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Filmmaker's Journey: Robert Eugen Popa

The story behind indie film Veni, Vidi, Fugi: I Came, I Saw, I Fled

In 2010, Tim and I wrote an epic script entitled “Anabasis,” which told the story of Magellan's circumnavigation of the globe. We shopped it around, with it ultimately bouncing in and out of the hands of Fox, Scott Free Production and Kanzaman Productions in Spain. The script was a semifinalist at "Page International" in Hollywood in the Historical film category:

We were not at all synchronized though with the world-wide recession and Hollywood’s cycle of downsizing, scepticism and ultra-conservative studio bets on financing horror films and romantic genre.

Behind the script were arduous documentation (including trips to the Argentinean and Chilean Patagonia, in the steps of Magellan's crew) and wild dramatic debates on how to capture this magnitude of epic in a 120 pages script while at the Coffee Bean in Los Angeles.

During coffee breaks, I entertained Tim with really wild stories from the Black Sea Coast of Romania during the harshest years of Ceausescu's dictatorship.

Not only were we film peers at UCLA, but we both studied Literature before; while Tim was also a published author.

Somehow these nostalgic, real Behind the Iron Curtain stories of dreamers, small-time Balkan gangsters, operating in the increasing absurdity of Ceausescu's reign appealed to Tim's versatility and subversive vocation.

However, what made us both hear some intoxicating tune in the inner ear was ultimately the famous exile of the best Roman poet Ovid, by Caesar Augustus, in 8 AD on a remote Roman military outpost on the Black Sea, the very harbour where I was born.

We produced a script that turned out to be among a handful of finalists at Sundance Screenwriters Lab 2015 - June session, but even then we could not get any financing in Romania.

So, after presenting the facts to friends, including a couple of guys with considerable businesses, we received some financial help.

Even so, the funds were barely enough to support a 30-minute short, but that did not include any post-production.

I approached Maia Morgenstern, who is better known for playing Mary, in Mel Gibson's "Passion of Christ."

Besides being an extraordinarily intuitive actress, she is also a very charming and generous person.

It so happened that Maia responded extremely well to the script.

It was the same case with a number of extremely talented actors, including Paul Diaconescu who signed on to play the protagonist K with an incredible mix of naivete and streetwise versatility; Elias Ferkin a hood Alpha gangster with a judiciously good measure of flair, as it's very easy to fall into cheap caricatures when you play sardonic villains; and Geo Dobre playing a ruthless Ceausescu secret police officer eaten up by alcoholism.

Not to mention, Tache Florescu as an intense, anguished and sarcastic Ovid.

Also, Malina Tomaiaga played with aplomb and flawless credibility Iulia, the temperamental 12-grade girlfriend of the protagonist. I did spend well over 2 years in Argentina and Chile and for some reason, actresses in their mid-twenties tend to fall into blatant overacting and histrionics when portraying female teenagers. They look right for the part but they raise the volume and accentuate every gesture, in an effort to compensate for lacking the natural intensity to deliver a teenager in emotional crisis or indignation scene. Nothing of that sort with Malina who spent time at the gym and in libraries studying teenagers.

She also did really save the whole shoot on the second day, as we were late in the day and had another 4-5 camera setups at the disco scene and her performance involved dense and long dialogue, while also going through a complicated progression of moods. (from amusement to teasing her boyfriend and then moving to jealousy and finally, fierce indignation).

Usually, this kind of dialogue requires a fair number of takes as myriad things could happen - a slight hesitation, forgetting a line, an unnatural pause, not ''finding" enough intensity or pathos for the delivery.

Malina just did it flawlessly from the very first take,

We did a second "just in case take" - had a sigh of relief for having covered a pretty intense and complicated scene in such a short time and moved forward to the still demoralizingly high number of remaining scenes.

The shoot took 4 days and nights of very intense production. It was ultra-guerilla. Three days we filmed in Bucharest and one in the Ancient Quarter of Constanta, Romania. The Black Sea provided a powerful backdrop to the mixture of ancient and 1980’s dictatorships.

The dialogues couldn't be more idiosyncratic and possess a certain Balkan streetwise insolence.

Somehow, the film resonated with international audiences.

The film gathered almost 5000 people in a theatre in Kerala, Southern India.

Maia won the "Best supporting role" at the Sydney Indie Festival, Australia and at the Arte Non Stop Film Festival, Buenos Aires, Argentina.

The Script won "Best script" in Jaipur, India, Buenos Aires, Argentina and got an honorable mention in the oldest film festival with a short film section – Montecatini, Italy (2 years older than Cannes, but not as iconic, as Montecatini doesn't have a feature film section.)

Audience awards were won in Buenos Aires for "Best Director" and "Best cinematography" in ''Short film".

The response to the film catapulted a phrase by Tolstoi that I had read in high school:

"The more shamelessly regional, the more universal a work of art becomes. "


Veni, Vidi, Fugi: I Came, I Saw, I Fled is available to watch on the UK Film Channel. Click the banner below.


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