BSmart Guide

With over thirty independent films under her belt, a Golden Globe win for THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT, and recognized as one of Crain's ‘Forty Under Forty,’ powerhouse Producer Celine Rattray is shaking up Hollywood empowering women behind and in front of the camera through honest storytelling.  Her devotion to her art and resolute personality has made her a leader in the competitive field of film production earning her inclusion at major film festivals domestically and internationally including Sundance (12 times), Toronto (6 times) and the Berlin International Film Festival.  

Celine began her career in McKinsey’s Media and Entertainment practice before being hired as Director of Marketing and Business Development for HBO, eventually launching her own production company, Maven Pictures, which develops, produces, and finances premium independent and studio films featuring extraordinary talent and groundbreaking subject matter.  Learn how this motivated movie maven captures the art of great storytelling, is changing the ratio of women in the film industry, and how you can share the stories you’re passionate about through film.

Follow Maven Pictures on Facebook here and Twitter here!

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We created Maven with a remit to empower women behind and in front of the camera.

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Fearless Films

What is the secret to smart story telling through independent films?

The two main parts of a film producer’s job are selecting a project and then figuring out how to turn that project into a reality – how to ‘green-light’ it.  The process of creating a film is very challenging.  You might receive 500 rejections or roadblocks before the project has even begun.  You might have actors saying they don’t want to be in it, directors saying they don’t want to direct it, financiers saying they don’t want to finance it, or crew members saying they don’t want to work on it.  Your love for the story or script has to be so powerful that you have the motivation to overcome all of those rejections for many years.  Smart storytelling begins with a story you’re so passionate about (and has themes that resonate with you) that you’ll do anything to share it and see it up on screen.

We pick stories that have great female roles – that’s an important element for us.  Looking at the female roles within a given script we simply ask ourselves, ‘Does the woman drive the story forward?’  Very often, we get scripts where the woman ends up being the best friend or the confidant or the person who says, ‘You can do it, I believe in you,’ to some other character.  We look for the reverse.  We look for the story where the woman’s driving the action.

Smart storytelling is also born from a grain of truth.  We love true stories.  We resonate on a societal level with an ordinary person doing an extraordinary thing – an unexpected hero.  We love movies that have a positive message and we enjoy being surprised by connection.  For example, take films that are disguised and marketed as a comedy or thriller, and yet, when audiences leave the theatre they think, ‘Oh that’s really interesting.  I felt something.  That story showed me something interesting or new to me.’  

The Kids Are Alright falls into that category because people thought it was a heartwarming comedy, but left with all sorts of interesting things they learned about same-sex marriages and the challenges a same-sex couple faces in our world.  It’s with all of those components in mind that we look for the next story to bring to screen.

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Smart storytelling begins with a story you’re so passionate about you’ll do anything to share it.

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 What are the benefits to developing and producing independent films?

The main benefit to developing and producing independent film is that it’s a medium that allows artists to tell stories the way they want to tell them.  At Maven Pictures, the majority of our films are independent, but we also have some studio films we’re developing.  Studio films these days need to be four quadrant films, which means the film has to be made for men, women, people 25 and up, and 25 and below.  They need to be for everyone.

With an independent film, you can make something much more targeted.  As a result, you can tell a story that is darker, more complex, or more difficult subject matter than a studio film would be able to produce.  With independent films, there’s no story you’re not able to tell.  Sure, you might have to tell the story for a tiny budget, but there’s no story you’re not able to tell because you don’t have the pressure to speak to everyone in the world.  That’s not the end goal.  The end goal is honesty.

Another beauty of the independent film world is that you can really empower the creative minds working on the project.  On our independent films, we’re able to give the filmmakers the final cut.  We’re able to have filmmakers tell the story the way they want to tell it, in whatever way they want to tell it.  In the studio world, where you’re making movies for a higher budget, that never happens.  Too much rides on the film being commercially successful.  For example, with independent films we’re able to pick actors (who, I must say, are extraordinarily talented) who might not be the biggest names in Hollywood.  In studio films, a lot rides on the names.

One of the films we’re in post-production on (and very excited about) is called American Honey directed by Andrea Arnold.  Andrea Arnold is a genius filmmaker who did the movies Fish Tank and Red Road and she’s won Cannes with two of her movies.  She’s such an amazing artist and was able to make American Honey in the way she wanted to from a production standpoint.  She discovered a first time actress for the lead role who is an exceptional talent.  We were able to work with Andrea, honoring her creative process and decisions, and we empowered her to make the movie in the way she wanted to make it.  That’s one of the beauties of independent films – you’re allowing artists’ voices to shine.

What is your creative process for selecting and financing Maven films?

Once we have a script we all love, the next step is to package the project.  Packaging begins with finding the director.  You pick the person who feels they have the right vision and is creatively the best fit for the script.  Then you put the cast together.  That’s a crucial process because the cast has value domestically and in the foreign market.  Depending on what cast you pull together, you then figure out your budget.  Once you have a script, a director, and the cast, you set the budget.  And once you have all of those elements together, the movie is green-lit.

One of the things a film producer has to do is figure out how to balance all of the different needs from the cast and crew.  In terms of balancing the creative and financial aspects as a producer, you’re constantly pulled in both directions.  From a creative standpoint, the more resources you have the better film you can make.  The director and your creative people are always fighting for more days, more time, more gadgets, and more equipment, which will enhance the film creatively.  But the more you spend, the less likely you are to have your investors break even. 

You’re constantly pulled in both directions and have to find the perfect balance between making the best possible movie creatively, while protecting your investors and making sure your budget doesn’t escalate to an unreasonable level.  All of that goes into the process of being a successful and economical producer.

How do you empower women and society through the films you produce?

Empowering women in film is something we strive for every day in our company.  My business partner, Trudie Styler, and I set up Maven with a remit to empower women behind and in front of the camera.  The statistics for women in film are dire and honestly, heartbreaking.  Only 10% of movies in America have balanced characters in front of the camera, in terms of having the same number and types of roles for women. 

The stats for women directing are equally rough: only 9% of movies made last year were directed by women.  Something we aim for in every single film we produce is creating great female roles, making sure these roles are as complex and interesting as a male role would be, and making sure we have as many women as possible working behind the camera.

We have one film that just came out, Miss You Already, and three movies in post-production right now, American Honey, Freak Show, and Wildling.  Out of those four films, three were directed by women.  All four of them have amazing female roles at their center and that’s something we’re very proud of promoting.  We work really hard to reflect society accurately and 51% of the world’s population is female.  That should be reflected in film.

 

 9% of movies made last year were directed by women.

 15% of movies made last year were written by women.

 25% of movies made last year were produced by women.

 20% of movies made last year were edited by women.

 2% of movies made last year had cinematographers who were women.

10% of movies in America have balanced characters in front of the camera.

 

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What have you learned from the women characters in your films?

Characters become almost like children after a while.  You live with the characters in the development of the script, in the shooting of the film, in the editing process, and afterwards through the life of the movie.  You often think, ‘What would this person do?’ and they inspire you when you’re in tricky situations in your own life.

There’s one character in particular (portrayed by the brilliant Rachel Weisz in the film Whistleblower) based on a woman who took on the United Nations for their cover up of sex trafficking crimes.  She ended up having the whole word against her, yet managed to struggle through it and took the United Nations to court and won!  She’s a character, both in real life and in the film, who I admire.  In tricky moments in business I think, ‘What would this character do?’  She’s a woman, with so much resilience and strength, who wouldn’t give up or be silent.  It’s really wonderful to experience a lingering impact from a character you helped bring to life. 

Watch Celine's bSmart interview here!

Independent film allows artists to tell stories the way they want to tell them.

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Movie Maven

What professional experiences prepared you to run Maven Pictures?

My first job out of college was working for McKinsey, a consulting firm, doing strategy.  Then I spent three years with HBO doing business development and strategy.  The main thing I learned during that time was the art of problem solving.  Problem solving has been fundamental for me as a producer.  While I was at HBO I was surrounded by amazing content.  The Sopranos was on air, as was Sex and the City, Oz, The Wire and much more.  It was exciting to be in a place that made such great content.  It was inspiring.

In both of those jobs I learned to work well with different types of people.  In the process of making a film, you’re working with actors, writer, directors, the crew, the financiers, and with people who will ultimately distribute your film.  They all have different personalities and different objectives.  I have to figure out how to find common ground and a path that’s satisfying to every single person.  Those were some of the things I learned before I started producing films.  

Before starting Maven, I producted about 25 films over eight years.  Some of those films had tiny budgets, but making one film after another, you come to realize that on every film – you learn from the process.  With every movie you have different challenges and you continue to grow.  You slowly get better.  The best way to become a film producer is to go through the experience.  Produce a film, make mistakes, learn as you go, and hopefully don’t make the same mistake twice.

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If you want to be a film producer - be a film producer.

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How should young women know if and when to demand equal pay?

Honestly, there’s an issue that worries us even more than equal pay and that’s equal opportunity.  Only 15% of the writers of films last year were women, only 25% of the producers were women, 20% of the editors were women, and only 2% of the cinematographers were women.  So, the issue that keeps me up at night is equal opportunity.

In terms of equal pay, one of the things we notice in the industry, is that women are not as good as men at looking out for themselves.  While this is a generalization, women tend to be very nurturing and giving, and when they put together projects or businesses they don’t think, ‘What can I get out of it?’  They worry about everyone else working on the film, and they look out for themselves last.  The advice I give myself and to young women in all fields of business, is that it’s wonderful to be generous, altruistic, and look out for other people, but every step of the way you need to make sure you’re protected and you’re getting enough out of it.  Look out for yourself, at least little bit.

How do you handle and resolve creative conflict with your partner or team?

The main creative conflict we have with films are casting decisions.  Your budget depends on who you cast.  If you cast a very big star, your budget will be bigger.  If you want to cast an unknown, who may be creatively perfect, but doesn’t have the track record in terms of box office numbers, your budget will be smaller.

We try to not make it a conflict at all by having open discussions along the way.  We make it very transparent as to what casting will mean.  A bigger name might not be the first creative choice for the director, but that will mean the director will get more resources to make that film.  We say, ‘We’ll support whatever you want to do casting wise, but there will be consequences to your choice.  If you want to go for that actor who is very talented, but a complete unknown, then you’re going to be making the film on a micro budget as opposed to making it with a bigger star.’

I’ve learned that everyone has deal breakers, such as someone they’re not willing to cast or something they’re not willing to do, and you have to figure out with the directors what those are and not push too hard.  Allow them to make their choices, but know what the consequences of those choices are and plan accordingly.

What is your advice for breaking into film for production or performance?

A very important person in my life, Mark Gill, once gave me great advice.  I went to see him when I was 27 and I told him my dream was to be a film producer.  He said, ‘If you want to be a film producer be a film producer.  Go and do it – find a great book or script, something you’re passionate about, and go figure it out.  Find someone to partner with who has more experience than you and figure out how to get it made.’

It was such good advice.  That’s the advice I give to people who want to work in film, whether that’s as a writer, a director, an actor, or a producer.  Find something you’re passionate about and fight tooth and nail to get it made or get it done.  The great thing about film today is you can make movies for such low budgets.  You can go and make a short film for $3,000 or you can make a feature film for $10,000.  Simply make films.  If you want to learn how to do it, go and make a film, make mistakes, learn from your mistakes and do it again.  That’s how I got started and I’m grateful that’s what I did.

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The issue that keeps me up at night is equal opportunity.

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How can we be smart creating our careers and passion projects?

One piece of advice I wish I’d been given when I was 21 is to pick really good partners.  Making films is too hard of an endeavor to do it alone.  Some people manage to do it alone.  I really admire them.  But it’s such a hard job that I say find a great partner who inspires you, challenges you, and forces you to be a better you.  Whether it’s a one off partner on a specific project or a partner on all of your movies.  Find someone who is very good at something you’re not, or something you may not have as much experience in, or may not naturally have the talent.  Find someone who is experienced and will make up for your weaknesses.  Don’t be afraid to partner with someone that is a bigger fish than you are.

Another piece of advice I wish I’d been given, but learned along the way, is to enjoy the small victories.  As an entrepreneur you get knocks all day long and then occasionally, once in a while, something great happens – whether that great thing is you got your movie into Sundance, or you got your movie to a distributor you really wanted to sell it to, or an exciting actor or director wants to be involved in one of your projects.  Savor those small victories and celebrate them because they need to make up for the 100 knocks you’re going to get next week.  You have to learn to enjoy the process and not just think about the end product.  That’s true for any line of business. 

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Learn to enjoy the process and not just think about the end product.

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Spotlight on Celine Rattray

Neighborhood: Soho

Occupation: Film Producer

Women I Admire: Arianna Huffington, Anna Wintour, Donna Langley, Tina Fey, Lena Dunham

Dream Mentor: Oprah

Best Date: Il Buco with my husband

Best Advice: 'If you want to be a film producer, just go ahead and produce a film' - Mark Gill

Favorite Quote: Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life

De-Stress Technique: Running on the West Side Highway

University: University of Oxford

 

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