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2007 December Archive at Inside

Monthly Archive for December, 2007

Film Producer Celine Rattray Interview


Film producer Celine Rattray shares the struggles and rewards of film producing and running a company in New York.

Plum Pictures is a company of three women, what do you each bring to the table that makes it work?
All three of us are very different. That has really helped us over the years because we bring different perspective on a script, on a piece of material, or on a cut of a film. We all come from very different angles and I think it’s having smart debates that has helped us do better work. I think Galt [Niederhoffer] is an intensively creative person, she’s someone who tackles everything from a creative standpoint. I come from a business background, so my approach to solving problem or to thinking about problems is to thinking about business solutions and how it will affect our business. And then Daniela [Taplin] is someone who is extremely personable and kind and good with people and she approaches problems from that angle. And so I think the fact that the three of us are very different is actually very good for the company.

How did you start the company?
When we started we wrote a 5-page business plan and looked for investors and we found our first investor who backed our company for the first three years in terms of salary and development money and then we put together a slate of films, and we basically optioned scripts for a dollar each and just try to find as many projects as possible and we got to a place where we had a slate of 10 films and probably half of them were no good and the other half were decent. Then we did everything we could to get them made and we got 2 movies made in the first year. One of them was Lonesome Jim and the other one was The Baxter, and then from that moment onwards it was really about keep trying to find great material, keep trying to get movies made, do good work, hope that little by little it will get acknowledged. And this year has been the most exciting year for our company because this year we had 3 movies at Sundance and they all sold in big ways, two of them to the Weinstein’s and one to Magnolia. It felt like a reward for 3 years of very, very hard work that culminated in Sundance. And then since Sundance, it’s been very exciting because people liked those three films and thought we did interesting work and we’ve been able to make 4 more films in the last 6 months which has been really thrilling because it’s really what it’s about—getting the movies made.

Can you tell us more about your experience at Sundance?

Sundance was the first time we had a bidding war. And the bidding war is the most thrilling and exciting thing a film producer can ever go through. I wish it on everyone because it’s an amazing life experience. We showed two of our films, one was Grace is Gone and one was Dedication and from the second that the screenings ended all the distrubtors were swarming around and approached us at various times and said “we’re planning to make a bid for your movie”. And then a couple hours later we went to a condo and there were distributors in every room of the condo, and we the producers with our lawyers would go from room to room and negotiate with all the different companies and the prices kept going higher and higher, till we closed. We actually closed both movies with the Weinstein’s. It was very, very thrilling that multiple people like and appreciate and want your film because all along the way of making the film, all you hear is ‘no’, you hear people not like a script, you hear actors don’t like a script, or directors don’t like a script, or you hear investors don’t like the script, or crews don’t like the script. You hear so many no’s along the way and usually these films, the reason they’re made for such tiny budgets is that the distributors don’t want to make them in a bigger way. So then to get to the point where all the people who said no along the way now want your movie because it came out well and it was well executed. That is very thrilling because you believed it for the two years you worked on it but very few people around you did. So it’s a really lovely moment.

How do you keep your faith against so many obstacles and no’s along the way?
I think you have to really love a piece of material. I think the lesson is you can’t get a movie made unless you think that script is extraordinary, because there are so many battles to get there that if you’re not completely convinced that it’s an interesting project from a creative and business standpoint, that this movie has a chance of breaking out and pleasing audiences, to me it doesn’t feel worthwhile. You have to have such belief. You need to have a belief in the piece of material, you have to have a belief in the director that you pick and the cast that you pick, you have to really see a vision for what the material is.

What do you look for in a script?
We look for material that we think is intelligent, that has something interesting to say. We look for material that is touching in some way, that will move people, will move them to laugh or cry or create emotion in people. We look for good roles because we know that if there’s a good role that makes it easier to attract a well-known actor and therefore easier for the movie to get made. I think we look for something that’s a little bit different to other things that have been made. We try to pick things that we think have something new and original to say. And then we look for something that strikes the balance of critical and commercial which is a hard thing to do because the two don’t go hand in hand: to find something that we think will be able to get into the festivals and will be able to possibly win awards but at the same time has a broad concept, and that people all over the country and all over the world might be interested in going to see. So we try to balance all these things and it’s hard. You get 50 scripts submitted to you every day and you’re lucky if once a month a great script comes along and you’re often competing against a lot of other companies to get that great script.

How do you make the close to obtain rights to a script that you like?
When we talk to our filmmakers, we let them know that the chances of it getting made are higher with us, with our company. We make 5 movies a year and we’re very quick from the moment that we option the script to when the movie gets made. For us we put our energy behind fewer projects. I think some bigger producers, also from studios, might option a hundred scripts and only make 10. We really say if we take the project, we’re taking it on to make it, not to develop it.

Can you describe your duties on set?
Pre-production is actually probably the most important part of the producer’s job. Pre-production is planning every part, every logistic of the shoot. In pre-production you hire the crew, you plan the schedule, you plan the locations, you plan the order of shots and you really plan every aspect of what the shoot will be, so if a movie is very well prepped, theoretically a shoot should go very smoothly. I think one of the things that we’ve learned is to have long pre-productions periods. If you prepped a movie very well, all you’re doing during the shoot is dealing with new problems that arise that were not anticipated in pre-production.

For example, a rain storm sets in and you have to choose to go to another location because you can’t shoot in your exterior location. So you have to decide how to move that schedule around. Or an actor is having a disagreement with someone so you have to step in and resolve, or you have an unhappy crew member. There’s a hundred people working on our movies and there’s always tension between different groups. The producer tries to identify that problem and step in and solve the problem. Part of it is morale and making sure the people are happy and bringing coffee to the crew, making sure the people are having a good experience. And then a part of it is also being the right hand to the director and being there by the monitor and when a director may have missed something because they’re looking out for a 100 things, suggesting some different ways you might do a take that will help you ultimately in the edit room because if an actor for example has done 3 or 4 takes that are intense in one direction but you think it might help you to have an alternative, you’re the one to maybe suggest it to the director.

And then also keep an eye on costs in general, so depending on the length of the day of your shoot or what time you have lunch, if you go into overtime at lunch or at the end of the day- you have to make a decision as a producer sometime: do you keep going for a couple of hours to get that shot and we go into overtime, or do we move that shot to the next day and if we move the shot to the next day what does that mean for tomorrow, and weighing decisions ultimately with the good of the movie as your number one objective but then getting the movie delivered on time and on budget being a secondary very critical objective also.

Why did you choose to start Plum Pictures in New York?
To me what’s so exciting is the creative community that’s here with fantastic writers and directors and actors. And then I also feel the energy of New York, people and the pace is very exciting and moves you in this really exciting rhythm. So it feels like a dynamic place to start a young company.

What did you learn from the movie industry since you started?
How completely really difficult it is. Everytime a movie gets made, even a terrible movie, it’s a miracle. Getting a movie made is like pushing a huge rock up a hill and you’re the only one pushing. I think with every movie, between actors getting a different offer on something else, or the financiers keep changing their minds, for all the things to go right and a movie to actually get made to me is a miracle. Every single movie I made, on the first day of the shoot I have a massive relief because i feel nothing more can go wrong now, no person can change their mind, the movie is happening. It was much harder than i thought when I started out.

When we were just starting out, we were thinking it’s so hard to get something made so we need to have 10 at any point just be lucky enough to have one, and a very good friend of mine introduced me to Oliver Stone early on in our company and he was like “no, no, no, 10 is not enough you actually need to have 30 developments to actually get one made’. There’s really a lot of truth to that, it’s extremely hard to create the momentum to get something to happen. Which ties it to what we were talking about earlier that you need to have such a belief that it’s something that is worth making.

Who are people in the business whose careers inspire you or who you look up to?
There’s a couple of people who I really admire in film. I really admire Scott Rudin because he has extraordinary taste. He has great taste across independent films and studio films. He really seems to fight for directors and protect directors and get their visions realized and he just has such extraordinary taste across everything; books that eventually get made into films, plays and remakes and original screenplays. We have a much much younger company than his, but he’s certainly a role model and inspiration to us. I really admire Anthony Bregman who is a younger producer but had made fantastic films and is also a wonderful human being and a great father and a great husband and is someone to that seems to balance it all and I really admire him for that.

How do you balance it all?
It’s very hard. When you’re in production it’s usually all consuming and your life stops. All my friends have become patient with me that they understand that I don’t return calls for a couple of months. And my family understands, and then when you’re not in production and you have more time on your hands you try to make it up to everyone, being able to spend good time with your husband, and friends and family. So it’s definitely a balancing act. It’s difficult. I had a movie that I made this summer, where in a period of a week I forgot one of my closest friend and my dad’s birthday because we were shooting nights and I was so tired, so I don’t always do it well.

How has it been like working with so many great actors?
The last couple of years have been incredible, we’ve worked with so many actors… John Cusack, Billy Crudup, Mandy Moore, Tom Wilkinson, Lucy Liu, Matthew Broderick, Virginia Madsen, Hilary Swank, Matthew Perry, Michelle Monaghan, Benjamin Bratt, William H Macy- that are extraordinary but also some actors that I’ve admired since I was a young girl. This year we made a movie with Alan Alda who for so many years I’ve been watching in films and on TV. To be able to experience the work of someone like that and watch them on the monitor and see how professional and hard working they are. That was a particularly exciting experience to me, to see someone who’s 71 years old and who has no reason on a $2m film to work that hard and yet he’s there every day on time working as hard as he could possibly work with so much enthusiasm and so much to give. It’s really thrilling and gives you so much faith in filmmaking.

What is your view on the indie film industry today?
I think there are a lot of big challenges. One of very positive things that happened over the last few years is that Wall Street have invested a lot of money into films and into independent films and it’s probably easier than ever to get Wall Street financing for independent films. There’s so many ways to access money, so you’re no longer dependent on getting movies made through the studios or the distributions companies. So that’s been really exciting development for independent film producers.

One of the challenges that have come with that is that so many movies have gotten made and are getting made and so many new distribution companies have also come up that right now the marketplace is incredibly crowded. And it’s crowded in the studio world and it’s also crowded in the independent world. And as a result of this, from September 1st to Christmas this year, there’s 8 new releases every weekend and the market is flooded with films and it’s so hard for any films, even studio films to stand out, that let alone your little independent. It’s very very difficult and you see it this season, so many good films have gotten completely lost because of the crowded marketplace. So I think that’s a real challenge, I think it’s probably harder than ever to make a little indedpendent film without a big star and have that film succeed. Your independent film really needs to be a small version of a studio film to have a fighting chance. Also the execution needs to be perfect. Eight years ago a small independent film that maybe didn’t look that good production-value wise might have succeded if it was a good story, but in this day and age with the crowded marketplaces you need to have it all. You need to have extraodinary performances, extraordinary production value. It really needs to be A+ along every aspect to have a chance to succeed.

How do you see your career evolving?
I think we want to continue to do films that we really believe in, that we think are good films to make, i think we’d like to do bigger budgets films because it’s been a great and exciting challenge to do $2-3 million films but it’s the idea of what you can do production-value wise with a $20 or 30 million film is really exciting to us as producers. So we’d love to try and see if we can get a bigger film made and what the challenges and the logistics of production are on a film like that. So that’s what I hope we will do in the next year or so. And I think we’d love at some point to do a television show although I’m sure that has its own sets of challenges and difficulties.

How many films do you see a week?
I love to go to the movie house at noon on a Saturday or a Sunday and then spend the afternoon there and see two or three films in a row. It’s really my favorite thing to do on weekends. I try to go and see every film that comes out, whatever the film is, you always have something to learn, you always discover an interesting theme, or an interesting way of editing a film or an interesting actor. I feel like you always have things to learn by seeing a movie. There’s no movie that comes out that I wouldn’t be curious to see if i had enough time. I typically see at least 5 films a week and then I read a lot of scripts on top of that. But if a week goes by where I’ve seen less than 5, I would feel unhappy about that week.

- interview by Alvina Collardeau, photo by Samantha Gattsek

See Celine Rattray’s profile and favorite NY places at

Bite of the Week: Taqueria y Fonda la Mexicana

Mishka Shubaly of Beat the Devil on Taqueria y Fonda la Mexicana.

icon for podpress  taqueria-y-fonda-la-mexicana: Play Now | Play in Popup | Download

{Bite of the week are short audio clips of OTI personalities talking passionately about their favorite foods.}


Very nice: Chloe created a couple Google maps with our recommendations.

Here’s one of the East Village,
and one of David Wain’s recommendations.

Click on the baloons for information and links.



Dulcinea Media picks OTI

dulcinea2.png lists OTI in its NY survival guide, under “Where can I explore the city and its famous sites online?”

They explain: “On the Inside is an insider’s guide to activities in New York with content that is generated and donated by influential New Yorkers. Discover bars, restaurants, stores, and hang-out spots that are favored by New York’s creative types.”

Dulcinea Media, Inc. is a “Silicon Alley team of savvy Internet users whose mission is to untangle the Web, freeing it of clutter and spotlighting only the sites that matter. We aim to provide a richer experience for every Internet user.”

OTI on Mobius3


Mobius3 blogs about ontheinside right here.