Category Archives: News

The Film Festival Experience

Napa Valley Film Festival Case Study

The film festival experience remains a crucial component of launching films and careers. While it seems like every burg between here and Timbuktu has a festival, it’s worth serious new filmmakers taking the time to apply to the right ones that will have engaged audiences, professional screening environments, meaningful critical reviews and even some acquisitions activity. It’s also worth noting that in an increasingly fragmented distribution world, festivals may actually offer filmmakers their best opportunity to see their movies projected on the big screen with enthusiastic audiences.

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So how does a filmmaker pick his or her festival targets? It has a lot to do with content, timing and objectives. The mac-daddy acquisitions festivals have been and remain: Sundance (mid-January), Cannes (mid-May), Toronto (early September). While there are, of course, other highly prestigious film festivals (Berlin in February, Venice in August, Telluride on Labor Day), they tend to be more about celebrations of film than discoveries of new talent and films to be bought. I would argue secondary acquisition festivals include SxSW (March), Tribeca (April), Seattle (May/June), as well as the LA Festival (June) and AFI (November cozied up to the American Film Market). Beyond these festivals, there aren’t a lot of acquisition-heavy festivals in which new films and filmmakers may be discovered.

However, there are many delightful established festivals to attend, including Palm Springs (early January), Santa Barbara (late January), San Francisco (April), Mill Valley (early October), Hamptons (mid-October), along with many others. Additionally, international festivals can be critical to launching films overseas. A small sample of these includes Deauville, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Pusan, Tokyo, London, Vancouver, and Montreal. I have many filmmaker friends who have attended literally dozens of festivals worldwide in order to help launch their films and expose themselves as filmmakers to the rest of the world.

images-10All of which brings me to the new kid on the block, the Napa Valley Film Festival, which just completed its third year in mid-November. Founded in 2010 with an inaugural weekend followed by its first full festival in 2011, I was asked to be on board of trustees by friends and founders Marc Lhormer and Brenda Lhormer (who I’ve known since business and undergraduate days, respectively) and with whom I actively participated in their previous festival in Sonoma, and with whom I produced Bottle Shock in 2007.

After years of developing a little gem of a film festival in Sonoma, Marc and Brenda saw an opportunity to shift one valley to the east and put a festival on the world stage with the brand that is Napa. In addition to their experience with Sonoma, the founders brought with them years of festival attending experience, so it makes sense that the Napa Valley Film Festival has a lot going for it.

In addition to being a world-class destination featuring the world’s best wines and cuisine, Napa is a gorgeous location where hospitality is a priority. Furthermore, the timing has allowed studios and independent releasing labels to showcase their soon-to-be-released Oscar and Spirit contenders. This year included August: Osage County, Saving Mr. Banks, Philomena, Out of the Furnace and more. Additionally, since the festival isn’t hung up on world premiering independent films, they get to cherrypick many of their favorite narrative films and documentaries from other festivals, which are – of course – brand new to everyone attending Napa.

Spread out over 5 days in 4 Napa Valley villages, the festival features 12 screening venues showing 125 movies with hundreds of filmmakers and fans being wined and dined by 50 chefs and 150 wineries. The festival has also attracted all manner of sponsors, including dozens of hotels and restaurants. This year, major non-Napa sponsors included Cadillac, Sony, Intel, Amazon Web Services, Merrill Lynch/Bank of America, Stella Artois, Union Bank, Delta Airlines and several others.

Napa Valley Film Festival

Best of all, the festival features a meaningful experience for newer filmmakers, particularly those who created the top 10 competition dramatic films. These filmmakers are treated to an artist-in-residence program over two days hosted by deeply seasoned filmmakers who can offer expert advice and important industry contacts going forward. Very few other festivals offer anything like it, and certainly fewer still offer the range of amenities provided by Napa.

What I’ve learned in my four years on the board is that putting on a world class film festival is more work than one can imagine, and truly a year-round endeavor. Mobilizing a small staff to engage a larger seasonal staff and then hundreds of volunteers who must graciously handle dozens of patrons, hundreds of passholders, thousands of ticket buyers and then many celebrity guests is no small feat. As the festival matures, its personality and place in the top film festival firmament will crystallize, making it – I hope – one of the world’s top festivals.

For those considering festivals, there are many considerations, so let me recommend a book written by a friend and a colleague. The Complete Filmmaker’s Guide To Film Festivals: Your All Access Pass to Launching Your Film on the Festival Circuit by Rona Edwards and Monika Skerbelis.

I also want to recommend friend Sydney Levine’s invaluable blog on the international movie business, which includes many features on international film festivals:

Happy holidays and good luck aspiring filmmakers.

The Theatrical Experience

Still Vital for Art and Commerce

For so many reasons, mostly a little show called HEATHERS THE MUSICAL, I literally didn’t set foot in a movie theatre for more than six weeks. Several wonderful films opened and I felt like I was the only guy on the planet not seeing them. Something was missing; I felt less engaged not being able to marvel at GRAVITY.

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So when the chance arose to finally take my older son to see it (thankfully still playing in 3D at Arclight Hollywood), I leapt at the chance. The cost was a whopping $39 for the two of us. Add parking ($3) and a large popcorn and two bottled waters ($15), and you had a $57 movie experience for two. But our seats were reserved in advance and everything about the experience was first-class.

There’s been a kerfuffle in the movie industry lately about the shrinking theatrical windows being encroached upon – now mostly by Netflix, which is dominating the aftermarket (and become a primary market) for movie viewing. Netflix’s Ted Sarandos is testing theatre owners’ patience by pressing to further shrink the window between theatrical and Netflix, and even suggesting day-and-date availability.

NATO (National Alliance of Theatre Owners), or similarly-minded theatre owner organizations, has been on the defensive since the advent of television, which was sure to decimate the movie going experience. It didn’t. The same issue arose when VHS came to prominence in the 80s. Viewing habits did change, but the net financial impact for filmmakers and studios was so positive, there was no fighting it. The arrival of DVD was only more of the same. And now the digital revolution (streaming, downloading) further threatens the exhibition world.

As the music business learned, there is no fighting the revolution, which may not be televised, but it will be streamed, whether you like it or not. Interestingly, one of the net effects on the music business was to drive artists back into live performance, where a much greater percentage of money is earned today by musicians compared to those who could hide out in their studios before the digital age. The revenue model (Spotify, Pandora, et al) is struggling to find a real reward system for recording artists. So, for now, fans benefit from more live performances and wickedly low digital costs.

The film business, particularly the exhibition world, can learn a lot from the music world’s challenges. I submit that seeing movies in theatres remains critical to the on-going vitality of the movie industry, which also has great cable fare nipping at its heals. The movie-going experience, like the live concert world, has to up its game. It’s all about service and providing experience audiences can’t get at home (though technology is doing its best to approximate the theatrical at home).

The key, of course, is the group experience (like a concert, sporting event, or live theatre). The fact is you can see a football game better at home, still 16 NFL stadiums a weekend are bursting with 50,000-70,000 ticket buyers paying top dollar for tickets. A critical visceral part of seeing a comedy, horror picture, thriller or drama is the sense of having that experience with hundreds of other people. Beyond that, the big screen, big sound, 3D and any other technology that can be brought to bear has to be extraordinary. Also, the service, just as in any hospitality business, has to differentiate itself from other entertainments. From parking to ticket sales to concessions and ushers – it all has to make the theatre-going experience a welcome one.

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Not every movie cries out to be seen on the big screen. PIRANHA 3D (for certain of us) had to be seen in a theatre with a crowd if possible. THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT, an intimate drama about script and acting, could very easily be seen and enjoyed at home, though even those laughs and emotions are more poignant with an audience. BOTTLE SHOCK was a straddle. I think its gorgeous shots of Napa and lush score – as well as laughs and underdog sports quality – were enjoyed in large groups, but the film could still be appreciated at home.

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As for GRAVITY, I thought it was worth every penny. An undeniable big screen experience with cutting edge technology, stunning photography meant to be seen large, movie stars doing what they do best, and a cunningly spare and powerful script that gets your adrenaline running, your mind racing, and your emotions engaged. Like LIFE OF PI, it was must-see theatrical viewing.

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While there’s no denying the digital age, and I wish I’d been the guy to think up Netflix, the folks at Netflix should bear in mind how critical studio spending on production and P&A is for theatrical launches. Netflix, more than any other downstream vendor, enjoys the fruits of millions of dollars of free advertising. So if I’m running Netflix, I’m thinking of ways to coddle studios and theatres before they get it in their heads that Netflix should be shouldering some of the marketing and advertising burden for movie releases.

Just like the rest of the world, we all have to get along if we’re going to thrive.

Producing for Stage or Screen

From Words to Images, A Miracle Every Time

heathers the musicalIt’s been exciting to produce two plays this year. IT’S JUST SEX is now in its fifth month Off Broadway, and HEATHERS THE MUSICAL, which I’ve been working on for quite a while, just premiered in a workshop here in Los Angeles. Watching HEATHERS go from auditions to opening night in six weeks is a whirlwind phenomenon. Of course, there were five years leading up to that. But it does bring me back to my first love theatre, a love that was born in prep school at Allen-Stevenson (doing Gilbert & Sullivan) and then high school plays (acting in The Grass Harp), community theatre (acting in Enter Laughing), college (producing Hair, directing Jesus Christ Superstar, producing Equus, and acting in Westside Story and A Midsummer Night’s Dream), and then finally running a repertory theatre company called TheatreWorks for three years doing eight shows a year, including classics and new works.

While the ultimate goals of film and theatre aren’t terribly different – both strive to conjure, transport, and move audiences – the processes are quite distinct. The paramount aspect to appreciate in theatre is that while the director is critical, the written word (or song) is king. Truly, change a preposition at your peril, because in theatre, especially with new works, playwrights are welcome and expected during the rehearsal process, which is one of discovery. Screenwriters, by and large, get short shrift in the movie business and are often treated as dispensable, and sometimes replaced – an unthinkable situation for a play or musical. With Heathers The Musical, creators Kevin Murphy and Laurence O’Keefe were given (justifiably so) great latitude in generating and revising the script and replacing songs, even when the producers (and director) were perfectly happy with songs we had. Our thoughts were respected, but their decisions – by and large – were final. And though our talented director Andy Fickman was our animating spirit in our readings, it wasn’t until auditions and rehearsing (in an incredibly short three weeks) that his brilliance was completely evident. After years of toiling over every word and note, the final visual version is generated in a matter of weeks with substantial input from the Murphy and O’Keefe.

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Book and Lyrics writer Kevin Murphy confers with producers Andy Cohen and J. Todd Harris and director Andy Fickman.

In feature films (not TV where writers rule) director is generally king. It’s accepted that directors will futz with a script, either on their own or overseeing the original or a new writer. The word is not sacred for the most part. Film actors often change lines to suit their acting needs; it must be head-spinning to be an actor who shuttles between disciplines. And there is virtually no rehearsal for movies, so discovery takes place on set. Truly, most creative teams are lucky to have a few days rehearsal before the start of a movie, often because some of the actors aren’t there yet if they’re not working the first few days or weeks of a production. Often rehearsals consist of one run-through (mostly for blocking and camera positions) and then – roll camera. Granted, multiple takes generally ensue, giving everyone time to adjust. But Clint Eastwood is known for just doing a couple of takes and moving on, while David Fincher is renowned for doing dozens of takes. And, of course, filmmakers have the advantage of cutting performances just so, making the coverage (for editing choices) so important.

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a “Heather” played by Sarah Halford

One element that both films and theatre have in common is the usually long process from inspiration to opening night – often many years. Ironically, as I have witnessed in developing, packaging and financing dozens of projects over years, when the elements all come together (money, casting, design), the actual creative process blows by amazingly quickly with 3-6 weeks of rehearsal for plays and prep for movies, then 4-8 weeks of production. And in the case of a play, the director’s work is mostly over; the production is enjoyed by hundreds or thousands and then it’s gone (unless it’s on Broadway or a touring success). With movies, the initial group is also small (a lonely writer and a modest group – including a producer and director who take responsibility for getting it going) and then it balloons up to hundreds for a month or two and then shrinks down to a handful during post before enlisting an army to get the film released. The director’s work can be a solid year plus prepping, shooting, and posting.

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Veronica (Barret Wilbur Weed) and JD (Ryan McCartan) look on as Zach Ford and Rex Smith prove they love their dead gay sons.

But at the end of the day, the producing activities with plays and movies aren’t terribly different. In both cases, you have to choose material wisely, get rights, rally creative teams, participate in development, raise funds and guide a group of diverse and often mercurial artists and investors on a journey that can last years. And beyond organizational, psychiatric and entrepreneurial fundraising skills, it doesn’t hurt to have a strong sense of marketing and healthy respect for distribution (in movies) and theatre operations and touring (in theatre). Great convincing skills and an ability to take the long view are critical in both arenas. And they both feel like miracles when they work out. That you were able to guide 100+ pages of written word from the page to stage or screen, through the dozens or hundreds of people, who by necessity must make some mark on them, is nothing short of miraculous. And then if enough people are actually convinced to pay to see your work, it’s a double rainbow.

HEATHERS: A Musical Comes to Life

1011326_597749133589566_426322569_nStepping away from the movie world for a month – but not that far really – I thought it would be interesting for followers of this page/column/blog/site to check in on the journey the 1989 cult movie classic HEATHERS is making to the stage. My guess is that when Dan Waters wrote his darkly irreverent anti-John Hughes movie, he never guessed it would become a stage musical. And if he did, he probably didn’t think it would take 25 years to happen.

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I was first approached by friend Andy Cohen in fall of 2007 about the possibility of getting the rights to HEATHERS for a show. Part of those rights were pretty simple. Through separated rights (part of the WGA rules), original screenwriter retained those rights. But to fully exploit the title, we also had to make a deal with the original studio, New World Pictures, which had sold its library to Lakeshore Entertainment. Fortunately for us, our first creative teammate, director Andy Fickman (whose film credits include GAME PLAN, SHE’S THE MAN, ESCAPE TO WITCH MOUNTAIN, YOU AGAIN, and PARENTAL GUIDANCE, as well stage credits including REEFER MADNESS and JEWTOPIA), had a good relationship with Lakeshore and a deal was struck. Andy was also the key to book writer/lyricist Kevin Murphy (who was head writer on DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES at the time before going on to run several other shows and now runs the Syfy hit show DEFIANCE). They had collaborated on REEFER MADNESS as a stage musical and Showtime movie. The last piece of the creative puzzle was composer Laurence O’Keefe whose credits included BATBOY and LEGALLY BLONDE, for which he received a Tony nomination. My wife Amy Powers, a lyricist and songwriter in her own right, joined as a producer and our 6-member team was born.

Our option for the rights had a relatively firm schedule of milestones, that included staged readings, workshops and first class production dates. After several months of working on the book and songs, we had a reading of our first act (and a little more) at the Endeavor screening room (way before the William Morris/Endeavor merger). Friends, agents and Daniel Waters settled in to see what we had wrought. Watching Daniel Waters furiously scribble notes during that first reading made us nervous, but to our delight, he was elated with our progress and excited that we had found ways to solve problems on the stage that he was never able to on screen (like keeping the dead characters around!).

Encouraged, we went on to additional readings in LA at the 99-seat theatres on Theatre Row in Hollywood – this time with a full script and all the songs worked out. We were very fortunate to have Kristen Bell (Veronica Mars herself) play the Winona Ryder role for these first few readings, as well as a host of other Broadway and Hollywood types in the other roles. Finally, we realized we had to do a reading in New York and had a smashing three night reading at Joe’s Pub at the Public Theatre downtown, where lines literally snaked around the block to get in. This time Annaleigh Ashford (currently starring in KINKY BOOTS) took over the lead role.

IMG_6365But it was still the original six partners financing everything and it was time to find a home for our first production. La Jolla Playhouse’s artistic director Chris Ashley offered us a slot, but the cost of “enhancing” a show at a wonderful theatre like La Jolla’s can run north of a million dollars. And was that really our core audience, we wondered? We were then approached by a successful London producer, and for the better part of a year we negotiated a possible London production. But it was not to be for many reasons. With time running out on our contract, we considered a Boston-based production but then confronted the reality of moving entire team to Boston from LA (except Larry who is based in NY). It was going to cost us over $100,000 just for all of us to be there before spending a dime on the show.

And then planets began to align for our current Los Angeles production. Scott Prisand (a producer on ROCK OF AGES) had formed a new company called Big Block with financier Bruce Bendell, and they agreed to come in as our first partner and finance – much to our weary checkbooks’ relief – the Los Angeles production which is set for the last two weekends in September and the first weekend of October with an all new very young cast (much closer to the high school age of what would be the real characters in HEATHERS). We auditioned about 300 people in Los Angeles and New York and wound up with an amazingly talented group of actors. The show has already sold out its scheduled 11 shows, and as this goes to press, we’re exploring ways to extend the run, the primary purpose of which is to attract financing for an Off Broadway production during 2014, which is our next contractual deadline.

It’s been five years just to get to this point. We’re hoping the next steps to New York are much quicker, but I’ve learned that theatre moves at its own pace and requires patience and finesse. My wife Amy co-wrote the musical for DR. ZHIVAGO (which did premiere at La Jolla Playhouse before touring Australia and Korea), and that’s taken eight years from the time they assembled a completely new creative team from its original one who worked for years prior.

I hope you’ll have a chance to see HEATHERS, if not in Los Angeles, then some time in the near future. In the mean time, please visit our website and follow on us Facebook. Curtain up!!heathers the musical full cast

Blockbusters, Indies, Netflix and Great Books

The Blockbuster Is Here To Stay

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Were Spielberg and Lucas right? Have studios overdone the blockbuster? Their cautionary words were timely in view of the recent under-performance of The Lone Ranger and Pacific Rim. However, it’s rare to have a year where there aren’t a few spectacular failures. I would say 2013 is average in that regard, while actually having more films than usual grossing over 300M worldwide). In fact, July of this year was the biggest at the box office in movie history. Examples of successes include: Iron Man 3 (1.2B+), Despicable Me (666M), Man of Steel (641M), Monsters University (578M), Fast & Furious (741M), Oz The Great & Powerful (491M), World War Z (473M), and The Great Gatsby (330M). And we’re just over halfway through the year. While I think blockbusters are here to stay, I do think studios will want to try to control costs and try producing these tentpoles for closer to 100M than 200M, so 500M worldwide grosses aren’t required to make a profit. It’s worth noting that 5 of out of 8 top grossers are branded and the other three might as well be as sequels.

2013 A Good Vintage for Indies

woody allen, independent film2013 has so far been a promising year for independent films. Personal favorites have included Mud, The Way Way Back and 20 Feet From Stardom. I’m delinquent in seeing Before Midnight, Much Ado About Nothing, Frances Ha, and A Place Beyond The Pines. And I’m eagerly looking forward to Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine, Sundance favorite Fruitvale Station, as well as the fall onslaught of prestige films, including Lee Daniels’ The Butler, Gravity, Captain Phillips, The Wolf of Wall Street, Saving Mr. Banks, and The Dallas Buyers Club and The Monuments Men.

TV Gets More and More Interesting

imgres-2On the small screen, it’s been exciting to see the paradigm swiftly shifting. Several Emmy nominations for Netflix sound the gong for the new television world order. I’ll admit to watching several episodes of Orange Is The New Black on consecutive nights with my wife (who then binge-viewed several more episodes without me). While I didn’t make time to watch more than the premiere of House of Cards, I am looking forward to seeing more. Though the Netflix model is groundbreaking, it’s also mysterious and missing a key element that one gets with “appointment” viewing. First, it’s interesting that Netflix has not shared (and doesn’t seem about to) ratings for viewership of its new shows, though we’ve seen some educated guesses. And what Netflix doesn’t have is the same-time viewing tsunami that will accompany a Game Of Thrones type show, where FB and Twitter spontaneously combust with audience reaction (“GOT OMG!”) I have to admit I’m more attracted to producing television than ever, given some of the great writing and acting I’m experiencing.

Literature is Alive

imgres-3Finally, I feel compelled to mention The Great Books program, which invited me to speak to its (mostly) middle school and high school students at its Stanford summer program (which runs simultaneously with its Amherst and Oxford sessions). I was amazed, inspired and humbled by the fervor for great literature demonstrated by these 8-18 years olds, many of whom are already better read than I will ever be. It was so refreshing to meet fertile young minds romping through the classics with such gusto. A grateful shout out to Great Books founder David Ward.

Brands, Superman, and Heathers The Musical

superman, man of steelJune was a good month for the film business, with many hits and more evidence that the Branded Pictures Entertainment model is a strong one. From a “branded” point of view, Man of Steel’s half billion dollar worldwide gross in about three weeks demonstrates both the durability of a 75-year-old brand (Superman is all based on Action Comics #1 from 1938 by Schuster & Siegel) and the increasingly short window needed to reboot a brand (Superman Returns was just seven years ago in 2006). Although it wasn’t a brand to begin with, the Fast & Furious movies have become one and the sixth installment is rapidly approaching three-quarters of a billion dollars in worldwide gross in six weeks of release. And everyone at Paramount is breathing a huge sigh of relief that delayed and aggressively reworked Brad Pitt vehicle World War Z (based on the Max Brooks novel) had made over 250M worldwide. Meanwhile, the latest Star Trek has reached nearly half a billion in worldwide gross in its seven weeks of release and Iron Man has motored past the 1 billion gross mark in its two months in the marketplace.

lysistrata jones, branded picturesBranded Pictures was thrilled to announce the acquisition of the Off Broadway hit Lysistrata Jones for development as a movie with director Andy Fickman (Parental Guidance, Game Plan, Escape to Witch Mountain) attached to direct. The show from 2011 had music by Lewis Flinn and book by renowned playwright Douglas Carter Beane, who currently has two shows running on Broadway, a delightful reworking of Cinderella and the fantastic The Nance starring Nathan Lane. I cannot recommend The Nance strongly enough. It was an exhilarating pairing of a well-written, funny and poignant play with Nathan Lane, who is truly a national treasure.

nathan laneAlso on the theatre scene, I am pleased to be a co-producer on It’s Just Sex, an Off Broadway comedy that I had enjoyed in Los Angeles and was able to help finance for its New York debut. The show opened to delighted audiences on June 25 and should be running all summer in New York at the Actor’s Temple in the heart of the theatre district.

If you’d like discount tickets, go to the show’s FB page and look for the FB discount offer.

Here in Los Angeles, things are heating up for our September debut of Heathers The Musical with the aforementioned Andy Fickman directing a riotous show written by Larry O’Keefe (Legally Blonde) and Kevin Murphy (Reefer Madness).

Hope everyone is staying cool. I look forward to staying in touch.

Competing for Eyeballs

IMG_4416May was an encouraging month. I was able to launch the new Branded Pictures Entertainment business plan to an array of capable and receptive investors. I had the chance to visit Taliesin West in Scottsdale and The Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix and appreciate Frank Lloyd Wright’s work up close and personal, which is inspiring as we put together a movie on the great architect for 2014. Although we postponed the start of a separate independent film here in LA, we did it for the right reasons – the script needs more work. And we have locked dates for our first production of Heathers The Musical for September here in LA. No shortage of exciting projects on the horizon.

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While I did not attend the Cannes Film Festival, I followed it closely, and it seems that the art and commerce of cinema remain dynamic and encouraging. Some quality movies to see finally include 42, Mud, Kon-Tiki. Baz Luhrmann keeps it interesting with The Great Gatsby. Box office in the US has picked up with the early start to summer thanks to the branded Iron Man, Star Trek, (and the now branded) Fast/Furious 6. I’m sorry The Hangover 3 and After Earth are disappointing, but the business feels healthy to me. Personally, I enjoyed Now You See Me despite its gaping implausibilities, and I think it will do nice business.

The competition for eyeballs remains fierce. Whenever I open the Friday New York Times Arts & Leisure section and see that 12-16 new movies are being reviewed, I try to project the movies I’m making into that mix and imagine how they would stack up. It’s worth imagining your completed movie entering the marketplace. What is it really going to be like? It seems like more and more movies are premiering on VOD, which is rapidly pushing toward the cusp of being a smarter and more realistic option for quality independent films. Whatever the platform, we need a reason to pay attention to your movie with all the other choices surrounding us.

I’m teaching two classes at Stanford the second week of July and finalizing other Bay Area plans for that week. The fall is starting to book up with likely excursions to Chicago, Baltimore/DC, Texas, and other burgeoning filmmaking markets. I’ve enjoyed the private consults with a few newer filmmakers and been excited to make a writing discovery or two in the process.

Hoping our paths will cross.

Best,

Todd

Welcome to JToddHarris.com

Welcome to the J. Todd Harris website and the “On Producing with J. Todd Harris” Facebook page. Both of these sites are focused on the rapidly evolving movie business and my work both as a producer and teacher.

Having produced nearly 40 movies with many more on the way, I’ve experienced the gamut of highs and lows. My first movie, Denise Calls Up, went to the Cannes Film Festival and more than doubled its investors’ money. Ten years later, I found myself personally exposed for six figures on a train wreck of a movie that led to a hospital visit and anti-depressants. I got to attend the Oscars as an executive producer of The Kids Are All Right in between making two audience-pleasing movies that were let down by marketing. I’ve had five movies invited to Sundance and I’ve had a few disappear virtually without a trace.

And still I come back for more. I like producing. I like the art and act of starting with almost nothing and then 6 months or 6 years later finding myself on a set with over 100 people, or surrounded by stars and friends at a movie’s premiere. I like the different worlds I get to visit. Just this past week, I was with an Indian investor whose house was being blessed by two Indian priests and the next day with two Iranians visiting a rabbi at the Wiesenthal Center – all in the service of getting movies made. From sipping champagne in a tuxedo-clad crowd on a yacht moored at Cannes to despairing in the desert, Lear-like on the heath as all hell breaks loose on a movie set; it’s rarely boring.

I’m enthusiastic about the projects coming up, which include movies about Frank Lloyd Wright, Mary Shelley and Don Juan, and I’m excited to share my experiences with newer filmmakers from all over the country. In the past year, I’ve taught classes in Los Angeles, Seattle, Boston, Atlanta, Philadelphia, and Nashville. My hope is that my expanding body of experiences will make me a more effective teacher and allow me to offer practical guidance to writers, directors, actors, producers and financiers as they approach the dynamic filmmaking (and film selling!) landscape.

I hope to meet you along the way.

-Todd