REEL Q&A: Karri O’Reilly

REEL Ladies Presents Producer Karri O’Reilly

Originally from Dayton, Ohio, Karri O’Reilly has been involved with over 100 features, short films, commercials and television programs during her fifteen years in the entertainment industry. She received her degree in Motion Picture Production from Wright State University, and worked on several feature films in Ohio and as an associate news producer for the local ABC affiliate before moving to Los Angeles in 1995. In LA, she jumped back into film production, working on such films as Boogie Nights, Nothing to Lose, and Double Dragon.

Most recently, she produced the Cuba Gooding Jr. drama Linewatch, and co-produced the 3-D feature film The Dark Country for Sony’s Stage 6 Productions. She also recently produced the Romania-lensed sequels Pumpkinhead: Ashes to Ashes and Pumpkinhead: Blood Feud, and line produced the family film Saving Shiloh, which is the third installment of the critically acclaimed “Shiloh” films based on the Newberry Award winning books. Also in the family genre, she produced a popular series of children’s films (Clubhouse Detectives in Scavenger Hunt, Clubhouse Detectives in Search of a Lost Princess, and Clubhouse Detectives in Big Trouble), and a family film Ghost Dog: A Detective Tail which aired on PAX in January 2003. Karri also served as the line producer for the 2002 Sundance hit Blue Car, which was released theatrically by Miramax in May 2003 and nominated for 2 IFP Independent Spirit Awards, and in the winter of 2004 she line produced the Sci-Fi channel feature Black Hole.

A member of the Directors Guild of America, Karri has worked all over the US and internationally on such films as A Love Song for Bobby Long, Something the Lord Made, Hollow Man 2, Freddy Vs Jason and Wedding Crashers. Some of her work outside feature films includes production managing a 70mm music video directed by Vincent Gallo for the Sony Japan group L’Arc-en-Ciel, and wrangling the 120 foot inflatable brassiere that took over the San Fernando Valley (for a Japanese department store commercial she production managed).

Karri also knows more “How many producers does it take to screw in a lightbulb” jokes than a nice girl from Ohio should, and has been known to say things that make the teamsters blush.

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READ HER Q&A WITH REEL LADIES!

RL: TELL US ABOUT THE BEGINNING STAGES OF YOUR CAREER

KO: I was attending Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio as a computer engineering major, and hated every minute of it. In order to get a break from my core classes, I took a film theory class, and learned that the university had a film school.

I don’t think I even knew there were film schools – I had made some video projects in high school but never knew you could realistically study film, much less make a living working on films. Wright State University has a nationally recognized film program, so I was extremely lucky to have been there already.

After that first film class, I changed my major – which required talking to three guidance counselors because they were all convinced I was making a huge mistake. No one in my family worked in anything remotely artistic, so my parents were not too happy about this change either, but to their credit they did continue to pay my tuition.

As soon as I was in the film program, I started working on films – student films, independent films in the area, and ultimately professional films that came into Ohio to film. I got a lot of hands-on experience at school, and was very comfortable with using the equipment by the time I was looking for professional work. It took 7 years to get my BFA because I kept taking time off to work on features.

I worked professionally as a grip, assistant camera, some TV news, a little bit of PAing, but pretty early on found that I was most drawn to production, and starting working as a production coordinator.

I moved to LA in the early 1990’s and continued working in the office on films including Boogie Nights. From there, I moved up to production managing, then line producing, then producing, and also moved up to larger budget projects.

RL: YOU HAVE WORKED ON FILMS AS A PRODUCTION MANAGER, PRODUCTION COORDINATOR, LINE PRODUCER AND PRODUCER. EXPLAIN BRIEFLY TO THE READERS THE DIFFERENCE IN THE ROLES.

KO: The Production Coordinator is a department head and not, as many seem to believe, the secretary of the production. The Production Coordinator manages the off-set production arm of a film – they handle all the shipping, travel, distribution of production paperwork, and keep the files of the show.

Production Managers and Line Producers have similar responsibilities. Both positions oversee the physical production of the show and are charged with keeping the production on schedule and on budget. I have found that the general breakdown is that Line Producers create the budget, and the Production Managers help make deals which adhere to that budget. Also, Line Producers may interact more directly with the producers (and the studio), whereas the Production Manager would deal more often with the below the line crew.

Good luck defining what a Producer is. I am a “spend the money” not “find the money” kind of producer, so what I do is basically line producing with the additional responsibility of overseeing the creative decisions being made on the shoot (and in often in post) are in line with what the studio or financiers expect. This can encompass casting (particularly local casting), dealing with script revisions, and hiring creative department heads. I also often help determine where is the best place to film a given project, taking artistic, financial and very often incentives offered in various countries or states into consideration in making that choice.

Other producers I work with are “find the money” producers, and very versed in how much a project is worth with any given set of attachments, and the ins and outs of financing. Some of them set up the project and don’t want to hear about it until it is done – that’s why they hire me. Others want to be involved in the day to day production. It depends.

If I have a day to day producer on set helping, I’ll often have a Co-Producer title rather than Producer. If I am alone out there, I fight for the Producer title because I earn it. On international projects I sometimes have had an Executive Producer credit for tax incentive reasons.

RL: WHICH DO YOU ENJOY DOING MORE?

KO: I don’t coordinate anymore other than short term pick ups or reshoots for large studio features. I like the exposure to the higher budget crew and vendors, but otherwise it is just not that fulfilling anymore.

My heart is in producing, and each show I focus more on the producing and jettison more of the production managing duties to my long time production coordinator/supervisor John Goodwill, as he is ready to take on more of those tasks.

RL: WHAT ARE SOME COMMON MISTAKES THAT BEGINNER PRODUCERS SHOULD AVOID WHEN BUDGETING FOR THEIR FILMS?

KO: I wish I had a dime for every time I’ve had to break the bad news about FICA and employer-side fringes to someone. That’s about a 22% overage on all your labor costs if you are not aware of that reality.

This myth that you can 1099 everyone and make them work as an independent contractor has also bitten more than one producer who didn’t heed IRS guidelines – the fact is that it only takes ONE disgruntled person with ONE call sheet to bust your whole production months after your shoot is over. The fact is the disgruntled person will win no matter what you had them sign, and then you are facing a production-wide audit. Maybe you’ll get away with it, but for me it is just not worth the risk.

Also, for some reason A LOT of people think the SAG day rate is a flat rate – but it is only for an 8 hour day, and most days are 12 (which is over 40% more than the day rate).

Delivery is another area where producers need to educate themselves on costs. Having a print does not mean you can deliver your film to buyers – there are multiple sound, video and legal elements you must prepare to deliver the project – and they are not cheap. Quality control checking the elements alone can set you back several thousand dollars.

The best advice I can give is to advise producers to at least hire a professional line producer to review their budget prior to fund raising or taking the budget out. It would save a lot of heartache and embarrassment with your investors down the road.

RL: FILMMAKERS ARE ALWAYS TRYING TO “FIND THE MONEY”. WHAT HAS WORKED FOR YOU IN THE PAST IN SECURING FINANCING?

KO: I don’t fundraise. At all. Ever. I don’t have the requisite skills to effectively shake down dentists.

I am transitioning into finding homes for some projects I really like, but that is more about a negative pickup scenario or setting it up at a studio or company that self-finances than raising the money myself.

RL: WHAT DRAWS YOU TO A PROJECT?

KO: I like the process of physical film production, and working on different scales and genres of projects. Not all films can be art, but they all should aspire to being well crafted.

I also like projects that allow me to learn a new skill – like working internationally with multiple currencies and tax codes, or with new technologies like 3D.

I’m really happy to have been associated with Blue Car, not only because it is a great film, but because it did many great things for the film community in Dayton, Ohio where it was filmed. I am always on the lookout for a project I can bring to Ohio to film, especially now that it looks like we may finally have a film incentive program starting July 1st.

RL: TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOUR PROCESS FOR OBTAINING CAST FOR YOUR FILM “LINEWATCH”, STARRING CUBA GOODING JR. AND SHARON LEAL.

Cuba was attached prior to my involvement – one of the other producers (Brad Krevoy) has a relationship with him from past films they have done together.

I knew Chadwick Struck, our casting director, from some work I had done on Starship Troopers 3, and hired him for Linewatch.

Kevin Bray, the director, had very specific casting ideas and worked with Chadwick to come up with the list of casting choices for the studio’s approval. Together, Kevin and Chadwick came up with an excellent and interesting supporting cast – Sharon Leal, Omari Hardwick, Evan Ross, Malieek Straughter, Dean Norris, and AMG.

The awesome Reuben Liber at MPCA helped make the deals for the supporting cast. It was really fast as we had only about 3 weeks to cast the whole film due to an accelerated prep and shoot schedule due to Cuba’s limited availability.

I was also really thrilled with some strong local cast in Albuquerque, New Mexico – particularly Chris Browning who is also in Dark Country.

RL: WHAT IS NEXT FOR YOU?

KO: I have been active in lobbying my home state of Ohio to enact a film incentive, which looks like we may finally get on July 1, 2009. I’m working on bringing some smaller projects here to film and take advantage of the new incentive.

RL: WHEN YOU LOOK BACK OVER YOUR CAREER, HOW HAVE YOU GROWN AS A PRODUCER?

KO: Every show I do I learn something. I think I have become better at understanding the big picture of production and how it relates to the film industry as a whole – making the film is a small part of the whole process. Understanding this makes it easier to help out the rest of the producing team and the studio, and helps me be able to troubleshoot post and distribution issues before they get out of control.

Personal skills-wise, I have gotten better at delegation and giving up the notion that I can control all the details. I like the notion of the “presumption of competence” as a management philosophy – where treat everyone as qualified professionals and just let them do the job you’ve hired them to do (with vetting and proper controls of course).

This last year, I’ve been working on my time-management and ability to focus on one thing completely. I should also work on swearing less.

RL: WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO PRODUCERS OUT THERE?

KO: I’m assuming you mean newbie producers – so I would say the two biggest things would be focus on a good, realistic plan for the distribution of your film, and keep your costs as low as you can so as to best ensure your investors getting their money back.

Hoping to get into Sundance is not a distribution plan. You should be talking to distributors who distribute movies in the genre and budget level your film aspires to.

Ask them what kind of cast they would need to help sell your film, and ask what they think the budget level should be to give you at least a 50% shot of getting your investor’s money back. Treat it as a business venture – not a non-profit one.

I know you are trying to shake cash out of unsophisticated sport stars and dentists, but at least do some real homework, and have a remotely feasible business plan.

Please give us all a break from business plans for indies which use Blair Witch Project as the bar for projected box office. How about a RECENT example – in the genre of your proposed film?

The new “Blair Witch” for proposals seems to be Fireproof. Fireproof is not such a great comparative model for your $500,000 torture porn slasher film. If you have Kirk Cameron attached – then go right ahead – but otherwise ask yourself what the draw to your film would be that would equal a target audience specific draw like Kirk Cameron was for a faith based film.

RL: WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE FROM WOMEN IN THE INDUSTRY?

IKO: I would like to see women stop taking it as a given that it is harder for women to succeed in this industry. It’s hard for everyone, and all you can do is push forward in your own career.

That said, I think it is the responsibility of every person in charge of hiring crew of all levels to actively seek out and give consideration to a broad base of applicants – women, minorities, GLBT people, people over 50 – you get the point. Hire based on qualifications and who is right for the job, but get all sorts of candidates in the room.

I often hire white male department heads because they are the best and most experienced for the job at hand, but there is nothing wrong with letting them know you’d like to see them have some diversity in their department. If they know you are looking at that, they are more inclined to also make the effort.

Women also would be wise to actively look for a mentor for themselves and for someone to mentor. You need to do it both ways.

I’ve been very fortunate to have people who believed in me and helped me to develop my career. I try to give that back through work with students at Wright State, through the non-profit group FilmDayton, and just by being available to those who are ballsy enough to ask for a moment of my time. It’s not hard to find me 🙂
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For more on Karri O’Reilly, visit her website at www.karrioco.com

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About REEL Ladies

A Networking Community & Organization for Women in Film & Entertainment! View all posts by REEL Ladies

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