September 20, 2006
The Producer's Life: Jamie Patricof
For the first feature film that he produced, the small budget meant Jamie Patricof was in charge of rounding up breakfast for the crew every morning. The budget was bigger on his latest producing gig, the recently released Half Nelson, and Patricof saw the difference. "The first day of Half Nelson I went out there and there was this whole catering department. I was like, 'I can't believe this. You mean I don't have to go get bagels and donuts for everybody?'" he said.
| (click for larger version)|
But for Patricof, Half Nelson, the story of an unusual friendship between a drug-addicted teacher (Ryan Gosling) and a troubled student (Shareeka Epps), has been much more than a matter of seeing that the crew was well fed. Patricof, who said he was involved "every second of every day from the time we started pre-production through shooting," called making the film "an amazing experience," particularly because of the strong relationship he developed with the first-time filmmakers, Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden. "For the past 18 months, after my parents and my wife, I speak to the filmmakers the next most. We speak almost every day, still. It's like a marriage," he said.
Patricof, whose production company Huntting Films is named after the East Hampton street where he spent his summers, said he "always wanted to be a producer. I was fortunate to grow up in an area where I had interactions with a lot of different people in the entertainment business, and I was always drawn to it."
Soon after he graduated from college, he developed a series for ESPN called "The Life," a documentary series about athletes' lives. "I was 24 years old and I was getting to hang out with professional athletes and getting paid to do it," he said.
He segued into producing feature films with Point&Shoot, a faux documentary about the relationship between a model and a photographer shown at last year's Hamptons International Film Festival.
When he came across the script for Half Nelson, Patricof knew immediately he wanted to be a part of the project after he received a copy of the script from an agent representing Fleck and Boden. "I read the script that same night and I loved it. I called him the next day and said, 'Alright, I want to meet the filmmakers,'" he explained.
The film started its life as a short film Gowanus, Brooklyn, the winner of the Grand Jury Prize in short filmmaking at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival. The feature version has opened to strong reviews, particularly for the performances by the three leads, Gosling, Epps and Anthony Mackie, who plays a drug dealer vying for Epp's character's loyalty. Patricof said the different approach taken by each was "one of the more interesting elements" about working on the film. He contrasted the "raw, natural talent" of Gosling with the classically-trained approach of Mackie, who switched in and out of his role with ease: "He can be in the middle of shooting around on a basketball court and then he has to go do the most emotionally draining scene and he's brilliant at it," Patricof noted.
Epps, who was 15 when the film was made, had no problem keeping up with the more experienced actors. "Magically, she was able to hold her own against anybody . . . Shareeka was on 100% of the time," Patricof said.
The chemistry between the leads was vital because the film is "a love story, a platonic love story," Patricof said. "Anthony is trying to be her big brother and Ryan is trying to be her big brother and it's a fight. Both of them are good guys, but both of them have demons." When he saw an unedited assembly of the film after the last day of shooting, Patricof was pleased the chemistry between the actors he saw on set translated well onto the screen. "I knew we had a lot of work but that we did have a great film," he said.
That didn't mean he wasn't nervous when the film was screened at this year's Sundance Film Festival. "Sitting there and watching the film you kind of think that people are getting it and liking it, but you obviously can't be sure," he said. "Having an outpouring of kind words after it was really amazing."
And even after the glamour of Sundance, Patricof couldn't contain his excitement when the film opened in New York in August. "I was at the first screening at the Lincoln Plaza Cinema, at 11:10 in the morning, and bought the first ticket," he said.