Sarah Green’s Sundance Keynote: “Be as generous as you can be.”
“The Tree of Life” and “Take Shelter” producer Sarah Green
Sarah Green has earned a long-held reputation as a tenacious producer, with credits that include last year’s “The Tree of Life” and “Take Shelter;” she’s currently in post on Terrence Malick’s new film starring Rachel McAdams and Ben Affleck. Today, she delivered the keynote at Sundance’s annual Producers Lunch, an honor that’s previously gone to “Beginners” producers Jay Van Hoy and Lars Knudsen, “Blue Valentine” producer Lynette Howell and “Win Win” producer Mary Jane Skalski.
With kind thanks to Sundance and Green, we’re publishing her speech in full.
Thanks to Michelle Satter, Anne Lai and Sundance, for honoring you all by hosting this lunch, and for giving me the honor of addressing you.
I am in awe of you all. I have pored over this year’s festival catalog and watched movies since my arrival, and I am so heartened by the films, by the movies that are being made because of you. Yes, money is tight, but we are making movies! Your accomplishments strengthen us all, and I am very grateful to you.
I am also grateful for the extraordinary generosity of my fellow producers. There are many fine examples right here at Sundance -‐ so many folks giving up their precious time to mentor others through the programs encompassed by the Creative Producers Initiative, for instance. Mentorship is a powerful force; I know that without the guidance of those who mentored me, I’d likely still be flipping hamburgers, which is an excellent profession but one that I was certainly less suited for than this.
I was doing just that, cooking in a restaurant and attending Emerson College, when I got the opportunity to intern for Debra Franco, who was self distributing her films through a co-op of independent filmmakers. Not only was she insanely generous with her time and expertise, she offered me a job with the flexibility to work on others’ movies, all while becoming well versed in DIY educational distribution. Who would have guessed how relevant that would be in today’s distribution landscape?
Debra introduced me to cinematographer Nancy Schreiber. I was living under the fantasy that because I was technically inclined, and really wanted to be an artist, that I might become a DP. Nancy did her best to train me, but one day, working as an electrician and listening to Nancy debating a particular lighting nuance with her gaffer, it occurred to me that, not only do I not have an opinion on the problem, I don’t see it… I was not destined to be a cinematographer.
I stumbled my way into production management, where fortunately I had the amazing Peggy Rajski to turn to. Peggy was producing films on which she also served as production manager, and generously offered to teach me, which was fortunate because when I say I stumbled my way in, I am not kidding. I remember Peggy showing me a call sheet, which blew my mind. All that information in one place! Cost report? A revelation!
I learned a lot from Peggy, enough so that when she and Maggie Renzi decided to move on from their producing partnership, I felt empowered enough to say yes when invited by Maggie to be her new producing partner. I was hardly qualified, but fortunately for me Maggie likes to mentor. I watched her get “City of Hope” financed over one lunch, from which I took that producing was easy. It took a while to understand the background of that one lunch: an established and well-loved writer/director, a good script, a cast assembled through past relationships and reputations, a budget that made sense, a timely niche in the marketplace, and a direct and personal relationship with Larry Estes who made that particular financing call. Super easy!
You are the people getting movies made. You have likely benefited from someone else’s generosity. I encourage you to pass that on.
These are extraordinary examples of generosity, I know, and I can only hope you have had, or can create similar opportunities. Those of you who are new to producing: if you get them, use them; work your butt off and don’t stop until you have learned everything possible from the situation. And then work some more; it’s good training for the tenacity you will need to get your next film off the ground.
While I was learning to coordinate and then to production manage, I took on a trainee coordinator called Georgia Kacandes. Yes, that Georgia Kacandes, the one who got a shout-out from Martin Scorcese at the Golden Globes last week, the one who ran physical production at Paramount Vantage and then at Paramount. While I was mentoring Georgia from APOC to Coordinator to UPM, I was learning valuable lessons in how to be a boss. Those of you who know Georgia won’t be surprised to hear that she sat me down one day and explained that if I wanted her to take responsibility, I had to give her the reins; micromanaging wasn’t doing either of us any good. I learned a lot from Georgia, as you will from your mentees.
I belong to a producers’ group. You know that person you’ve known forever, who you trust completely and can ask anything of, who you know is truly on your side? Belonging to this group means I have 20 of those, 20 people who have come together for the sole purpose of supporting each other as producers, to be as generous as we possibly can be with each other.
We advise each other, we share information, we introduce each other to financiers and actors and other collaborators and we cheer each other on. It’s insanely enriching, empowering and rewarding, and it brings out the best in us all. I recommend it to every one of you; find a group to join that brings out your own generosity.
Beyond the Sundance programs already mentioned, there are many existing groups to join: the PGA, which is reforming its Independent Film Producers Committee in which I am involved, Film Independent, IFP and the Independent Producers’ Alliance that formed out of Jay Van Hoy and Lars Knudsen’s keynote speech last year, to name a few. Or you can form a group of your own; within an intimate group, you can afford to be even that much more generous.
You are the people getting movies made. You have likely benefited from someone else’s generosity in getting where you are. I encourage you to pass that on, to be as generous as you can be with each other, and to new folks coming up. You are probably doing that already — maybe consciously, maybe unconsciously. Make it a priority, because that’s how we will all thrive.
It may seem like someone else’s film getting made precludes yours, but I don’t believe that to be true. If that happens, it’s more likely that their material is stronger or more accessible, or their relationships more developed. Working from your most generous place will feed your relationships and make them stronger; and being generous with your time and resources when it comes to others will likely result in that same generosity back to you. A little tough love from your peers can go a long way toward making your project more viable.
So give some of your time, your expertise, your energy to mentor, to train, to advise and to cheer. What benefits one independent film benefits us all. Who hasn’t referenced “Brokeback Mountain” or “Little Miss Sunshine” or “Precious” when trying to explain that our “female-driven,” “period,” “coming-of-age,” “Americana” (oh, and here’s the real eye-roller in a pitch meeting) or “drama” was going to make pots of money. A truly successful indie gives us all something to point to when pitching our own film, and makes it easier to get another independent film made.
I wish you all, every success.