Producer, Maren Patterson, has worked her way up in the ranks, from Production Assistant on Jingle All the Way, to Producer on “Oprah’s Big Give”!
RL: What got you interested or involved in the entertainment industry?
MP: When I was a senior in High School and was applying to Ithaca College I thought that a Communications major sounded interesting so I applied and checked the box for more information on the film school… Little did I know that I had just applied for the conservatory style program! So when my acceptance letter arrived it informed me I was not only accepted into the college, but also Roy H. Park School of Communications film school. I was shocked. Then I decided that it was great. First off because it didn’t require more than one of the dreaded math classes and secondly I loved films so I figured I’d give it a shot. I had told my mom as a ten year old that this is what I wanted…so off I went.
RL: When did you know that you know that you know 🙂 that this was something you definitely wanted to do?
MP: While watching the Mr. T stunt show at Universal Studios at 10 I turned to my mom and said “I’m going to work on stuff like that someday.” Granted Reality/Documentary TV is different than The A-team, but hey it’s all on TV right?
RL: What was your first gig?
MP: My first gig was when I studied in London I worked at an Advertising Agency called Rose Hackney Barber. They thought I was crazy for “working for free” as an intern but took me on anyway. My job was to get lunches and, more importantly, get tea and cakes served promptly at 4PM. Yup, the Brits take time out, even in the middle of a production, for their tea and cakes. Although one day on set, I got so busy cutting nappies (diapers) for a commercial that I had to skip tea duty and focus on getting that unsightly extra plastic trimmed off the diapers so the babies all looked perfect for the shoot. We trimmed up over 1,000 diapers that day!
RL: You are an example of what a Production Assistant can attain to be. You were a PA on the film Jingle All the Way, how did you get that particular project?
MP: When I got to L.A. I had two strong ideas about how to find work. First, I told everyone and anyone what I wanted to work on, which at the time was Major Motion Pictures. Secondly, I used any and every resource I had. Lucky for me, it turned out that one of the Producers on Jingle All the Way was an Alumni from my College and he took 3 Ithaca college Grads on as PA’s.
RL: That time in your life, what were your aspirations? Did you know you wanted to be a producer?
MP: OH sure! When I first started out in Entertainment I wanted to be a Producer/Director/Writer for Major Motion Pictures. I wanted to make good films that affected the way people thought. Now I see documentaries as another great way to do that.
RL: Working your way up in the ranks, what are some do’s and don’t’s the ladies need to be aware of?
MP: Wow! That is a loaded question. I think the first thing is to get in, do a good job and ask a lot of questions so you learn fast. Also, have a can-do positive attitude. Know that every job is crucial for a good production to run smoothly so take pride in what you do, even if it is delivering mail or getting lunch. It needs to happen and shows your supervisors that you are driven and easy to work with. I can’t tell you how many P.A’s I’ve worked with and never hired again because they say something like “I went to college and got my Bachelors, I shouldn’t have to get lunches/wait around in a car/carry gear/etc…” I always say “we all did it.” Heck, on Jingle all the Way I had to clean up vomit outside a port-a-potty on the Universal Backlot. Lucky for me it ran under a trailer too so I had to crawl underneath and clean that up while laying on my belly in the dirt. Now that is not glamorous, but it had to be done so I did it. No complaints. The next week the AD’s moved me up to Lead PA for Extras because they knew that I would do any job well and without complaint.
Also, it’s important for women in particular to value themselves and their own talents and skill sets. I think the world is much more equalized for men and women now, but “The Old Boys Club” does still exist. And there are still women out there that use seduction as a method to move up. It may seem like fast track, and it can be a fast trip up and a big fall back down. Or in one case I have seen a women who remains at the top of her job but everyone knows how she got there so she has no respect even from her own employees. Be strong, take pride in your work, be willing to work your way up and know that you are good.
RL: You also worked as a Story Producer, What does that entail and what tasks or duties separates that title from other producers?
MP: There are so many producer titles it gets confusing. As a Story Producer my main job is to find the story in the hours and hours of footage that return from a reality or documentary shoot. For example on Deadliest Catch we shot over 100 hours per episode. My job was to find the threads and story to tie the boats together and make a compelling story using only 43 minutes of footage. That was almost my entire job. As a full Producer/Senior Producer/Supervising Producer I’m responsible for story, but also for all the other elements of a show such as budget, releases, casting all the way down to being sure my episodes are cleared through the legal department before delivery to the network.
RL: Was there ever a moment that you wondered what in the world were you thinking?
MP: There have been many of those moments! My favorite one was on Deadliest Catch when I had to go on a boat and the Captain and crew felt that I, a redheaded woman, was VERY bad luck. Well during King crab season they had one of their worst catches ever and I later heard from our camera crew that they blamed it all on me! So when I went back up to Dutch Harbor for Snow Crab Season’s filming I had to visit the boat again before they went out. They harassed me and made interviewing them very very difficult. Finally, I asked if there was anything I could do to break the bad luck they thought I brought. They said I had to pee on a crab pot, I said no… they insisted. So I called my older brother Kirk, an ex crab fisherman, and he told me that it was for real and I had to help this boat out. That night, I ran into that boats crew at a bar and promised I’d do it…and I did. As I accomplished that task in the freezing cold Alaska winter I wondered “What the heck am I doing with my life.” But they had one of their beat snow crab seasons ever and hey, at least it gave me a good story!
RL: How did “Oprah’s Big Give” come about?
MP: I do a lot of my work though Executive Producers I have worked with many times before. One of my favorite people to work with, Fred Pichel, got the job because he had worked on the Amazing Race and they were producing the show with Harpo… so he asked me to come onboard and gave me the job Senior Producer.
RL: Did you feel confident going in or were you nervous?
MP: I felt pretty confident going in on that show because I have a great relationship with Fred, my boss, and I also knew and enjoyed most of the the other Producers on the show. Although I knew that blending reality and talk show styles would be a challenge I was up for it.
RL: What was that experience like, being a Producer for one of the “Most powerful people in the world”?
MP: One of the things that was new for me on the Big Give was working on a show where everything I said or did affected the perception of a specific person, not just a network. So we were all very careful to be respectful at all times so as to not reflect badly back onto Ms. Winfrey. I only met her a few times though, and she was always charming and helpful. I was impressed at how down to earth and kind she was for such a powerful busy woman.
RL: Any aspirations to be in front of the camera?
MP: I think it would be fun to be an on air talent for a news or travel style show.
RL: What is your dream project?
MP: This is one of the many reasons that moved me to Seattle recently. I would like to be part of a team that would develop on online destination network and I’d like to head up the development and production of the online Reality/Documentary series for this online channel. Doing this I would hope to bring more production to Seattle! That would be a dream come true!
RL: What would you like to see from women in film?
MP: I would just like to see more women working in Film! It is still a very male dominated industry. I’d also liek to see more women helping women move and meet in the industry. WIF is a great organization but I’d love to see even more events and more co-ed film events.
RL: What’s next for you?
MP: I’m currently working with a Seattle Production Company on a variety of projects. I am also developing my own series in hopes of finding and working with an online network. Plus I’m writing a book. It’s all fun though!