Melinda Rebrek is so-called Ljubljana’s multipractic. She has a wide variety of expertise, knowledge, and experience. In Slovenian MICE circles, she is the person whom everyone knows and agrees that »she is soooo awesome«. Ljubljana is getting on the world’s map of events also because of her role in the Ljubljana Fashion Week and the new pop-up Secret Dinner. Her cheerful and welcoming spirit is the exact thing one needs to brighten up the upcoming autumn days. For all the mentioned, and many other, reasons we talked to her about her work in the past, present, about Ljubljana, about Slovenia, and about movies … Enjoy.
Q: The list of your past work and experiences is inspiring. Besides casting management, event management, project management, and the list goes on, you also worked in TV, movie and video production. Very eye-catching is your cooperation in the production of the movie No Man’s Land which was in 2001 awarded the Oscar Academy Award for Foreign Film, and in the production of the movie Bread and Milk that in 2001 received a Lion of the Future at the Venice International Film Festival. How did you get to work in the making of these two amazing movies?
Actually, with No Man’s Land it was kind of a lucky break because one of the ‘old school’ script supervisors was booked for those days and I got to replace her. With Danis (Tanović, director of the film) we didn’t get along so well at first, but after a week or so ‘stars aligned’, egoes relaxed and since then we had established a great co-operation and relationship and it was an experience the whole crew loves to remember. Some things just never change. Friendships we made making that movie are one of them. There I also co-operated with a wide international crew where I learned that not all things on set are logical and that different crews have different habits. We needed to co-habit and make it work amongst us – if you can only imagine how mixing a Slovene – Bosnian – Serb – Croat – Belgian – French – Brittish crew was … I’d say it was at least a challenge. Not to mention a language Babilon we all needed to overcome. Sometimes I like to think we all won an Oscar for that ;).
Bread and Milk was a logical consequence of my previous work. I was working productions/freelancing for Vertigo/Emotion Film for quite a while and one of the upcoming projects was Jan’s (Cvitkovič, director of the film). So we did it. And it turned out well. When you work on a movie, you never know how it’s going to turn out. I have read many great scripts and watched many horrible movies, made from those same scripts, and sometimes is another way around. It’s important you do your best on set. And the rest is left to the magic of the editing rooms. As simple as that.
There are other memorable movies/projects/documentaries I was asked to participate in various ways, along with Vinci’s Grandma Goes South (Babica gre na jug), a Slovene-Hungarian-Canadian coproduction The Maiden Danced to Death, a documentary about a Slovene inventor Peter Florjančič by Karpo Godina – Zgodba gospoda PF, Igor Šterk’s Ekspres Ekspres, a film by Blaž Kutin and my sister, Rolanda Rebrek – We have never been to Venice, … and uncountable TV productions that really make my blood flow … I love TV and film productions since they take me back to basics. That’s where I learned all about production – what to do and what not to do, how to communicate, lead, follow, co-operate, survive in a team, do whatever, whenever necessary. That turned out to be very useful for my future jobs.
Q: Looking at your achievements, it seems that you posses an extraordinary range of skills and probably quite some adaptability if you are capable to work so well in so many fields. How did you manage all this?
I like doing many different things … I tend to get bored very easily and I am not afraid of new challenges. Whenever something new crosses my path, I just take it without really overthinking it. Boredom is not an option and that way I widen my horizons and open doors that I never thought I would. New things generally come when I am ready for them. It all happened quite spontaneously. Luckily my mother inserted a ‘responsible bone’ in me since I was little so I tend to do whatever I start as well as possible and I hate leaving things undone or poorly done. If I step into something I don’t like, I tend to take it as a lesson and try not to repeat it.
I started my career as an entertainment shows presenter at the Istrian coast and as a casting agent and extras casting for first advertising agencies in Slovenia in times when no-one knew what that meant. These were times without mobile phones, digital cameras, Facebook and all of that helpful stuff. I needed to take my little notebook and pencil with me and go out, stop people in the street, communicate, approach guys and girls of different looks, styles, ages and later persuade the directors that this person was exactly what they needed. It was quite a challenge for a relatively shy girl (believe it or not, I was shy, too, once).
In time and with more experience I slowly upgraded my position to production coordinator, location manager, script supervisor, assistant director, sometimes I helped in wardrobe, if needed I put makeup on people’s faces if there was no-one else around, … you name it, I probably did it. So I learned things and tried to combine it with my points of interest. At one point I got an offer to start working in a marketing agency where I learned about different sorts of clients, ads, prints, campaigns and I organized events of various sorts, that time I even got respectable budgets for projects. It was a huge step from notoriously budgetless film and TV productions. In upcoming years, it all came in handy for those projects that needed to combine TV, event and specialised skills in various fields.
If you look at it closely, a TV or film shooting is not that far from an event production … you need to organize the locations with all permits within requests of a client/director/producer, people need to eat and drink, you need light, sound and some entertainers/actors, but it all has to be just a bit prettier and language a bit more sophisticated. In a way, it’s all the same thing, but a bit different ;).
All you have to do is to open your eyes and ears and constantly learn from people in various positions around you. Be a sponge of their knowledge, read, explore, keep an open mind. When you connect the dots of gathered knowledge and build a faithful and resourceful team, there is no force you can not overcome.
Q: At the moment, among other roles, you are an executive producer of Ljubljana Fashion Week. How long does it take to prepare such an event? And how much is there foreign interest for it? Could it ever be comparable to fashion weeks in more prominent capitals of the World?
That particular job never ends. Before we finish the current one, we already plan the next edition, we travel all the time, visit other fashion weeks, network a lot. It’s a lifestyle of a kind. But in years we have developed a solid base of contacts and international collaborations that are already showing results home as well as abroad.
Regional collaborations have also resulted into a great new project Fashion Scout South East Europe Showcase (Fashion Scout SEE), that opens doors in London and more, getting invitations to participate in many competitions and showcases in the region, helping selling names and collections. Finding sponsors is not as hard as it used to be as we are renowned for a great quality event with a lot of immediate impact/results. International buyers also started to contact us since we gather a rather interesting bunch of designers from the entire region.
Comparing the quality of foreign fashion weeks with LJFW is only about how much money you have for production. We invest as much as we manage to gather and our first concern are good models, great makeup & hair crew, lighting, excellent official runway photographers and video crew since those materials are the only things that really stay behind. When that mission is accomplished, we focus on all else. Then everybody is happy – media for great material, as well as designers, who can use those materials instead of the lookbook, helping them selling their collections, as well as the whole crew as it presents us as a credible partner for future collaborations.
Q: In regards to fashion, what would you recommend to convention participants/delegates to wear, what is the proper attire for someone who participates in a congress? What do you think about jeans in this regard?
Conventions are not as stiff as they used to be. I recommend everybody to brush up a bit but still stay themselves and be comfortable. Presenting yourself is a tough business and wearing clothes that you don’t feel comfortable in is a no-no. It reflects on your energy and body language and the message is distorted. Jeans comes in so many different styles and variations that it is very hard for me to say ‘yay or nay’, but in a way, I prefer ‘yay’. But it, by all means, needs to be appropriate and fit to occasion. I always say – when in doubt, put on a smile and hit it, sincerity helps in all situations (unless you deal with some serious a**holes than you just need to survive it and let it go as soon as possible ;).
Q: Your Zveerene Institute is a non-profit organisation supporting and shaping different parts of the Slovenian creative industry. Could you, please, explain more about your Institute?
Forming members of Zvereene Institute are 5 individuals, all excelling in our professions, putting together a great team with the variety of expertise to accomplish the goal of putting Slovenian fashion on the map. The good thing is we make a decent living so fashion can be our hobby (meaning, that we are not getting paid to do the Fashion Weeks and not that we don’t approach to it professionally). Unfortunately, fashion in Slovenia is still not recognised as a lucrative and profitable business so instead of big budgets we rather have to be very resourceful to fill the financial gaps and make the events look and feel professionally done. Luckily Zvereene consist of a video/graphic designer, a PR/marketing/protocol officer, a fashion photographer, a technical director and myself/a producer/event manager, as well as our loyal co-workers in form of stylists, curators, PR and social media experts, production assistants, … so it is possible. We all have the same goal. Make Slovenian fashion recognisable in the region and wider and with a team like that it is not only possible but has been already showing results.
For example, we have just selected three young Slovenian designers and sent them to a regional competition NOIZZ to Belgrade, where Sofia Urumović, a young designer from Koper, won the 1st prize that opens doors to London Fashion Week. Also, connections to the region, Belgrade Fashion Week and rest of the former Yugoslav countries resulted in forming a regional contest Fashion Scout South East Europe (FS SEE) that provides a showcase for one of the most prominent talent scouts in Europe, Fashion Scout from London, opening doors and opportunities abroad. It kinda reads easy, but it was lots of work, travelling and networking behind it and we are very happy we finally see the results apart from great fashion week events. Of course, we realize we are only at the beginning of the journey and we are already planning our next big steps.
Q: One of the things you have recently worked on, was a Secret Dinner that happened in a form of a pop-up dinner in the early 18th Century Križevniška Church in Ljubljana. Can you describe the steps of the preparation for it?
It is also one of those ongoing projects … At first, we brainstorm about locations and chefs, check the availability on preferred dates and we get a match, we release the date and start brainstorming about menus and drinks selections as well as all other details regarding location’s infrastructure, mood, service etc, trying to avoid unnecessary surprises as much as possible. One of the steps (the least preferred but necessary) is also budgeting which must be kept in mind as a variable since we depend on the number of sold menus.
At first we planned to make dinners for more than 50 people, but in the process we decided to keep it more intimate since that is a group of people big enough that they don’t know each other and at the same time small enough to somehow still keep it more under control, easier to network and also cater and meet their needs.
After we establish the boundaries and theme of the event, we agree on the menu and start working on the printed version of it. From start, we decided to design it as a prop that guests will take home and read or keep as a souvenir if they want to and it must contain all information necessary to explain what is the evening all about. The first menu was formed as a name card with the celebrity Chef’s signature on it, the second (British cuisine garden theme) was formed as an English newspaper, resembling The Guardian, with all information about Brits, their habits, food, drinks and other fun facts. Next one is also ‘in the oven’ and it will very much match the location of the event.
We also have to keep in mind forming the location notice email, getting it out on time (3 hours before the event), invoicing, decorations, toilets, electricity, road signs if necessary, and last but not least promoting the event in order to sell it and troubleshoot everything that comes along. It is, by all means, a very complex project that needs to be carefully prepared and is a 24/7 job from the moment the date is released.
Then finally the D day arrives and we can only hope we have thought of as much situations to cover as possible. The day after we usually gather the impressions and read the comments and try to make best of it in planning the next one to come.
Q: What was the outcome? Are you planning any similar event in the future?
By now we have organized two Secret Dinners already and we are working on a third one that is coming up at the end of November. We plan to organize them monthly with various themes, chefs, locations, food, we want to break the rules and make people understand it is not only the menu they are buying but an entire experience. It is not just a cosy evening in a restaurant, but an evening that gives our chefs possibilities to do things they can not do in their restaurants. Rules and menus are often set by location, mood, and music by chef’s wishes, and it might also be an experience guests don’t like (since they only find out about menus and mood as they enter the venue). The secrecy is a spice that can make or break your personal perception of the event and we would like people to understand this before they click on our website’s application form.
Luckily, there is a majority of guests who embrace the concept, but there are also some who don’t and they are out loud. Nevertheless, their comments also help us. With each dinner, we learn and take all comments into consideration to help us develop a better experience.
We will continue the project as long as it sells because we firmly believe there is space and time to run a concept like that in Slovenia with its wide variety of food, chefs, and locations. We are also getting inquiries from various companies to organize closed Secret Dinners exclusively for them and we have been approached by a tourist agency that included our events into their offer. So we must be doing something right.
Q: There are other pop-up events/happenings going on around the world on a regular level: pop-up designer’s shop, pop-up this, pop-up that … Do you want to get Ljubljana closer to other modern capitals?
I’d very much like to, but it’s gonna be a long journey. For being a modern capital you need variety, an open mind and a lot of different things without brows risen at anything that is not ‘normal’ to most. Slovenes don’t like deviations from ‘normal’ or ‘average’ in most ways and it takes a lot of energy and resilience to try changing things and habits and introduce new things. Modern capitals are cities where different people, lifestyles, habits, and creeds co-habit without bigger hickups and where novelties, improvements, and courage are embraced. Slovenia is not there yet. I don’t mean it in a material way, it’s all about a state of mind. With youngsters travelling, working and studying abroad it is getting better, bringing some metropolis back in, but I am afraid they will realise freedom of mind and choice is much more appreciated outside Slovenia and will not return.
Unfortunately, Slovenians are a nation of couch commentators and when it comes to novelties, direct confrontation or standing out, they sink back in the safety of their bedroom computers and lead their little wars behind fake internet names. Until that changes, we are where we are and no pop-up anything will change it. Slovenia is still just a beautiful three-to-five days destination with a great prospect, but not enough width of mind and dedicated leaders and workers (in all areas) to expand the offer to a higher level. Respectable (individuals and companies) exceptions excluded, but there are not many. Yet. And don’t get me wrong – I don’t think it is impossible, that word does not exist in my vocabulary, I just know it’s not (gonna be) easy.
Q: From your point of view, what would you recommend to business, congress, convention planners to look for in Ljubljana? What are the creative and hidden spots in Ljubljana that you admire?
I get my energy mostly from water and spots away from crowds or just the opposite, from concerts and music venues.
I would warmly recommend a straw through woods to Mostec, where you meet mostly young families with kids, people walking dogs and retired people playing chess; a coffee beside Koseze pond or on the bank of Ljubljanica (further along center overcrowded spots, towards Špica or Livada); an easy walk to Ljubljana castle from Gornji trg, and a swing on top, a bit away from castle from where you can have a beautiful look towards Krim; a boulder climbing session in Plezalni center Ljubljana to release some stress; a concert or two in Kino Šiška; brunch in Ek (sitting on steps by the river Ljubljanica, only steps away from overcrowded central market; a freshly baked trout in Mavčiče or Dragočajna by the river Sava; a gin tonic or hot dog in Lepa žoga at one of its wacky events, a beer in Godec rock’n’roll pub, an Aperol Spritz on Trboje lake’s boathouse beach, where you can also SUP (as you can also do it on Ljubljanica, Zbilje lake and elsewhere around city). I could go on and on since Ljubljana offers a lot of out of the box experience, you just have to know what to look for and ask a local.
Q: You like sports, even adrenaline sports, and concerts, and many unusual and unique and energizing things that make you happy. How was your career path in Slovenia? Sometimes it is known for pushing down those who have too many ideas.
Tell me about it. Since the young age, I was often told to lay low and shut up when I spoke out and I needed looong years to understand and build so much self-confidence to stand firmly behind my decisions and opinions. When you are young, you tend to be easily intimidated by those who seem to know more, but in years you realise it’s mostly fear that guides their pieces of advice. Fear of being different or standing out. Well, I like being different and spoken out. I am not afraid of anything in particular because I know that fear is hollow and there is nothing around it. You just have to jump in and learn to swim, be well argumented about your beliefs and deeds and have a clear conscience. When you realise you cannot be liked by everybody, it gets so much easier. It comes with the age and experience, I guess. OK, a bit of firm character helps, too.
My career developed organically, I could say. Jobs, new challenges, and new people somehow came to me when I was ready for them. And one of the things I am particularly proud of is that I have climbed the career ladder with experience, started from the scratch and gone up, so I really know the process inside out. And that gets me jobs that are far from boring, combining my expertise in many levels, keeping me on my toes. It also takes its toll sometimes in many sleepless nights and stressful peaks, but with a help from my loved ones who understand it, and two cats who often come in as stress releasers with their purring on the couch, any situation can be overcome.
I also tend to plan at least two trips a year away from the mad world, including some sun, sand, wind and foreign countries that usually put things in a perspective. Travelling, sports and concerts help me survive the everyday jungle and doing sports lets all the steam and negative energy that builds during work hours out, it clears my head and after a good session I see things more clearly and from a much nicer perspective. Not to mention it’s putting that smile back on my face. In a few years, I plan that this way of life will actually become my life (or a pension plan, however you like it better) – selling the relaxation to other overworked souls somewhere close to the beach.
Q: The first question was about your role in the production of two movies, let it be the last one about movies as well. In general, what is your favorite movie and why? And who is your favorite director and why?
Lately, a film that really stuck in my mind and deserves mentioning is In Praise of Nothing, a brilliant mockumentary about Nothing that defends its existence. It was filmed by 62 cinematographers in 70 countries, creating perfect scenes and shots, brilliantly put together/directed by Boris Mitić and narrated by Iggy Pop who also happens to be one of my music heroes since the young age. I saw it at Sarajevo Film Festival which is known for interesting selection and from a no-name ‘tend-to-be-boring-but-lets-check-it-out’ movie it left an impact and became one of my favorites. I also adore series, possibly with good music and twisted story like f.ex. Peaky Blinders (can’t wait for season 4), also a good comedy, possibly with a bit twisted sense of humor, makes me tick. There are many great directors, all those, who accomplish the mission of making me forget watching the film with professional eyes, I deeply appreciate. I also like some of those directors that I worked with, and came to the set prepared for the shoot, but that’s a whole another story ;).