From Iceland — To Hollywood And Beyond

To Hollywood And Beyond
Photo by
Art Bicnick

With Truenorth Talent, Tania Zarak Quintana is expanding opportunities for Iceland’s creative powerhouse

We meet Tania Zarak Quintana, VP of Development at Truenorth, just a few hours after she lands in Iceland, exhausted from her trip back from Mexico with her three children. Tania warmly welcomes us into her house to discuss the newly launched talent agency within Truenorth for behind-the-camera professionals. Naturally, the first thing I’m curious about is why would someone swap the tropical climate and food of Mexico for uninviting (at least, at the first sight) Iceland? Turns out, it’s a long story.

Climbing the ladder

Originally from Mexico, Tania started her career in the film industry as a producer. “Very quickly my career transformed into what you would now consider a studio executive job,” she explains, reflecting on how the industry has changed in the past two decades. “There were no streaming companies,” she says. “The type of content people consumed was different. There’s been a dramatic transformation in the environment.” She has tried on multiple roles in the business, lived in Mexico City, New York and LA, and worked with companies such Robert De Niro’s TriBeCa Productions.

“Slowly, but surely, I climbed up the ladder, and in 2018, I was offered a job at Netflix,” Tania shares. At Netflix, she oversaw international originals in Latin America and Spain. “My team was responsible for all original shows in Spanish,” she explains.

The Covid-pandemic caught Tania and her family in New York. Since her children are half-Icelandic, relocating to Iceland was a straightforward option. 

Tania’s first job in Iceland was at Kvikmyndaskóli Íslands, where she taught producing for directors. “It was mostly production based, but more in the way I learned it, which is creative producing, not just budgets and schedules,” Tania explains. “I ended up teaching four classes throughout one year. It was a great experience.” She admits that she only stopped teaching when she started working at Truenorth, as it was too demanding to juggle both roles.

“There’s a lot of potential for Icelandic stories and Icelandic creators.”

From Hollywood to Reykjavík

“Truenorth is one of the premier production servicing companies, not only in Northern Europe, but in the world,” says Tania. In the 20 years since the company’s inception, Truenorth has brought dozens of international films to Iceland, with the most recent milestone being the whole season of True Detective, which was entirely shot in multiple locations in Iceland. 

“In 2018, Truenorth did the first Icelandic show for Netflix, The Valhalla Murders,” says Tania, adding that since then, stimulating original production became one of the company’s objectives. In 2022, Tania was brought in as the VP of Development to oversee original content. 

Photo by Art Bicnick

She admits that Iceland’s size makes it very different from Hollywood – there’s less competition and variety. “It’s very tribal. Everyone has very deep connections to each other, in one way or the other, and this translates into their jobs,” Tania says. She compares the Icelandic industry to her experience in Mexico and the States, stating, “In the USA, everyone is so eager and hungry to break into the industry that you have people doing internships and working for free. The Icelandic workers are tremendously protected, both by the government and the unions.”

A lucrative governmental tax incentive, which reimburses foreign film productions 25% or 35% of the budget based on their expenditures, is one of the key factors that attract them to Iceland. Another factor, according to Tania, is the presence of extraordinary local technicians and creators. “There’s a lot of talent in Iceland,” she says. “Iceland is a country that is highly literate – 99% of the population reads and enjoys doing so, including children. There’s a lot of potential for Icelandic stories and Icelandic creators.” 

Building bridges

Tania admits that it was during her Master’s degree at Columbia University, where she had a few Icelandic classmates, that she was truly exposed to Icelandic films for the first time. Since then, she has developed a genuine appreciation for Icelandic cinema. “I think it’s a matter of storytelling,” she explains. “Raising children in Iceland, I’m impressed about how exposed they are to the arts, from a very early age, which is very stimulating for them. It’s a very special place. I think this translates into the films, the music and the arts.” 

“I’m very excited about getting my talent jobs. I want to give them a shot on the global stage.”

Since moving to Iceland, bridging the gap between Hollywood and Iceland has been a constant focus for Tania. She recalls a significant observation during a dinner with executives: “Someone from Hollywood called Leifur [Leifur B. Dagfinnsson, CEO & Founder of Truenorth]. This person asked Leifur for a name, possibly a director of photography. Leifur provided a few names, and that was it,” Tania shares. “I realised Truenorth is such a point of reference in Iceland, we’re so well connected and we have this massive infrastructure in Scandinavia. The very next day, I approached Leifur and said, ‘There’s no behind-the-camera representation in Iceland. With the relationships we have, we could formalise it.’” This conversation marked the inception of Truenorth Talent.

Truenorth Talent is a boutique talent representation company,” Tania explains. “We’re starting with writers, directors and are slowly moving into music composers that can score both for film and television.” Handpicking writers, directors and composers, Tania and her team focus on establishing long-term relationships with local creatives. The company’s roster includes prominent writers, directors and producers, such as Arró, Elías K. Hansen, Erlendur Sveinsson, Helgi Jóhannsson, Hörður Sveinsson, Jörundur Ragnarsson, Katla Sólnes, Rúnar Ingi and Siggi Kjartan. “Everyone has been handpicked by us,” Tania shares. “We’re also going to support Briet in her acting career.”

Supporting the talent

“I really believe in our talents. I think that everyone is doing amazing things,” she says, reflecting on the recent accomplishments of producer Rúnar Ingi, whose short film Fár received a Special Mention at the Cannes Film Festival, and the promising young director Katla Sólnes. Tania is particularly passionate about providing more opportunities to women in film, “I really want to sign more women. I can’t believe I only have one female writer-director,” she says. In addition, Truenorth Talent is planning to collaborate more with local composers. “We are really looking forward to establishing long-term relationships with people that can not only score our shows, but other shows,” says Tania. “It’s a win-win situation for everyone.”

Truenorth has representation in Greenland, the Faroe Islands, Norway, Finland, Sweden and the Canary Islands, which means even more opportunities for the emerging behind-the-camera professionals. “I think the next step for Truenorth will be to find talent in one of these countries,” she says.

“I’m very excited about getting my talent jobs. I want to give them a shot on the global stage,” Tania beams with pride, concluding, “I see no reason why they would only be doing local stuff.” 

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