PAS­SION COUNTS

In­die film pro­ducer dis­cusses her choices

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Joe Gross jgross@states­man.com

Su­per­star in­die film pro­ducer Sarah Green’s ad­vice for young pro­duc­ers is both very easy and very hard: Do your best to work only on films that you love.

“I just work on projects that I can get be­hind,” Green says. It’s that sim­ple. It’s that dif­fi­cult. On March 9, Green, an Austin res­i­dent and longtime pro­ducer for both Ter­rence Mal­ick (“The Tree of Life,” “Song to Song”) and Jeff Ni­chols (“Mud,” “Lov­ing”), will be in­ducted by the Austin Film So­ci­ety into their Texas Film Hall of Fame. Nick Kroll — who worked with Green on “Lov­ing” — will be do­ing the hon­ors. The gala, which will also honor Shirley MacLaine, Hec­tor Galán, Ni­chols and Tye Sheri­dan, is the un­of­fi­cial kick­off to South by South­west.

In ad­di­tion to the vi­sion­ary Texas di­rec­tors above, Green’s worked with, among oth­ers, John Sayles (“Pas­sion Fish,” “The Secret of Roan Inish”) and David Mamet (“The Winslow Boy,” “The Span­ish Prisoner,” “Amer­i­can Buf­falo,” “Oleanna”).

Mal­ick and Mamet. Sayles and Ni­chols. You’ll no­tice that while this is a 30-year-long mur­der­ers’ row of Amer­i­can in­die cinema, th­ese folks don’t ex­actly make block­busters.

“I tell young pro­duc­ers that it

is in­cred­i­bly im­por­tant to do work that you re­ally care about, that you un­der­stand, that you can pitch with great pas­sion and en­thu­si­asm,” Green says. “Be­cause en­thu­si­asm is some­thing that you will need dur­ing the pro­duc­tion process when things go wrong or go slowly.”

Af­ter all, the act of pro- duc­ing a film is both in­cred­i­bly im­por­tant and in­cred­i­bly vague. It can range from sim­ply rais­ing money for a project to act­ing as a di­rec­tor’s ad­vo­cate and sound

ing board and coun­selor and pro­tec­tor. It in­volves get­ting a film across the fin- ish line by what­ever means nec­es­sary. It means that you have to know a lit­tle bit about ev­ery­thing and, well, Green fits the bill.

Orig­i­nally from Mas­sachusetts, Green be­came a se­ri­ous movie nerd in col­lege at Emer­son (class of ’81) in Boston. She thought she was go­ing to be an en­gi­neer but got the movie bug af­ter tak­ing a lit­tle Su­per 8 class. “I com­pletely got into it,” she says. At the same time, she im­mersed her­self in the late ’70s and early ’80s art house scene, see­ing all sorts of stuff at Boston’s fa­mous Cinema 733.

Un­like many who find them­selves in pro­duc­tion, she never thought she would be a writer or di­rec­tor. “I have a math brain and an artist’s heart,” Green say. “I have no skills as an artist, but I re­ally value them.”

So Green got into film to be a tech­ni­cian. “I thought I could learn to be an elec­tri­cian and then hope­fully a gaffer and even­tu­ally a cin­e­matog­ra­pher and I can be­come a cre­ative force,” she says.

Green worked for sev- eral years un­der cin­e­matog­ra­pher Nancy Schreiber and came up through the

elec­tri­cian and grip ranks be­fore re­al­iz­ing, as she puts it ,“I just wasn’ t great at it. I could be a good tech­ni­cian, but I didn’t have the eye” to be a di­rec­tor of pho­tog­ra­phy.

She started do­ing any­thing she could to sim­ply be around films. “I pulled fo­cus on some­thing, I drove the trucks, I got the food, I helped the art de­part­ment. I did any­thing I could, and I just kind of fell into pro­duc­tion,” mov­ing over the course of a few years from pro­duc­tion man­ag­ing to line pro­duc­ing (man­ag­ing a picture’s bud­get) to cre­ative pro­duc­ing.

Green, who calls her­self a bit of a vagabond at heart, got to know folks from Austin years ear­lier while on a lo­ca­tion scout­ing trip in Louisiana for Sayles’ “Pas­sion Fish.” She found her­self here af­ter prin­ci­pal pho­tog­ra­phy on Mal­ick’s “The New World” wrapped in late 2004.

“I came in to check and see how edit­ing was go­ing,” she says. Mal­ick “in­vited me me to stay. I never ex­pected to stay that long, but Austin is just such an easy place to live.”

She ex­ec­u­tive pro­duced Ni­chols’ 2011 de­but fea­ture “Take Shel­ter” and, as she puts it, “that kind of sealed me be­ing here.”

In the in­de­pen­dent world, each di­rec­tor has a dif­fer-

ent way of work­ing and pri­or­i­tizes dif­fer­ent things. Green’s job is to learn what that is and fig­ure out how to spend the re­sources to sup­port that. “What is so fun about work­ing over and over with the same di­rec­tors is that you get to know the way they work. The short­hand be­comes eas­ier the more of­ten you work with the same peo­ple.”

She has worked with Mal­ick for decades. “We spent a long time get­ting to know each other be­fore we re­ally set­tled into work, and I think that was time well spent be­cause we fig- ured­outwhatwev alue in the work a nd how do we

com­mu­ni­cate and all those things, ”she says.

Green says she was re­ally pleased when she met Ni­chols and learned that he had a sim­i­lar take on such rela- tion­ships, that he val­ues un­der­stand­ing and the con­nec­tions on set that come from us­ing the same folks over and over. “It makes the work so much eas­ier and so much more fun,” Green says.

That said, decades in, Green says she still gets the jit­ters right at the start of a pro­duc­tion. “There’s that mo­ment where I for­get that I know how to do all this, es­pe­cially if I have a lit­tle break be­tween movies,” she says. “Ev­ery shoot can be over­whelm­ing in some ways.”

She notes that Mal­ick’s na­ture/birth of the uni­verse doc­u­men­tary “Voy­age of Time” was par­tic- ularly chal­leng­ing lo­gis­ti­cally. See­ing as how it was shot over years, “it took a lot of work fig­ur­ing out the pieces,” Green says. As a doc­u­men­tary, “Voy- age” was far less spe­cific in terms of what needed to be shot. “We would send out a crew and say, ‘OK, we need this from Africa,’ and they worked un­til they got the footage. We re­ally had to be on our toes to make that one work.”

On the other end is Ni­chols. “He writes very specif- ically, and so it’s very clear from the script what we need to do, and then it’s just a mat­ter of meet­ing that vision, so that’s a dif- fer­ent kind of chal­lenge,” she says.

Af­ter all, you never know what steps are go­ing to be easy and what steps are go­ing to be hard. Some­times a movie comes to­gether quickly, and some­times it takes years.

“As a pro­ducer, your job is to stick it out and make sure it hap­pens,” Green says, “so I am very care­ful

about the con­tent of the work that I in­volve my­self with but also the peo­ple. The peo­ple you work with and ma­te­rial you work on has to align to your own heart and vision. The work is just too hard other­wise.”

She pauses. “I know it can be done, work­ing on some­thing you don’t com­pletely be­lieve in,” Green says. “Peo­ple do it all the time, they make movies all the time that they don’t care about and they make a whole lot more money than I am. But I am all about get­ting sat­is­fac­tion out of my work as much as mak­ing good movies. This is not for the faint of heart.”

CON­TRIB­UTED PHO­TOS

“Song to Song” was di­rected by Ter­rence Mal­ick and pro­duced by Sarah Green, who is one of this year’s in­ductees into the Texas Film Hall of Fame. “Song to Song,” which is set in Austin, will make its world pre­miere Fri­day as the open­ing film for South by South­west.

Aus­ti­nite Sarah Green has been a longtime pro­ducer for both Ter­rence Mal­ick and Jeff Ni­chols.

Sarah Green pro­duced Jeff Ni­chols’ film “Lov­ing.”

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