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‘House of Cards’ Producer Dana Brunetti on How to Break Into the Industry

'House of Cards' Producer Dana Brunetti on How to Break Into the Industry

For the past four years, Trigger Street Prods., the production company behind “The Social Network,” “Captain Phillips” and “House of Cards” (as well as the upcoming “50 Shades of Grey”) has partnered with Jameson Whiskey on Jameson First Shot. The annual contest provides an opportunity for new filmmaking talent to have their short produced by Trigger Street, starring an established actor. Previous participants include Spacey, Willem Dafoe, and Uma Thurman; this year, Academy Award-winning actor Adrian Brody will take the lead in the three finalists’ winning films.

Indiewire recently spoke to Brunetti about the Jameson First Shot contest, tips for filmmakers wanting to break into the business and — how could we resist? — “50 Shades of Grey.”

READ MORE: “House of Cards” Producer Rails Against Celebrity Crowdfunding

How does the contest work exactly?

Basically, anyone can submit, up to a seven-page script, with their story fitting all the guidelines and parameters. They submit it online and then it gets whittled down until we have about 25 of them.

Initially, they’re narrowed down for the story and then we start to look at them more for what would be great for the actor that we have that year, which ones would be able to be done within the constraints that we’re working in and from a production standpoint. Then we whittle those down and also see which ones the actor wants to do.

What then?

We bring the finalists to Los Angeles, where we have a professional crew they work for two weeks on these three films. The filmmakers really hit the ground running. They go right into pre-production for a day or two and then they go right into production, they shoot for two days, and then they go into post for the week.

It’s a tight schedule, but it works really well because it gives filmmakers that sense that you have to get in there and do it. They’re also surrounded by professionals so they’re guided, but they’re in full control. They call the shots. They have the reins unless they’re going getting out of control, and that’s when there are producers to wrangle them in, but we really haven’t had to do that yet.

What happens to the films once they’re produced?

The whole idea is to get them out there as much as possible and to have them be as visible as possible, and that’s part of the reason that we bring in a big name like Adrian this year, Uma last year, Willem and Kevin the years before. The whole purpose of this is to shine a light on them that will hopefully lead to other opportunities for them to get other writing or directing gigs and help progress their career.

The first couple of years we did premieres in each of the countries and then culminated in one bigger premiere in New York. This past year we did it in L.A. Then we put them onto YouTube and other sites, where they get a ton of traffic because of the stars that are involved. Then the rest is up to the filmmakers. We’ve giving them access and giving them a platform to demonstrate their talent and their abilities, and giving them something for their reel that will get people’s attention because of the names that are involved. The rest is up to them.

How else do you screen the applicants? 

We have them send a video bio of themselves, and that is a really good indicator of the type of talent that we’re going to be dealing with as well. You can learn a lot from somebody’s video bio; if you’re not going to gel with the actor or a crew. We had one guy pull out a gun in one of the video bios [laughs], saying he likes to shoot, so we were like, okay, this guy’s out [laughs]. So it’s just things like that that we’re looking for to make sure that they’re kind of normal and they’re not going to kill us when they’re on set.

Would you say it’s a good time or a difficult time to be an aspiring creator?

It’s a double-edged sword because you now have access to the tools and equipment and the things that 10 years ago were way out of reach for the majority of people. Now is a fantastic time because you have access to all those tools and distribution platforms where you can get out and reach an audience. The flip side of that is the amount that comes in now. It’s like everybody is shooting something and everybody’s a filmmaker, everybody can shoot a cat video and post it. So the big thing now is for people that have talent, and have something to say and are creative, and are capable of making something good is how do they get attention to it? Because it’s not about getting it made now, it’s more about getting attention to it. But if you’re clever enough and creative enough to get a good film made then you should be clever enough and creative enough to find ways to get it out there, one being something like Jameson First Shot.

What other tips do you have for aspiring filmmakers to get their work out there?

Getting into something like this. But also utilizing social networks and your audience that everybody can build in, it might only be 50 people that follow you on Twitter, and maybe 100 friends on Facebook, but that’s 150 people that you can reach that would have been impossible 10 years ago. Then you would have to first get the film made and then put together a screening and then get all those people there. Now they can simply click a link and watch it. And if they like it, they can easily share it to their friends. And so if it’s good, good material can ultimately rise to the top if the people are talented and creative enough to get it out there. But it has to start with the story and it has to start with quality material.

What other advice would you have for filmmakers?

Start. Start somewhere [laughs]. Just don’t just settle on one thing. So many people have one script and they’ve had it for years and it’s that one script, that one idea, that one story and they’re doing everything that they can just to tell that one story. That’s not going to happen. If you’re a writer, write. You just keep writing. And if you’re a filmmaker, you keep doing what you can to keep telling your stories, you don’t stay on the one. Keep moving forward and doing what you can to tell whatever story you can tell, be it via writing, be it via filming it. But don’t put all your eggs in one basket and just wait for that train to come in for that one thing. You have to keep going at it.

Get anybody you can to watch your film. Get on Twitter, get on Tumblr, get on Facebook, get on every social media that you can and post your film. Don’t do things like tweet me a million times saying, “Hey, watch my film, watch my film, watch my film” because then I’m just going to block you and other people are going to block you. Don’t become an annoyance. Be a professional and approach it the same way you want people to approach you with something. And just keep at it. The people who make it in this business are the ones that, silly as it sounds, keep at it.

Ok, now I have to ask the requisite “50 Shades of Grey” question, which is what do think people are going to be most surprised by in the film, especially devotees of the book?

That’s such a hard question. I think they’ll be pleasantly surprised with the quality of the film that we ended up with, with [director] Sam [Taylor-Johnson]’s work and [author] E.L. [James] being on set and keeping it faithful to the book for the fans. And then Mike (De Luca) and I bringing what we bring to the films and Seamus McGarvey shooting it so beautifully. It’s not a film that’s made for guys like me, but a guy like me produced it so hopefully it will appeal to men as well. But we definitely made it for the fans. Doing an adaptation of a book is a difficult task because people see things differently when they read a book. It’s not a shared experience as you’re reading it. People have different ideas about who they see in different roles or how they see a space or how they hear a voice. We’ve done a really good job at hitting that – I don’t want to say middle of the road, but hitting that mark that will meet as many fan expectations as possible.

Filmmakers can submit their script (under seven pages) to Jameson First Shot here. Be sure to follow the contest rules.

READ MORE: ’50 Shades of Grey’ to Mark International Premiere at Berlin Film Festival

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