Max Calligaris is a Film Director, Screenwriter, and Producer, and he directed and produced for HBO, Netflix, Universal Studios, and more.
In this interview, he shares how he and his father created PSI, a Brazilian TV Series with 12 wins and 7 nominations from the Emmy Awards, Telly Awards, ATVC, and ABC Cinematography Award.
We also delve into why his passion is fiction, how the filmmaking industry in Brazil has changed because of streaming services, and a piece of real advice for beginning producers.
Q: You speak a lot of languages. How did you get this skill?
It’s a long story. I was born in Paris. My mother is French and my father is Italian. So I lived in France for a long time and I lived in Italy for about 4 years when I was a kid. I started traveling very young with my father who came to live in Brazil and I spent 1 year in Porto Alegre in 1991 when I was 11 years old. Then, there were a lot of trips back and forth to the US, France, and Brazil.
I was working in advertising and journalism in France after I graduated with a degree in Advertising and International Marketing and in 2008 I started my master’s degree in Media at the New School of New York City. I started in fiction narrative and documentary which was what really interested me.
From a novel to an Emmy Award Nominated TV Series: PSI
When we got the idea from my father to make a movie about two novels that he had written, we started thinking about adapting the books to a featured movie. HBO got interested in buying but they bought the rights to the main character of the books (Carlo Antonini), and that’s how the series PSI was born.
PSI is a dramatic series with hints of comedy that narrates the adventures of Carlo Antonini, a psychiatrist/ psychologist/psychoanalyst who is somewhat pathological and very interventionist, both inside and outside his consulting office. Due to his extreme fascination with cases that lean toward the unconventional, he will suffer consequences in his family life as a father, husband, and friend.
Info from IMDb
Q: What are your roles there?
I’m the Main Director and Associate Producer. My father, Contardo Calligaris, is the creator because the whole idea came from his novels.
I participated in the creative design of the series, scriptwriting, casting, supervising pre/post-production, and so on. I directed the most episodes, but also 7 other Brazilian directors worked throughout its 4 seasons.
We started writing and thinking about it in 2012 and we started to shoot in 2013. The first season went to air on HBO Latinamerica in 2014. So I came back from NY to Brazil in 2011 to do this project.
Q: Tell me about the nominations and awards
PSI received so much attention because the first season was nominated for the 2015 Emmys Awards for Best Drama Series and Best Performance by an Actor (Emílio de Mello).
We went to the Emmys again for Best Performance by an Actress (Denise Weinberg) in 2018. We didn’t win but it’s always an honor.
We continued until March of 2019 when the 4th season went to air but I’m not sure if it will be the last season. It’s been 6 years of work for 4 seasons. (HBO wanted a new season every 18 months).
His Passion in Fiction and Documentaries
Q: How is your day by day now?
I’m a freelancer. I just directed the 2nd season of a Netflix TV Series called The Chosen One, which is about three young doctors sent to a remote village in Pantanal where the vaccinated residents find themselves trapped in an isolated community that is shrouded in secrets.
I also directed one episode for a Universal Television Series that was a comedy called Amigo de Aluguel. It’s about the story of Fred, a failed actor who happens to be a “friend for hire”, who turns into the person you need at the time you need it most.
When one project stops, you need to continue writing the next one.
Now, I’m writing two projects that I will present pretty soon to a couple of channels.
Q: When did you feel that you had discovered your passion to produce films?
Well… I always knew I wanted to be a creator. I wanted to create something. I didn’t really know what. There was a psychological aspect of advertising that I always was interested in. I was working as a reporter for Folha de São Paulo Online which is one of the biggest newspapers in Brazil. And the funny thing is, the more I studied documentary, the more I got interested in fiction. Because what I noticed was that documentaries are supposed to represent some version of the truth which is pretty much impossible. You make a documentary through your camera, your eyes, and your point of view. Even if you try not to have (your perspective), you always will.
I was working on a project and I was interested in representing this truth but I was building something that I would never ever achieve. That’s when I realized that somehow, there might be more truth in fiction than there is really in documentary making.
So that was when I got interested in filmmaking. It was during the first semester of my Master’s Degree that I started really liking fiction more than documentaries.
That’s the irony in that, the more I worked on documentaries, the more I started thinking there is more truth in fiction.
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Q: Why do you feel very connected to the idea of creating something in media?
Since I was a kid, I always enjoyed creating things, building, or drawing, and so on, and probably I was always interested in storytelling because my father, my mother, my stepmother, and my stepfather are all psychoanalysts. So I was interested in the human being, telling stories about people, and that also helps me a lot in directing actors.
Q: What is your focus? More directing, producing, or what kind of aspects?
As an Associate Producer, I produce in a much more artistic way than in the business or in a logistic way.
Every country has its own production model but I’m more interested in the job of creating, directing, writing, being on set, directing actors, creating a universe, and putting it all together.
At the same time, you can’t do one without the other. To build a project you need the artistic and business aspects.
The Filmmaking Industry
Q: What do you think about the filmmaking industry in Brazil today?
When we started the production of PSI, it was the beginning of the movement for the Brazilian film industry. FOX, Universal, HBO, and big channels started to produce a lot of shows in Brazil, but Netflix, for example, hadn’t.
You had big channels, but only cable television. There was a huge boom in the film industry in Brazil in the last 5 years and now we’re seeing something new, which is pretty much what is happening all over the world: the end of cable television and the beginning of the streaming war.
Q: How does this impact creating content?
I’m not sure if that affects how I approach creation but I would say the main difference between cable network channels and the streaming services would be that if you’re producing through HBO, they want an episode that lasts 52 minutes because after your episode, something else comes on. They have a schedule that you need to respect.
In streaming services, they are not bothered by this question of time so much. Of course, if you’re supposed to write or direct an episode that is an hour-long, you have to be close to that, and I think it’s probably much better for the product because you are not bounded by the time schedule.
Q: What are the skills of a producer?
One thing is being a director, and another is being a creator.
I think on set, my most important skill and job as a director is for sure directing actors. Being good at communication, being able to exchange ideas with your actors, and helping them get where you think they should get.
You need to balance what is best for the story, for the characters, and the project.
For creators, you need to write and to learn how to write you must read. Another aspect is knowing how to sell your project. But if you don’t have a project in the first place, you need to sit, read and write. Nobody will do that for you.
Q: What do you think of people that say that everybody has an idea and that’s more important than the execution?
I wouldn’t say that everybody has good ideas because that is not entirely the truth. A great idea is worth something and shouldn’t be undervalued. Having an idea is one thing, and writing 500 pages or even a proposal for a project with 30 pages, is something else. Being able to develop the story that illustrates that idea or high concept, that’s the job.
The process after you have the idea is even more challenging.
Thank you for sharing your passion with us!
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