This week, we are fortunate to have as our interview guest Mynettte Louie, a New York-based independent film producer. Her film credits include Children of Invention, California Solo and Stones in the Sun. Most recently, Louie produced Tze Chun’s crime thriller Cold Comes the Night starring Alice Eve, Logan Marshall-Green, and Bryan Cranston which will be released in the U.S. in early 2014. Mynette is the recipient of the 2013 Independent Spirit Piaget Producers Award and was named in Ted Hope’s list of “21 Brave Thinkers Of Truly Free Film“.
Mynette and I recently conducted an interview via email.
Today in Part 2, Mynette talks about how she developed her producing chops working on NYU student thesis films, then got involved with Andrew Bujalski’s first feature-length movie Mutual Appreciation:
Scott: Is it true you started producing NYU Tisch School graduating thesis films even though you weren’t a student there yourself? Was that something you sought out to learn how to produce or was it more serendipitous?
Mynette: Yes, I basically got a free film school education by producing NYU thesis films. I was working in my corporate media job when 9/11 happened, and after that, like a lot of people, I was like, “What am I doing with my life?!” I decided quit and take some time off to figure out what I wanted to do. I couldn’t resist the call of producing any longer, so I decided to take the plunge. But I was 28 and didn’t know a single person in film. I knew I’d have to start at the bottom. Thankfully, I was brought up to be frugal and had saved a bunch of money from my corporate job, so I could live off that for a while. The NYC Mayor’s Office of Film, Theatre & Broadcasting used to put out a weekly PDF jobs list called Techlist, and there was a listing for a volunteer PA on an NYU thesis film called Brighter Days. The contact email was a Harvard alumni address, so I thought, hey, I went to Harvard too, why not try that one? I ended up PAing for 3 days in a Jersey City dive motel and in Williamsburg (which was the first time I’d ever been there, even though I grew up in Brooklyn!). I fetched coffee, cleaned coffee stains off a costume, rubbed a mixture of coffee grounds and dish detergent on a bathroom wall. Sounds unglamorous, but I loved it—I was instantly hooked on production. I used those 3 days to learn as much as I could from the crew (all NYU students) and cast (including Mark Duplass). I ended up becoming friends and collaborating with some of the people I met on that film—Eric Lin, Caroline Aragon, Craig Johnson, Michelle Chai, Sen-I Yu, Wei-chen Chang. In fact, after the PA gig, I ended up producing the thesis films of the last three women on this list. I don’t think NYU had a producing track at the time, so all the directing students were hard up for producers, which was lucky for me!
Scott: Any choice anecdotes or lessons you learned from those early producing experiences?
Mynette: Put yourself in other people’s shoes to figure out how to negotiate with them. Poverty breeds creativity. Try not to let them see you sweat. Feed your crew well. Don’t produce and AD at the same time. Guard the truck! Most importantly: it is HARD to make a living by producing independent films, especially at the beginning. So figure out an alternate income-earning plan! My savings ran out after a year and I had to go back to a day job for a while. Thankfully, it was at least film-related (working for the Hawaii film commission).
Scott: Your first significant credit was the 2005 indie comedy Mutual Appreciation which I believe debuted at SXSW and for which you were a co-producer. How did you go from producing student films to becoming involved with Mutual Appreciation?
Mynettet: Mutual Appreciation was my first feature and actually only my third film after that one PA stint and one of my NYU producing stints. I was officially the production manager, but there were only 6 people on our crew, so I was also the location manager, production accountant, AD, propmaster, set dresser, grip, boom op, and craft service manager. So Andrew ended up giving me a co-producer credit. Another random Harvard connection brought me to this film. I was reading Filmmaker Magazine’s “25 New Faces of Indie Film” article and came across Irene Lusztig, who was in my Chinese class at Harvard. I found her email in the alumni directory and contacted her to say that I was looking to gain more producing experience, and to ask if she needed any help. She told me that she was a documentary filmmaker and it sounded like I wanted to learn narrative producing. So she suggested that I get in touch with Andrew Bujalski, another Harvard alum, who was about to shoot his second feature in Brooklyn (and happened to be another of the “25 New Faces” in that same issue). I emailed Andrew, and he sent me his debut feature, Funny Ha Ha (on VHS!), to watch first to see if we were simpatico. We were!
Scott: Mutual Appreciation was written and directed by Andrew Bujalski who has gone on to make several movies including Computer Chess which is just rolling out. What does it feel like to have contributed to the emergence of filmmakers like Bujalski?
Mynette: I cannot take any credit for Andrew’s emergence! That guy is a creative genius all by himself, and a pleasure to work with to boot. Truth be told, I rode on his coattails (thanks, Andrew!). I will, however, take credit for introducing him to the Duplass brothers. After my PA stint on the film starring Mark, he and I became friends, and I met his brother Jay when they invited me to a rough cut screening of their short Scrapple. I later took Andrew to scout Jay’s apartment as a possible shooting location. Both Mutual Appreciation and The Puffy Chair ended up premiering at SXSW 2005, and the rest is Mumblecore history. (I LOVE Computer Chess, by the way. Everyone, go see it!)
Scott: Of the various types of responsibilities producers have, which areas have you focused on or are you one of those producers who wears all the producing hats?
Mynette: I call myself a “soup-to-nuts” producer. I do everything from developing scripts to packaging and finding financing to overseeing physical and post-production, and even selling, distributing, and marketing the finished films. I love every part of it. Well, except for finding the financing. That’s a drag.
Tomorrow in Part 3, Mynette shares insight into her work on the movies Children of Invention and California Solo.
For Part 1, go here.
To learn more about Mynette, go here.
You may follow Mynette on Twitter: @mynette.