Gastón Pavlovich, a Mexican film financier and businessman, saw an opening and took it. Studios weren’t willing to finance an experimental Tom Hanks movie or a Martin Scorsese religious film, so Pavlovich banked on their names to enter Hollywood and now he’s got two Scorsese films on his plate. The Hanks film was 2016’s A Hologram for the King and although that film didn’t receive a wide release it did assist with getting him a meeting with Scorsese when the great film director’s passion project, Silence, was stalling again due to a production company leaving. Pavlovich not only helped rescue one film that Scorsese had attempted to direct for more than two decades, he’s actually doing it again right now as a the producer of Scorsese’s next film, The Irishman, a mob film that Scorsese has been attempting to make for years with Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Harvey Keitel and maybe Joe Pesci (if Pesci will just sign the contract and come out of self-imposed retirement).
It’s a curious moment in cinema when one of our most beloved actors and one of the all-time great directors can’t get their movies made outright, but thank heavens for cinema-lovers like Pavlovich who help make it happen when others balk at the sight of the price for films that don’t have a natural franchise audience ready to devour it. Back in December 2016, I got the chance to sit down and talk with Pavlovich about how he came aboard Scorsese’s 17th-century story of self-preservation and faith-preservation in a foreign land. Pavlovich also talked about screening the film for Pope Francis and how this Pope’s history with the Jesuits actually made the current film climate better to make this film than when Scorsese wanted to, just following The Last Temptation of Christ. Pavlovich also talked about new technology they’re using to “de-age” De Niro in The Irishman (similar to the CGI that brought back Peter Cushing‘s Grand Moff Tarkin to life in Rogue One) and what it’d take to get Pesci on board.
Collider: I’ve been tracking this project for a very long time so I’m curious how you came aboard. I know it’s something Martin Scorsese’s been trying to do for 30 years and it’s gone through many ideations and different castings. So how did you get attached for the one that actually got made?
GASTON PAVLOVICH: About four or five months before principal photography or at least before Martin had to go to Taiwan for pre-production the previous production company that was handling Silence at the time kind of fell through so all of a sudden there was a fast track process of finding a new producer-financier of the film. It was a tight window of opportunity so they were moving fast.
Was that because of the lawsuit?
PAVLOVICH: No, the lawsuit was from the previous attempt. The company that was handling the production, something happened, one of them was European and I think something happened in their country or whatever and they had to stop. All I knew was that it fell through and six months before everybody was scrambling to find a new financier because the window of opportunity was very tight. Marty needed that period of time, I was fortunate enough for me to be considered and then my agent sent me to Emma Castoff, Marty’s producer. Apparently we hit it off well and 24 hours later I was sitting here with Marty in New York eating, making conversation and we hit it off well and then the next morning they told me “we want you to produce? Are you up for it?” With 4-5 months left to put everything together or what’s left of putting everything together and immediately we went into it and made it happen. I think it was a great effort the was a lot of issues related to change of title, intellectual property, finances. It was a very tough process in a very short period of time. That’s how I got engaged and how we got going with this. We made sure that Marty could fly into Taiwan immediately and start his work.
What was it like being on a Martin Scorsese set?
PAVLOVICH: Martin Scorsese knew that this was going to be a very defiant challenge production and he was well organized and well prepared. He prepared perfectly, thoroughly for every scene. He was working double shifts; I mean he was really working hard, focusing. Everybody was focused. There was little chitchat; we wanted to make sure we did it on time and at the quality that Marty expected. It was fantastic seeing him and we were just very focused and made sure nobody interrupted, he was in the zone.
Did you have any personal reverence for subject matter? Catholicism, Jesuits?
PAVLOVICH: I’m thinking that that might have influenced their decision that I would get involved. I’m Catholic, I’m a believer, I’m a man of faith. I don’t consider myself to be extremely devoted; I’m full of flaws as but I am a believer. I believe the theology and I believe in faith very strongly and I think that was part of the conversation. I’m not saying it was needed but it helped that there was a strong faith component in me that wanted to be part of this film.
Part of the faith component in this film is an adaptation of faith to time and place. Do you feel that as a man of faith there needs to be more adaptation to modern times?
PAVLOVICH: Absolutely! I think in order to have strong faith you have to have some strong fire and doubt. That’s what I loved about Silence, it’s faith under fire and it puts doubt in a different light. It shows doubt in an intelligent manner, your heart and goes through some soul searching. But I believe doubt strengthens your faith after that process, after that fire. Nowadays, in contemporary time, I think this should be a welcoming message. I just see too much intolerance right now. I’m not speaking of only the United States. I think there are many nations many countries, much of Europe, that has a lot to learn about tolerance. A lot of religious persecution, a lot of intolerance of race, religion and I thought that we were a much more mature society now. But we’re not showing that. There’s an issue of intolerance again and Silence puts that into context and I believe it does that in an intelligent manner.
Speaking of adaptation and tolerance, the current Pope has shown more mobility on issues than any Pope while I’ve been alice. I know this was screened for Pope Francis and for the Jesuits. Can you talk about the process of making that happen and maybe what it was like viewing the film with the Pope?
PAVLOVICH: Yeah, actually I talked to Marty about this idea before we shot. From the beginning this is something I said that when we’re finished it’s something we need to take to the Vatican. When we were done with it and we started assembling a rough cut, I immediately reached out to the Vatican and let them know the film was done and they immediately got back to me saying that there was an interest at the Vatican in having the Pope see it and talk with Marty afterward. They were very open to it, which was fantastic, and Marty and I had a wonderful meeting with Pope Francis. He was very generous; they spoke of the book and Marty was explaining to him much of the process and the Pope was very open-minded. He was very welcoming to the whole debate of Silence. I felt Marty was very overwhelmed by how positive it was. I think he really felt embraced and that was very important.
Did you get any type of window into how trying that experience was for The Last Temptation of Christ as far as Marty being a man of faith and having his film misconstrued and received as something differently. I know Silence, the book, was given to him during that time of rejection from the Church. Did you have any conversations about the differences between now and then?
PAVLOVICH: We never really engaged in this conversation and I don’t think it’s necessary because it was obviously there, you could see his reaction for now and how respected he felt. When I was setting it up, it did cross my mind that there might be a concern for the Vatican’s response given what happened 20-some years ago because there was such a strong backlash. But Marty didn’t let that deter him and everyone at the Vatican was very respectful of us and they really embraced us.
You said you reached out to the Vatican, what was your previous connection to the Vatican?
PAVLOVICH: I just had friends who had worked or for some reason were connected to the Vatican. Secondly, one of the company’s that has the rights to Silence in Europe is very powerful in Italy. They had very powerful connections in Italy. The Pope, being Jesuit, was very open minded and welcomed a discussion. They were very receptive, very normal, very professional.
Could you explain the difference between the Jesuits and traditional Catholics? Pope Francis is a Jesuit and thus embraces more discussion and education.
PAVLOVICH: This is exactly what I said in a discussion with Marty. I think there was a good reason that movie wasn’t made until now. The Vatican being run by a Jesuit, today, compared to 20 years ago. Jesuits are more open to bending to new thought, they’re excited by new thoughts, but they also embrace tradition and it’s a fine line. Timing is everything and it just feels like the timing was perfect for this movie within the Church and also for audiences and critics who are more open. You told me that the next day you had a better or different appreciation of the film, and that’s exactly what we were all hoping for, getting time for reflection.
You’ve been producing films in many different countries, can you give a little insight of your background and how you landed in all these different countries making films.
PAVLOVICH: It’s no secret that I’m a startup. I did my first Mexican film seven or eight years ago. I liked traveling with a film to film festivals. I made another. Years pass, and I think that the audience is growing for thoughtful films; I’ve seen the numbers and I’m betting on old-school cinema. I know the tendency is contrary to that but I’m betting on a world niche that still appreciates human-centered stories on the big screen. That’s my style, that’s what I’ve been looking for. My previous experience was just that I am a self-made businessman but it was my passion for literature that pushed me to filmmaking filmmaking because I could apply my business smarts. Being a producer means you have to have very thick skin, a clear head and at the same time very passionate about the stories you’re making.
The relationship is obviously working because you’re producing Marty’s next film, The Irishman. I’m wondering what can you tell us about that project. I know that’s another film he’s been trying to make for a long time; you’re kind of stepping in as a savior for his passion projects.
PAVLOVICH: I appreciate the word but I wouldn’t say that, it’s all on him, I’m just privileged to be in his boat. I appreciate looking forward, but we’re really focused on Silence right now. We just delivered the film two days ago to Paramount.
Really, two days ago!
PAVLOVICH: Yeah, so it was really down to the wire.
It screened for a few of the critic guilds a week ago, though?
PAVLOVICH: Yeah, we screened it with permission but the final, final details were delivered two days ago. We just had to make minor adjustments in sound
The sound is amazing! For something called Silence you need to have really good sound to accentuate the natural sounds between silences…
PAVLOVICH: It kind of caused my heart to skip a beat when Marty mentioned that he might not use the traditional, conventional soundtrack of music.
The score is very, very sparse…
PAVLOVICH: It’s just perfect, it goes along with the style of the story, the etiquette. Now I don’t mind it so much, it did cause me so trouble at the beginning when he told me about it.