Within the framework of the 2nd Evia Film Project, Lefteris Charitos, director of the documentary Dolphin Man and the highly successful TV series Wild Bees, as well as president of the Hellenic Film Academy, delivered a masterclass on Friday, June 23rd, in Agia Anna, titled "From the Crisis of Cinema to the Blossoming of Television," revealing secrets of his art and work.
Kicking off the discussion, Mr. Charitos stated that he has come here primarily to listen to what the students of the Department of Digital Arts and Cinema of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens have to say, rather than to teach. He pointed out that one of the fundamental characteristics of television is that it is not taught in schools. "When you study at a university, they focus solely on art. I've done that in my life, I have been teaching for over ten years, and it's really nice to talk about and teach cinema. And it's really nice to create films as well," he said. He emphasized that television offers greater financial opportunities, and he highlighted that it is significant that there is a mini-industry in Greek television, which is thriving and generating employment for many people.
He noted that Greek television experienced a significant boom in the 1990s and 2000s, and during these periods, there was also economic growth. "Every economic growth is usually accompanied by a cultural boom. Generally speaking, prosperity brings prosperity," he emphasized. He pointed out that there are more good Greek films than good Greek TV series and acknowledged that one issue that arises is that of quality. Talking about the challenges of Greek cinema, he mentioned that it takes a very long time to finance a film, as the funding process is completely different from that of television. The funding process is quite cumbersome and time-consuming. Referring to Greek TV series, he said: "Every year, a channel wants to produce 3-4 series. They select certain scripts and finance them quickly and easily, but not necessarily with a focus on quality." Gradually, he added, there is a demand for better television from the audience that watches series. He mentioned that the reason a series succeeds is the script. While the director is the king in cinema, he said, in television, the script takes precedence.
Mr. Charitos noted that he himself does not believe in the concept of a cinematic series. "You either make cinema or television; they are two completely different things," he said, citing as main differences the narrative time and the production schedules between the two mediums. He added that there is a discussion about bringing people from the cinema to the television industry in order to improve the quality and aesthetics of TV series. He stressed that this applies not only to directors but also to other professions, such as cinematographers.
Referring to the time pressure prevalent in television, he mentioned that there are times when there is no artistic pursuit in the filming process. "If you want to come up with something a little more complex, you don't have time to do it and that's sometimes disappointing," he said. He described television as a great school and commented on the subject matter in Greek cinema, stating that there is a slight limitation. "For better or for worse, in Greece, it is very difficult to make a science fiction film, a western, or a series like The Witch that I am currently working on, which is set in the 1800s. It's not easy to do that. Television suddenly gives you the opportunity to do things that you may never have the chance to do in a film," he noted.
He emphasized that a great aspect of television is the sense of responsibility to create something of higher quality so that someone can sit down one evening, watch it, and enjoy it. This includes having compelling storytelling, talented actors, and good cinematography. He also referred to the efforts of promoting Greek series internationally, citing examples such as Christopher Papakaliatis' series Maestro and Vardis Marinakis' Silent Road, as well as the upcoming series The Milky Way by Vasilis Kekatos, which have either been sold abroad or screened at major international television festivals.
He noted that there is less control in cinema compared to television in terms of choosing collaborators, while in television, due to the significant investment involved, there is control over the script, the crew selection, the choice of cinematographer, and so on. He himself stated that he does not consider this control as something negative because it provides an opportunity for the creator to justify and support their choices.
When asked if the script of a series is strictly followed or if things change, Mr. Charitos noted that in a daily series, there is no time for changes. Perhaps a line of dialogue may change or the action may be condensed at some point, but there is no time to change the central plot. "In miniseries, things change because you have all the episodes written in advance. For example, nine episodes, all written before filming starts. There can be multiple creative discussions between the director and the screenwriters there," he added.
He also mentioned the importance of having seen many films, of knowing the history of cinema. "References are a very important thing. The more cinema you have seen, the more references your bag is filled with," he stated. He remarked that a major problem in television is that directors lack the ability to guide actors, as acting coaching is highly undervalued. "The majority of television is produced with a complete lack of dramaturgical guidance for actors," he said characteristically.
Referring to the example of the free cinema movement in 1960s Britain, he mentioned that renowned directors such as Mike Leigh started in television. In many countries, television started as a breeding ground for young talent, and it should still be that way, he added, saying, "I firmly believe that series should be made by young people at this moment in time."
In response to a question about casting, he said it is important for a director to be able to communicate with the actors. "One thing to keep in mind is that you have to be able to bring out the best in the actor, and you're not there to show off as a director. That doesn't interest anyone," he said, noting that you have to create such an environment so that in those 15 minutes you see the actor, they can give you their best performance.
When asked if the effort a director puts into television will be appreciated by the audience, Mr. Charitos responded that a creator must have a good grasp of their tools, and he mentioned that aesthetics is something everyone appreciates. He then urged the students to find their personal style. "Not in the artistic sense, if it resembles Tarkovsky or Bergman, but you need to find what you resemble. This has to do with constantly observing and discovering what you are, what you like," he said. "In everything you like, there is something of yourself. You must search for it, find it, nurture it, and not throw it away, trying to do something else," he added.
He also mentioned the importance of the first episode of a series, emphasizing that both in Greece and abroad, that's where one puts their best effort, as the first episode introduces the characters, the world created, and reveals the pace, music, and cinematography chosen by the creator.
Speaking about his next television project, The Witch, he said it is a huge gamble since it is a genre series, and if it succeeds, it might pave the way for other similar series. "For me, this is a great challenge because it's not often in Greece that a director shoots visions, magic, conspiracies, and towers. And the most difficult thing of all is to make what you show believable," he added.
Evia Film Project is the Festival’s third pillar of activities, following the International Thessaloniki Film Festival, held in November, and the Thessaloniki Documentary Festival, held in March. Its goal is to consolidate Northern Evia, a region severely hit by the 2021 calamitous wildfires, as an international hub of green cinema. Evia Film Project is actualized with the support of the Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports, within the framework of the Reconstruction Plan for Northern Evia, in collaboration with the Region of Central Greece, the Greek Film Centre, the Municipality of Istiea- Edipsos, and the Municipality of Mantoudi-Limni-Agia Anna. The Thessaloniki Film Festival collaborates with the production institutions that are based in Evia and the Department of Digital Arts and Cinema of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens in Psachna.