The Female Hollywood Producer
Meal: Mocha Lite Frappaccino
Music: “California Stars” by Wilco
I drove up from beach bliss to Hollywood to meet my friend Rebecca in her indie production company’s new office. Long before before she got her second masters in film and even longer before she started making movies Rebecca had been my dearest compadre during our MBA exchange program Santiago, Chile.
Rebecca gave me a big hug and walked me upstairs to her office, which was filled with marked up scripts, white boards of possible projects, and a giant Spock doll.
After admiring Spock, I asked Rebecca about the Celluloid Ceiling Study. It states that only 26% of total producers are women and only 17% of Executive producers are.
“For me, being a woman in a male dominated industry is an asset.” Rebecca said. “In addition to being smart and creative, women have a special intuition they can add to projects. Plus I like to create a new reality—and show men that we are equals in their world.”
Rebecca always had an amazing ability to create new realities. I distinctly remember a night long ago where we were waiting in line for a club in the trendy Bellavista area of Santiago.
“We don’t wait in line—Heidi, let’s go up to the front.”
“But,” I stammered, “We are poor grad students, not VIPs here.
“Perception is reality,” Rebecca countered. “If you believe you are celebrity, so will they.”
In addition to a newfound celebrity status, Rebecca created another new identity for herself while in Santiago. She put the NYU MBA aside to work with a Chilean children’s TV series called 31 Minutos, a Latin American styled Sesame Street. I asked her again how she managed to land the job.
“Don’t you remember, there was a guy in our class that had a contact there. I knew I wanted an internship in something more creative than the NYU options and when I heard about the Muppet show I thought ‘Hey, I bet I could work there.’” Never mind that Rebecca didn’t have Chilean authorization to work, wasn’t yet fluent in Spanish, or had any applicable ‘muppet style’ production experience.
“If you really want something you will do whatever it takes to make it happen,” Rebecca said. “I spent time giving myself every piece of ammunition to convince myself it was the right decision to stay in Chile and work with the show. And once I was convinced, convincing others was easy.”
It was working with 31 Minutos that Rebecca realized producing was meant for her. When she returned to NYU to graduate with her MBA, she rejected all typical MBA job pursuits. Instead, she got a temporary job with MTV production and quickly started working on her application for the prestigious Peter Stark Production program at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts.
“I’d much rather be on a set in jeans than in a suit in some high rise marketing cereal with other MBAs,” she said.
After graduating from the Peter Stark program and launching a few short films, Rebecca once again decided to create a new reality by starting up her own production company. “Yeah I could go the traditional route and work with someone established like Scott Roeder, but then I would just be the assistant.” Rebecca wanted to drive her own ideas.
“If I could raise money on my own than I could choose the projects.”
However pulling a project together isn’t easy. Rebecca had been reading through scripts, meeting with investors and trying to line up talent for almost two years.
“Producing is hard, especially for feature films! It’s like a big puzzle. In order to get financing I may have to get a certain director. And this director will only come on board if I can bring on a specific star. And this specific star wants to see the financing already done. Argh. It can be a frustrating juggle.”
In addition, smaller production companies like Rebecca’s have limited resources. They cannot always afford the big names or writers guild material. Plus with the economy down investors are hesitant to invest in indie productions that don’t guarantee blockbuster success.
“It’s hard not to be discouraged sometimes. Sometimes I ask myself if I made a huge mistake going the independent route. But then again, I really cannot imagine doing anything else.”
I asked Rebecca how she stays motivated.
“Besides the support of my boyfriend and family? Two things. Number one: Remember that it takes time. Success is not overnight. They say that actors need at least 500 rejections to call themselves an actor.”
I was curious how this translated to producing—perhaps she needed to do 500 production project puzzles?
She laughed at my suggestion, “I do not know about that. But Malcolm Gladwell did say that it takes about 10,00 hours to become an expert at something.”
She continued, “Number two: Always have a Plan B. If I run out of money I can get another job, get a roommate, cancel my cable, whatever it takes. Once you see that plan B isn’t so bad, pushing forth with Plan A is easier.”
Rebecca gave me the perfect motivation I needed to continue my writing road trip. Plan B is go home and sign another consulting project. Plan A is drive indefinitely.