Industry Pro: Film Producer Robert Schwartz
Current position: President of Seismic Pictures, a new startup production company which produces motion pictures for the global marketplace.
College & degree: BFA, Minneapolis College of Art & Design; University of Missouri, St. Louis
First job in the entertainment industry: Oddly enough, I’ve never really had a job in the Industry. From the minute I got into feature filmmaking, studio or independent, I have always been a freelance, independent producer for hire or attached to a film project because I owned it. Though there was a period where I ran a Canadian production company for 4 years as the president of production.
Big break: I got the opportunity to help out on a film about jazz and blues (“Survivors: The Blues Today”) and this was really the moment I learned about feature length filmmaking. I ended up producing the film, but it started out as a documentary/ performance film that just kept growing in scale. It was 1984, and I had been working on many documentaries, but this was on a much bigger scale with acts from around the world, like blues legends John Lee Hooker and Willie Dixon, and we shot the picture with five Super-16 cameras and 24 track audio. It was a huge 3-day event and the film went on to be an enormous success, selling in 45 countries around the world and garnering awards in many countries.
Career path: I went to film school back in the mid 70′s and worked with many extraordinary filmmakers around the world making their films, and mine. I graduated in 1976, and immediately got a job in public television at the local PBS station where I shot and edited a 13-part series on the arts. It was a great experience and it led to my increasing desire to make documentaries for the next 8-10 years.
I shot numerous docs for PBS and cable (and won many awards in the process). In 1990, I optioned a screenplay (by borrowing against my car) about a dogsled race from two guys in North Dakota. I packed my bags and moved to Los Angeles and proceeded to find out that I knew no one in the business and it was hard to even get a meeting.
However, I had met this attorney who liked the screenplay so much that he was willing to send it out… and he did, to forty companies that all passed on the project. One of those companies was Disney, and I found a way back in to get them to look at the project again. They passed again. Then, I found a way to get Michael Eisner to read the script and he loved it. The third time was the charm. As they say, the rest is history as I was in production on my first studio feature, “Iron Will.”
The film was quite successful and so it started my career as a producer in LA and I opened my first indie production company, Wardenclyffe Entertainment and we went onto make seven movies, a television series, and buy books and screenplays and develop projects like THE ALCHEMIST (based on the worldwide bestselling book by Paulo Coehlo).
Worst job (or day) in entertainment industry: That’s sort of tough to call, but I’d have to say it was when I was about to start a movie for a studio on a script I had meticulously developed with their executives. We were all signed off on the final draft, and I was on location building the film production around it when the head of production said we need to cut 16 pages from the script (it was only 112 pages long) as we just don’t have the money to do all this. Yes, I argued…yes, I lost the battle….for the moment.
I was shocked because they sent me the screenplay now at 96 pages and it was crap. It was the worst day I could imagine and fit all the stories one has heard about working with the studios. In the end of the day, it worked out just fine and I was given complete control to put the script back the way it was originally by someone higher up the chain of command.
Best job (or day) in entertainment industry: I have been fortunate to have many days that were fantastic in the business, but there are none better than sitting with an audience on a movie you have slaved over and having them respond to the picture with tears and joys and excitement.
Best thing/Worst thing about your current job: Ironically, the best thing about my current job is also in part the worst thing. After 12 years, I opened a new startup production company, Seismic Pictures last fall, and our focus is on material strictly for studio pictures. It’s great because I am really focusing on the projects that mean something to me and our slate is becoming very diverse and interesting. I’m going after properties that really make sense to me on all levels, creatively, financially, and strategically.
Then of course, the worst part of this idea is the timing… there couldn’t be a worse time to try to fund something new in today’s economy.
Secret of your success/advice to the newbie: I get asked this a lot. There are all the typical pieces of sage advice like tenacity and perseverance, staying the course, and taking rejection in stride. If I would recommend anything as a secret to success, it would be to make sure you love what you are doing first. If you love the game of golf, no one has to push you out on the course to play 9 holes. You do it because you love it. Whether you want to write, direct, or produce, or any number of great positions there are in the making of a movie, stay with it because you love it and feel you have no choice but to keep pressing yourself to be better at it. If you have little or no experience in the motion picture business, see this as an advantage of trying many things out until the right one clicks with you.
Next move (or next five moves): I recently opened a new side business, a script and production consulting service. Over the years, I have been reading so many scripts for indie filmmakers and giving detailed story coverage along with all the layers of how to put the project together (i.e. financially, casting, distribution, etc) and I realized there was a much wider need for it. The new company, Seismic Scripts, is a wholly separate company that can really focus on all this and has already helped several filmmakers move their projects along.
On the Seismic Pictures side, we are in mad pursuit of financing and some days I think we are even getting close. Stay tuned…
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