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Producers to Watch: Anne Marie Gillen ♀

Producers to Watch: Anne Marie Gillen ♀

by guest blogger Peter Belsito

Women to Blog About

We have known Anne Marie Gillen since my first days in acquisitions at Lorimar Home Video. She was selling ancillary rights for Hemdale, and we did some business together I think, though I can’t recall for what film. What has always impressed me about Anne Marie is that she is fearless and daring doing whatever she sets out to do.

In Fall 2010 Anne Marie will be releasing her first book – the 3rd edition of The Producer’s Business Handbook – through Focal Press and co-branded by Variety.

Read more below, but first, a little note in the interview which Peter Belsito conducted with Anne Marie which precludes further discussion on The Female Factor for the moment.

PB – Talk to me about the problems of women in the film business.
AG – Well, women directors certainly have more difficulties than women producers. But I look at it this way – in 1991 we did a film called Fried Green Tomatoes which was written by women, executive produced by women, starred 4 women, nominated for 2 Oscars AND it was about women! What I mean is that for me, being a woman in this business, it’s a non issue now and has been during the stages and succession of my career.

Anne Marie Gillen, CEO of Gillen Group, LLC of Los Angeles is an independent film producer whose goal is to develop and produce commercially successful filmed entertainment that expresses heart and enlightens the human experience. She is extensively experienced in motion picture and television development and has relationships with studios, international distributors, production and acting talent.

Anne Marie first entered the arts as a child actor in local theater, the Minneapolis – St. Paul area. She stayed in the area through college, got a Theater degree and then went into a dance company for 5 years as a jazz dancer. She worked as a choreographer (she made Target commercials!) and then moved to L.A. to dance and act. After a few years in LA she came to a hard realization, and that was that acting was not a particularly respected craft (in L.A.) and that it was really difficult to build a successful career there as a performer.

She then made a conscious decision to build a company to make and control films. Having no formal education in film, her start was to design a workshop series with guest lecturers on the processes to produce a film, from script through financing, production and distribution. This venture worked out of a building on Sunset Boulevard.

She then went into distribution and production at the heyday of Hemdale Releasing Corporation (run by John Daly, Derek Gibson and Peter Meyers) where she was Vice President of Acquisitions and Ancillary Sales. During her tenure, Hemdale was one of the leading independent film companies producing such films as: Platoon winner of Best Picture and Best Director, Hoosiers with Gene Hackman and Dennis Hopper, The Last Emperor winner of nine Academy Awards including Best Picture, Director and Screenplay. At Hemdale, she says she learned that “…filmmaking was 50% making the movie and 50% marketing the movie.” Also the business reality then was quite different, “in the period of the 80s and 90s you could get an advance of 70% of your budget from US home video alone.”

After she left Hemdale, she formed Electric Shadow Productions and was CEO and it’s Chair. Electric Shadow financed production and P&A, and Anne Marie was the Executive Producer of its first feature, Fried Green Tomatoes which was released by Universal and starred Kathy Bates and Jessica Tandy. She drafted the company’s business plan based on the model of obtaining both production and P&A financing and made the film with Norman Lear’s company Act III and Avnet/Kerner Productions. This picture earned over $200 million worldwide and was nominated for two Academy Awards and three Golden Globes.

From 1996 – 2001, Anne Marie was the Chief Operating Officer of Morgan Freeman’s company, Revelations Entertainment. She led the company in the strategic financing and distribution of Revelations’ projects. During her tenure, Revelations Entertainment produced Along Came the Spider for Paramount; developed and produced Port Chicago Mutiny for NBC Network; and developed, independently financed and produced Under Suspicion starring Morgan Freeman and Gene Hackman for Sony Premiere DVDs/Lionsgate.

From 2002 – May 2006, Anne Marie was consulting to Entertainment Business Group (EBG), a financing and consulting company, as their President, Development & Production, an independent motion picture and television funding, global rights sales, research, analysis and business services entity.

After her term at EBG, Gillen purchased Entertainment Business Group’s clientele, proprietary models and databases and established in July 2006 Gillen Group LLC. Presently Anne Marie’s film slate includes the completed film Into Temptation starring Kristin Chenoweth and Jeremy Sisto; she is producing Shambler based on original material written by comic book legends Bob Layton and David Michelinie who are responsible for Ironman, and developing and producing Charlie’s Place with director Thomas Carter (Save the Last Dance, Coach Carter, Swing Kids).

The Gillen Group consulting division motto is “Fusing Business and Creativity”, and offers business planning, script analysis, worldwide distribution consultation and internal greenlighting (project and/or film company cash flow projections) services to independent film producers and investors.

In Fall 2010 Anne Marie will be releasing her first book – the 3rd edition of The Producer’s Business Handbook – through Focal Press and co-branded by Variety.
In her consulting work today, she also lectures frequently, a listing of her seminar class titles particularly tickled me and I think show the depth of her understanding of ‘our business’.

1. The Seven Major Principals and Practices Common Among the Film Industries Most Successful Producers.
2. Your Most Important Financing Document: The Business Plan
3. Your Most Powerful Financing Tool: Financial Projections.
4. Your Most Powerful Marketing & Sales Tools: Ripamatic / Proof of Concept / Sizzle Reel.
5. Collection Accounts: How to Protect A-List Actors & Investors
6. The Art of the Pitch

PB – So what’s the main problem for filmmakers?
AG – They do not want to take on the business aspects of film making: financing, distribution, sales and marketing. Instead, they solely focus on the material and their creative vision (which is absolutely a component of the process) but unfortunately to the exception of these other very important aspects of film production. Then typically later on they are devastated and confused why their picture is not getting distribution and/or performing in the marketplace. What filmmakers need to do first, always!, is to look at the potential market realistically for their film project and then they need to back into the budget, a real budget based in current reality of the marketplace. You’ll know then if you can do your film as you propose. This way you don’t fool yourself or your investors.

PB – So…?? Where do they begin?
AG – They need to develop a comprehensive business plan or model based on the key target audiences, how to market to them and how the film will be distributed. These days we all know distribution is shifting. So producers have to educate themselves to ‘DIY’ (Do It Yourself) and/or hybrid distribution models. How do you get those eyeballs on your film? How do you market your project and what are the costs associated with that? How can you get ‘them’ to come to ‘you’, to find ‘you’? Starting in development producers should build fan/niche groups, affinity groups. For example, we have this project we’re working on now, ‘Into Temptation’, where a Catholic priest is trying to rescue a suicidal prostitute. One of our main affinity groups are Catholics.

PB – How much does that cost? When do you do it?
AG – Its imperative to include marketing costs in the film budget. But to reach these ‘niche and affinity groups’ at an early stage (in development even) you already need funding in place. It can be self-funded or, better, a development investor. You need money enough to produce viral videos, social media, and a project website/blog. Engaging the end user from the beginning is key to building and establishing a fan base to help bring awareness to the project.

PB – So what’s the future look like?
AG – Film is a technological medium, so whatever the final hardware is for viewing (computer screens, handheld devices, home projectors from your computer screens, etc.) consumers demand it when they want it, where they want and how they want it. Simple! And that’s what we have to deliver – and a great story of course.

Thank you Anne Marie and Peter. We look forward to buying the Producers Business Handbook and to seeing your upcoming films!! — Sydney

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Kevin Dole

About 100 years ago a very successful young vaudeville actor was booked to star in his first Broadway show. At the time this was the pinnacle of success. He had two weeks to kill in NYC before rehearsals began. A longtime friend, Roscoe Arbuckle, had left vaudeville and set up a little ‘movie’ shop on the upper west side where a scrappy band of players were cranking (literally) out two-reel comedies. At this time, doing ‘movies’ was as low as you could get in the business – a last resort.

Roscoe invited Buster to ‘hang’ with them for the two weeks. On the first day, Buster watched them work for a couple hours, especially intrigued by the man who aimed a wooden box with a lens toward the actors and cranked away, then would disappear like a magician into a darkroom, re-emerging to crank some more.

About lunchtime, no one could find Buster. Roscoe finally found him in the darkroom where he had taken their only backup camera and had disassembled it, screw by gear by sprocket wheel. Roscoe and his cameraman were horrified, but an hour later Buster had reassembled it to perfect working condition. Two weeks later, this time to the horror of Buster’s agent, he resigned from the Broadway show and began working as a day player in Roscoe (Fatty) Arbuckle’s troupe. The rest is history.

Some people have a need to take things apart and by so doing, can figure things out. This is what Anne Gillen does for indie producers and directors – if they will only listen.

I’ve had the great pleasure to meet and listen to Anne speak on several occasions. There’s no one sharper with as critical a message, as the excerpts above make clear. I personally look forward to the new book as I know I will learn from it. Anne has that keen ability to look at the parts laying on a table and figure out what is working, or not. Her plea that filmmakers budget for marketing like their life depends on it is brilliant – because it’s true and the aftermath of not doing so fills out the programming of countless film festivals.

Thank you, Sydney, for shining light on Anne that her words may reach more artists. It can help lead them to make better films that audiences want to see and which reward their makers.

Kevin Dole
RendezVous Films
Los Angeles

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