EVERYONE’S always after a “behind the scenes” look at Hollywood, but there’s more to it than box offices and bombs. Producers have one of the most vital roles when it comes to creating the experiences you see on the silver screen, but oftentimes go largely unnoticed by the world outside of Hollywood. It’s safe to say that without producers, movies would just be stories written on a page. So what exactly does a producer do? Independent film producer Jane Kosek started her production company, Meritage Pictures, in 2012. Since then, she’s worked on both scripted feature films and documentaries. Jane spoke to Lady Clever about her job as a producer and how she nurtures her passion for great stories through writing. She’s one of the busiest women in Hollywood. No offense, Angelina Jolie!
What inspired you to start Meritage Pictures?
I have always been inspired by great storytelling. I remember the first time I saw The World According to Garp and Terms of Endearment – the first two films that really made an impression on me. I was in middle school and I was struck by all of the unique and wonderful and dysfunctional characters in these films. I suddenly wanted to know what made people tick. And that feeling is still there. I am a filmmaker and author, so I can develop stories that allow me to portray all kinds of characters and to create stories that touch people, make them think and look at the world differently. Storytelling is so powerful and I wanted to start Meritage Pictures so I could tell stories that had something to say to the world.
What were you doing before you started Meritage Pictures?
Prior to Meritage Pictures, I was partnered with a director and line producer in a production company called Wonder Entertainment. We made some wonderful (pardon the pun) projects under that banner. After a few years, it became apparent that we were all going in different directions and it made sense for us to shutter Wonder. I have fond memories of our accomplishments and I learned a great deal about how to manage a production company and work with investors. The lesson I learned for myself from my time in Wonder Entertainment and my other past work experience was that while I love collaborating on projects it’s better for me to partner with others on individual projects than to partner in an overall production company. I have so many ideas about the kinds of projects I want to do and I like the freedom of being able to do what inspires me. And I don’t have to give up the joy of working as a team. I can still have amazing collaborations on individual or even multiple projects. In the end, I have learned the value of investing in myself, which allows me to actually bring more to the table and makes me a better partner in all of my projects.
What do you find difficult or challenging about running an independent production company?
What hasn’t been a challenge? I think anytime you helm something on your own, it’s a challenge. The buck stops with you on everything that you do. Every decision you make has a consequence, good and bad. Any outcome for your company is a direct result of the effort you put in. You don’t have a boss giving you a steady paycheck or paid vacation time or sick leave or health insurance. You need to establish your own retirement accounts. And more and more, the entertainment industry is relying on talent to work on spec. So you may work really hard on developing a project and never see any revenue from that hard work if that project doesn’t get picked up. So finding the means to earn a living and pay the overhead on running a production company can be extremely difficult. In addition to the projects I work on under my own banner, it’s important for me to partner or work on projects developed outside of Meritage in order to make new connections, build a stronger network, and continue to grow my experience and be prolific. I have worked with some incredible producers and on really interesting projects that were initiated by other production companies. They usually hire me through Meritage onto their projects so I’m still technically conducting work for Meritage. So it’s a win-win.
Balancing the creative and the business sides of the company is probably the biggest struggle for me. Taking the leap to embark on your own in a creative field is incredibly daunting. What if no one likes the stories I want to tell? What if I can’t find the funding to make the films? What if I can’t make a living? These are questions I ask myself every day and could cause me to crumble at any given moment, but my answer to each of those questions is to keep on writing, keep on producing, keep on having faith. It’s the only way I can continue to do what I love. Additionally, I am very realistic about Meritage Pictures being a business. I focus a great deal of time and energy on new development, marketing and sales on top of creating. And I am very driven to figure out how to build a profitable business model. There are so many projects I would love to make for creative reasons, but the business that goes into making some of the films doesn’t make sense. If there’s no upside for investors then I won’t try to make the film, which is why I’ve started to write long fiction. I can take the stories I think would be difficult to fund as films and write them as short stories, novellas, and novels. I don’t need to find $500,000 or more to make a novel – like I so often have to with a film. Widening my craft from making movies to writing fiction has opened up so many new opportunities. And who knows? If the story takes off as a novel them maybe it will make sense as a film someday? Balancing the creative and business is never easy but it’s absolutely necessary.
What accomplishment(s) are you especially proud of so far?
The biggest success for my company has been to establish a reputation for making high-quality films on low budgets and having built an amazing team of talent and crew who enjoy working on projects together. One of my greatest achievements this year has been to pay cast and crew deferrals (money promised to cast and crew once a film earns a certain amount of revenue). I love being able to fulfill my promise that if the film makes money, we all make money. Bottomline, if your cast and crew aren’t happy it will show in the final product. Working in film is more of a lifestyle so don’t you want your life to be a happy one? It’s important to me that everyone be comfortable and respectful to one another on my sets. Kindness goes a long way. And to have fun too!
What’s it like being a female producer in Hollywood? Do you ever come across sexism in what seems like such a male-driven industry?
I know sexism exists in Hollywood. It’s obvious by the low number of female directors being hired to helm feature films or television episodes. It’s disheartening but I try not to let it affect my productivity or use it as an excuse for not getting ahead. If the studios won’t hire me or back my project, I will go out and find that financier who will back me. It’s important to believe in yourself and know your worth. My attempt at combatting sexism in Hollywood is to put all of my focus into creating opportunities. I want to make it a point to work with more women too. I am actively seeking female-driven projects and financiers who want to back projects by or for women. I would love to kick sexism to the curb by bringing talented teams of women together to make great entertainment.
What kinds of stories are you passionate about telling?
When it comes to narrative films or long fiction, stories that are character-driven with strong romantic relationships at the core are my favorite. I love producing romantic dramas and comedies. But honestly, I would be happy to produce any genre of film as long as I responded to the story and the characters. I enjoy watching a good thriller and I get goose bumps watching big action sequences on the big screen. With documentaries, I am drawn to stories about ordinary people doing extraordinary things. I am a huge fan of underdog stories. They’re so inspiring.
I love both documentaries and scripted. I truly feel blessed that I have found a way to work in both realms. It’s the ultimate dream for many filmmakers to be able to do both. Documentaries allow me to explore my fascination with true stories – real people are often stranger than fiction. And I adore scripted because it’s so easy to get caught up in the lives of your characters and forget about everything else. You can let your imagination run wild – create new worlds, say whatever you want, and ensure the good guys win. And honestly, it’s just plain fun to make things up!
Is there something in your gut that tells you to say “yes” to a project or pass on it?
Oh yes, it’s as if I have an internal checklist I am going down as I read a script. Some of the items on my checklist include: castable roles, strong character-development, compelling story, good structure, high-enough stakes, budget-friendly, experienced writer/director attached, and attractive to investors and distributors. And lastly, would I want to see it if it got made? If the script I’m reading meshes with most of my checklist, I will definitely have further discussions with the person who brought me the project. Choosing a new project to get behind is a very subjective process. The simple answer is that I have to love it to want to do it.
Well, apparently there’s a lot of work to be done before “Lights, camera, action!” With women like Jane lending their talents to the silver screen, one thing’s for sure, we have a lot of interesting stories coming our way.
You can follow Jane’s doings by checking out her Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. You can check out Meritage Pictures on Facebook, too. And if you’re interested in seeing some of the work she’s produced, here’s a list of our favorites: The Diary of Preston Plummer, Take Me Home, Not Since You, 30 Days to Love, and Olympic Conquest. Have fun!