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The Chicago Philanthropist Behind Some of Your Favorite Indies

The Chicago Philanthropist Behind Some of Your Favorite Indies

To the film industry, Gigi Pritzker, the co-founder and CEO of OddLot Entertainment, is an established film producer who has emerged as a major player over the past 15 years. With credits including Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Drive,” John Cameron Mitchell’s “Rabbit Hole” and Jon Stewart’s directorial debut “Rosewater,” she has earned respect for undertaking challenging projects and seeing them through to considerable success. With “Ender’s Game” also under her belt, she’s clearly capable of tackling unwieldy Hollywood blockbusters as well as mid-budget fare. 

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To Chicago, however, Pritzker is much more than just a respected producer. She’s one of the citiy’s favorite daughters. Between founding the Hyatt hotel chain and maintaining roots in the city and ties to its economic and cultural vitality, the Pritzker family has long been one of Chicago’s most important families. A philanthropist, Gigi Pritzker is the president and a trustee of the Pritzker Pucker Family Foundation and the Chicago Children’s Theatre. And perhaps most importantly, while she necessarily spends a lot of time in Los Angeles for business, she refuses to abandon Chicago as her hometown, where she has raised a family. 
A new component of the recently wrapped Chicago International Film Festival, in its 51st edition, is an Industry Days program, composed of various panels and discussions with film professionals. As part of its inaugural year, Industry Days held a tribute for Pritzker to bring attention to her achievements. Moderated by fellow producer Andrea Wishom, the two women discussed Pritzker’s experiences, sharing insights into producing and what has made her a success in the dog-eat-dog world of filmmaking.

“She’s incredibly supportive. Anytime you’re in 100 degree weather in Jordan in the summer and your financier is standing right behind you by a kerosene generator, you know they’re involved,” said Jon Stewart. Typical of Gigi Pritzker, she isn’t one to make producing into a desk job. She takes a hands-on approach. She likes to be on set where the action is as much as possible, getting directly involved with the day-to-day decision-making and problem solving. 

“I love being on set. A lot of producers can’t stand it but I love it. It’s where you’re constantly solving problems, putting out fires, the real moment the movie is made,” said Pritzker. “It’s a fascinating place and an exciting dynamic to make it work.”

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The role of producer is one that varies from project to project and from person to person. “Everyone does it differently, but for me it starts—and I learned this in theater—with a really good understanding of what your role is. You see movies and there’s 40 producers in the credits, and everyone has a different role,” Pritzker explained. “Sometimes it takes that many. Sometimes it doesn’t.”

“For me, it’s always about determining ‘Where am I in this?'” She said. “It’s in the genesis, and knowing your piece in the puzzle. Sometimes we buy the script and work on it from the beginning, hiring the director, being fully immersed in every step, and more producers come in to help in different ways. Sometimes you’re the producer coming in to help in a specific way, in financing, finding talent, working on the script, location work. I think it’s being self-aware. If you’re carrying the whole thing, you gotta carry it.”
As for allowing creative room for the director to make their film, Pritzker is a proponent of stepping back. She described an important lesson she learned while making “Green Street Hooligans,” “[Director] Lexi Alexander was taking too long to shoot so I said we had to cut the tattoo scene. She refused and we had a massive fight. We were using a lot of film so it was getting intense. We didn’t end up cutting it, and now when I look at the film I think, ‘man, she’s so right, it’s really important’. It taught me a lot.”

Pritzker’s most ambitious project, the adaptation of “Ender’s Game,” exemplifies her passion. After her nephew shared the book with her, she tried to for 13 years to get the film made before it finally hit screens.

“I always wanted to do it, but I couldn’t get it from Warner Bros.,” said Pritzker. “Years down the line, I had lunch with someone and as we were packing up and saying goodbye it came up that she owned ‘Ender’s Game.’ From there we worked together and I extracted it from Warner Bros.”

It wasn’t easy, but Pritzker made the dream project into a reality. But the rights were only the beginning. “We had to do right by the fanbase. It was a very difficult adaptation to pull off, and then once we got on set it was hugely challenging.”

When asked what it is about producing that motivates her, Pritzker paused briefly before confidently declaring, “it’s the challenge. Getting all of those pieces to align is part of the fun….It’s a challenge on a bunch of different levels—you think it’s one thing but it turns out to be something else. I think you have to be tenacious.”
As far as what sorts of projects she looks for, Pritzker said “I tend to be drawn to underdog stories.” She explained, “I’m the youngest of five, it was a beleaguered childhood.” As a result, she said, “I was totally drawn to both principal characters in ‘The Way Way Back,’ for example, for their struggles. They’re the underdogs and I love that about them. ‘Drive,’ on the other hand, I wouldn’t call ‘Drive’ an underdog, but in such an ugly world, that character had so much integrity. I thought that dichotomy was really interesting.”

Pritzker acknowledged that sets can be emotional places. “I’ve cried on set a lot, sometimes because I’m exhausted, but sometimes just because it’s magical,” she said.

She then shared one of her favorite memories on set. “I remember when we were shooting ‘Rabbit Hole.’ It was Miles Teller’s first time on set. Nicole [Kidman] had requested not to meet him until their first scene together, because she felt that was an impactful scene. So we structured the whole shoot around that,” she recalled. “Additionally, in that scene, Aaron Eckhart went off script when he throws the fit in the kitchen, and freaked everyone out. The next shot we filmed was Teller’s reaction, and Eckhart had scared the crap out of this kid who had never had a one-shot in his life, and that made the scene.”

Her commitment to helping the film artists she works worth—be they writers, directors, or actors—realize their vision, has deservedly made Pritzker a trusted name in the business, and a worthy recipient of CIFF’s honor. 

As for Miles Teller, Pritzker said that after shooting that scene, she found him sitting on the porch. She comforted him and asked if he was alright. Teller replied, “I’m going to go home and take a bath.”

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