Q&A with George Karnavas, GM/Producer, Stefi Productions, Athens www.stefi.gr
LBB > Stefi Productions has recently celebrated its 40th Birthday, what do you think makes you unique and has allowed you to succeed for such a long period of time?
GK > Well, I think it’s a combination of things. Basically, the fact that the company has a healthy base as the biggest company in the local television market and the fact that we are active in many aspects of production meaning TV programs, films, music events, digital productions and very recently, of course, international services, which means a diversified business model and a lot of revenue streams.
Secondly and, maybe as important, is the fact that we have always been a family company and the founders and main shareholders are still here, continuing their very long trip. We can say that Stefi means production in Greece.
LBB > Can you give us an overview of Greek production, what is happening locally?
GK > We have more than 15 active production houses in a market that has shrunk the last 3 years. The major clients are mobile operators and consumer brands. Banks and cars have almost disappeared from the picture. We have also seen an augmentation in the so called “viral productions” - something we think is going to continue.
LBB > We’ve heard that a couple of large agencies closed in Athens last year. Has that put big pressure on the local market?
GK > Certainly. Almost every production company was affected one way or another. We think there is more to come and we hope that the market will find a new balance as soon as possible.
LBB > We see that a lot of ads are still being aired and created in Greece. How sever is the downturn?
GK > The local market is shrinking by about 15% each year.
LBB > Do you do any international work? If you do, where do these clients come from?
GK > International services is a department we introduced last year within the company. We believe deeply in it and we invested a lot of time and effort to structure it in a functional way and promote it abroad. We are lucky to be a company with a lot of self owned resources, something that helps us quote very competitive prices. Costs in Greece are going down and at the same time crews, locations and casting are top class.
Main markets of interest are Russia, Middle East and France - these are the markets we have worked with so far. Our ambition is to expand to all major markets as soon as possible.
LBB > As a company, you offer a variety of services. Is this a recent development due to the ever-changing demands of the industry?
GK > The company has had this structure for many years and the main concept was always to be a company where the client could find almost everything he might need, a one stop shop. On the other hand, we are using this infrastructure in order to co-produce or develop our own projects, both for the local and international markets.
LBB > How challenging is it to develop a young director in your region? What is involved, how do you approach it? Are agencies open to new directors?
GK > It is very challenging and very difficult on the same time. As you may know, in Greece, it is very rare to have in house directors. Everybody is working with everybody. We are in the process of trying to change that. We are trying to build exclusivities in certain fields (exclusive representation for foreign productions, for certain clients or for feature films etc). It is a very adaptable business and that is the way you have to be.
I would not say that agencies are very open to new directors but there is always space, especially for web productions which here in Greece are considered to be the “new director’s cup of tea” for some strange reason.
LBB > Since technology has changed so much in the last ten years, do you find you have to deliver your end product in less time?
GK > I would say “no”! In our market the time of response used to be one of the most important assets for a company. We always did well in this area since we have our own casting, production and post production facilities.
LBB > How are you adapting and changing to handle the different communication media?
GK > Listening, learning, experimenting, working closely with our clients. We believe that production will constantly move towards more cross media concepts so if you are experienced in many fields you will have more chances to be part of the new “brave world”.
LBB > Do you work directly with clients?
GK > There are clients who have their own creative/advertising department therefore they apply to a production company directly and also there are small businesses that cooperate with small agencies for certain media only and they apply to us in order to produce digital and above the line communication.
LBB > What do you perceive as the biggest challenges facing production companies, both locally and globally?
GK > I think production companies should try and move from the totally commission-based business model to a combined with development one. This does not mean you should forget services - not at all - but you should try and develop projects especially for TV and theatrical distribution, always having in mind the big picture and not your local market. This is at least what we are trying to do.
LBB > What are the financial benefits and incentives of working in your city? What is your offering to those who could shoot in Greece?
GK > Greece is very competitive right now and a modest day of shooting is around 40k euro. The weather is also a huge advantage. Sunny days throughout the year is one basic element that a client should consider, not to mention the diversity of locations that can be found in Greece even very near to Athens. As for the archeological sites, the government just passed a new law permitting shooting to all places under very competitive financial terms which we consider as a very significant evolution.
On the other hand Greece, and especially Athens, is a great place to be and work and for free time maybe one of the best places in Europe. I don’t think that anybody who has come here didn’t have a great stay! This maybe differs from what you hear in the news about us. Yes we are facing very difficult times but the feel of safety and easy going people is still here. Don’t think it over – just give it a shot and ask for a quote. You will not regret it.
LBB > What value do you put on awards and winning them?
GK > Awards are a great promotional tool but most of all it stimulates the in house team spirit and gives the reassurance to your clients that they are in the right place. Not to mention that for the film business awards can make a hell of a difference at the box office. So the answer is - we love awards!
LBB > This year, what has been your favourite job and why?
GK > For Greece, my favourite job was Amita summer which, other than being a really feel good commercial, has created such a word of mouth buzz and generated media coverage due to the fact that we transformed the most “dangerous” place of Athens to a top class beach. You can check it here: http://www.stefi.gr/amita-regular-2
Internationally my favourite job was the amazing advert by Grey London for British Heart Foundation starring Vinnie Jones. It is a masterpiece - that’s the reason!