Marginalia, Graduate Blog

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas…

Conor O'Farrell

Production still from Life of Pi (2012). Courtest 20th Century Fox

Production still from Life of Pi (2012). Courtest 20th Century Fox

Something I’m looking forward to doing over the holidays is nothing.

I haven’t done nothing in a long time. The last time I remember doing nothing was sometime at the start of August, before I moved here. Sure, there have been rare occasions these past five months where I’ve had some hours to spare, but generally those rare windows were reserved for sleeping.

It’s been so long that I can’t for sure say what the last book I read was, but as a lesson in adaptation, I intend to re-read Life of Pi over the holidays and drag someone along to the movie theater with me afterwards.

Many prospective students have inquired about the varying levels of film & television experience that us producers have. Because I came from working in television for six years, my undergrad was in film, and I had produced a bunch of short-films, it’s a question that I had not really considered this time last year. That said, it’s a really valid question, and for those of you interested in this program that don’t necessarily come from a film or television background—and even if you do have some experience—I’d like to make two book recommendations for you over the holidays;

#1 The first, which you’ll often hear echoed through the corridors of Columbia, is Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat. It claims to be “the last book on screenwriting you’ll ever need”. In which case, I might just make that argument the next time we get assigned reading. But whether or not that is the case, it’s a book that masterfully takes you through film structure—granted, in a very formulaic matter—but as Snyder says, “one must learn the rules before one can break them.” It delivers a solid understanding of story, and as story is at the heart of what is driven into us here in Columbia, it’s a must read.

#2 The second is a personal recommendation, and now that I think of it, probably the last book I read. By devoting a chapter each to seven prominent film producers, Tim Adler’s The Producers defines the role of the creative producer and tells us some great stories from behind the scenes of some of history’s greatest films. Adler interviews Michael Douglas (One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest), Dino de Laurentiis (King Kong), Duncan Kenworthy & Andrew McDonald (The Beach, 28 Days Later), Christine Vachon (Boys Don’t Cry), and a producer I often champion, Jeremy Thomas (The Last Emperor).

The Last Emperor (1987) is the story of Pu Yi, China's last Emperor. Producer Jeremy Thomas singlehandedly raised the $25m budget. Image courtesy Columbia Pictures.

The Last Emperor (1987) is the story of Pu Yi, China's last Emperor. Producer Jeremy Thomas singlehandedly raised the $25m budget. Image courtesy Columbia Pictures.

Back in August, boot camp was great in terms of putting us all on the same page with regard to the basics of filmmaking. It forced us all to question our strengths and weaknesses as filmmakers, and that has been an integral part in our personal character arcs this first semester.

There are some of us producers with related film & television experience. There are others with backgrounds in theater, social media, project management, marketing, events, and finance. There are some who have come straight from their undergraduate studies—those students in particular I admire, as I don’t think I would have managed these studies at such a young age. But, what you have to remember is that no matter what area you are coming from, you bring a different skill set and have different strengths. Jeremy is our go-to technical guy, KG wows us with her presentations, Javi is one of the most resourceful people I know, and Joe’s financial background makes him the best at sealing the deal.

Regardless of where you are coming from, know that you will have strengths that others will not. But also recognize that you have weaknesses; we all do. And by working together and playing to each other’s strengths, we’re eliminating weaknesses and working on becoming better producers, together.

In the meantime, these two books will set you on a good path.

Wishing you all a safe and happy holiday, and in the spirit of the festive season, I’ll leave you with this heart-tugging timely reminder of the true meaning of Christmas (and producer Assya’s favorite seasonal adver):

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‘Twas the Night Before Christmas…

Something I’m looking forward to doing over the holidays is nothing. I haven’t done nothing in a long time. The last time I remember doing nothing was sometime at the …

Cinema Art + Science - Creative Producing Conor O'Farrell, conor.ofarrell@loop.colum.edu
600 S. Michigan Ave. Chicago, IL 60605

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