The CZAR Belgium managing partner and executive producer on applying chaos theory to marketing, producing huge features and lavish TV series
Behind every star directing talent is a producer who makes the magic happen. And although CZAR Belgium is proud of its status as a director-driven company, producers like managing partner and executive producer Eurydice Gysel ensure that each creative wonder it makes lives up to the director’s vision. Eurydice has been an integral part of CZAR Belgium since it was founded back at the turn of the millennium, building the company into a production force to be reckoned with on a global stage. LBB’s Alex Reeves found out more about her remarkable life and career.
LBB> Where did you grow up and what kind of kid were you?
Eurydice> I grew up in a very warm family in Bruges, in Belgium. I was the youngest of four children always surrounded by dogs and animals, going skiing in the winter and to France in the summer. I used to compete in gymnastics so that was my main focus when I was young. People say I was a little ray of sunshine but on the other hand that competition made me strong and I still use that inner feeling to make sure I never give up.
LBB> What do you remember about your early thoughts on filmmaking? Were you interested from an early age?
Eurydice> As I did gymnastics, I loved documentaries, pictures and films about dancers and athletes, their movements, their bodies... My dream was to study film and combine it with dancing so I could report that world and those emotions. Unfortunately, my parents did not let me go to Brussels for my studies so I ended up studying boring communication in Ghent…
LBB> What films were influential in your development as a producer?
Eurydice> My first production was a Lionel Goldstein commercial [directing duo Koen Mortier and Joe Vanhoutteghem, who are also co-founders of CZAR Belgium]. How can you be more encouraged in becoming a producer than working with those two great directors? This was 19 years ago.
The biggest development in my career was when I decided to produce the feature film EX DRUMMER by Koen Mortier. After some years of producing commercials it was a trip to just bring the ideas of a director to life.
LBB> And did you care about advertising at all at a young age? Or did you get involved in it more by accident?
Eurydice> I finished university with a paper about implementing chaos theory into marketing strategies. This is still very useful knowledge...
LBB> Is there a lesson or piece of advice do you wish you'd had earlier in your career?
Eurydice> Not really. I learned everything by doing it myself. And yes, the world is full of sharks but you also have great creative, lovely people around as well. I would say: always trust your first feelings, mostly those are right. And avoid negative people. It’s a waste of time.
LBB> How do you balance running the TV and film side of CZAR alongside the commercial side? How do the two feed into each other?
Eurydice> The commercial side is still the stable basis for running the feature side. In Belgium most feature films require external funding, so it’s a long process of scriptwriting, development and financing before you can start shooting, which takes only one or two months. And after that you edit and finalise your film again for half a year. Meanwhile it’s nice that you keep busy with shooting commercials. We are a director-driven company so it’s good that on the one hand the directors make commercials and music videos while they work on their features at the same time. For me as a producer it’s two different worlds. The fast one of commercials alongside the slow one for feature films and series.
LBB> The recent BBC adaptation Les Misérables must have been a gigantic production. What was it like working on that? And what will you remember most from that process?
Eurydice> We started co-producing TV series in 2012 with The White Queen. After that we did The Missing series one, two and three, so we are used to having a UK crew come to Belgium to work together with us. You need to know that for such a series the writers and creative producer have the final say on everything. So even though we co-produce the series our main role is helping finance it and make sure we have the locations, crew and material in Belgium. Les Misérables was the biggest production we’d done. Over 100 days we had between 100 and 150 people on set each day. It’s a flow that means you have to be very alert as one decision can make the budget explode and that is something you don’t want to happen.
LBB> Which recent projects are you most proud of?
Eurydice> I’m proud that for 19 years already CZAR remains the most creative production company in Belgium. We are director-driven and we keep pushing for every production to get the best out of it. Sometimes agencies or creatives think we defend our directors too much and that often they don’t listen to the creatives. But believe me, filmmaking is not something that everybody can do and I really, really hope that in the next few years commercials become daring and creative again. It’s really more than smiling people. Where are the beautiful, filmic, storytelling commercials or the humorous, edgy films? We need it back urgently! Since the online platforms everybody talks about content and that everything is possible, but we are all making too much of the same, universal stuff. We have more and more smart ideas that become winners but we forget the storytelling. Dare to make something unusual.
This year I’m proud on the series of music videos we are making for Zwangere Guy and of the Equal Pay Day commercial by Lionel Goldstein that won Bronze at Cannes and eurobest. And the beautiful film by Joe Vanhoutteghem for BOIC. I’m very proud of Angel, Koen’s third feature film which was selected for Toronto last year and that we shot Lieven Van Baelen’s first feature film last summer.
2020 starts very promising with the filming in Belgium of our co-production NR10 by the famous Dutch director Alex van Warmerdam and the development of our first documentary series about the Liberation Route in co-production with Netflix.
LBB> Which aspects of the filmmaking process are most enjoyable for you?
Eurydice> Seeing the evolution of a written script on paper, choosing cast and locations and then having your crew all working very hard to put this on film. I’m really happy when I see that the result is better than what I had expected. I love to be surprised by that extra touch of the director. And our directors deliver, so that is the most enjoyable for me.
LBB> Who are your creative heroes and why?
Eurydice> Maybe it’s subjective but my partner in life and business, Koen Mortier is my creative hero. He started CZAR in Belgium and keeps pushing us to reach new limits every time. He keeps supporting talent, is never complacent with standards. He writes treatments in a few hours where creatives sometimes take weeks. He keeps me young and fresh even though he doesn’t know the word ‘rest’! And of course Lionel Goldstein and the way they’ve created unbelievable stories and films since 2002.
LBB> What are your main aims and ambitions for CZAR.BE in the coming months and years?
Eurydice> Staying critical, creative and director driven. Keep on making beautiful works of storytelling.
LBB> What do you like to do in your spare time? Any current obsessions outside of filmmaking?
Eurydice> Saying stupid things to my dog. She is my biggest fan and I’m hers.