Producer Ignacio Nunez talks about the making of Roland Joffe’s Spanish Civil War film There Be Dragons, which stars Charlie Cox, Wes Bentley and Olga Kurylenko.

In There be Dragons, Roland Joffe explores the story of the recently canonised founder of Opus Dei, Josemaria Escriva, in a broad adventure spanning the Spanish Civil War to present day. Charlie Cox, Wes Bentley, Olga Kurylenko, Derek Jacobi, Dougray Scott and Rodrigo Santoro add star wattage to the English-language film, produced by Mount Santa Fe, N-Focus Productions, A3 Films.

Samuel Goldwyn Films has scheduled a May 6 release in the US. Bleiberg Entertainment has come aboard to handle international sales heading into Cannes.

How did you get involved in the project?

My initial involvement began following a visit from a contact and fellow attorney, Ignacio Gomez-Sancha. He had heard news that Roland Joffe had written a script set during the Spanish Civil War and focused on the founder of Opus Dei. We loved the idea of an agnostic sharing his viewpoint on those matters and committed ourselves to the project and producing the film with Roland. 

Is the story of Josemaria Escriva well known in Spain?

I would say that his name is very well known, together with Opus Dei; however, I don’t believe people know the real story of how Opus Dei began and the struggles that Josemaria faced.

Did you have any direct contact with Opus Dei?

Through myself and my fellow producer Ignacio Gómez-Sancha’s connection and personal contacts within the organization we were able to bring insight into the history of Josemaría. And, as it happened Daniel Barrigan, a Jesuit, acted as consultant on The Mission. And Roland also asked to have a priest of Opus Dei in the team and therefore we brought Fr John Wauck to the project. He was amazing on set…although I think he was met with some puzzled looks at first.  

You told me in Berlin that assembling the project was a very complicated – and lengthy – process. Can you describe it?

We began seeking funding for There Be Dragons at the height of the subprime mortgage crisis in 2008, so you can imagine that the finding financing for the film was quite challenging. We travelled through 17 different countries, from Poland to Portugal, from Canada to Chile, and made over 500 presentations to potential investors. All told, we raised $36m from 100 different investors. 

We kept pushing and exploring various options as we knew this story was one that needed to be told. With Roland Joffe’s script and support on the project we were able to assemble an amazing production team, including four prior Academy Award winners (composer Stephen Warbeck, production designer Eugenio Zanetti, wardrobe and costume designer Yvonne Blake and makeup designer Michèle Burke).

What was it like to collaborate with the great Roland Joffe?

I’m a great fan of Roland Joffe’s work – The Mission and The Killing Fields – so we were very excited to hear of his interest in bringing the story of Josemaría Escrivá to the screen. Joffe has a fantastic understanding of the human story behind the sainthood and the circumstances of this man’s life. With his honest viewpoint and creativity, and the amazing talent that he has… well, we trusted he would give a marvelous story to the public. He has been a wonderful captain, and our challenge as producers was to try and be at the level that Roland and the movie deserved.

You brought together a truly international cast. Was that always the goal?

In the planning stages, we always had an international cast in mind. Much as each character comes from a wide range of backgrounds, our cast hails from a variety of countries (Olga from the Ukraine, Wes from the US, Charlie and Dougray from the UK, and Rodrigo from Brazil). During filming we saw them explore their roles from both different approaches to the acting process as well as different cultural backgrounds.

From an attorney’s point of view, what do you make of the way transactions are conducted in the film business?

In the simplest sense, transactions that take place in the film industry are much the same as in any other business.  Each party enters into negotiations with their own priorities in hopes that an agreement satisfying both sides can be reached. 

Will you make more films? If so, can you tell us about your next project?

This has been a fascinating experience – my focus will continue to be the film as we look ahead to the Marché du Film in Cannes for sales and the rollout in US, Latin America, and the rest of the world. I guess you never know where life will take you…