- Written by Amber Topping
- Hits: 6271
The Two Jakes:
All Work & All Play for Jake Busey
By Shirley Craig
- Written by Amber Topping
- Hits: 25476
The Day The Stars Aligned
By Bridget Brady
What happens when you have EVERYTHING? The talent, the team, the family, the connections, the music and the message…does this ENSURE success? That’s the question of the day. I sit down with a team of people seeping with talent, drive, message, mission and experience; Robert W. Walker, Mo Fitzgibbon and Joanna Tepper. Award winning and Grammy nominated filmmakers, Walker/Fitzgibbon TV and Film, recently produced and released Joanna Tepper’s latest music video, “Let’s Save the Children.” Written by the newest member of the Tepper dynasty, Joanna, along with her father, Warren “Mighty Joe” Tepper, and Grandfather Sid Tepper, who wrote over 40 songs for Elvis Presley. I sat down with the three of them to find out more about their journey together, their newly released music video, and their secret sauce to music, film and television success.
Let's start with the 411 from everyone. I'm sure our readers would love to know…who you are, what you’re about, and how you work together. Give us the scoop!
Joanna: I'm just your average girl. I don't do anything super spectacular out of the norm; work, school and singing. I'm very close with my family, and friends. I have a boyfriend. I like to work out, I'm very studious, I love to write; it's a sanctuary of mine, to be able to write songs, it keeps me sane. I live in California, and I care a lot about people, so my close relationships are important to me. Other than that, I work very, very hard. I have two jobs and I'm a full-time student. I've been working with Mo and Rob for a while now, about 6 months; they've been so amazing, they inspire me every day and they've been helping me along my musical journey. So that's been very special to me.
Fantastic! Rob, give us your 411.
Robert: I have a long career, passion and interest in media and music. I've lived in some of the major music capitals in the US; Memphis, Miami, Los Angeles. I was also in radio; I started in radio when I was in high-school, back in Tulsa, Oklahoma. That led to my involvement in recording studios, producing music, as a musician myself, and song writing. As time went on, creating all the ancillary things that go along with making music, and sharing it with people: music videos, documentaries, long-form specials. My skill set, out of necessity, grew because I'm kind of an impatient person, creatively. For example, along the way, in editing film and video, it got to the point where I realized, "Gee, if I could learn to do this, it would be a lot faster than telling someone else what I was trying to see." That's really how I got started building the skill sets of editing, shooting, and directing. I wasn't born with all these skills; they built on top of one another. We've had the opportunity to work over the years with some really, really amazing people, we've been super fortunate; from Sting to Shakira, to Gloria Estefan. When the Joanna project came along, we jumped at it because Joanna is cut from that same mold. What all those people have in common is a passion for the art and the music. It's not about fame and fortune; the quick buck, being out there on stage. It's fantastic to be out there on stage and have people respond to your art, but if you have a message and you have something within your soul that you want to get out, that's the important thing. We recognized that in Joanna right away.
I appreciate how you and Mo are such great cheerleaders for Joanna! Mo, it’s your turn…
Mo: I have been in television and film production since I was a teenager. I started as an on-camera actress in my teens, up to the age of twenty-six, mostly doing small roles in films, and some national commercials (as a surfer/skateboarder girl who would skateboard upside down on her hands with super white-blonde/platinum hair). From there I went behind the scenes, working in commercials and film at every level; PA, Coordinator, Manager. I got behind post-production and special effects. Over time I ran advertising agency departments, and then launched my own production company in my mid 20's. I decided that I wanted to venture out as a director, and I knew that I would probably have to show myself in a much higher position as a company owner. I would work two jobs and take sick-days from my “real” jobs and go out to direct projects; build my reel, until finally I was able to roll myself out as a director and writer. From that time on I was lucky to work with Ridley Scott on music videos, when music videos were king. These budgets were $500,000. I thought, "Wow! This is great, I love this!" I had accomplished working in the production arena; segued into music videos and long-form television. I was very lucky, because my partner, Robert W. Walker, little do you know, actually crossed over Gloria Estefan, and is known for that historically. FYI, something else you didn't know, he wrote records with KC and the Sunshine Band. One song is actually written about Robert, called, "I'm Your Boogie Man." We go back in the record business, we cut our teeth there. Eventually we became very active in the music community, being members of the Academy (National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences) as well as the Emmys, and the AICP Commercial Production Organization. We were lucky because we did projects, where [I] got in at the beginning with artists like Gloria Estefan, Shakira, and Enrique Iglesias. We were able to see the greatest people like Dick Clark, Quincy Jones and Emilio Estefan roll an artist out. We took that with us, it's something we love to do. We were so fortunate to receive a Grammy nomination for Gloria Estefan, work with HBO and Lifetime television, and do signature documentaries for VH1. It was a natural progression for us to move forward into reality and scripted television, and that's where we are today. When we got the Joanna project, I was purely inspired by the lyrics in the song, her genetic background (her grandfather being the great Sid Tepper who wrote 43 Elvis Presley songs), the fact that she went to college, she was a young lady who had dreams and goals, just like you and I. I wanted to be a part of that song. Through it we were able to send a very big message to everyone about children everywhere in the world.
How were you two introduced to Joanna and this particular project?
Mo: Joanna's father, Mighty Joe Tepper, a long-time rocker here in Los Angeles contacted us. He said, "We did this song with Joanna a few years ago. It did very well; we're ready to elevate her now." Joanna and her dad came together to sit down with Rob and I. Joanna said, "I've done everything I'm supposed to. I've gone to college. Music is what I want to do. Here's the degree Daddy, let's go. I'm ready." We wanted to guide and nurture her process; it's really special to be part of that.
Joanna, you're still in college now?
Joanna: Yes, I'm about to transfer to get my Bachelor's degree. I'm transferring as a Junior. I went to community college to figure out what I wanted to do as far as education. I'll be able to get my Bachelor's in a year, in psychology.
What are your two jobs? Are you putting yourself through college?
Joanna: I'm a baby-sitter and I work retail at a clothing store. Fortunately I have my parent’s full help putting me through college. It's very nice. A lot of people don't have that luxury; I appreciate it.
So, you'll have a psychology degree, and you're writing music...Ultimately, what's your big dream?
Joanna: Ultimately, all I really want to do is become successful in something I love to do. That's why I'm singing, and also why I'm going to college in case one of the two doesn’t work out. Following something as big as singing is very, very hard to do, especially now-a-days. They're both different for me. I don't know what I want to do with psychology yet, but with singing, performing, writing and dancing there's just a feeling that I've never felt anything like; it's so extraordinary. To see people's reaction, that kills me every single time. When my song was re-tweeted by Selena Gomez, I started getting all these girls messaging me, saying, "I love you, and I love your song, please write me back, follow me, etc." Stuff like that I love, because I know I made them feel something. That to me is all I really want out of this. I want to connect with people; I want them to connect with me in some way. Knowing I made them feel something, have fun, think about anything...that's all I need out of it.
Very well said for such a young artist. You have a release showcase coming up this summer?
Joanna: We're going to do a showcase, I'm going to perform a few songs, hopefully show the videos. I can't wait for that! I love to perform for people, and hopefully make them feel something. I like being in a room, having people respond to what I'm doing. I like to see people have fun. The showcase is slated for mid-August.
Make sure you keep us posted, so we can be there!! Joanna, do you have a band? Are you a solo-artist at this point? Are you looking to go out on the road and promote your album?
Joanna: Right now I'm a solo-artist, I don't have a band. We get music from producers. Even though I'm in school, I'm going to try to play more clubs and get my name out there that way.
Mo and Rob, you both have very diverse backgrounds, and have made several transitions in your own careers. What is your take on being an artist, and having those "back-up" plans? Do you think artists and young artists should pour everything they have into their careers, or take a more balanced approach?
Robert: I think that the pursuit of dreams is paramount with young people. I temper that with this advice...it's called show-BUSINESS. The reality of the business side of things is that it's very, very difficult to break through. Much bigger names than us have said, "You not only have to be good, you have to be lucky, the stars have to line up." You can have everything: great songs, killer voice, charisma, power, personal contacts, thousands of followers on Social Media; then you still have about half of one percent of a chance of breaking through. Having a back-up plan is just good, intelligent, life planning; no doubt about it. While you're pursuing your passion, you need to look at the realities of your chances of success in that arena. Look, most people have more than one extreme passion. There's your dream passion and then there are other things that you're really interested in as well. Joanna's the perfect example of this. She's super bright in addition to being super talented. She's in a lucky position, in that way. In a nutshell, my take is, go for your dreams with everything you've got, but keep your back-up in your back pocket. The nature of the business is that the greatest talents don't always get to the top; there's mediocre talent that breaks through for some reason and have really nice careers. There's no way to tell in advance how or why that happens. The stars have to line up and everything else has to fall in place just perfectly.
Mo: I have to agree with that. We come from an era of the ‘80's and ‘90's with artists. If you're gonna' be in the game, you have to work 15 hours a day. If you're going to be an artist, actor or singer, you're going to have to learn all aspects of your trade from Social Media to going to studios, getting to the vocal coach, work, going to school, and cooking for your family at home. Kids today, they have to have cover-songs, they have to go on YouTube, Twitter, they have to put pictures out of themselves, and they have to show up at events. It's a big deal, it's a lot of work, and if you can't cut it before you even get your deal, then it's gonna' be tough. When we look at success, it's not over-night. You have to work hard and play hard, and one day the deal's going to come through. Right now, "Let's Save the Children" has been tweeted by 30 celebrities who have driven their followers over to that song and video. That's impressive.
Joanna: My song's being tweeted by Selena Gomez, Julian Lennon, Emma Roberts, Lindsey Lohan, Helen Lutz, Ashley Greene, Adam Lambert, and Mark Salling from "Glee."
Mo: When I talk to Joanna about her song, she tells me that she wants to get a message out and she wants to change the world.
Joanna did you write "Let's Save the Children" with your dad and grandpa?
Joanna: Yeah, my dad and I started writing it together and the verses just flew out of us. We wrote it really fast, after the Sandy Hook shooting. We already had the music track; it all just fell into place. We realized that we could make it about everything, not just Sandy Hook; it could be bigger than that. We were really stuck on the chorus. We called my grandpa, told him about it, what it was about, and he said, "Ok, let me go," and he hung up on us. [Laughing] We were making bets on how long it would take him to call us back. He called us back an hour later and we worked out the chorus together on the phone. My grandpa's turning 96 in a week. He's probably sharper than I am, and he's 96.
Mo: Working with the kids of our rocker friends is important to us. Lineage is more important to us than any award. We met Shakira when she was 18 years old and didn't speak English. Emilio Estefan was going to bring her into his stable of artists. Just like Joanna (I'm a little baby bird, and I'm gonna' take flight). Luckily she landed in a nest where we could guide her in the business. We could say, "Here are your tools, here's how you're going to do it, now it's up to you to make it happen," and it's in Joanna to do it. Her grandfather wrote the "How much wood could a wood-chuck chuck, if a wood-chuck could chuck wood" song. He WROTE that!
Joanna: And there's MORE! There's a frog, and a fish...
Yeah...AND 43 songs for ELVIS PRESLEY!!
Joanna: It's funny too because we don't see him very often, but when we do see him, he'll just start saying lyrics he wrote that are so relevant to life. He's a genius.
Mo: And he worked on Joanna's first single release! (“Let's Save the Children”) We look at songs like "We Are the World" that are thematic in making a change. The energy on this project has been all about the messaging, the beautiful song, and the family dynamics.
As you're launching Joanna's career, what's the secret sauce in getting her music and her message out?
Mo: Collaboration. She's been working with people like us to help guide her, and her producer is a Grammy winner for Eminem. She has been exposed to top producers, and the interesting thing is, she's getting people writing new music for her right now. Why? Just because of this documentary that we did, and the two videos. We elevated her. We're not really people that you come to, to develop talent, per se...We’re a television and film production company, but we cut our teeth in the record business, we've lived into every medium, so we get it. Like we did for Gloria Estefan and Shakira, we just looked at the quality of the song, the message, and it's just taken flight. It's about spreading good-will and creating public service announcement with the music. Joanna and her family are donating a portion of the proceeds to the Let's Save the Children charity.
Robert: Here's a girl who's got all her stars lined up, if there's any justice in the world, she's gonna' blow up big-time. Her musical lineage, her association with Grammy winning producers and song-writers, and us; she's got a really powerful team behind her, and it all starts with her innate talent.
And there's the question that we don't get to have answered for another year, or ten, or twenty...When you have ALL the pieces of the puzzle, is that enough?
Robert: That's right. That harkens back to what I was saying before...You can get it all together, and you still need to have some kind of magical cosmic alchemy happen for it to really register with people, and to get the privilege, honor and tremendous blessing of sharing your art with the world. Look, humans are all seeking human connection. The motivation of an artist, writer, listener, reader is to find that human connection with other people so that you don't feel like you're alone. You’re thinking, “Wow...this song feels like it was written for me,” or “this writer hit the emotion exactly as I feel it.”
It was a beautiful and touching thing for me to see Mo and Rob really rally around Joanna and her music. Being her cheerleaders, and being willing to guide her, help her, and perhaps even align some of the stars for her. As in all artists’ journeys, no one knows where their twisty, often rugged path, will ultimately lead them. If we listen to Rob and Mo, we’ll put together our team, focus on our mission, keep our back-up plan close at hand, and keep an eye on those stars, so we’re ready when they align.
- Written by Super User
- Hits: 2293
By Stanley Dyrector
I’m somebody who finds it difficult to get on a bandwagon. Monday August 11th – was a very stressful day for me. Earlier, I had an important meeting with an important person who shall remain nameless. The meeting was not so good, because what I had expected to happen did not happen.
As I was driving home from Santa Monica that afternoon, I was befuddled by the illogic of the meeting’s outcome, but my antennae heard something about Robin Williams. It was only when I got home to mope that I learned that Robin Williams had died. Sixty-two years old, the media said. Yes, it was big news!
He was a young man - age being relative, since I’m an older man. I’m older now than he was by over a decade.
When I had met Robin Williams, he was an even younger man, just as I was a younger man. I was married and an actor/writer, but nobody was breaking down my door to give me jobs in a business I loved and had fantasized about being a part of since childhood, when I’d attended the Loew’s Pitkin in Brownsville Brooklyn New York City, wearing brown corduroy knickers. I was as unknown then as I am now.
What all my own jabberwocky leads up to is back in the day – the ‘80s and early ‘90s – I was driving a limousine and I was given an order by my dispatcher to go to a bowling alley on Pico Boulevard, near the ocean in Santa Monica, to pick up Robin Williams. Robin was already a big star, so what was he doing in a bowling alley? Why wasn’t he, in, say, a ritzy French restaurant, like L’Orange? The latter was the watering hole of choice for celebs and rich people. I once took Glenn Ford there, and another time, I saw Elton John hanging around.
I pulled into the bowling alley parking lot, locked my company limousine and went into the bowling alley, which was pretty busy. I spotted Robin with a couple of people, a guy and a gal, — although there may have been one or two others. Funny, as I think back to that night, there was a dryness to my meeting with him; nothing at all colorful or memorable to stick in my mind except the ordinariness of the situation. Did Robin’s eyes flash or sparkle? I do not recall. Mine, for some reason, did not either. Robin struck me as a quiet, gentle introverted person, instead of the outgoing clown he was always hyped to portray by publicity and performances. I introduced myself. He may have grinned a moment, obviously preoccupied by his company. But he was cordial in those few moments. Once I had a view of the landscape, bowling balls thundering down alleys like thunder, the aroma of beer curling up my nostrils from the peopled aisles, my anxieties calmed. I surmised, as Sherlock Holmes would, that perhaps Robin Williams had been bowling with his friends, or perhaps he stopped off at the bowling alley for a social visit, before I had arrived. I was probably puzzled and in the dark.
I returned to the limousine and waited for a short time. Then, when I saw Robin through the windshield exiting the bowling alley, I got out and tried to assist him, which is what my job was all about – customer-to-client service. I did play the role of Jeeves rather well, you know. I tried to help with the luggage, but he didn’t need any help with his attache case or small suitcase. I opened the passenger door and he hopped in. He asked me if it was okay to pay with an American Express card. I told him it was. And there he was in the back seat, filling out the things you had to, while I had the company’s portable AX gizmo. I noticed how careful and serious he was in doing something that I’d seen my customers do many many times before. No, there was nothing funny or memorable about it, my encounter with a younger Robin Williams…but then again, I was the driver, and this was the world we lived in…He coulda been anyone…even me.
- Written by Amber Topping
- Hits: 8888
What Does It Take To Be A Film Producer:
An Interview With Jason Gurvitz
By Alexander Ostroff
Ask the average person to describe a film producer and they’ll paint a picture of Tony Montana, had he decided to traffic celluloid instead of cocaine. Okay, how do you become a producer? You wake up one morning and call yourself a producer. With that in place you’ll just need some money, a script, and rudimentary organizational abilities. Well, that describes some of the so-called producers who have come and gone over the years. In truth, producing is one of the most misunderstood and sometimes underappreciated jobs in the entertainment industry. It’s also the most difficult. Producers can potentially make more films and more money than any other talent. Accomplishing this requires a unique collection of inherent and learned abilities, tungsten steel work ethic, and of course luck.
A true film producer is a polymath of cinema. He or she knows that the movie demons outweigh the movie gods a hundred to one. Films are severely allergic to getting made. Having the skin of an alligator and the tenacity of a honey badger is a given. A producer need not personally be a Kubrick or Daniel Day-Lewis, but must possess golden guts to discover talent and the (gender neutral) balls to invest in it. The producer uses an iron grip to keep the ship on time and on course, while never forgetting that art is not a democracy and that a suffocated vision always results in a horrible product. Above all, the producer must be able to understand storytelling better than any writer.
Producer Jason Gurvitz embodies all of these qualities. Gurvitz is a multi-hyphenated young artist with a passion for producing content that entertains and engages, inspires and elevates and allows the audience to see the world in a new way. In an industry full of extremes, Gurvitz is both a tough businessman and a passionate artist acutely aware of the power that film has to change the world for the better.
Jason, how did you get into producing?
Well, I fell into it pretty accidently. I started out as an actor and majored in theater in college. I did some theater in Spain and then acted in a movie in Spain. I got to a point where I got tired of waiting around to be cast in things. I was in an acting class with an amazing teacher named Jocelyn Jones. After I put up a scene one day she told that just the way I presented the scene and everything, that in her gut she felt that I was a producer. By that point I had already produced some events. I had produced a short documentary that I filmed in Israel. I produced small plays. I’ve always liked putting things up most of my life, so it made sense to me. I produced a play for the Beverly Hills Playhouse where I was studying at the time. That got me some attention and people started realizing that I could put some things together. I didn’t even know that I could do it myself. Then I finally decided to put on this charity benefit. It was a big concert with like six musical acts from five different countries. We had painters, dancers, a fashion show—I got sponsorship from Johnnie Walker. I brought in a whole team of people and the show was very well produced. It was right around that time that I was shopping this feature film, The Perfect Witness. I had set it up as a co-production with Spain, where I had lived for two years. The year before I went to the Cannes Film Festival and met a lot of Spanish producers. I could identify with them, because they were Spanish and I could speak to them with an understanding of their culture, not as some American who wanted to just tap their tax incentives or cheap labor or whatever most producers usually think about when trying to set up an international co-production. There’s nothing wrong with that approach, but I knew I had to start the conversation with what was most familiar and that was our common connection to Spain. Those were the people that would probably want to talk to me. There was this one producer based out of Catalonia, and we kept in touch quite a bit. Then a project came to me that was a thriller and I felt like I could set this movie up as co-production with Spain. Keep in mind I had no experience doing this at all. I didn’t know enough people in the United States that would take me seriously. I had a good relationship with this very established producer in Spain, and he wanted to work with me even though I never made a movie before. With his help I learned how to get Spanish co-production financing through Spanish broadcasters and Spanish government money. I learned by doing and just moved along with whatever I thought was necessary and we finally ended up making the film. We got Wes Bentley as the lead and all these other great actors, and we shot the whole movie in Philadelphia. That was kind of my first break into the industry.
You’re also a linguist. Languages are a passion of yours, intellectually and professionally. How has this helped you as a Producer?
That’s a very good question. I lived in Chile on an exchange program when I was in high school. Then I lived in Spain for two years, and then lived in Brazil for a while. I lived in Colombia when I was making Broken Kingdom. My early years of living in these countries and really getting to know these different cultures helped pave the way for me to focus on putting together international co-productions. I loved working with these Hispanic countries. I identified with the people and really liked them. There wasn’t all the bullshit that I was experiencing in Hollywood. These were the kinds of people that really wanted to work with Hollywood, and I did represent Hollywood since I came from here. They loved that I loved their culture and wanted to speak with them in their own language. Most of the time people from Hollywood go to these other countries and sort of barrel through and treat local producers like, hey, I’m from Hollywood, I know what’s best and you have to follow my lead. They don’t like that. They don’t like American imperialist arrogance. They liked in [a] way that I really didn’t know. I was being honest. I was learning about filmmaking from them and they learned about Hollywood through me. It made the process of becoming a producer a very personal experience for me. It motivated me to focus on projects that really moved me in personal way, rather than just looking at them as business ventures.
Producing requires thick skin. You’ve experienced your share of disappointments along the way. How do you deal with setbacks?
This happens a lot in filmmaking. I got involved in a lot of projects that never got made. But those projects that failed—so to speak—were in fact the most critical projects, because they lead me to projects that were successful. I worked on them for several years and ended up meeting very prominent American actors, directors, producers and agents. These projects were really a training ground for me. I learned a lot about deal making. If you’re a producer—or director, writer, actor—you have to be willing to go down the rabbit hole. There will be financially and emotionally unstable periods. If you love what you do and stick to it, it will eventually turn around. Sometimes the best way to learn how to get a film made is to not get it made.
All of your projects thus far have had strong social messages.
Yes, I’m really driven by socially conscious stories, but that’s not to say that I’m only making art house films. I really like scripts that make me think about the world in a different way. I like stories about people who are marginalized in society; whether that’s a horror film, thriller, comedy—I gravitate toward projects that also deal with culture clashes in some way. Stories that deal with a person out of their element, multi-cultures, multi ethnicities—but there are many ways to tell those types of stories. I like stories about people you may not hear about on a regular basis. They’re struggling with their own demons, struggling with the way society sees them. In a lot of ways I don’t really feel like I fit in Los Angeles and when I’m in other countries I don’t totally fit with them either, even though I love their culture. I always feel like a fish out of water somewhere, so in [a] way that’s why I like these fish out of water stories.
Your first major film was Broken Kingdom. What was it like filming in Colombia?
It was a great experience. I had never made a movie in Colombia before. I really love the country and the people are really nice. Colombia has such a stigma and I think it’s really misrepresented in the world. I was eager to be part of this country that I feel was changing for the better. Producer John Murphy and the director Daniel Gillies came to me through a friend. They heard I’m someone who could really help grease the wheels, to make it easier to shoot in Colombia—plus, I speak Spanish fluently. I also brought on local producers in Colombia. These were producers who were credible and really connected to everyone we needed at the government level, crew, locations and all that. I was this conduit between the Americans and Colombia—almost like a bridge, which kind of became my specialty. We were shooting in 2008, during the economic crisis, so already we had a problem with getting the money into the country. Colombia has a lot of money laundering regulations. It’s a big problem down there. The investors’ money had to come through another bank in another country, and that bank was not on the list of approved banks by the Central Bank of Colombia. When we finally managed to figure all that out, banks around the world started freezing their assets. One thing led to another and we had to leave the country because we just couldn't get the money in to shoot the film. We came back a year later when [we] had the rest of the money. That whole experience was so life changing for me that John Murphy ended up making a documentary about how we financed the film called Kingdom Come. It’s a great film for filmmakers. It tells the story of how, when people really want something, how badly they’re willing to go after it. Both Broken Kingdom and Kingdom Come aired on Showtime. Now they’re on iTunes.
Your next project was directing a documentary called Changing Lives.
I was approached by a group of anesthesiologists from Seattle, from an organization called Seattle Anesthesia Outreach and this incredible man named Dr. Richard Solazzi. He was working on bringing a mission to the Black Lion Hospital in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. They were going to bring in anesthesiologists, neuropediatric surgeons, surgical technicians, many different kinds of doctors and recovery nurses—bring them to this hospital to essentially teach anesthesiology. There are many deaths in Ethiopia because of poorly administered anesthesia. Dr. Solazzi wanted to turn that around and he wanted a documentary filmmaker to document this process. That’s what I did. I donated a hundred percent of my time and flew to Ethiopia for a month. I spent Monday through Friday with these doctors, documenting all their work. We build a post anesthesia care unit (PACU). We cleaned out their surgical tech facilities. We really got to know the Ethiopian people. It was an eye-opening experience. They’ve been using the forty-five minute documentary over the last several years to continue to raise money for the cause.
This brings up an interesting point. An independent filmmaker with a philanthropic spirit may not be able to simply write a big check, but he or she can use their talent to create content that brings global attention to a cause they wish to support.
Absolutely. Hey, I’m not rich. I don’t have hundreds of thousands or millions to give to these things. When I have time between my projects, if I have a month or two to dedicate to something I really believe in, I will donate my time. I’ll find people to work for free who also care about these issues. Telling these stories and exposing them to as many people as possible will help raise money for these causes. That will be my contribution to them and this is something that these organizations desperately need.
Tell us about your newest film, Savaged.
Savaged came to me through a very talented, visionary writer-director named Michael Ojeda, who is also an accomplished editor and DP. I was first introduced to him by another documentary filmmaker friend of mine. I read another script that Michael wrote. It was a very big action film set in 17th century Japan. We realized this was just too big of [a] film to make at this point, so he and I started working on the script and re-developing it. We both pounded the pavement and raised a little bit of money, put a little bit of money together on our own, and we shot the first 25 minutes of the film, to use that footage to raise money. It immediately got the attention of a sales agent in Canada who immediately committed a portion of the budget to us. With their help we reached out to more equity investors. After a long year we were able to raise the rest of the money. We had an incredibly talented cast and crew. Everybody really gave their sweat equity to this film. They worked for a lot lower rates than they really deserved, but they believed in us and the script. We shot the film over the course of a month. We had lots of special effects, lots of stunts, we were out in the desert far away from LA—it was just a really big movie to make for the little money that we had to make it with. Fortunately, the love that we put into it, attention to detail, the dedication, it all paid off. What I really liked about the story—I’m not going into it too much—I really liked that it’s a horror film about a woman who really kicks ass, but it also deals with deafness—the lead character is deaf—it deals with racism against not only Native Americans but also African Americans. It’s also a love story. It’s not just this typical horror film for young boys who like slasher films. It makes you think and connect. It’s a movie that even a lot of women like. It appeals to many different age groups and many different demographics.
You just wrapped production on your next film, The Submarine Kid.
Yes. There a lot of story elements I can’t give away at this point. The Submarine Kid deals with culture clashes and people who are marginalized. It’s a story about a United States Marine who returns from Afghanistan with PTSD. He’d rather come back into his old life again, but he has a really different perspective of the world now. His family doesn’t really recognize him as the same person who left. Like other soldiers returning home, he’s also dealing with the changing landscape of the United States. There are some really unique elements in the film that you wouldn’t necessarily expect in a story about PTSD. I was really proud to have worked with some really talented actors in this movie, like Finn Wittrock, from The Normal Heart and the upcoming Unbroken, and Emilie de Raven from Once Upon a Time and Lost. I produced the film with Deborah Del Prete, who’s made a lot of really wonderful films. It was the first time I came away from a movie really looking forward to working with every single person again on a film. Every other film that I’ve been involved with, even the documentaries, there were always personality differences were there was at least one person I didn't really get along with and that wasn’t the case on this.
What are some of the other projects that you have planned?
We have a film called The Gift Horse, which Deborah and I are doing together. Some of the money is attached and we have some really amazing actors attached. It’s a really cool heist drama set entirely in the south. I’ve never shot in the south before so I’m looking forward to it. I have a post-apocalyptic thriller that we’re looking to potentially shoot in the south as well, and maybe shoot in the Ukraine. We have another film that we’ve been trying to make for a while, that we’d love to shoot in Canada. It’s a thriller about five guys that go up into the mountains, and they all learn things about each other that they wish they hadn’t. We have the MadreMonte Project, which is a series of five genre films that we’re shooting entirely in Colombia, in English, with directors from five different countries. I’m working with an incredible producer there named Diego Ramirez from 64A Films. We’ve been in a long selection process of selecting scripts over the last year. It’s been very hard. We’ve received many scripts but have only selected a couple thus far. We have a documentary called The Three Hikers, which is about the three American hikers who were jailed in Iran. The incredible talented director Natalie Avital has been shooting that for the last four years and it’s finally coming to the end of post-production. I also directed a short documentary about a group of very special people who facilitate the rescues of American children, who have been kidnapped by traffickers for sexual exploitation and organ harvesting.
What is the current state of independent filmmaking from your perceptive?
Well, I think independent films have constantly been evolving and getting better over the last fifteen or twenty years. Digital technology is getting better and cheaper. Bigger directors and actors are embracing lower budget projects more than ever before. We have really big stars that are now writing and directing their own projects. For example, House of Cards is one of the greatest independent series ever made. Even though it was picked up by Netflix, it was essentially made the same way that independent films got made over the years, and it has a very independent spirit. House of Cards is not something you’d see on prime time television. I really feel that independent filmmaking has, in a lot of ways, morphed into what has become the greatest television of our time. A lot of the independent filmmakers who were making really challenging material that the studios weren’t making, migrated into television. They started to make content that the networks realized could be turned into a series. I don’t think we would have this ground-breaking television if those networks had gone to mostly studio writers, because they weren’t writing that kind of stuff.
Do you have plans to get into television?
Absolutely. I’m already working on some projects right now that we hope will land in the right place whether that be on the TV or the Internet, which will eventually be one and the same anyway.
You’ve been outspoken about the importance of keeping independent film production going in California. Do you think the situation will improve in the near future?
Well, I’m by no means an expert on this issue. I got involved by holding a fundraiser for Eric Garcetti, who is very passionate about trying to keep production in Los Angeles. But it’s a statewide issue. The state has started to do more but it’s not enough. Until the state begins passing the necessary laws to get these incentives in place in a significant way, independent film production will stay outside of California. California lawmakers are now giving this issue a lot more energy, but it’s a slow moving ship and a hard ship to turn. I hope it will improve in the future.
As a producer, you obviously look at a lot of scripts. What is your advice to screenwriters who are trying to get their script made into a film?
If you’re going to approach a producer, be sure that your script is truly ready. If you haven’t gone through at least five to seven drafts, with several layers of notes from somebody you trust, or a couple of people that you trust—if you haven’t done that then no matter what you think, it’s not ready. Period. I don’t care how many people told you it’s amazing. There’s always room for improvement. Experienced producers will ask you how many drafts you did. I’m talking about real re-writes. Is it possible that you can bang out a script, do only two or three drafts, and it ends up getting made? Absolutely, and I’m happy to be wrong. But that’s very rare. If you give the producer a script that needs a lot of re-writes, you’ll waste their time. If later on you come back to them with an incredible Emmy or Oscar caliber script, they’re not going to believe you could do it, and won’t look at it. Make sure your work is the absolute best it can be before; then you have a good chance of getting it made.
- Written by Amber Topping
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A Chat With YA Author Georgia Clark:
On her New Novel, "Parched", Environmentalism And The Challenges Of Life As A Writer
By Rebecca Lane
Up and coming writer Georgia Clark graced us with an exclusive interview, in which we had the chance to pick her brain on anything and everything. Her newest release, Parched, a young adult dystopian novel, explores a world in the distant future where the privileged live in a utopian city, Eden, inside a protected bio-dome and the rest are forced to survive in the unforgiveable wasteland that is the rest of the planet, called the badlands. The heroine, Tess, once a member of Eden, decides to join a rebel group in the Badlands in their quest to reveal the true evil lurking beneath the false beauty of Eden. We chatted about not only Parched, but also her newbie days in Australia working as a young film and magazine writer (one of her past jobs being with the wildly popular Australian soapie, Home and Away), her recent work with Showtime, as well as her most recent writing project, The Regulars, among many other things. Getting down to even the nitty gritty details of what it takes to be a successful writer, Georgia shares with us stories about her fascinating life and work giving us a unique glimpse into her world as a fiction writer.
Who or what inspired you to become an author?
I guess I just always liked telling stories. I liked being told stories, having people tell me stories, and I liked telling them. I studied film making at university. I wanted to become a director and so was sort of screenwriting and filmmaking, and made a couple of top films. That was really fun, but very expensive and tricky to do. You had to kind of corral endless amounts of people to help you and be around you. I was doing writing as well on the side, and it became apparent that writing was something I could do often, but all the time, any time. I didn't need to talk anyone into trying to help me; it was really cheap. And I could still create stories that were in my head. So, it was something that I just sort of ended up falling into more. And then it’s also sort of like, once you write your first book, once you get through the slog of it, because you know it's a hard thing to do, then you sort of get a bit - it’s the adrenalin of it - and realizing it’s like, “ah I want to do it again, but do it better,” you just want to keep doing it.
What led you to write this Parched?
I’ve always wanted to write a sci fi. I love sci fi, like pop sci fi. I really enjoy stories set in the future. They’re sort of a fun way to work with metaphor and allegory and the sort of things that are going on now. I just really wanted to write the kind of story that I really personally enjoyed, which is rollercoaster rides, thrilling stories, passionate groups of characters trying to fight for something that’s right. I was a big fan of the Hunger Games and just wanted to write something that was sort of that electric and had a big story arch.
And the story I feel like came in some part from when I was nineteen. I went backpacking to Mexico with my then girlfriend for three months. It was the first time I’d left Australia and it was a really eye opening experience. I saw the world for what it was for the first time and was out of my comfort zone and sort of, you know, experiencing culture clash and language barriers. And it was such a formative experience.
I sort of realized after I finished the book that I put my main character, Tess, in the same situation. She’s a young girl, who was brought up in a city called Eden, which is a beautiful paradise of a city, and thrust unceremoniously into this broiling badlands and has to learn to fend for herself. That was just something that I kind of, I guess, went through and I was always interested in putting a character through that. And then you know how it sort of changes you and you develop empathy that you didn't realize you would, and you know a connection to a place, which is sort of what happens to Tess as well. I guess I was just always interested in AI. I wanted to learn more about AI, so I wrote a book about it, which forced me to research it and understand it.
The premise of Parched is that humans have used up most of the world’s natural resources. Is this a topic you are passionate about – environmentalism, global warming, etc… and wanted to highlight?
Yeah, yeah I definitely am. I definitely feel concerned, angry, and upset at the ways in which capitalism destroys the environment and places a greater emphasis on profit than people and the environment. I mean, it’s just something that’s happening so obviously, which I think is one of the worst things. It’s just unashamedly happening before our eyes, and I feel like a lot of people—there’s a degree to which you can just feel powerless. I mean, there are things that you can do in your own way and that I do in my own life, trying to reduce how much you consume. I’m a vegetarian and switching lights off and things. But it’s like sometimes it just feels a little bit like I can do all of those small things, but the reality is we live in an aggressive capitalist society that is destroying parts of the forests and oceans at such a staggering rate. I mean, it’s just like gotten out of control. And so, yeah, I definitely feel really like we have to kind of quite radically change our ways and change the powers that the governments give to corporations. And sort of start acting in green ways pretty fast, otherwise we’re going to end up living in the badlands like most people in Parched are.
Is anything in your book based on real life experiences, or is it purely all from imagination?
Yeah, well, like I said, it’s sort of based on the experience of living in Australia for the first time when I was nineteen. I was in my first year at university and I got involved with the left wing movement, different kinds of left wing movements. Just like Tess found Kudzu, and became sort of like radicalized, I was part of the women’s movement, the clean movement, and the environment movement. You know, basically, if there was a cause, I was there at a rally.
And it was a really exciting time I guess politically, but more like socially because I was meeting people that I was connecting with who were on the left. And I wasn't politicized in high school. I didn't even really think I knew what capitalism really was. But, so at university I kind of decided to understand more of those bigger ideas and meet people who were passionate about making change and seeing unfairness and working to combat it.
It was thrilling, you know. It was exciting. That’s basically what you want to be doing at university or college. And you’re young enough to think that you really can change the world. It’s such a fresh, exciting, young, cool time, and I always wanted to write something where—I loved stories about revolutionaries. They’re passionate and flawed and they have their own agendas and things like that. I am really attracted to those kinds of characters, to idealists.
Which character speaks the loudest to you? Do any of them clamor to be heard over the others?
I guess Tess is the character. Tess is the “I” character, like “I do this” and “I do that.” She’s on the radar. I definitely feel like I relate to Tess. And Tess is a lot tougher than I am. Physically she’s probably stronger than I am, even though she’s only sixteen. I can relate to her in just feeling like, well, everyone’s sort of felt misunderstood and alone and that they want to shut themselves off at different times from parts of the world. So I definitely relate to Tess.
I love Ling. She’s such a badass and just more of a like no nonsense. Like Tess has a sense of humor, but Ling is far more… slightly more humorless, but hopefully in an empathetic way. And I love Hunter and I love Izzy as well.
In my early drafts, Tess’s best friend Izzy from Eden, her old best friend, was kind of a more prominent character, but as I worked through she got cut back a little bit. But she is a fun character as well. I like how she just represents the “don’t worry about it, let’s have a good time,” kind of friend. And she’s fun and sweet and sexy and silly. And I always am attracted to those naughty best friends, best friends that’ll get you into trouble, best friends that like breaking the rules.
But Tess has a realization when she comes back that she originally thought that she and Izzy were rebels, and in their sort of small ways they would kind of break the many laws of Eden. But she had this realization that they weren’t rebels at all. They were just part of the system. They were essentially complicit with everything going on, and its Kudzu who is actually rebellious. And that's what she’s attracted to being a part of.
What is your next project?
The next project I’m working on is a women’s fiction novel. It’s my first adult fiction and it’s set in Brooklyn, NY where I live. And it’s about three female characters in their early twenties, Evie, Willow, and Krista. And it's a book that explores the theme of beauty, beauty standards in our society right now. And it’s satirical and a critique of beauty, but it's a funny book. I’m aiming for truthful, humorous, a little bit dark, and it's a contemporary novel set in 2014. It has a magic realist premise to it. So, there’s a lot of things that I’m playing with that I haven’t before. I’ve nearly finished the first draft. And it's a really fun project and speaks more obliquely to my life and my friends and things that I’m thinking about and have gone through in the here and now. I think after writing a dystopia, I was just craving to be in the real world for a little bit, so this is my real world experiment.
What would you like your readers to know about this book or you in general?
I guess, just, if they’re looking for a fun action adventure with a kickass female hero at the center of it that explores revolts and romance and life in a world with very little water, then this is the book for them.
I noticed you previously worked for the incredibly popular show, Home and Away, as their online producer. Can you tell me a little about your work in Australia before becoming a fulltime writer?
I had a lot of fun writing gigs in Australia before I moved to NYC: it's a great place to be a big fish in a small pond. I produced online content for the 'soapie,' Home & Away, as well as the first season of So You Think You Can Dance and the 3,000th season of Australian Idol. I edited a weekly music magazine called The Brag, which meant I was on the door for every music gig in Sydney for a few years. I wrote for teen magazines and women's magazines, the latter of which is experience I'm drawing on for my new novel, The Regulars.
Why did you decide to relocate to the U.S. and what has been some of the biggest changes and challenges you’ve faced in terms of now being based in a foreign country (in the wild jungles of New York no less)?
I decided to move just for fun! I had fallen in love with Brooklyn, and wanted to challenge myself; have an experience. Obviously it's hard being away from friends and family and the long golden shores of Sydney's incredible beaches. We don't really have a winter in Sydney either, so the polar vortexes certainly test my patience! It also took me a long time to find good freelance work here in NYC: it's so competitive and so many people are willing to work for free. Luckily, I now have a great job, and we're coming into summer: hooray!
As well as writing, you are also working for Showtime. What is it like working for them, and what does your work entail?
Yes, I work as a freelance consultant in the digital media department, helping produce an app called SHO Sync, which is a second screen experience app. Check it out on iTunes! I love my job: I'm a fan of the network, and it offers a lot of flexibility to get my writing hours in. I do recommend to people wanting to be authors to find a well-paid part-time or freelance career: it takes a long time to be a full-time author (consider your first advance might be four figures for years of work), and if you take the pressure off your writing needing to pay the bills (at first), you'll feel less stressed and more free.
What advice would you give to an aspiring author?
My advice for an aspiring author…umm ok let me give you my top three tips. So number one: commit to a regular writing time, a writing time that works for you. So, if you’re a night owl, don't make it 7 am. If you like getting up early, then don't make it midnight. Like a time that you’re going to realistically be awake and you don't have anything else going on, and you can sit in front of the computer. And at least once a week, if not more, in a space that isn’t your bedroom and that is quiet and you won’t be interrupted. So, the first is just starting a habit of doing it, making it a habit, and making it a habit that you don't just decide to break because you don't feel like it. It has to be like, if you actually want to write a novel, like a long form novel, then it is a job. In the same way that you approach your work, like you don't just decide not to go to work because you don't feel like it, you go every day because you have to and that's kind of what writing is. You have to make it a regular thing that you don't have to bargain with yourself every time to get yourself there. So the first one is make a regular time that you commit to.
The second is start working on a story in a genre that you read and that you like. So, don't start writing a YA because everyone’s writing YAs. And you have never read a YA, but you feel like it might be easy to write and sell one. Because A: there is so much competition from people that are passionate and well read in the genre. And B: you won’t reach readers, like you won’t be speaking to readers because you don't know enough about it. And C: you won’t stay with it because it’s really hard. I mean, writing a book is really tough. It kicks your ass, and you’re only going to stay with a project like that if you actually really enjoy it. You feel like you have to tell this story. It's a story that's inside of you. It’s crawling to get out, must get out, and it’s something that you personally enjoy. So, if you read mysteries and you love mysteries, write a mystery story. If you love literary fiction and you love stories that are, you know, sort of beautiful, whimsical thoughts on character, write that. Write something that you know and that you love, and you’re going to stick with.
And 3: I’d say…join a writing group. Join a writing group. Find some other people who are working on something like you are, so that you have, you become accountable to other people. Being a novelist is really isolating. And I’ve kind of developed a work ethic for myself, but it took a long time. And I feel like having other people to read your work and get feedback on it and to encourage you to keep going, you won’t as easily give up. Because at first it’s terrible and everything you write is terrible. And you just need other people to kind of like cheer you on and you can cheer them on and sticking with it. So, I would say that's my three pieces of advice. It would be just to find a schedule and to stick with it, start working with a story in a genre that you know and love and join a writing group.
And just for fun, what is your favorite quote?
I read a quote just the other day. I’m thinking a lot about beauty and things to do with beauty, and this was a quote from Tina Fey that I thought was funny. She says, “When it comes to beauty we must always remember the most important rule, which is who cares?”