filming in Greece) right at 72nd Cannes Film Festival

 

Interview with Greek Producers Athanassios Vakalis & Dimitris Anagnostou of Declare Productions @ 72nd Cannes Film Festival

Kayvan Mashayekh (Co-chair, International Committee at PGA) left & Dimitris Anagnostou (Declare Productions) right at PGA mixer dinner event “The Power of Connectivity” at 72nd Cannes Film Festival

 

Interview by Vanessa McMahon

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