By George T. Marshall, RIIFF Executive
(August 2004) "One
person can do a painting, one person can sing a song,
one person can write a poem, but a whole bunch of people
make a motion picture." -- Peter Fonda, for "Ulee's
Gold." - 1998 Golden Globe Best Actor in a dramatic
I should know better by now, but it still never ceases
to amaze me how many people in the entertainment field
come from our region; or at least have ties to one of
the New England communities.
This year as we were reviewing the more than 1300 entries
to our annual festival in August, we found time and
again that filmmakers would make a point of telling
us that they had some local affiliation. They went to
Brown. They studied at Boston University or Emerson.
They graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design.
We found that the landscape was made up of more than
the usual high-profile suspects: the Farrellys, Michael
Corrente, Ken Burns or Gus van Sant. New Englanders
are very entrenched in New York and Hollywood and they
have maintained their ties.
Take Chris van Alsburg. A Providence Rhode Island resident,
whose wife sits on the board of the local Festival Ballet,
his children’s fiction leapt onto the screen with
the successful “Jumanji.” From being a layout
designer for Disney;’s “The Little Mermaid,”
van Alsburg has built a solid reputation and following
for his work. His now classic “Polar Express”
has been turned into a major holiday film directed by
Robert Zemeckis and starring no less than Tom Hanks
(and Peter Scolari in what will be an unbilled “Bosum
I recently spoke with another Rhode Islander, Kimberly
Shane O’Hara about her industry career on the
west coast. She and Eric M. Klein are the principals
behind O'Hara/Klein. They formed a successful partnership
over a decade ago based upon a shared passion for the
art and business of filmmaking. They started hands-on
work in the offices and on the sets of motion picture
and television productions, and through the duration
of their partnership, have been actively involved in
bringing to fruition over 100 productions. This extensive
focused experience forged the path to producing, and
competency in all areas of filmmaking, including - physical
production, financing and film sales. To date, they
have actively produced eight feature film projects,
building an extensive database of creative talent and
distributors, in the last six years.
In my recent telephone conversation, aside from sharing
stories about people we jointly knew, we talked at length
about the state of the film industry today, what it’s
like being a woman in what has traditionally been a
man’s discipline, and what’s ahead in the
future. Here are some highlights:
NEED: What is the guiding philosophy of the
Kimberly Shane O’Hara (KSO): It’s fair to
say that O'Hara/Klein are business people as much as
they are storytellers. Total immersion into these two
roles go hand in hand since as the partners we aggressively
seek screenplays and books, and then financing for these
literary properties that are carefully shepherded into
quality motion pictures. I think our hands-on approach
and experience from many earlier productions, plus demonstrated
track record of getting these films to the domestic
and foreign markets, make O'Hara/Klein stand out from
NEED: Tell our readers about your background.
Where are you from and what inspired you to get in this
KSO: I am the black sheep of my family. No one is in
the film business except my grandfather, who was an
on again, off again stage actor. I recently had a childhood
friend from Lincoln School in Providence Google me,
and find the “American Reunion” web site
with my interview and the film's trailer. She wrote
me that it made sense that I was a film producer and
screenwriter considering I practically took over the
film class in 8th grade from the teacher at Lincoln
School! I laughed when I heard that because I had no
idea I was aggressively running the show that young!
I did think I wanted to be an actress for many years,
but then I learned about all the areas of filmmaking
and I realized I wanted to tell stories and work with
top quality actors who could help me in that effort.
I grew up in the small fishing town of Warren, RI, barefoot
in the summers, big ol' Victorian house on Main Street,
doors unlocked. It was a different world then. My grandfather,
the only thespian, had roles at the Matunuck's Theatre-By-The-Sea’s
“Camelot,” “Shenandoah,” “Grease.”
I went back last summer to see it and was surprised
how intimate it was. When you are eight years old, and
a lot smaller, everything is relatively grander, I guess.
My parents were always working hard in their own businesses,
and so I grew up witnessing their tough work ethic,
and therefore it makes sense that I can motivate myself
every morning, go to my own company and drive it forward.
always had three jobs in college, and when I worked
in production in NYC, I worked long hard hours. I have
always worked very hard, but recently have learned how
important it is to take time off every week to have
aesthetic stimulation, like a museum, or a hike in nature.
That is a great plus about Southern California; lots
of mountain ranges and hiking.
NEED: What did you do before starting your own company
and when did you know that O’Hara/Klein was what
you wanted to do?
KOS: I was working in NYC on independent film productions.
Eric, now my producing and business partner, was a union
grip, and he worked with some real lunatic directors
like Abel Ferrar. He did get to observe a lot on those
shows and what made them tick. I eventually moved up
to line producer on very low-budget films, which has
to be the most stressful and thankless job anyone can
have. Every problem is your fault and you never have
enough money to solve anything. I was a constant whirlwind
with a walkie-talkie, loud mouth and never-ending checklists.
This was all before cell phones and high speed Internet.
Eric and I burned out around the same time and left
NYC to change our atmosphere and start producing ...
and we did exactiy that. Our first company was Yellow
Duck Productions, named by Eric's mom from his nursery
school. We have been O'Hara/Klein since our last two
NEED: How do you find the projects that you
get involved with? Do you have a philosophical agenda
or are you looking for what will be commercial?
KOS: This is an interesting question, George. Projects
come in such strange and karmic ways. When the script
of “Happy Hour” was passed to me by the
director/writer's lawyer, I read it and knew that the
witty banter of the main character was unique. I just
was very down on NYC at the time, and couldn't stomach
heading right back to make a film about a NY alcoholic.
I also was leery of how scrutinized the film would be
after the success of “Leaving Las Vegas.”
It is amazing how many people in the movie industry
group themes together. I had a fantastic piano script
once ... but couldn't drum up a penny for it because
people said "Shine" was already made. If that
was the case for "Shine", people would have
said "Five Easy Pieces" or "The Piano"
were already made ... thank God they didn't because
"Shine" was an exceptional film. Anyway, I
put “Happy Hour” down, as my partner shared
my sentiment, and read other scripts for a year. ALL
AWFUL. So I pulled “Happy Hour” back out
of the closet and said "Let's make this."
One year later we shot in NYC with Anthony La Paglia
and Eric Stoltz on a production budget of only $750,000.
“American Reunion” was written from my heart.
There are so many parts of me in all the characters;
many parts of Eric who helped me craft the framework
of the story. We had been to Denmark for a film festival
and we had been very impressed with the DOGME95 philosophies
of no artificial light, no sets, no genre (films such
as “The Celebration,” “Italian for
Beginners”). It appeared to us to be a way to
bring the focus back on the story and the performances.
So we wrote this film and decided to tell all the actors
and the crew these rules would apply, and everyone jumped
in feet first. Our first director of the original “12
Days in Ojai, California,” Leif Tilden (from Boston)
had never even directed a feature, so to do so with
these constraints was tough and stressful at times.
Mark Poggi, the co-director, saw the rough edit, and
brought a fantastic vision and emotion to the film with
additional photography and collaboration with a talented
editor and composer.
I have learned a lot in the last year about the business
of making films, and it is still hard to say what will
be commercial. My favorite saying is "Luck is when
preparation meets opportunity." I spend time meeting
people in all areas of the business including theatrical
exhibitors, but what really makes a movie successful
starts with the script. It has to jump off the page
and really knock your socks off. If it is average, it
will probably remain average, no matter how many people
you bring in to doctor it up.
NEED: Tell us exactly what a producer does.
What sorts of things drive you on a day-to-day basis.
Do you come up for air?
KOS: Everything. That is why it is the last Oscar of
the night! No, really, the common belief is a producer
only finds the money. Well, in order for a producer
to find financing they need to have a project they believe
in. I have read books that I put on my shelf and say,
“I can't make this right now, but one of these
days, I will contact that author and get that made into
a movie.” This just happened recently. I had read
a nerve-wracking rollercoaster paperback crime story,
“The Sleep Police,” by Chicago author Jay
Bonansinga about two years ago. I had made notes on
it and put it on my shelf, knowing that we were focusing
on promoting “Happy Hour” and building “American
Reunion.” I finally was able in the past year
to contact the author, do the option, and adapt the
book to script with him. This will be my second screenwriting
credit. Not every producer writes. Jerry Bruckheimer
is a producer who puts talented people together and
makes a lot of money doing so.
My producing partner Eric coordinates a lot of the logistics.
He has an extensive database/relationships with film
festivals, and did basically all the fullfillment* on
our “American Reunion” theatrical release
(*“Fullfillment” is getting trailers to
the theaters, making sure they are running, postcards
in the lobbies, ads designed and in the various newspapers,
even press screenings in the various cities too small
to hire a publicist). He knows where all the film elements
are stored in the vault and has all the deals with the
labs. He handles all the LLC paperwork with the accountant
and does things like oversee all the foreign sales elements
for the films. He does a lot of thankless tasks, but
on the flip side, he has the option on some amazing
projects that he will produce.
NEED: Given the stereotypes about producers
and directors, tell us about some of the experiences
you’ve had with directors. Have you found that
they are driven as an auteur; or have you found them
to be team players?
KOS: Ohhh…. this is a rough question. I don't
know if I can answer this one. Can you ask me after
my next two pictures?
NEED: What sort of experiences have you had
working with talent? Any horror stories (without naming
names) you can share?
KOS: Actors are incredible. They carry a huge weight
around on their shoulders, at least the really focused
intense ones do. I don't have any bad stories to tell
besides the usual breakdowns in the make-up trailer,
tantrums on set, vegan catering requests. Robert Vaughn
was probably the most professional actor I ever worked
with. Since he is a whole two other generations older
than me, I underestimated, in fact we all did, his popularity.
We were shooting outside the old Algonquin hotel in
NYC right smack in the theater district and word got
out that Robert Vaughn was shooting a scene outside.
A crowd three people thick amassed in the matter of
minutes, and we just didn't have enough staff to keep
them all from yelling at him and flashing photos. He
stayed perfectly calm, did his scene, nodded to the
crowd and that was it.
Eric Stoltz was a real card. He loved to ham it up for
the camera after the director yelled "Cut."
I spent a lot of time watching dailies giggling at his
NEED: Given the competition out there, what
do you think sets O’Hara/Klein apart?
KOS: We understand that just making the movie is not
enough. You have to study the marketplace and be willing
to aggressively market your film with innovative ad
dollars and promote independent theatrical roll-outs.
DVD is where all the money is made, and you can up your
DVD awareness by opening your movie in select cities
and building a web mailing list to inform people all
over the world when your movie comes out in the video
stores, or on Netflix. Theatrical ups the value of the
DVD release, so if you can set aside money to open the
film in some theaters, do it!
NEED: Where do you see yourself in 10 years
time with this company? What are your goals?
KOS: Winning an Oscar. Seriously. We will. Building
O'Hara/Klein into a new studio ... the next United Artists.
A place where movies can be made of interest to actors,
directors, writers, and can be believed in through the
end and not put on the shelf due to corporate decisions.
NEED: When you were growing up in Rhode Island,
did you expect that you would be where you are today
and doing what you do?
KOS: Gee, all those times that I had my nose in a book,
I really didn't know. I was a concert pianist, something
my mom pushed on me. I was good, but I wasn't the silent
musical type. I read a lot because I had been an only
child for many years around all adults. My sister (who
is a fashion designer) was born 8 years later, but I
was already in my own world. My mom has shown me some
poems I wrote when I was ten, twelve, real searing intellectual
words, and understand now why I am in therapy (ha, ha).
I was always a writer, I just never was formally trained,
so I had to learn by doing it over and over again on
NEED: Do you work with New England filmmakers?
KOS: I would love to!!! I really would. I have not come
across a director or writer yet with a project to make
that happen. I think I will end up writing a script
that takes place in Rhode Island and shoot it there.
I believe, as I mentioned above, that one of the directors
of “American Reunion” is originally from
Boston. I believe we shared that kind of honest homespun
mentality from time to time while working together.
NEED: What would you tell a communications or
film major at one of regional colleges/university that
they should know about the business that they are not
taught in class?
KOS: Have a thick skin. This is not a business for the
sensitive at heart. You will make enemies along the
way, people who have agendas that don't mesh with yours.
Hollywood is definitely a selfish sad place, but on
the other hand, there are a lot of driven passionate
people who made the choice to be hear to work in the
film business. Don't let anyone question your integrity.
You will find the right group of people or partners
if you stick with how YOU want to make movies. Be kind
and persistent, but don't be ruthless.
NEED: Any comments you’d like to add?
KOS: I wish that more people would take chances on independent
movies that get played in mainstream theaters. Unfortunately,
and we experienced this in Minneapolis with “American
Reunion,” even though I convinced a few megaplexes
in the burbs to play the film, virtually no one showed
up. We were competing against ad campaigns of the millions
for movies like “Troy” that had been deemed
by many critics as mediocre, but people still chose
that film over ours. I find that people who live away
from the typical indie theater complain they can't see
indie films cause of the lack, but the other side of
the coin is that when they are given a chance, they
do not go! Big movie chains will not keep an indie movie
longer than one week if it lands in the bottom two gross
slots. Then the film goes away to never be seen again.
So, SUPPORT INDIE FILMS
“If you want to succeed, you should strike
out on new paths rather than travel the worn paths of
accepted success." -- John D. Rockefeller
“American Reunion” will play the Rhode Island
International Film Festival on Saturday, August 14th
at 7:00 p.m., the Columbus Theatre, 270 Broadway, Providence.
For more information about the Festival, go to www.RIFilmFest.org.
Learn more about the film and the production company,
by going to www.AmericanReunionTheMovie.com
About the Author:
George T. Marshall is the Producing Director of the
Rhode Island-based Flickers Arts Collaborative, the
creators of the annual Rhode Island International Film
Festival for which he also serves as Executive Director.
He teaches film and communications at Rhode Island College
and speech communications and documentary film at Roger
Williams University. He is a director, writer, producer
of commercials and industrials for numerous business
clients in the region and is currently completing the
multi-media components for a museum exhibit saluting
American veterans in Woonsocket, RI. He can be reached