I will start from the beginning. You are three girls, former university colleagues, current co-workers and best friends. How did you meet and, especially, how has your relationship begun?
Oana: Yes, we have met in college; me and Ago were studying audio-visual communication (script writing) and Rugina was a film directing student. I have to mention we were not that close from the beginning. When we were preparing for the (entry) exam, Ago was analyzing me at Cinemateca Eforie and used to think ‘look at that nerd, I am sure she will pass the exam ’ because I had some butterflies in my hair. I guess I was on her black list. I also remember Iulia who, after seeing me at an exam preparation class when I was wearing an orange turtleneck sweater, she said ‘oh, that girl is…’.
Iulia: ‘… is serious’. That[‘s what I thought, that she looks reliable and I could work with her. There were screenings of the films that were on the exam list. I also noticed Agopian at that time and someone told me she applied for the directing BA too and she also took private classes for the exam. I failed the exam once and I was pissed off on those who were taking private classes. Later on, it proved to be fake information, she wasn’t taking private classes or preparing for a BA in directing.
Oana: We connected with each other after a while. In the beginning, there was me and Rugină; we became friends in the second year of studies, in 2003, when we made a short documentary film. We were working together for the very first time, on a subject suggested by me – about a ballerina from the Opera ensemble. The documentary was very nice – it was called The Third Swan. I was really fond of the films made by her and by Vlad Ilicevici, who was also a film directing student, same year as us. I think they were the only two with whom I felt I could collaborate. At that time, the collaboration between students from film directing and audio-visual communication was not very fostered. We were the people doing secretarial work, like board clapping.
Iulia: Me and Ana got along very well since the beginning. We used to meet at the college bar and every time we used to laugh about all the nonsense. We had a very good human connection but nothing more. In our third year of university I had to write a script for my black and white film, which became Bună Cristina! Pa Cristina! . I wanted to work with Răsu and Carmen Mezincescu on it and Agopian was going through an emotional drama and she was crying very hard.
Oana: We have to say that Ago cries like characters from Manga comics.
Iulia: Yes, and she looks like Betty Boop and it breaks your heart. We invite her to join us and the three of us met at Gregory’s cafe in the old city center. We interacted very well and, rapidly, Agopian became part of the team. We are in the same ‘formula’ since then.
In 2009, shortly after you graduated the BA at the National University of Theatre and Film ‘I.L. Caragiale’, you created the cultural association CONTROL N. How did this story begin?
Iulia: It all started in 2006-2007 when each of us started working and collaborating with different film festivals: TIFF, Anim’est, Next, almost every event related to film. Meanwhile, we had the idea to develop a script writing course for beginners, something that we, personally, didn’t have and needed. Initially, we wanted to bring it to high schools and we met with someone, I don’t remember if the person was an officer of the ministry or local council, but it wasn’t possible.
Oana: We have to mention that back then, the informal education was in its early stage. There were some NGOs that had some programmes but nothing as developed as today.
Iulia: It was a new area and we felt the need to fill this gap for people like us, who did not have siblings working in the film industry and did not know what happens on a film set. You feel a bit lost when you decide to pursue this career and have no idea what it really means. We decided to develop a script writing course – First Draft – which was hosted by Calea Victoriei Foundation, because Control N wasn’t born yet. We organized it several times and I think that our experience in project management in the cultural field made us take the decision to work together. This is how Control N appeared, which was more like a hobby for a long time because we were working from home. Until 2012 when we rented an office.
Oana: For three years, First Draft was our single project. We tried to create a local event for Nissi Masa, a project for which we received funds from The Administration for National Cultural Funds.
Speaking of projects, during these years you developed various projects: from script writing workshops to contemporary dance and photography master classes. Tell me more about your projects, especially about the ones you implemented.
Oana: Two or three years ago we redesigned our website and I remember we had to structure our projects, because they weren’t only courses anymore. Our initial idea was to develop several courses in the cinematographic education field. The first ones were on script writing, directing, TV script writing, photography, and all for amateurs. Then we had the idea of these master classes with special guests, also within the film industry. We organized master classes for film production, filming, film directing, and so on. We also had an informal idea called Weekend coffee which didn’t quite work.
Iulia: Basically, people could come for a coffee on Saturdays and Sundays at Control N to talk with a person they admire, asking them questions in an intimate space. We had Victor Rebengiuc invited, who was outstanding.
Oana: It was indeed a great meeting. We wanted to do it again with Andi Vasluianu and Șerban Pavlu, but eventually it did not happen. Then, we started creating events sustained by non-refundable funds. This is how Second Draft was born which was a workshop on short film script writing with an international trainer – Antoine le Bois and it was funded by The National Centre of Cinematography. I think this was our very first project supported by the government. When we started creating and developing projects sponsored by grant funds, our areas of interest have diversified. We did not focus just on film anymore, we started to apply for funds at Cultural Ministry, The Administration for National Cultural Funds, even county or local councils. Dorian is one of the projects developed using grant funds: I did my master’s degree on choreography and I always wanted to create this show. We toured with this show throughout the country and I believe it was an awesome project. Then, LIM (Less is More) was developed, which is one of the most important projects we have at the moment.
I would dare to say that this project is the most ambitious of all.
Oana: This is an European project which makes it the biggest for Control N.
Iulia: It is our first project created on grant funds received from the European Union.
How was the project developed?
Oana: We had a great collaboration with ‘Le Groupe Ouest’, who initiated LIM; to be more precise, with Antoane Le Bos, who was our guest trainer at Second Draft. He told us about the idea of developing a European platform for low-budget scripts and we took the time to do a brain storming.
When did this happen?
Oana: In 2014.
Iulia: The first time they applied for MEDIA funds, they did not receive them. It was funny because from all the partner countries which applied for funds locally, we were the only ones that obtained them from The National Centre of Cinematography. That’s how the idea of a pilot edition in Romania was born, only with Romanian participants. It was a beautiful edition. LIM Europe appeared one year later, in 2016.
How has Control N evolved in almost ten years of existence?
Iulia: I think we had two major steps throughout these years – the first one was finding an office space, which we did in 2012 and was a pretty big investment for us. The moment you start paying rent monthly, the pressure rises and you want to start taking your business seriously. And the second important step was focusing on bigger projects, the ones developed through non-refundable funds, dedicated to industry professionals. What also pushed us forward was the friendship each of us had with the film festivals we worked on as volunteers or interns, such as TIFF – where we were their partners for ”Let’s Go Digital” and later on for “Transilvania Talent Lab” and now for “LIM”, Anim’est also – where we did some training sessions and masterclasses.
I kind of believe there is one other little step we did but it’s still ongoing so I couldn’t say where it may lead – the decision to develop projects that are not only for the film industry, but also within the performing arts, such as plays or exhibitions. We started producing our own stuff, rather than just offering education.
Oana: I actually think this is a huge step and one of the important ones.
I guess you never had a strategy and you rather went with the flow, right?
Iulia: We are through its definition bad at business. Everything we do comes from passion, sometimes with money brought from home. We have never managed to come up with a strategy that would bring us a full time sponsor or investor.
Oana: We always did only projects we believed in. Control N is definitely cannot be considered a full time job.
Iulia: But it’s exactly that perfect place where we are free to build our own projects and dreams, putting a lot of effort into it, of course. It’s a launching ramp and a saving net, both at the same time.
Where there any defining moments in Control N’s evolution?
Iulia: I don’t even know, have we ever thought of shutting it down?
Oana: Yes, we have. And that’s when we also decided to aim higher. It was about two years ago, we had a “board meeting”, us three and asked ourselves what are we going to do next. I remember walking out of that meeting so positive, not only we were going to develop bigger projects, but how many more.
Iulia: We used to think small up until that moment, which is not wrong but if you think small, that’s how you’ll stay.
I would like each of you to share a special moment for you from all these years at Control N.
Oana: I remember it was last year, we were at Alpin Hotel in Baisoara where we were organizing one of LIM’s 2017 workshop. I have this moment in mind with us three sitting on some wooden bench after a day of hard working; we wiped the floors, stuck posters up and carried roll-ups and practically reorganized the whole space. We took a selfie at that wooden table, which is on my Facebook page in which we look so happy, so content, even though you can notice the weariness. We were so thrilled with everything happening at LIM, I could never forget.
Iulia: The moment that pops in my mind in this instant happened last autumn when I put together “Disco BTT” exhibition. I remember it because last autumn was harder than all the others, each of us had her projects ongoing – Oana was touring with “Dorian” and Ago was working on her PhD so we couldn’t help each other out like we used to. I was really stressed and troubled because we weren’t enough people putting everything together due to the lack of money, so it was me, Eugen and the art department that built the decors. Because of that, we spent the last 26 hours before the opening working non-stop. Oana and Ago came to the exhibition, of course and I remember all of us together: Ago was selling tickets, while me and Rasu were welcoming everyone. In that moment I felt the exhibition was ready, and that even though they weren’t here from the beginning, it still felt like it.
Oana: I think each of us regrets when one can’t get involved in the other’s idea and project’s development because we would love to. Every single project any of us three develops it’s a part of each and it becomes personal. That’s one of the things I truly appreciate at what we do.
Iulia: I think we are really happy people.
And last but not least, what are you grateful for?
Iulia: There are a lot of bumps for a cultural NGO, it’s almost suicidal to follow the right path and keep your business on the bottom line. Because we are three friends always backing each other and we also have Control N, I think you have a responsibility, especially to yourself to never stop. It’s a responsibility that takes small steps to really undertake it. Control N taught me what discipline is and how important it is to finish what you started at full capacity, no matter how difficult it might be.
Oana: I would thank Control N for keeping us together, in this formula; we stayed connected no only personally, but professionally too, and for this I’m extremely grateful. And the fact that there have been almost ten years since Control N’s launch is absolutely amazing!
If you want to know more about Control N and their projects, check their official website!
An interview by Laura Musat