New York.- By Vicki James Yiannias
“Why shoot in Greece? It’s so obvious,” award-winning Swiss-American independent filmmaker Gabrielle Pfeiffer told the GN about filming “The Origins of Ajax”, her low-budget comedy/drama in Development in Greece. “Greece is spectacularly beautiful. I am a very visual filmmaker. I look for beauty and found it in excess in Greece.”
“As well, it’s relatively inexpensive to shoot in Greece. For my investors, this means very high production value at low cost. After my first location scout, I asked the question: why doesn’t everyone shoot here?” Pfeiffer told the GN in the following interview.
GP: Yes. This is smart for them and it has saved my production. Getting a film to choose Greece as a shooting location can create lots of local jobs for Greek film actors and crew, and make money for local businesses in terms of hotels and catering, locations and vehicle rentals, costumes, make-up, etc. And getting this rebate back after completing my film production will help my company tremendously to cover post-production costs.
There is not a lot of funding available upfront for international productions shooting in Greece but this is totally understandable; it’s not fair to take too many resources away from Greek colleagues who want to make their films too.
GP: “The Origins of Ajax” tells the moving story of Ajax, a troubled young Greek American man from New York who is visiting Greece for the first time since a childhood family tragedy. As he drives across spectacular landscapes across Greece, Ajax experiences hallucinations of mythological characters who give him advice about how to get his personal life in order. It’s a love letter to Greece and a celebration of Greek culture, history, civilization, and, of course, food.
It will have a PG rating for all audiences and we intend to sell it for international cinema release and in all other media.
GN: I’m sold! What’s needed?
GP: We are currently seeking funding from various sources. I’m actively reaching out to members of the Greek community to inquire about people, companies and associations that may be interested in getting involved. The budget is 480,000 Euros and we still urgently need to raise 200,000 Euros by March if we are to shoot this year.
The screenplay is written, the leads are cast, and casting of smaller roles is underway. I am currently interviewing cinematographers, production designers, and other crew members. We plan to shoot the film in May and June in the Peloponnese.”
GN: You’ll be auditioning actors for minor roles in Greece next week. Are major roles assigned?
GP: Zach Galifianakis has the script to consider playing the role of Ajax’s long lost quirky Greek uncle. And thanks to the food angle, celebrity chef, Maria Loi, has agreed to play a delightful cameo of a taverna owner. The award-winning Greek-Canadian actor, Steven Koutsomitopoulos, will play Ajax. Iraqi-British actress Hayat Kamille will play Suha, and Danish actor Christopher Læssø will play Hilarion.
GN: Greece and you…?
GP: I love Greece and it has always been a part of my life in different ways over the years. I developed a fascination for Greece even as a small child because my father studied Classics and instilled a respect and passion for this culture and civilization in our family. In later years I traveled there on vacation. And the great reconnection was when one of my best friends married a man from a prominent Greek family and I participated in a fantastic week-long wedding celebration on the island of Chios. My gift to the happy couple: I directed the wedding film!
GN: It’s got to be fun filming in Greece!
GP: Another good reason to shoot in Greece, at least for me as an independent filmmaker, is that all my professional colleagues who I talk to about working on the film want to come and shoot with me in Greece. We are all looking for a great and memorable filming experience.
GN: How will it be to film among the Greek people?
GP: Everywhere I went in Greece; the doors were opened to me. The hospitality, kindness and generosity were extraordinary. Mostly, I look forward to shooting in Greece because of the people. The first thing people ask everywhere I go is: how can I help you?! Shooting a film is very complicated—you need a lot of good luck and good will from the local people. I want the production experience to be good for my film and my crew, and good for the local people who are both benefitting and being inconvenienced by the presence of a film crew.
GN: In addition to gorgeous locations and great hospitality what else does Greece offer filmmakers?
GP: Greece has excellent resources for film production in terms of crews, costumes, equipment, props, etc. I want to have beautifully designed costumes and masks for some of the ancient mythological characters who Ajax meets along the way, such as the Minotaur, Thespis, the Oracle and Sisyphus, and my initial research has shown that local film and theater companies will be more than capable of supplying us with beautiful, exciting and original masks and costumes.
GN: What qualifications do you seek in your collaborators?
GP: My budget is low but I am an experienced filmmaker and I want excellent, experienced industry people to come make this film with me. Normally, I could not afford to hire them on such a low budget, but when these people see the photos of the gorgeous locations where we will shoot in Mani, Messinia and Evia, they offer to cut their rates just to come join us for two months in Greece. The reasons are two-fold: they want to work in these beautiful locations, but they also want their names on a beautiful film.
GN: I believe you and Steven Kitsopoulos had worked together before developing the Ajax story.
GP: I saw Greek-Canadian actor Steven Koutsomitopoulos in a film called “Lovers Lost” made while he was an acting student at the prestigious Actors Studio in New York. I was casting another film and his performance blew me away. I needed to cast five young men for an ensemble piece and when I met Steven via Skype, I simply said, “I won’t even audition you and you may choose the role you like.” Steven modestly did not choose the best role and I had to convince him to take it. He totally delivered and the film went on to win several film festival prizes. We kept in touch after the shoot and became friends. We decided to develop a low-budget project together for him to star in and for me to write and direct. He was studying in New York and I was in Berlin and after six months of Skype meetings, we had the story. But I felt I didn’t know Greece well enough. To write a road movie, I needed to do my own road trip.
My background is in documentaries and I have a highly-developed discipline of travel and first-hand research which serves me well in fiction projects too. I want the film to ring true. So over the course of three scouting and research trips to Greece, I drove some 5,000 km alone, visiting shooting locations and ancient theatres. Because Ajax visits several ancient Greek amphitheaters I met with Diazoma, the Athens-based association that takes care of ancient theaters across Greece, and worked with their support to identify theaters that fit our story and that we could shoot in. I scouted approximately 12 ancient theaters across Greece and interviewed scholars of ancient Greek theater in Athens.
GN: Sounds fantastic. Where did you go?
GP: One trip was from Athens to Thessaloniki and then east to the Turkish border and back. The next trip was from Athens to Evia and all over the Peloponnese, and it’s there that I found my spectacular filming locations in Mani and Messinia. At the end of the exhausting and exhilarating month-long trip, I drove to Giavola, a beautiful village near Pilos, for a few days of well-deserved rest…only to be hit by a small earthquake and a cyclone! I did manage to visit the spectacular Voidokilia Beach there and I hope we will get the permission to shoot there too.
Gabrielle Pfeiffer, Principal Producer/Director/Writer of Ajax the Movie LLC – New York/Berlin has eight feature film credits as a writer and script supervisor, and 35 director, writer and producer credits for her work on Arte, BBC, Channel Four, Discovery, National Geographic, PBS, and ZDF documentaries. Her films have been broadcast all over the world and won awards at numerous international film festivals.
Greek Co-Producer Fenia Cossovitsa is the founder of Blonde Audiovisual Productions S.A, a film and television production company based in Athens that has produced numerous Greek and international feature films, major cultural and sports events, television programs, commercials, and music videos. Cossovitsa is an award-winning producer with 25 years of experience in the film and television industry.
For information on filming in Greece go to: