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RISK TAKERS - Channeling The Zeitgeist: When Personal Stories Embody Cultural Change, Great Things Can Happen

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, October 17, 2018




Every producer has at least one “movie that changed my life.” What’s yours, and why?

It’s hard to choose just one! But for me, the first movie that captured the combined power of great, entertaining filmmaking and its power to engender great compassion was Chaplin’s The Gold Rush. I saw it as a preteen with my parents at a screening at the University of Oregon, where my father taught. I can still remember where we sat in the theatre.

Participant is unusual in having a degree of social consciousness woven into its mission. How much of the company’s interest is spurred by passion for a particular story versus passion for a particular issue?

It’s an absolute balance between the two, and at times it’s hard to find that balance but incredibly rewarding when we do. Our passion is great storytelling that entertains but is also inspirational and speaks to audiences in a way that they find empowering. Our Presidents, Jonathan King and Diane Weyermann, have each been with the company for more than 12 years and deserve an immense amount of credit. They and their teams are highly adept at avoiding content that might be perceived by audiences as medicine or the movie equivalent of a plate of steamed vegetables.

What’s the quickest way to make sure you will NEVER back the script I’m pitching you?

By purposefully going around our executives to get to me.

As someone who’s worked at the intersection of studio and independent filmmaking, what are the elements that allow challenging films to break out of the “indie niche” and achieve broad success?

Making a film independently offers filmmakers the opportunity to take chances not always offered within more mainstream production constructs. Of course while studios can also produce films that tap into current culture and trends, I find these ideas simply populate the independent space more frequently. Films like Moonlight or Spotlight literally anticipate and then capture a zeitgeist. It’s no coincidence that companies like Marvel welcome filmmakers coming off independent work, to help make a film intriguing and accessible to a wide audience.


What’s a story you saw or read over the past year or so that really connected with you?

Recently Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal has really moved and empowered me. It’s a reflection of where my friends and I are right now and a reflection on how a cultural moment can also be very personal. It’s simply “about” our current experience, right at this very moment. Of course one cannot begin to experience all that is out there in this era of great content creation. That is the benefit and challenge of being a producer today: You have to make more tough choices than ever when it comes to what projects you choose to pursue. I have great respect for any artist who has a vision to tell a story that embraces the human condition or shows us a side of life we are not accustomed to seeing.


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