VIP QUARANTINE - producer Jaro Slávik: Despite the dying business, I’m experiencing the best period of my life
Producer Jaro Slávik is a well-known face on TV screens, and he’s not in the habit of sugarcoating things. In Slovakia, he has a reputation as a merciless executioner in the talent show Czechoslovakia Has Talent. He has a nose for talented people. In an interview for LP-Life.com, Jaro Slávik openly spoke about how he’s coping in the pandemic, what kind of father he is, how he trades in talent, how is it really like with his "mask" of a strict juror and what he had to go through to get where is today.
How are doing in regard to the current situation in the world?
I'm trying to be doing well. I’m learning to feel fine and be grateful. I understand that I’ve had a great deal of luck in my life, the opportunity to experience both highs and lows, thanks to which I already know that emotions come from within. Of course, I’m concerned about a great number of things, but I’m trying to find solutions. But that’s possible only when one finds balance and understands the world around him. Our sense of happiness or unhappiness comes from our own expectations and reactions to the world around us.
Culture has suffered a great deal during the pandemic, and many people feel that the current Minister of Culture of the Slovak Republic, Natália Milanová, isn’t doing anything about it. A few days ago, you directed a few words to her on behalf of all the artists. Some media wrote that you humiliated her. Can you please tell the public what it was all about and what your opinion is on current events in Slovakia?
To put it shortly: I expressed a critical opinion on the way in which the Minister communicated certain topics on social networks. I think I called it an undignified and unprofessional presentation of the highest official of an organization acting on behalf of culture. Want my opinion on what’s going on in Slovakia? We didn't manage to raise real leaders, we weren't interested in public affairs and we didn't trust ourselves. Civil society wasn’t strong enough. What we are going through now is only a consequence of the previous morally crippled and wild decade.
You’re not only a music producer and talent scout, but also the founder of the BOOYANG project. When did the idea to create this application come from?
Booyang is an effort to move the talent scouting system to the environment where new talents operate - the environment of mobile internet and applications for sharing short videos. We support, lookup, reward and work with new talents in nine categories - music, sports, comedy, variety, gastronomy, fashion, craft, animals and kids. Especially now that clubs and leisure centres are closed, people need something like this. We have achieved over 150,000 downloads, 50,000 registered users, thousands of videos and millions of views within a year. It exceeded our expectations. However, despite all the successes, Booyang is still a startup and as such struggles to survive every day. The American investor, who was supposed to invest a million dollars in January, postponed his investment to the fall because he is now launching a streaming service for art films, so we suddenly found ourselves in cash flow problems. But I'm working on it. Entrepreneurship is not for everyone, we only improve through crises.
People remember you as a judge of the Czechoslovakia Has Talent competition. You are actually the only judge who has been in the competition from the very beginning. How would you rate the Czech and Slovak competitors?
Performers from the Czech Republic are more inventive, while Slovaks, on the other hand, evoke more empathy in the viewer. And again, Czech artists are more targeted and hardworking - they certainly have the advantage of a larger market, where they have more opportunities to constantly learn and improve.
In some cases, the word is an extremely effective but also dangerous weapon that can easily hurt someone. What’s your take on this when evaluating competing talents?
It's a TV show. The greater the verbal equilibristry in evaluating a competitor, the greater the media space for him, the greater the awareness of the competitor's "brand = name". In real life, it looks different.
In the Czechoslovakia Has Talent competition, you were often considered the most feared judge, they even called you “the executioner”, comparing you to Paľo Habera. You used to be very uncompromising. Some would even say arrogant. Are you as strict with yourself and others in everyday life?
I don't know anybody who works harder than Paľo Habera. He takes things seriously, and this focus probably reflects in his behaviour. And I think it’s the same for me. I may look arrogant, but it's just a mask for TV. It's not a mask I put on consciously, but rather something like mimicry that mother nature seems to protect me with. :) I looked stuck up already as a child. At work, I always give my colleagues great freedom in decision-making and management, but I automatically expect the best from them. I'm not strict, rather demanding. On myself as well as the people around me. Relatively…
Do you meet with colleagues from Czechoslovakia Has Talent in private life?
As you may have guessed, the answer is no, I don’t. I don't know them personally. They are all great professionals and I am glad that I had the opportunity to meet and cooperate with them. I admire every one of them, they’ve taught me a lot.
You have a lot of fans. Is your wife one of them? How did you two get together?
Actually, I am my wife’s fan. We've known each other since high school, we used to be classmates.
Do you remember the times when you met your wife?
I don't like to talk about my private life. She was my first love and in fact the only love of my life. The best person to enter my world. And I believe that for my family I am an ordinary person, unmarked by fame.
In the past, your lifestyle was punk, which means you were a troublemaker. Have you experienced wild times during this period?
Yes, I have, and I do have some pretty wild experiences, but as I said, I don't like to talk about my private life and I don't like returning to the past. Today I know that I could have used that time in a better way… But, what happened, happened.
Can you share some wild stories from this period?
Well, at least two of those wild stories are (unfortunately) extremely well known and documented. But what was really wild? For example, when I co-organized a beauty pageant in Varaždin, Croatia, a week after the Yugoslav Civil War front passed through. Nothing that should be written about or glorified. Like any young person, I did some stupid things.
Many fans would like to know what a normal day in Jaro Slávik's life looks like.
At this time? I wake up late, then I go for a walk in the forest for an hour, then to the office, where I stay until four or five o'clock. Then I take my road bike for a spin for an hour, after which go do some lifting in my home gym. Then dinner, wine, late-night work at the computer, I go to bed around midnight, I read for an hour... Oh, and we’ve started filming a new comedy show for Mall TV called Přikázané uvolnění (Relax on Command). We always finish the script on Wednesdays - the amazing Samuel Marc and me - I learn it on Thursdays and we shoot on Fridays.
What are your plans for the future in your professional life?
I think about the time that will come in a few years when my sons leave for college and start living their own lives. I would like to return to Vienna, perhaps get a job at one of the institutions that are trying to make this world a better place while I’m still at the top of my game. But you know, if you want to make God laugh, start talking out loud about your plans :)
What is the strangest compliment you have ever received?
The most recurring strange compliment I usually receive at the end of a meeting with new people is, "You know what, you’re not such a di*k as I thought you were."
Which period of your life do you think was the best? Conversely, what was the worst period or thing that has happened to you?
That brings us back to the first question ... I think I'm experiencing the best period of my life right now - despite the dying business, lack of resources, the frustration of restrictions in lockdown, the inability to travel. And the worst period? I’ve come to realize that there is something to learn from every bad period and move on. Sure, I could have stayed at Warner Corporation, but if I had, I wouldn't have been there to see my sons grow up and I wouldn't have as great a relationship with them as I have today. If, after 10 years abroad, I hadn’t met Adrian Saarba and gotten into an intense conflict with him while working for Markýza, I wouldn’t have a spot on a TV show on JOJ and Prima today. If I hadn’t repeatedly been on the brink of bankruptcy in business, when I was deceived by my close partners, I would not know so much about business or human nature today. If I hadn’t lived in an apartment full of cockroaches in Kiev, I wouldn’t be able to say with such confidence that money won’t turn anyone into a better person. If I hadn’t spent 10 years in Vienna, where, despite my high-profile position in the company, I received more “gastarbeiter” prejudices than respect from my colleagues, I wouldn’t be able to react so sensitively to xenophobes today. And, incidentally, if the communist Hungarian border guards had not shot my grandfather in front of my mother in 1956 - I wouldn’t feel such contempt towards everything organized today and I wouldn’t have become a solitaire.
As part of EMI, you worked first in Bratislava and then for two years in Ukraine, where you also discovered the well-known musician Ruslana. Are you still in touch? In connection with your departure from Ukraine, there’s a story featuring a grenade making the rounds...
The story featuring a grenade is associated with a big party and a wrongly chosen gift. A dud grenade - a relic - as a gift in hand luggage... I wouldn't get away with that today. But I don't want to talk about the past. Ruslana? I say all the time that she discovered herself. I just created an environment that allowed her to break through. I’m also trying to create such an environment in Booyang. Sometime last summer, we talked over the phone, but otherwise, we don’t keep in touch. Ruslana is a hard worker, but she made a few mistakes that she’s probably already aware of. During the promo of her international album, which had been recorded at the famous Hit Factory Criteria Studios in Miami under the guidance of Al Di Meola’s album producers, with the participation of T-Pain and other guests, she decided to give preference to private concerts in Canada. But an international career is a problem for every big artist. For example, did you know that there is a band called Mana in Mexico? They have long been Warner's most profitable band. But they are pretty much unknown in the world. Due to their immense popularity in the Spanish-speaking countries of the American continent, they simply don’t have the time and desire to start another career, even if it was international.
You work in an international environment. Are you friends with any foreign artists? They say you know, among others Shaggy, Anastasia or Phil Collins.
I don’t really work in that environment much anymore. Sometimes I go out and meet people from the time of my international career. It was my decision to leave the international scene and focus on my family. I don’t regret it. For a while we were getting Christmas greetings from the Pet Shop Boys or Laura Pausini, sometimes we exchange messages with Shaggy, Arash, Ali Payami or Deep Dish. I’ve also cut off contact with Brett Ratner - after the MeToo movement, of course.
How do you keep fit?
I love sports. Covid has probably ended my basketball career - although I did play in the first league match in January 2020. Now I just ride a road bike, run, walk a lot, exercise with a kettlebell and dumbbells, but only at home. Before corona, I was also into boxing and experimented with muay thai and krav maga. And I practice ashtanga yoga off and on, three months daily and then a two-month break.
If you could have three wishes now, what would they be?
I’d wish for social mobility for all skilled people, for people to stop being so scared, and sometimes I’d like less of a headwind when cycling.
In the past, you said that not everyone has the opportunity to own a car, a house and go on vacation twice a year. But that's probably not your case, is it? Do you like luxury? Aren't you thinking of buying a property in Dubai like many other celebrities?
Let me set things straight: I don't go on vacation twice a year. It's not luxury I’d enjoy, it's mostly an expression of a certain snobbery. I don't need to own luxury items, but I do like nice and rare things. There is no car in the world that would be more convenient than an Uber ride. And as for the apartment in Dubai, my wife and I were thinking about it in 2007, when I was still working together with my then business partner in the Emirates. Even then, we decided not to buy one, because compared to the price of a better hotel room, we would have amortized it in 20 years or so. Maybe it would have been a good investment and I missed out on it, but believe me, I don't miss Dubai at all. And I’m not planning to visit the Emirates in the future either.
You know even Pamela Anderson. How did you meet and what’s your relationship like now?
Pamela is a real professional. When she ran a marathon a few years ago, I wrote to her that I admired her. I think she even wrote back, but I’m not sure. But we didn't work together as often as I would have liked.
You also own a basketball club. How’s it doing?
SKP Start Bratislava is the oldest basketball club in Slovakia. It was founded in 1952. In recent years, it has always gone as far as the final four in the first league, but Covid put a stop to it. We'll see what happens next. This project is demanding on finances and even more on players. We'll see how long it takes to put it all back together.