Thursday, August 25, 2011

Karin Chien on Producing the New Indie Film Circumstance

Karin Chien is a New York-based independent film producer. Her new film Circumstance opens this weekend in LA and NY. If you are in either city, you definitely need to see it. Here is the movie's Facebook page - Like It!
     I asked her a few questions about the making of the film in the Middle East and how she feels about being a rock star indie producer - Go Karin!
  • How did you get involved in the making of Circumstance?
Gina Kwon, producer of THE FUTURE, actually brought the script to me. Gina was Maryam's advisor in the Film Indepedent Producer's Lab. The idea was to produce it together, but at the time I was busy starting up dGenerate Films. But I never forgot the script, so when my plate cleared 6 months later, I called Maryam and asked if she still needed a producer.  
  • What did you think of the story the first time you read it? 
The first, second and third time I read the script, it blew me away. The story had everything I was looking for -- incredibly interesting female characters, a politically charged story, and layers of smart, powerful storytelling.

  • What made you decide to produce it?
I knew this story had to be told, with me producing or someone else. When I watched Maryam's short films is when I decided to produce it. Her vision is cinematic and sensual, exactly what this very smart script needed.
  • This was writer/director Maryam Keshavarz’s first feature. What should we know about her? 
Maryam is a talented storyteller and she loves to push boundaries. 
  • What was it like to make a movie in the Middle East?
Exciting, chaotic, stressful, challenging. Undercover police visits, random military checks on set, security surveillance of our filming - this was all routine in Beirut. Lebanon has a very weak film infrastructure but a very strong censorship system . We had to submit a "sanitized" script to the censors and then I carried our exposed film to Jordan to ship back to the US. And on a day to day level, we were navigating 3 languages on set and unspoken political and cultural rules that we couldn't begin to grasp. Plus the phone costs were astronomical. I didn't have a phone for 2 months! Imagine producing without a cell phone or high-speed Internet. Our 1st AD had no walkies and an entirely green AD and PA team. Our DP had a great bunch of guys who did not speak any English. Our sound mixer was working with a Lebanese crew who'd never experienced location sound recording. It was an adjustment in every way. 
  • What was the most challenging aspect of making this movie?
The amount of energy it required. When I came back from the shoot, I slept the entire 14 hour plane ride back to New York, and then went home and slept 30 hours straight! From development to Sundance premiere, this film took all the emotional, mental and physical energy I could muster. 
  • What do you love the most about this movie?
 It's an engaging, thrilling, beautiful film about personal freedom. I also love that the female characters are defined by their choices, not by their relationships to the men in the film. 
  • Can you explain what happened after you finished the film and how it came to be theatrically released in a time when theatrical releases are very difficult for independent films? 
We had a fairy tale Sundance story. The best thing I did for our premiere, was to hire the smartest publicist (Jim Dobson) and most passionate producers rep (Ben Weiss) I could find. This is a subtitled film with no name actors. It would not survive on a sales slate of 12 films with a cookie-cutter publicity strategy. So I found people who would champion the film and fight for it. Ben and Jim also believed in the film's commercial potential way more than I did. Those are the people you want selling and publicizing your film. Jim and Ben pitched their hearts out up until the Sundance premiere, and at that point, your film has to take over. And it did. We got a standing ovation at our premiere. I cannot describe what an incredible moment that was. Then after the Q&A, Jonathan King from Participant Media approached us. I love Participant, but I knew they don't distribute films. But Ben helped spin their interest, along with others, into a bidding war. Within 48 hours, Participant acquired the film, and after Sundance, after the film won the Audience Award, they brought on Roadside. It was by far the best possible outcome. Participant is a master at handling socially relevant entertainment, and Roadside is the best indie film distributor out there. We were very very lucky. 
  • Why should people go see Circumstance?
It will excite them and entertain them. They will fall in love with Atafeh, the lead character, and they will see a side of the Middle East they cannot see anywhere else. 
  • What do you like about being an independent film producer?
It challenges every part of me. It's impossible to be good at everything producing requires of you. I like that. I also get to live this incredible life - I work all over the world with brilliant and talented people. 
  • What advice would you give aspiring independent film producers?
I would really encourage aspiring film producers to think about what kind of life they want. Your personality has to be suited to be an independent film producer in order to stay the course. An intern of mine once said she craves constant validation, and I told her not to go become an indie film producer - she'd be miserable. So if you like unpredictability and abhor structure, if you crave impossible challenges and hate routine, and if you don't mind working nonstop for years, then independent film producing may be the right fit for you. It's hard as hell but it's an incredibly exciting, enriching and rewarding life. 

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