Ten Career Lessons From An Oscar-Winning Producer

April 15th, 2014 by

I had a lengthy conversation yesterday with a Hollywood movie producer. Always interesting to see how their minds operate. I often talk about how we, as writers, should be able to put on our ‘producer’s hat’ in order to see our stories through their eyes. But what does that actually mean? How to think like a producer if you don’t work with them on a regular basis?

One thing you can do is read up on them. A number of movie producers have written books. Among the more notable:

* “The Kid Stays in the Picture,” Robert Evans

* “Tell to Win: Connect, Persuade and Triumph with the Hidden Power of Story,” Peter Guber

* “A Pound of Flesh: Perilous Tales of How to Produce Movies in Hollywood,” Art Linson

* “Hello, He Lied — and Other Tales from the Hollywood Trenches,” Lynda Obst

Then you can look for articles like this one: “Ten Career Lessons From An Oscar-Winning Producer”. That would be Jeremy Thomas, producer of such movies as The Last Emperor and Sexy Beast.

Here are a few of Thomas’ lessons:

Follow your heart.

“I’m a filmmaker, a film lover, historian, archivist. All those years of filmmaking, it was the same thing going on every time: ‘This could be something, I like it.’ People find this fact amazing. ‘But what about the market?’ Couldn’t give a shit. The market will be there next year. I want my films to be successful but it’s not in the hard drive in selecting what I’m doing. It’s one of the components of the process, but it’s all based on your taste. I can’t think of another way of judging what project to do. When you decide to make a film with somebody, you want to make it with that person. Support it 1000 per cent in that vision. That’s how you make a film.”

Ignore the critics.

“When I heard Crash had been banned in Westminster, I almost cut myself shaving. As a producer, you’re confused and amazed when that happens and you’re quickly protecting yourself, your film, your colleagues and your ideology. 80 per cent of my films are badly received when they first open, but that applies to many of my favourite films by Kubrick, Nic Roeg, Peckinpah, Orson Welles. Most of your favourite films are excoriated on opening by the critics but slowly [become recognised] over the decades. I’ve had a drubbing of my recent films. Don Hemingway wasn’t appreciated here, but it will be back. How can you not appreciate Jude Law’s performance? But you should read the reviews for Bad Timing, Naked Lunch and Crash. (Evening Standard’s) Alexander Walker described Crash as ‘a movie beyond the bounds of depravity.’”

Always persist.

“I loved the story of the Kon-Tiki expedition as a boy growing up in the ‘50s – it was a big story of six men on a raft across the Pacific – and I’d wanted to make it but (expedition leader) Thor Heyerdahl didn’t want to do it. A lot of people had tried to make it and he didn’t want to, even though his wife was keen. I made four trips to Tenerife to try to persuade him to give us the rights. It was a long courtship. I played The Last Emperor card – showing him that and other films [I’d made] – and finally he submitted. Maybe it was a certain time of his life and he was reflecting. Unfortunately, he died before it came out. Are there are other passion projects I’d like to do? There are lots of things, but I’m not going to tell you what they are. I haven’t tried South America as a continent and I’d like to make a film there.”

Come to think of it, those are solid lessons for writers, too.

Good producers are gold. If they get your material and get you, they can be your champion, fighting on your behalf. This producer I spoke with yesterday is doing precisely that with an interesting, but challenging project. Why? Because he is passionate about it and respects what the writer has done with the story. He can also see a “back of the napkin strategy” for getting it made.

Next time you sit down to assess a story idea to see if it’s worth writing, take some time to put on your producer’s hat. Look at it through their eyes. Does what you see in the story feel like it would fly with what they might see? If so, you very well may have a winning combination.

For the rest of the article with Jeremy Thomas, go here.

Go here to read my interview with movie producer Ted Hope.

Go here to read my interview with movie producer Mynette Louie.

If any of you have other resources featuring interviews with movie producers, please click Reply and post in comments. Thanks!

“Gamechanger Films” Launches to Exclusively Finance Women-Directed Feature Films

September 30th, 2013 by

Great news:

Mynette Louie Tapped as President, Founders include Julie Parker Benello, Dan Cogan, Geralyn Dreyfous and Wendy Ettinger

September 27, 2013, New York, NY – Gamechanger Films, a new company founded by Julie Parker Benello (Afternoon Delight, Pariah, Brooklyn Castle), Dan Cogan (Hell and Back Again, How to Survive a Plague, The Queen of Versailles), Geralyn Dreyfous (Born Into Brothels, The Invisible War, The Square) and Wendy Ettinger (Semper Fi: Always Faithful, The War Room, Eye of God), and led by producer Mynette Louie (Cold Comes the Night, California Solo, Children of Invention), who recently won the 2013 Independent Spirit Piaget Producers Award, launches today as the first for-profit film fund dedicated exclusively to financing narrative features directed by women. Producer Mary Jane Skalski (Very Good Girls, Win Win, The Visitor) will serve as the company’s senior adviser.

Gamechanger aims to shift the gender disparity in the film marketplace by tapping into the enormous existing talent pool of women filmmakers and providing the necessary financing to bring their work to movie-going audiences worldwide.

Women directors have been responsible for some of the most acclaimed and successful films of recent years, from Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty to Lisa Cholodenko’s The Kids Are All Right, and yet it remains difficult for women directors to access capital and secure equity financing for production.

Louie says, “An equal number of women and men graduate from the top film schools, but in the last four years, only 7% of the 250 top-grossing Hollywood films were directed by women — that’s a lower percentage of women than that found among Fortune 500 company boards, philosophy professors or aerospace engineers. Female-helmed projects are mistakenly perceived to lack commercial viability, and narrative film projects rely on a funding structure that is primarily operated by men. Gamechanger aims to increase the number of films by women in the marketplace by offering a dedicated financing option for them.”

Gamechanger will provide production financing and will serve as executive producer on a slate of narrative features. Films eligible for financing may be of any genre, but must be directed or co-directed by a woman. Preference will be given to projects with accomplished producers attached.

You may remember this analysis which shows that female writers have written only 1 out of 8 spec scripts sold from 1991-2012 which is in line with the stats regarding women directors.

You may also remember the name Mynette Louie from my recent interview with her. If you read it, you will realize Mynette is an awesome choice for this gig.

It’s one thing to try to raise awareness about diversity issues. That’s important. But it’s a whole other thing to put money behind an initiative like Gamechanger. That’s how things get done in Hollywood.

Kudos to the folks behind Gamechanger and best of luck!

For more on the Gamechanger announcement:

Los Angeles Times

Variety

Go here for the Gamechanger website.

Interview: Mynette Louie

September 22nd, 2013 by

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“.

Mynette12

Here are links to the six installments of the entire interview:

Part 1: “I’ve probably known since 7th grade that I wanted to produce films. Growing up in New York and seeing movie sets in the street all the time, I was always fascinated by how that whole circus of crew, cast, lights, and trucks got assembled.”

Part 2: “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!”

Part 3: “I only take on projects that I’d be willing to lose sleep and nutrition for, and that I’d be proud to put my name on.”

Part 4: “So it behooves you to not put all your eggs in one basket, to make films back-to-back or even simultaneously. It’s an insane way to live. No indie film producers actually sleep.”

Part 5: “The next person who sends me an immigrant drama or microbudget Mumblecore comedy will get it chucked back in their face! (Unless, of course, it happens to be brilliant.)”

Part 6: “As a producer, I look for characters that great actors would want to play because the vast majority of indie films are still financed by way of cast attachments.”

To learn more about Mynette, go here.

You may follow Mynette on Twitter: @mynette.

Interview: Mynette Louie — Part 6

September 21st, 2013 by

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 6, Mynette shares some thoughts about what she looks for in a screenplay:

Scott: How hands-on are you in working with filmmakers in script development? Are there any tips or guidelines you’ve discovered over the years in terms of how to successfully develop a story or is it an organic process from project to project?

Mynette: I’m as hands-on as I can be given all the projects I have to juggle. Remember, development doesn’t pay the bills, so it’s hard for indie producers to dedicate lots of time to it. But I do read and give notes on every draft of the scripts I take on, and sometimes I solicit notes from others and compile, digest, and interpret those for the writer. I try to propose solutions to the problems I identify, and sometimes even rewrite bad lines. My biggest pet peeve is telling instead of showing, and I’m kind of a Nazi about that. I’m also a grammar freak, and therefore a compulsive copyeditor. I get hung up on logic a lot too. I guess my development process is pretty organic because I try to tailor it to what’s most effective for each particular writer. Some of them ingest feedback really efficiently and effectively, others get defensive and you have to let them marinate on the notes a little longer. Sometimes, they’ll dismiss a note and the problem will show up on screen. Let’s just say that’s happened to me more than once! Producers often have to resist the urge to say, “I told you so.” Listen, their names come before mine in the credits, and audiences will ultimately hold them responsible if the film sucks. So while I do my best to persuade them toward my viewpoint, I’ll let it go before they do because, hey, it’s their funeral.

Scott: How important to you are the characters in a script? What are you looking for when you read characters?

Mynette: Very, very important. These are the beings who take you through the journey of the story. You have to relate to or be engaged with them. Their motivations should be clear. The POV(s) through which you frame the story should be clear. As a producer, I look for characters that great actors would want to play because the vast majority of indie films are still financed by way of cast attachments.

Scott: Relative to other script elements, where does dialogue sit in terms of its value to a script?

Mynette: Hmm, tough question. All elements are valuable! I do love great dialogue. But there are also films with very little dialogue that I love.

Scott: How would you define theme and is that something you are consciously looking for when you read a script?

Mynette: I guess to me, the “theme” of a story is its essence, what it’s ultimately about underneath all that plot. You know, what are you trying to say about humanity or society or existence? Yes, I do consciously look for this when I read a script. Or rather, it should look for me.  I shouldn’t have to work too hard to figure out a story’s theme; it should make itself apparent naturally.

Scott: Obviously budget considerations are critical in any film project, especially in the indie world. Based on your producing experience, what tips could you provide screenwriters about what choices they can make to minimize budget versus what elements they may include which tend to blow up a production budget?

Mynette: Well, the obvious things to exclude are special and visual effects, stunts, kids, animals, scenes on or in water, and time periods other than present day. Limit your locations, characters, and extras. Driving scenes and elaborate shots can up take extra time because of the additional logistics involved.

Scott: What advice can you offer to aspiring screenwriters and filmmakers about learning the craft and breaking into the business?

Mynette: Don’t pander; be true to your creative self. Watch a LOT of movies. Make a movie! Seriously, just take your iPhone and do it. Don’t wait around too long for someone to give you the green light. Don’t get suckered in by big names and empty promises. Don’t attach deadweight producers who won’t bring anything to your project. Be proactive in getting your film off the ground, even after you’ve attached a real producer (we are all spread thin and could use your help). Also, hone these traits.

Scott: Where do you see yourself in 5-10 years? In an ideal word, what are you doing?

Mynette: In an ideal world, I’d still be doing what I’m doing now. I love producing films, and I hope that I’m able to sustain a career doing just that. But if I can’t do that, then I’d like to be in an occupation that involved helping content creators sustain their careers.

Scott: What do you love most about being involved in the film business?

Mynette: Taking words on a page and making them live and breathe. Working with people who are passionate about what they do. Engaging in healthy debate over creative ideas. And the potential to illuminate the human condition and create something that people will continue to enjoy long after I am gone.

Thanks, Mynette, for a terrific interview and great insight into the world of movie production.

For Part 1, go here.

Part 2, go here.

Part 3, go here.

Part 4, go here.

Part 5, go here.

To learn more about Mynette, go here.

You may follow Mynette on Twitter: @mynette.

Interview: Mynette Louie — Part 5

September 20th, 2013 by

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 5, Mynette provides her take on VOD, Hollywood major studios’ current business model, and the lack of diversity in the film world:

Scott: It seems like more and more nowadays, indie films are being made available on VOD (Video On Demand) before their theatrical release. Could you explain that strategy and how that evolved? How important is VOD to the growth and sustainability of independent film?

Mynette: IFC and Magnolia pioneered the day-and-date model, where a film is released simultaneously in theaters and on VOD to get more marketing bang for the buck. Ultra VOD, in which the VOD release comes before the theatrical, is also used to contain marketing costs—the idea is that it generates (cheap) word-of-mouth promotion ahead of a film’s theatrical release. Both of these release models, which were somewhat controversial at first, are becoming increasingly common. Because theatrical and DVD revenues are continuing to decline, the growth of VOD is absolutely critical to the sustainability of independent film. All of us filmmakers want—no, need—VOD to grow faster!

Scott: Meanwhile over at the major studios in Hollywood, they seem to have a bifurcated approach to their choices: Either super expensive tentpole movies or lower budget genre films, leaving midrange films to independent financiers. What’s your take on the viability of that situation? Do you envision the major studios ever getting back into the specialty arena in a more comprehensive way, and if so, is that a good thing or bad thing?

Mynette: The middle has indeed dropped out. It is a space sparsely occupied by firmly established auteurs as well as European and Canadian co-productions with lots of soft money and no prospect (or even intention, sometimes) of recouping. The good news is that Hollywood is starting to lose faith in tentpoles after all the big debacles this summer, so I hope that they will reconsider their commitment to specialty films. The bad news is that everyone’s attention seems to be turning to TV instead of specialty films. Like everyone else, I agree that TV has gotten a lot better, but I strongly believe that film still has a very important place in the world. TV is a plot machine. Film offers more space for contemplation and is a wholly conceived (beginning-middle-end) experience.

Scott: We’ve seen several studies and reports in the last year or so about the low numbers of directors, actors, writers, even lead movie roles represented by women and non-whites. It seems like it’s an institutionalized thing, longstanding in nature. What can be done to change that reality?

Mynette: Yes, racism and sexism are definitely ingrained in the film industry. So much so that most people don’t even notice it—it’s insidious. I think any significant change has to come from the top—studio brass, financiers, producers. We need to actively look for female artists and artists of color to support, and by “support,” I mean finance. The tiny fraction of women directors in Hollywood (7%) is pathetic. Same goes for artists of color.  I can’t tell you how many times someone has told me, “Can you make this Asian character white? And maybe this black one too?” We know why Hollywood doesn’t like to cast minority actors: allegedly, they aren’t “bankable.” But why not? Well, because Hollywood doesn’t like to cast minority actors! So there’s little chance of them ever breaking out and becoming bankable. Vicious cycle! I have a lot more to say about this, and you can read it here.

Scott: I’d like to ask you some questions related to screenwriting and story development to get a producer’s perspective. How do you go about sourcing material?

Mynette: Sadly, because I’ve been so busy juggling multiple projects as a matter of survival (see above), I’ve been more reactive than proactive about sourcing material. Ever since Children of Invention premiered at Sundance in 2009, I’ve gotten a steady stream of script submissions from collaborators, filmmaker friends, friends of friends, other producers, managers, agents, attorneys. But I also look at the projects that get into labs and project markets like the Sundance and Film Independent labs, Tribeca All-Access, IFP Project Forum, Fast Track, and of course, The Black List.  And I track filmmakers whose films I like.

Scott: When you sit down to read a script, what are some of the key elements you are looking for that will make you interested in pursuing that project?

Mynette: Multi-layered characters, great dialogue, original storylines or original takes on less original storylines, emotional engagement, showing and not telling, resonant and universally relatable themes, satisfying epiphany. I guess this sounds pretty vague. Basically, I have to fall in love with the script for whatever reason. But don’t look at my past work and assume that I only want to make films like those. The next person who sends me an immigrant drama or microbudget Mumblecore comedy will get it chucked back in their face! (Unless, of course, it happens to be brilliant.) I want to produce different kinds of films and I love all genres. I especially want to produce a horror film at some point. I’ve been looking for one for a long time, but haven’t found the right one yet.

Scott: When I look at the roster of the movies you’ve been involved with, even though they are indie films, they all seem to have a clear, even concise story concept. How important do you think it is to the success of an independent film to have a story concept that is more easily marketable?

Mynette: It’s important, especially nowadays when people are so easy distracted and overwhelmed by media saturation. The pithier the logline, the better. That’s not to say that people should stop writing low-concept, less commercial scripts. But they need to know that they will have a much longer and harder road in getting them produced and distributed. And they should recognize and accept that their endeavor is motivated entirely by art, not money. Which means they should make their films for $50K or less. Yes, that’s right: $50K or less.

Tomorrow in Part 6, Mynette shares some thoughts about what she looks for in a screenplay.

For Part 1, go here.

Part 2, go here.

Part 3, go here.

Part 4, go here.

To learn more about Mynette, go here.

You may follow Mynette on Twitter: @mynette.

Interview: Mynette Louie — Part 4

September 19th, 2013 by

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 4, Mynette provides background on her latest movie production Cold Comes the Night and what it meant to win the Piaget Producers Award:

Scott: 2012 seems to have been a particularly busy year for you because not only was there California Solo, but four other movies were released with which you were involved as a producer, exec producer or consulting producer. What are some secrets in handling several film projects simultaneously? Is taking on multiple projects a conscious strategy on your part or is that more about a confluence of events?

Mynette: Even though those five films all came out in 2012, they weren’t all shot at the same time. Their production dates ranged from April 2009 to July 2011. So, some of them were in post longer than others. Also, as an executive or consulting producer, I’m not on set or running the day-to-day, so it’s easier to take these positions on. But I’m still pretty selective about what I commit to even as an EP because I need to be sure that I’m actually willing to carve out bandwidth for the project, and I don’t want to end up disappointing anyone.  But juggling multiple projects at once is a necessary strategy for survival in indie film. If you’re not in production, you’re not getting paid. No one really pays for development anymore, not even the studios. And even when you are getting paid, your fee is piddling because the production budgets are all piddling. So it behooves you to not put all your eggs in one basket, to make films back-to-back or even simultaneously. It’s an insane way to live. No indie film producers actually sleep.

Scott: This year you have the crime-drama Cold Comes the Night, written and directed by Tze Chun with whom you teamed up again: “A struggling motel owner and her daughter are taken hostage by a nearly blind career criminal to be his eyes as he attempts to retrieve his cash package from a crooked cop.” What’s the backstory on that project?

Mynette: Tze was introduced to Osgood Perkins and Nick Simon through their manager, and they ended up writing the script together.  Trevor Sagan, who had co-financed Children of Invention and produced it with me, paid for the development of the script, which was awesome since, as I just mentioned, no one does that anymore.  Tze then sent me the script and I came on in late 2010 as the lead producer on the project. Stephen Vincent & Sig De Miguel came on as casting directors and helped us attach Alice Eve, Bryan Cranston, and Logan Marshall-Green, and UTA helped us get a negative pickup deal with Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions. And I found the actual cash to make the movie via Three Point Capital, Whitewater Films, and Cherry Sky Films, the latter two of which had financed previous films of mine.  In spite of the very small budget for what this film was, we had a great time shooting it in upstate New York in late fall 2012 and delivered it to Sony in July 2013. Even though the film was produced independently and relatively autonomously, we were ultimately beholden to Sony. This being my first studio experience as a producer, and having heard so many studio horror stories from filmmaker friends, I was sort of dreading the experience. But honestly, it’s been really pleasant! Sony’s notes were really smart and thoughtful, and they liked the end result enough to want to put the film on 100 screens in the UK on September 20th!  Our US release date is still TBD but will most likely be early next year.

Scott: You have an additional credit on the film: second unit director. Was this out of necessity or does this represent a desire on your part to get into directing?

Mynette: This had mostly to do with efficiency. Other than Tze, I knew the film the best, and I knew what Tze wanted best, so it just made sense for me to direct second unit. It was really just a day driving all around upstate New York with a DP and two assistants shooting landscapes that matched certain scenes of the film. I got 19 shots and had a lot of fun, and would totally direct second unit again, but stick an actor in there? No dice. I co-directed a play in college, and that was when I decided I didn’t want to direct. Don’t get me wrong, I have the utmost love and respect for actors (I used to act a little myself!), but it’s just too hard to make people emote on command.

Scott: This year you were the recipient of the Piaget Producers Award from the Film Independent Spirit Awards. What does winning that award mean to you?

Mynette: It’s a milestone that I never thought I’d achieve. So many producers (true producers) whom I admire and who have mentored me have received this honor. I’m still so totally grateful for the award! I really appreciated the $25K too—support like this really enables indie producers to focus on getting projects off the ground. Otherwise, we have to juggle random gigs to make ends meet, thereby neglecting our projects. So, thanks again Piaget and Film Independent!

Tomorrow in Part 5, Mynette provides her take on VOD, Hollywood major studios’ current business model, and the lack of diversity in the film world.

For Part 1, go here.

Part 2, go here.

Part 3, go here.

To learn more about Mynette, go here.

You may follow Mynette on Twitter: @mynette.

Interview: Mynette Louie — Part 3

September 18th, 2013 by

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 3, Mynette shares insight into her work on the movies Children of Invention and California Solo:

Scott: Let’s move to another noteworthy movie with which you were involved, the Sundance 2009 drama Children of Invention: “Two young children living illegally in a model apartment outside Boston are left to fend for themselves when their hardworking mother disappears,” written and directed by Tze Chun. How did you intersect with this project?

Mynette: I met Tze after an Asian American filmmaker panel that took place during the Tribeca Film Festival in 2007. Tze had a project at Tribeca All-Access, and he had just premiered his short Windowbreaker at Sundance a few months before that.  A bunch of us went to dinner after the panel (neither Tze nor I were panelists, but we tagged along with them). It turned out that he was a big Bujalski fan, and had found one of the Mutual Appreciation locations for us (I didn’t know about this because I came on a few days into the film since I was wrapping my short). I caught up with Tze again a few months later at IFP Market, where he had another project.  Then in spring 2008, he sent me Children of Invention and asked me to produce it.

Scott: I’m assuming that as a producer, particularly in the indie world where it’s such a challenge to develop, finance, produce, distribute and market a movie, you have to be passionate about the projects you choose to commit to. What is it about Children of Invention that you resonated with personally and/or as a movie lover?

Mynette: You assume correctly! I only take on projects that I’d be willing to lose sleep and nutrition for, and that I’d be proud to put my name on.  I fell in love with the script for Children of Invention immediately. It really resonated with me personally since my own mother is a working-class immigrant who was really into pyramid schemes. Like the little boy in the film, I constantly had anxiety about my family not being able to make ends meet. And when I saw Tze’s short Windowbreaker, I knew that he could make a great film.  Plus, he had already found the financing for it! Granted, I had to redo the entire budget and negotiate the details of the financing deals, but the commitments were there, which obviously makes my job a lot easier.

Scott: What were some particular challenges you faced in getting this movie produced?

Mynette: Because we had such a tiny budget (only $150K through delivery), I had to do all the legal myself because we couldn’t afford to hire a lawyer.  I’d had some experience with legalese because I wrote the Hawaii tax credit legislation and I drafted termsheets in my corporate media job, but it was my first time negotiating film financing deals, cast deals, and distribution deals—things that you don’t really do as a short film producer or line producer. We also had two child leads, aged 8 and 10, and 28 locations across 3 states and 7 cities. And we were SAG, WGA, and paid almost all of our crew. Yet we only went over 12 hours on one of our 25 days.  I don’t know how we did it. Totally not a repeatable feat.  But honestly, it was such a pleasant and smooth experience thanks to the incredible cast and crew, especially Tze.  I mean, the film went from script to Sundance in just 10 months! So all in all, getting it produced wasn’t that difficult. Getting it distributed, however, is another story, one that I’ve told way too many times. So maybe everyone can just read about it here.

Children of Invention won several awards including the Grand Jury Prize at the Independent Film Festival Boston. Are winning events like that actually important for a movie and if so, why?

Mynette: Yes, very important, especially for a tiny first-time feature with unknown Asian American actors. Any kind of attention is helpful to get the film seen and the filmmakers known.  Even if we don’t get the attention of the general public with these awards, the industry pays attention, and that helps validate us as filmmakers, which makes getting the next film off the ground a tiny bit easier.

Scott: Another movie you produced was the Sundance 2012 movie California Solo, written and directed by Marshall Lewy: “A former Britpop rocker who now works on a farm gets caught driving drunk and faces deportation after living in Los Angeles for many years. His efforts to stay in the U.S. force him to confront the past and current demons in his life.” How did you become attached to this project?

Mynette: I actually first met Marshall on the set of Mutual Appreciation. We borrowed his apartment in Brooklyn to shoot the party scene. He and Andrew were friends at Harvard, and Marshall acted in Funny Ha Ha. Marshall also got his MFA in directing at Columbia, and I had worked with a lot of folks from his class. It wasn’t until 7 years later that Marshall contacted me about producing California Solo. I really responded to the script—a moving story about an antihero told with very nuanced characters and thoughtful dialogue. (It’s on Netflix streaming now, so please check it out!) I had a lot of fun shooting this film in and around Los Angeles, in spite of the small budget. We shot 30 locations in 21 days, so I got to know the city really well, and even grew to like it.  And like Andrew and Tze, Marshall is also really intelligent and pleasant to work with. I’ve been really lucky. See, no matter how great your script is or how talented you are, if you’re a horrible person to work with, I’m outta there. A director-producer relationship is a long, long haul.

Tomorrow in Part 4, Mynette provides background on her latest movie production Cold Comes the Night and what it meant to win the Piaget Producers Award.

For Part 1, go here.

Part 2, go here.

To learn more about Mynette, go here.

You may follow Mynette on Twitter: @mynette.

Interview: Mynette Louie — Part 1

September 16th, 2013 by

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 1, Mynette describes her early interest in movies and how she made her initial move toward movie producing:

Scott: I’m not sure there is a typical path to becoming a movie producer, but your journey strikes me as particularly distinctive, so let’s start there. Where were you born and where did you grow up?

Mynette: I was born in Manhattan but grew up in Brooklyn. My neighborhood, Kensington, was the most diverse in New York, maybe even the country, at that time. My parents were born in China and grew up in Hong Kong, and they met as students at the University of Hawaii. In Brooklyn, we lived with my grandparents who were from Toisan and spoke a village dialect, so I grew up speaking English, Cantonese, and Toisan. We also lived in Honolulu for a short stint—from age 3 to 8 for me. Yes, it really sucked at first when my family moved from Hawaii back to Brooklyn.

Scott: Were movies a big part of your life as a youth and if not, how and when did you catch the movie bug?

Mynette: Huge part. I come from an artistic family—my dad was a watercolor artist (he used to sell paintings in Washington Square Park and had a gallery in Honolulu for a short time); my mom majored in studio art; my uncle was a photographer, illustrator, and filmmaker (he went to SVA, won a Yankees poster contest, and took photos for Hustler in the 70s); and my sister is a fashion designer who has designed for Calvin Klein, DDCLab, etc. So art and film have always been a big part of my life. I can’t pinpoint exactly when I caught the movie bug since I was so young when it happened.

Scott: What are some of the most important or memorable movies from your childhood?

Mynette: Gosh, I have so many! How do I choose? Well, I still remember the first films I saw in a theater: Bambi, Sleeping Beauty, and The Empire Strikes Back. They were all pretty traumatizing—Bambi’s mother dying, creepy Maleficent, frozen Han Solo. Some of the images from these films were seared into my brain, so I knew early on how powerful film could be. My parents also subscribed to HBO for a few years when I was around 5 or 6, and late at night while they were busy playing mahjongg, I would sneak into the TV room and watch all kinds of crazy stuff that kids should probably not watch—The Exorcist, The Omen, The Shining, Poltergeist, Stripes. I saw a lot of good movies on HBO back then—Kramer vs. Kramer, Arthur, Tootsie, The Elephant Man. When I moved back to Brooklyn, I’d always watch WPIX Channel 11’s Saturday & Sunday afternoon movies, and supplement with video rentals from the local drugstore. I discovered Stand By Me, Mosquito Coast, River’s Edge and Platoon this way, mostly because my rental pattern was based on my actor crushes, which included River Phoenix, Keanu Reeves, and Charlie Sheen. It was around this time, around age 11, that I started discovering auteurs like Woody Allen, Scorsese, Kubrick, Almodovar, the Coen brothers, The Godfather trilogy, and on and on. I would literally spend every weekend and summer going to the theater or binge-watching rented movies to the point of making myself sick.

Scott: I believe you attended Hunter College, then graduated from Harvard. What were your areas of study? When did the idea of being involved in the movie business kick in for you?

Mynette: I went to Hunter College High School, not the college, from 7th through 12th grade. It’s pretty artsy fartsy. There were several kids acting in Broadway plays and few in movies while I was there. I think the school had like half a dozen different theater groups. And there’s a long list of alumni in the arts—Cynthia Ozick, Audre Lorde, Manohla Dargis, Ruby Dee, Eli Attie, Adam Horowitz, Cynthia Nixon, Bobby Lopez, Lin-Manuel Miranda, etc. But even though I had all these examples of successful artistic paths, I was still very scared about pursuing a film career because my dad struggled to make a living as a painter. He basically earned a very good living at it for five years, and then suddenly it was over.  He didn’t want me to have that same fate, so he and my mom pushed me toward law and accounting, which they thought were more practical. What’s funny is that this is such a stereotype in the Asian American community, buy my parents were pushing me away from the arts not just because they thought it was unstable, they knew it from personal experience. What’s even funnier is that I am now doing a TON of law and accounting anyway as an independent producer!

But you know, I’ve probably known since 7th grade that I wanted to produce films. Growing up in New York and seeing movie sets in the street all the time, I was always fascinated by how that whole circus of crew, cast, lights, and trucks got assembled. When I got to Harvard, I did try to listen to my parents and major in economics, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I ended up majoring in East Asian Studies, with a focus on Chinese film and literature. I was really into fifth generation Chinese film and literature from the pre-Communist May 4th Movement. It was not very practical or applicable to my initial jobs out of school (marketing at Time Magazine, market research at Jupiter Research, and biz dev at SportsIllustrated.com), but it’s come in pretty handy for producing.

Tomorrow 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.

To learn more about Mynette, go here.

You may follow Mynette on Twitter: @mynette.