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Why Nikita Leibovici Invested in Albanian Production

10/07/2024
Production Company
Amsterdam, Netherlands
107
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Caravan’s executive producer and founder tells LBB about moving her production company from Austria to Albania - now with their head office in Vienna and an office in Tirana - how she worked as a solo mother, and the time when a group of Bedouins became her set guards
Nikita Leibovici founded her first production company in Austria when she was barely 19 years old, led mostly by naivety, as she herself puts it. Later, when her mother bought a holiday flat on the Albanian coast, Nikita was sceptical at best. But once she saw the people and landscape of the country, it was undoubtedly love at first sight – she knew Caravan, her production company, had to expand and started her second office in Albania, with the goal of developing and growing the film industry there and creating new jobs, especially for women.

A true ‘90s kid, Nikita spent her childhood fascinated by cameras and running around filming family events whenever they happened. She shot short films about witches and magical creatures, editing her own jumps through walls and mysteriously moving objects. When YouTube gained speed, she fell in love with Robert Rodriguez’ films and vlogs. “He made filmmaking seem so tangible,” she says. 

Nikita’s love of filmmaking persisted until she graduated from high school, when, seen by her parents, she was offered their monetary help for either going on a graduation trip, or filming her first proper short film on her own DSLR. It was a no-brainer. Not only this, but the short film was also Nikita’s first real sign that she belonged in production.

This all led to, of course, the establishment of Caravan in Austria, and its consequential expansion to Albania, where “discipline, determination and an incredible team” all came into play when rebuilding the company. Now, Nikita’s Caravan stands strong with an all-women team – a happy accident, but one that has also become somewhat of a mission in a country where women in production aren’t a common sighting. Not only this, but she created a company where she could be a full-time mother and a good executive producer – a shock in a world and industry still not used to motherhood and business mixing well.

Today, she tells LBB these stories at length, and more. 


LBB> Nikita, when you founded your company in Austria, what was the space you wanted to fill in the industry? 


Nikita> I was 19 when I founded my company. There was no real thought behind it, I was naive. I wanted to make it happen. I come from a family of predominantly women. My mother is a business lady, a doctor and an academic. I wasn't such a fan of the academic part (even though I also pursued academics), so I thought that this was the way to go. My family and upbringing taught me that when I really want to make something happen it takes hard work, thought and discipline, so I just kept going. I believe in the saying ‘Dont only talk about it, do it!’. Only recently have I realised what gap I really want to fill and what our mission as a company is. 


LBB> What led you to expand to Albania and start something new? 


Nikita> In short: covid and my mother. But there’s a longer story too. My mom decided to buy a holiday flat close to the sea. I asked her if she was mad, because I only knew about all the cliches from films like ‘Taken’ starring Liam Nielson. 

She asked me to join. When I arrived in Albania, I instantly knew that this was the place to be. The incredible, stunning, untouched landscapes (mountains, cities and beaches), the prices and most importantly, the people, is what convinced me. It's a wonderful country with a lot of potential and a lot of riches. We are a big fish in a smaller pond here, so are capable to develop, learn and improve the production landscape. This allows for great creativity, not only when creating projects but also in building our business. 

Additionally, Albania didn't have such an extensive lockdown as most European countries, therefore, production was possible. I turned to my clients and told them about it. The ones who trusted me fully, dared to produce their projects with us. The apprehensive ones let me take the risk and my company cashflowed until completion. I simply believed this would work! I believe that Albania will be the next international production hub. 


LBB> Early in your production career, what were the biggest projects that taught you your craft? 


Nikita> The short film from above. But the “biggest projects" were all projects to be honest. 

Usually, it was the projects that were started through passion, rather than the typical commercials. But working for other companies and seeing how they worked really helped me learn the ropes. Very early on (I was 15), I had the privilege to work on a set for the international music band The Pussycat Dolls. 

Initially, I worked as a casting director’s assistant, actually, by mistake. One of my classes during high school was film. A colleague of mine had gained attention from my teacher as he had worked as a runner for an Austrian TV channel. This motivated me to try and find the best director in Austria. At the time that was Oscar-winner Stefan Rusowitzky. I managed to get a hold of his casting director and that's where it started. I worked for her and when the music video was being cast she introduced me to the local producer. They needed someone who spoke English and I was lucky. From then on, stuff just started snowballing. 


LBB> What have been the most important steps in the journey of building Caravan in Albania? 


Nikita> Discipline, determination and an incredible team that understands our mission. Staying determined, especially when things didn’t immediately pan out. Keeping our eyes on the bigger picture. There are days where I also feel defeated or stressed about what we are doing, but this is where my team comes to play – they heighten my spirits on those days, and I heighten theirs. So simply put – a great team, people who believe in our mission. and most importantly, believe in delivering quality. 


LBB> You've built an all-women production team. Is that a happy accident or something that you wanted to push for on purpose? 


Nikita> It was a happy accident. But it has now become somewhat of our mission too. Nonetheless, we believe that working with people who gel well is one of the most important qualities. Our focus is firstly seeing if we can hire more female crew members, as I believe that it's important to give that opportunity. I, however, hope that there will be a time when this will not be necessary anymore. A time where everyone is equally considered. 

Another mission of mine is supporting women in the workplace, specifically women who are freelance and mothers too. I think that conversations need to be had as to how women who are self employed and are mothers can be supported. There are barely any systems in place. 


LBB> Speaking of which, you were able to create a work dynamic that allowed you to be a full-time mother and producer at the same time. Can you tell us about that, so others can look into doing the same? 


Nikita> It's all about routine, a great team, planning, planning, planning and a pinch of nerves. When my son was a baby it was all new but comparatively easy. I had him in a sling and he would just sleep for hours on me when we were on set. 

But I'd be lying if I'd say that it's a walk in the park. Now that my son is a toddler. It’s harder than ever before. For example: I just wrapped on a shoot for a jewellery brand. Taking him on set for that was impossible. Especially because we were recording with sound and also had high-profile actors on set. Being a solo mom, I genuinely died of stress/anxiety before the shoot kicked off. 

But being able to rely on a great nanny and incredible friends/family made it work. Having a reliable network and being able to communicate what you need is huge. Also being able to communicate that with your team and client. I am not saying that one needs to constantly overshare private life matters at work, but that boundaries should be set in a healthy way.

Sometimes it might not be necessary to chit-chat for one after a 16-hour shooting day and it's completely fine to say that you need to go home. Obviously the FOMO is real, but you get the hang of it. People seem more understanding than I thought. 

But yes, a trustworthy, loving nanny is indeed key (especially when you're a solo mom). Additionally, on the day-to-day, my team and I have worked out a structure of how we manage to work with each other (and my toddler). We usually work on tasks where we need to collaborate/concentrate when my son is being tended to by my nanny in the first half of the day. For the second half, we delegate the tasks and I am on call in case there is anything. Sometimes we work at night as a team when he sleeps. I mostly work at night or when he naps. 

But one thing I certainly realised is, children aren't robots and one needs to understand that things can change on a daily basis. And that’s fine. Society just needs to start to understand that there are moms that work. That doesn't mean that we don't need to deliver to a high standard as everyone else, but it does mean that it needs to be understood, that we may achieve our goals differently. 


LBB> Which production project from across your career are you most proud of and why? 


Nikita> I am always most proud of the most recent project we wrap on. But logistically, the project which I am most proud of is a commercial we worked on for Domino's pizza. We only had a week and a half run up time, I was eight and a half months pregnant and remote in Vienna. My team was alone on set, and we built an island in the south of Albania during the high season in August. We had more than 38 visiting crew, client and agency but it worked out. It was a crazy project but my team was incredible and it really taught me to delegate and that having a strong team is a real privilege as this is what makes a company great. 


LBB> Producers always have the best stories. What’s the most insane situation you’ve found yourself in and how did you work your way out of it? 


Nikita> Definitely that Domino's pizza project. I tried everything to get to set as no airline would take me. I collected quotes for private jets, helicopters, I tried to convince my midwife and gyno to join me just in case I would have to give birth. 

But the way I managed to get out of this situation was to change my mindset. I had to trust in my team and I realised that there were other priorities – and that was my son. I dealt with the communication and they made it happen on the ground. It was hard. But it worked. 

But a typical hairy situation was a project for a body butter brand, where I stood in the middle of the Wadi Rum desert in Jordan and had a bunch of angry Bedouins with guns drive towards me in a jeep as we were unknowingly building our base camp into their territory. We got out of the situation with $50 and the gift of the most recent iPhone. They then became very friendly set guards!


LBB> Producers are naturally hands on – they have to be. How do you balance that in the more managerial role of an EP? 


Nikita> It's still hard. I just try and educate myself further whenever I can. I talk to colleagues who are more ‘advanced’ and I love to ask questions. Also being in networks where people share similar pains and challenges (such as Supercluster) has helped me a lot. Being a company owner can become lonely and therefore it is important to surround yourself with people you feel comfortable with and trust. Being good at delegating and seeing the bigger picture is definitely a skill that is needed. But to be honest, now that I have a kid I generally don't mind ‘only’ EP’ing sometimes.

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