'Syriana' producer, writer discuss movie industry

by Astrid Bradley | 4/26/07 1:50am

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Syriana producer Georgia Kacandes and book author Robert Baer participated in a post-viewing discussion of their feature film Wednesday afternoon.
by Danny Gobaud / The Dartmouth

Kacandes, now vice president for Paramount Vantage Pictures, first entered the field of cinema when she dated a New York University film student. While dating the young man, she played an integral part in many of his projects and grew familiar with the NYU film community. After her initial exposure to film, Kacandes realized her calling and enrolled in NYU film school.

"No one to this day has asked me if I had a film degree," she said. Kacandes said that she landed one of her first film-related jobs simply because she could type.

Still, Kacandes believes that receiving a film degree is invaluable to achieving success in cinema.

"You can watch all kinds of films on your own," she said. "But there is a lot to say [for having] a knowledgeable teacher."

Baer, a former member of the CIA, entered the world of film after over 20 years in government service.

The inspiration behind Syriana came after Baer was called off an attempt to assassinate Saddam Hussein while in Iraq. Baer was then investigated by the FBI for attempted murder.

During the investigation, Baer realized that his experiences and time abroad would be great material for a film, and so he wrote a memoir, the rights to which were later bought by George Clooney. Clooney, of course, eventually starred in the film adaptation of Baer's book.

"Needless to say, I got into film through the back door," Baer said.

One of the main plot lines of Syriana is based on the time that Baer and his wife, a shooter for the CIA, were offered $5 million to assassinate a Middle Eastern prince. Baer said his wife, hailing from Newport Beach, knew a bad business deal when she heard one, and so the couple did not follow through with the plan.

"All of the stories in Syriana are based on a fact of sorts," Baer said. "Thanks to the lawyers, though, it is not a documentary."

Kacandes gave advice to those looking to enter the entertainment world.

"If you wish to be a director you have to take every opportunity to direct," she said.

She recommended creating various short, low-budget films.

"Shorts are a big part of your resume," she said. "It's a part of your package. It is what sells you."

Kacandes said that an aspiring director does not have to be a starving artist. Shorts can be made with relatively little hassle because they can be completed as weekend projects, allowing the director to hold other types of employment.

"Those little videos I told you to make, put them on YouTube," Kacandes said. She said she receives at least three links a day to view amateur videos on the website.

Kacandes said that although she believes that men compose more than 80 percent of film industry production jobs, she does not feel that her being a woman has ever limited her career.

She also admitted that for those who want to be writers, original material makes up approximately 25 per cent of film, because a significant number of movies are based on books, memoirs, other movies and other such sources that already have a market base.

"It's marketing," she said. "It's easy to sell if it's out there in the ether."

Kacandes advised those aspiring to pursue film careers to "see movies, read books and really be on top of the culture."

A free public screening of Syriana and a question-and-answer session were held in Loew later Wednesday evening.

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