Powerful Women Producers Share Secrets to Success

by Margaret Gardiner November 7, 2017
Alison Owen, Cathy Konrad, Kaila York and Francesca Silvestri

Producers Alison Owen, Cathy Konrad, Kaila York, and Francesca Silvestri onstage at Wonder Women Panel Series: Producers during 20th Anniversary SCAD Savannah Film Festival on October 30, 2017 in Savannah, Georgia.

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A power panel of producers got together at SCAD Savannah Film Festival for what turned out to be a master class on producing. The crowd packed into a standing-room-only event entitled Wonder Women, made up of Alison Owen (Suffragette, Harlots, Saving Mr. Banks and Elisabeth), Cathy Konrad (Zoo, Walk the Line), independent producer Kaila York (My daughter Is Missing, Highly Functional) and Francesca Silvestri (Tangerine and The Florida Project).

While all agreed that there are special challenges working in an industry where women make up less than 25% of producers, their focus was on sharing solutions. All spoke of the need for passion to push through projects that often take as many as ten years to develop. Cathy Konrad shared how Golden Globe winner Walk the Line almost never got made despite having Reese Witherspoon and Joaquin Phoenix attached. The Christian Bale, Russell Crowe film, 3:10 to Yuma was on such a tight budget that when an unexpected snowfall threatened to capsize the project Konrad got out a shovel herself and helped shovel snow, rather than call the crew back to do it, in order to save dollars that needed to go on the screen.

Alison Owen spoke of the challenges of the different mediums, noting that she had three series going at one time,  and since series do not shoot chronologically you have to “edit while looking at studio rewrites, casting and shooting, so its an incredibly challenging lifecycle.” She notes that the development process involves "putting the best package together to make people say ‘yes’ and then shaping it to whatever medium supports it.”

Kaila York talked of the need to be creative. “You almost always get the door slammed in your face during the final weeks, and you have to be creative, working with distributors to package your project. There is no ‘right’ way to do it,” she notes."You have to get accustomed to being told, ‘No’, over and over again without becoming defensive.”

Francesca Silvestri advised that would-be filmmakers should just go out and dive in. “With the iPhone, you are able to shoot and edit and do more with less.” Her suggestion - “you can still tell good stories, you have to write something that fits into your budget and do what you can.”

All agreed that it comes down to passion and that test audiences aren’t necessarily a bad thing. Cathy Konrad closed with inspiring words: “The industry needs what you have. Nobody wanted to make any of the films I’ve made. You have to have more than one project and keep your spirits up. As one thing falls you move the focus to the next.” Clearly, even working at the top of their game, the key to their success is not being easily dissuaded, believing in their ability and passion, and being innovative in creating solutions that would swamp their projects - advice that applies beyond producing.