Based in Austin, Texas, Megan is an Emmy-winning and Independent Spirit Award nominated producer of narrative and documentary films. She produced Bryan Poyser’s LOVERS OF HATE, which premiered in the US Dramatic Competition at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival and was distributed by IFC. A critical darling praised by the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and San Francisco Chronicle, LA Weekly’s Karina Longworth described the film as “the most exciting American indie I’ve seen in a while.” Megan will be a guest at Revelator’s “Meet the Filmmakers” showcase at the East Austin Studio Tour, November 15-16 and 22-23, from 11 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
Q: C’mon, what does a producer of a film really do?
A: I always answer this question with a question . . . What doesn’t a producer do? Our job is to make sure everyone is doing their job and to understand how everyone can work together to make the best version of the film you’re making. I like to think I have a strong sense of story — what makes a good story, what makes a good story for film, and do people want to see that story on screen, as well as a strong sense of people — can this person tell this story, do they want to work with us, do we want to work with them, will they bring out the best in our story and vice versa. And then there’s all the other stuff we tackle – financing, budgets, contracts, post-production, festivals, distribution, marketing, etc. The part where you shoot the movie is only one small piece of the overall process and the producer is in it for the whole ball of wax.
Q: Don’t all of those big-shots live in Hollywood? Why do you choose to do it in Austin?
A: I moved to Austin 14 years ago for graduate school. I never thought I’d stay here, but I got busy making films after I graduated so there was never a “right moment” to leave. Honestly the independent film scene isn’t tied to LA — and I don’t think I could do out there what I do here. I think films are best when the filmmakers have a creative vision and pursue that vision without the kind of boundaries set by people consulting actuarial tables. Everyone I work with here is realistic about the pitfalls of the marketplace, so I feel lucky to get to be engaged with all that hard reality and still throw it out a little to tell the story we want to tell. The Austin community is a great incubator for that kind of risk-taking.
Q: What if someone thinks they can be a producer…is there a certain personality-type or skill-set that creates a good producer?
A: Producers are a certain kind of crazy. I think the best producers are true collaborators — marrying creative and technical people with story and money with vision. All marriages require compromise and producers are the people who can see the compromise required for collaboration without throwing out the vision — and can make that compromise happen. It doesn’t hurt if you’re able to function on minimal sleep and enjoy drinking.
Q: You have a pretty wide variety of films that you’ve produced. From an Emmy-winning documentary…to a comedy about sweet, sweet Air Sex? How do you choose a project?
A: I go with my gut. Do I like this? Would I pay to see it? Does this story need to be told? Can I help tell it? Can I help make it better? And I like all kinds of films so I like to make all kinds of films. After that it’s all about people. Making a movie is a long and hard process. You have to really want to be around your collaborators a lot, so I tend to really love the people I work with. Life is too short to put up with assholes. The producer has to protect and defend the director (and the story) a lot. I don’t take on anyone or anything I can’t defend.
Q: You’ve been producing features and documentary films for several years now. How has the process of creating an independent film changed over the last 10 years?
A: Making films has gotten easier — I’m more experienced and the tools are more and more democratized. Marketing and distributing has gotten harder. Navigating that inverse relationship requires constant agility. It’s not just different than it was 10 years ago, it’s different than it was 10 months ago. For a film to connect with an audience today it really needs to be something special.
Q: Do people just think of the producer as the “suit.” That’s not true, right? You love movies. Which movies made you want to make movies?
A: So many! Even when I’m at my most cynical seeing a good movie makes me fall in love with movies all over again! All the President’s Men, Jaws, The Pillow Book, All That Jazz, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolfe, The Limey, Lovely & Amazing, Suddenly Last Summer, Andrei Rublev, Gattaca, eXistenZ, North by Northwest, When Harry Met Sally.
Q: Was there an important mentor in your life who led you to producing or is a model for your work ethic?
A: I’ve been really fortunate to have a lot of people help me out. This is a business of people and I think the independent film world is made up of some of the best, most generous people around. But especially when I was younger, a few women kept believing in me and encouraging me even when I acted like an idiot. Deirdre Kelly Lavrakas, Sharon Zuber, and Elizabeth Wiley helped me become who I am today.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: A new feature project with Bryan called TRI and a documentary about the UT Tower shooting directed by Keith Maitland, called TOWER. There are a few other projects percolating . . .
Q: Are there other stops on the EAST Tour that you’re looking forward to?
A: I’m taking recs — tell me what’s out there!
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