January 30, 2019 / 11:02 AM / 6 months ago

Sometimes movie producers really do start in the mailroom

 (The writer is a Reuters contributor. The opinions expressed
are his own.)
    By Chris Taylor
    NEW YORK, Jan 30(Reuters) - Actors are widely recognized at
events like the Academy Awards, coming up next on Feb. 24, but
producers - who work behind the scenes to get movies made -
often get blank stares.
    Sometimes lionized, sometimes resented, producers work
independently or within a company to plan and coordinate tasks
such as selecting a script; coordinating writing, casting,
directing and editing; and, most important, finding the money.
    For the latest in Reuters' monthly "First Jobs" series, we
talked to producers of some of 2018's most-heralded films about
gigs that got them started in life.
    
    Bill Gerber
    Producer, "A Star Is Born"
    First job: Mailroom
    I worked in the mailroom of A&M Records, which had bought
the old Charlie Chaplin studios on La Brea Ave. I was just a
teenager, boxing up vinyl records to send out to radio stations.
    The "A" in A&M was Herb Alpert, and my dad was his agent,
who booked his tours. The "M" was Jerry Moss, and my close
friend growing up was his son. I was just a naïve teenage rock
'n' roll drummer, and I thought this was my way into the music
business.
    My dream was to have my own record company, and sign other
artists. Clearly none of that ever worked out. Eventually I left
for another job, because I just couldn't imagine being there
another three or four years. Although I did find packing up
vinyl records very peaceful.
    Life tends to come full circle, because right now the 'A
Star Is Born' soundtrack is the best-selling vinyl record of the
year. And I am producing a documentary on A&M Records, with
appearances by everyone from Herb Alpert to Cat Stevens. It is
very personal to me - and that first job is why I am making that
movie.
    
    Brad Simpson
    Producer, "Crazy Rich Asians"
    First job: Friendly's
    Friendly's is a chain that specializes in ice cream and
hamburgers served on toasted bread, and I worked there every day
after school until closing. This was back in the '80s, so I had
long skater bangs that they made me clip back because they
thought it would get in the food.
    I learned a lot of useful skills, like blaming everything on
the kitchen. Even if it was my fault, I would say, "I'm so
sorry, it's those guys in the kitchen!" Other things I learned
weren't so great - like if food fell onto the floor, I would
just put it right back on the plate. Whatever you worry about
happening in kitchens is probably true.
    I was making less than minimum wage, something like $2 an
hour plus tips, but it was the least-stressed period of my
entire life. I was living at home with my parents, my job was
paying me largely in cash, and I had no worries in the world.
    I am still obsessed with how restaurants work, and think
about that job whenever I am eating out. Ever since then I have
always been a generous tipper, because it is a really tough job.
    
    Anne Carey
    Producer, "Can You Ever Forgive Me?"
    First job: Book scout
    The William Morris Agency was looking for someone to help a
woman named Phyllis Levy. Her job was to source literary
material from outside the agency, bring the best stuff in, and
get it into the hands of A-list clients.
    I still waitressed in the evenings, because I wasn't making
much money. But then I was promoted to story editor, and I had
to give up being a waitress. It was such a great job because I
was going through 200 books a month, learning about which ones
could be turned into a movie. We were dealing with people like
Sidney Lumet, Clint Eastwood and Jack Lemmon.
    Phyllis just loved books and movies, and sometimes we would
skip out of the office and catch movies just to see what was out
there. We used to go to the Museum of Modern Art and see old
prints of Francois Truffaut films.
    She was a mentor, but also a very challenging person to work
for. So when I first read the Lee Israel story about a
cat-loving woman who was too smart for her own good - which
became our movie 'Can You Ever Forgive Me?' - I affectionately
thought of Phyllis.

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