FAMU gave me an even keel, though I still want to know and do everything

Gabriela Heclová loved music and acting from an early age, and therefore graduated from the Prague Conservatory. She made YouTube videos for many years and was one of the most popular youtubers in the country. She has since deleted her videos and quit her YouTube presence. You can see her on TV screens now. Her latest appearance is in David Ondříček’s The King of Šumava miniseries. Gabriela is a young woman with many interests and, in addition to other activities, a second-year student at the Department of Production of the Film and TV School, Academy of Performing Arts in Prague. 

She says she started doing everything she does very early. “I started doing social media at age 16. I always felt like I knew exactly what I wanted to do and what my path was. Over time, though, I found out that I had done a lot of things not because I wanted to but because I wanted to prove something to somebody,” Gabriela Heclová says.

In addition, she says she is a person who jumps at opportunities. “My dad taught me that – ‘he that never climbed, never fell’. If I do make a mistake, I can at least learn a lesson.” 

The Covid pandemic made her realise her job was a bit pointless. “I wasn’t saving lives. That made me feel like I had no idea of what to do to make any sense. I was having a bit of a self crisis. And FAMU gave me an even keel.”

You gained notoriety primarily as a youtuber, but have since quit the job. You have 210,000 followers on Instagram; how much of your attention does Instagram receive?
I am active on Instagram about as much as any young person who is present in social media. I am present. I realise this platform allows me to communicate with as many people as my followers. Yet the figure is dropping rapidly because I no longer post the typical influencer content like I did. There are days when I post nothing at all, and then there are days when I have things to share, so I do that.

Which of your occupations keeps you busy the most at this time?
Producing, which is what I study at FAMU, and we’re organising the 39th edition of FAMUFEST as part of our curriculum. That’s been my principal job in recent months. I also work at Seeya Creative, a small studio founded by people from the Panská technical high school and FAMU. We focus on film production. I also work with director Šimon Holý and producer Jan Syruček on Šimon’s new film. All the while, I continue acting, though that accounts for a much smaller portion of my work.

What led you to the decision to study production at FAMU? You studied acting at the Conservatory; was continuing at DAMU not an attractive prospect?
I actually didn’t want to go to university after high school. I was convinced I didn’t need to study any more. And, honestly, I was also fed up with the system. When a job opportunity came up while I was at the Conservatory, it had to go through this approval process for us to get the permission to work. Luckily, I always got it and am grateful for that. But I started filming Rabies in the fourth year before the school-leaving exams. I wasn’t seen in school much, and they made sure to make me feel that during the exams. Even in the practical acting part, I was the only one to receive a grade one degree worse than others. Later on, my acting teacher admitted that it was unfair and felt sorry for allowing it to happen. I was disgusted. What disappointed me was that when you wanted to focus on something and actually do it, teachers who stand for authority would make it difficult instead of supporting you. It shattered my self-confidence. Everybody is full of doubt at age 17 or 18. In addition, I was never a very self-confident person actually, even though I may appear like I am. It cut me deeply and it actually made me somewhat hate theatre acting and the process that I loved about it. In addition, we were told frequently that DAMU wasn’t keen to admit Conservatory graduates.

Why would that be?
Because they have received some acting training already and are ‘set in a mould’, so to speak, and reshaping them and teaching them to work differently would be very difficult. I think it’s a bit of a nonsense, and this approach is changing at DAMU anyway. Many of my Conservatory schoolmates are studying at DAMU or have graduated, whether in alternative or drama theatre. Things have changed. In fact, I considered studying production at FAMU for some time after high school, but the requirement for a positive relationship to mathematics discouraged me.

Considering the huge budgets, film producers should know some math, I suppose…
Of course, they need to get around. It just discouraged me back then. I went to work. I made my living in social media, as a runner, filming videos, uploading podcasts, and working with GoOut. I wanted to connect all the dots. I always enjoyed culture as a whole. I even worked as a culture influencer for a period. I tried to motivate followers to go out for culture. Then Covid hit, and culture was over. Suddenly, I was sitting at home asking myself what to do. Not just for a job, but with all my life. I thought: “Gaby, you’re 23 – you can still manage university. You’ve been thinking about it and interested in it all the time, so try it. You’ve got nothing to lose.” I tried and was admitted. 

Do you think the school gives students enough knowledge, skills and other tools to be proficient and successful producers? Or do you need to have it in you, and learn most of it on the job? 
The most valuable thing that the school can give you, and that I realise it gave me, is people. At school, you meet people who work and think the same way. They are interested in similar things. You get to build a team that you can work with in the future quite naturally. In addition, you can try many things without running a risk. The school ‘covers your back’. If you fail at something, the worst thing that can happen is that you get a bad grade.

Music is one of your big passions. Do you sing?
I love music, and have since childhood. There was always something playing at home. I sang and also wanted to sing, but have pulled back a bit. I saw there were many better singers around me, and I always wanted to be the best in whatever I did. I didn’t quit music, but I focus on it differently. In the future, I want to organise multi-genre festivals combining all the fields I love – film, music, theatre. That’s where I’m headed. I actually applied for Production with this vision. I am open to anything for the future. At the moment, I work with music as a manager. I worked with Slovak singer Timea, and I work with the band Metastavy now. But it’s a side gig really because there’s even less money in music than there is in film. It’s more like a labour of love. I love it, and it fulfils me. I love the music environment dearly.

Do you manage your acting job alongside all that?
I was really lucky – knock on wood – to be involved in two quite big projects. Aside from director David Ondříček’s The King of Šumava, I made another miniseries to be aired this November. It is called the Extractors and it’s about a special Czech intelligence unit that focuses on Czech citizens in danger. That was very interesting, and I’m really curious about how it will come out. 

Does this wide range of jobs and interests suit you?
I am 24. I still see myself as quite young. I started doing everything I do very early. I started doing social media at age 16. I always felt like I knew exactly what I wanted to do and what my path was. Over time, though, I found out that I had done a lot of things not because I wanted to but because I wanted to prove something to somebody. It was not my personal drive. Somewhere in the back of my head, it said: “I’ll show you all that I can do it. I can manage. I can make it. And I’ll have the last laugh.” In addition, I’m a person who jumps at opportunities. My dad taught me that – ‘he that never climbed, never fell’. If I do make a mistake, I can at least learn a lesson.

What have you learned thus far?
I’m still searching. During the pandemic, I realised my job was a bit pointless. I wasn’t saving lives. It made me feel like I had no idea of what to do to make any sense. I was having a bit of a self crisis. And FAMU gave me an even keel. It put the much-needed system back in my life. When I was working, I was asking myself this question: “Is this really what I want to do all my life?” I want to discover and try things. The school gave me the room to do exactly that. The room to seek and try different things and with different people. I the future, I would like to work in a project sort of mode, alternating between different activities. I’m not the type of person who will to with one thing for a long time. Ideally, I would like to know and do everything. 

But people tend to like it when others are pigeonholed and easily decipherable…
They really love that, right? But I have a clear answer to that. Don’t let that discourage you. Do things the way and with the people where you feel that’s the way it should be. Try things and play with them, because when you’re not risking your life, what are you risking? To tell the truth, culture and producing are taxing, stressful disciplines. I could easily be a baker twenty years from now. Why not? I can do anything. If you want to try something, go for it and try it. If someone tells you, why are you doing it like this and not like that, just say: because I don’t want to. I want to do it this way. They always told me what I should be – a singer, an actress… And I never asked myself if it really was the right idea. Let’s ask ourselves what we really want to do, and take our time. It’s never too late.