Milan Chakraborty is one of the producers of the Sundance feature, The Lifeguard. The film is playing in the U.S. Dramatic competition and stars Kristen Bell.
Here’s the synopsis:
Leigh (Bell), a whip-smart former valedictorian on the verge of 30, is living a seemingly perfect life in New York. When her work aspirations and love life suddenly come crashing down, she hightails it back to the cocoon of the Connecticut suburb where she grew up. Picking up right where her teen halcyon days left off, she moves into her old room with her parents, reunites with her bosom buddies who never left town, and steps back into her high school job as a condo-complex lifeguard. As she takes a transgressive journey back to adolescence, including entering into a forbidden affair, Leigh’s bold flirtation with disaster triggers a ripple effect all around her.
Chakraborty gives great insight on the ‘hows’ and ‘whys’ he got into producing and has a valuable ‘art needs commerce’ perspective for anyone considering a producing career. Please welcome today’s blogger, Milan Chakraborty.
As one of the producers of The Lifeguard, I’m honored by getting into Sundance but also to help bring to the world, the talent and voice of of Liz Garcia, who wrote, directed, and produced the film. The Lifguard is my 4th film and first one in Sundance. In addition to Garcia, I’ve also been able to work with three other great 1st or 2nd time directors (Chris Dowling on Rockslyde, Jordan Galland on Alter Egos, and Steve Clark on Spaz).
I’m not a typical film guy. I was an accounting major at The College of William & Mary. I’m a CPA and before venturing in to filmmaking, spent nine years as an internal auditor, six of those years with Warner Bros. I was the proverbial “suit.”
I spent my time flying first and business class on the corporate dime, auditing productions like Batman Begins, Superman Returns, V for Vendetta, Dukes of Hazzard and many other films and TV shows all around the world. I had to look where all the money went and if the productions were following studio policy. While doing the job, I always wondered what it would be like to be on the other side but never was sure where I’d fit in among such brilliant, creative people. When I learned more about the role of the producer, I began to feel like my business background would be a perfect fit.
I thought that if I could control the money and make sure it’s spent on what goes on the screen, it could be a good business model. I immersed myself in reading about the industry and learning everything I could. In particular, one great lesson came from a Miramax film I’ve always loved, Clerks. Reading about how Kevin Smith made it through sheer will and vision (and a couple credit cards), it inspired me to go out and do it. I found the courage to quit the cushy corporate job and venture into indie producing. I’m still grateful for my time in the corporate world, as it taught me work ethic and also the fundamentals of business.
Within a few months, I invested in, line produced, production managed and was of course, the accountant, for the film Rock Slyde with Patrick Warburton and Andy Dick directed by Chris Dowling. That was my film school. I made a lot of mistakes, but there is nothing like being baptized by fire. A lot of people talk about making movies, but I learned through Kevin Smith, that diving in is the best way. He was an inspiration to not being afraid and to bet on yourself and your credit rating just to get things done. Keep doing the right thing and eventually the world responds and recognizes. He has continued to push boundaries not just in his films, but in his distribution models and non-stop promotion, by taking advantage of social networks and new technology. Ironically (the more ‘creatives’ could tell me if I am using this word correctly), my second film, an indie shot in New York called Alter Egos, ended up finding distribution through Phase 4 and Kevin Smith’s new company, SModcast.
As a producer, I want filmmakers to know that I will protect their vision and also have their back. They also have to know what fits the constraints of the budget so that I can have a chance to recoup my investor’s money. Art has to meet commerce for us all to continue. Going back to Miramax, I admire the founders, the Weinstein brothers. They came to the industry as businessmen, but also knew to surround themselves with brilliant people. I admire their relationship with Quentin Tarantino and their other filmmakers. I hope to foster that with my directors and fellow producers. As mentioned, I’m a converted accountant. I know what I know and I know what I don’t know. I’ve been able to surround myself with great business partners, Ed McWilliams, who’s an amazing writer and literature historian and his younger brother Jack McWilliams, who’s the only one of us that went to film school (University of Texas). Jack is a director and and technical genius. We use those complementary skill sets to function as one strong team. We’re also extremely close friends that care about the wellbeing and future of each other. I want to thank their mom, Iris McWilliams for doing such an incredible job raising them and the support she has given us.
When I first read The Lifeguard almost 2 years, I fell in love with it. Carlos Velazquez, another producer, was good friends with Josh Harto (actor, producer) who is also the husband of Garcia. I knew at that time, however, that I wasn’t ready to tackle a project as big as The Lifeguard. I remember telling him to make sure they don’t do it without us. In the meantime, he had sent me two other really good scripts Alter Egos and Spaz. These were smaller projects and I thought a great way to develop a good working relationship. So we did those two films first, gaining confidence and a great working rapport each time. Finally, we thought we were ready for The Lifeguard. I have to thank and will be forever grateful that Liz [Garcia], Josh [Harto], and their teams took a chance with less experienced producers. We also couldn’t have done it with our other producer, Mike Landry. We wrapped principal photography August 9th (I remember because it’s my birthday) and he we are at Sundance just a few months later, which I still, cannot believe.
Yesterday, at the Sundance Producer’s brunch, I was so honored just to be in the room. I know what they’ve all gone through. I don’t view them as competition, but partners in this journey. It was great seeing the producers of Bona Fide Productions talking about coming to Sundance for 20 years. I imagined what it would be like. How many people in that room will I have worked with? I’m a firm believer in the philosophy of “the rising tide lifts all boats”. I want every indie film to be a success because that helps us all. I would like to be part of the indie community that picks each other up to all move forward. Ted Hope and Christine Vachon are doing such an amazing job including us in that conversation. Maybe one day, I’ll get to be a leader as well but still have a lot of work to do. I want to inspire other people that didn’t think that they could work in this field. I also want to educate potential investors, our lifeblood, that if done the right way (using tax credits, and the federal Job Creations Act (thank you Congress for actually doing something that creates real jobs), film investing does not have to be just a game of blind “luck”. Being from a small town in Indiana (Terre Haute shout out), with parents from a small village in India, this was not even in my wildest dreams as a kid. I thought it was just something the rich kids from LA and NY got to do. Everyone should think they can do what they want to find happiness. I was very lucky to have parents that instilled in me that regardless of the fun I wanted to have, I had to be a great student. They made me a chess champion by age 7 (7th in the country) and spelling bee champion in 8th grade and hopefully and most importantly just an overall good human being. Between them and the Terre Haute community I couldn’t have asked for more support growing up with a belief in myself. The education system has its flaws; however, I do believe that education creates options.
Things I greatly admire about your founders the Weinsteins, are how they started as businessmen and have encouraged and supported Kevin’s [Smith's] career and how they foster long term relationships with their filmmakers. The list of unique voices and films the Weinsteins have brought to the world is long and growing longer. Even as I write this, from the Sundance film festival, we are hearing hints and buzz for new projects they will acquire, or at least are in heavy negotiations for. My company, Attic Light Films, hopes to both find ourselves in the position to create films that will take off and find audiences, and take the Weinstein example of fostering those around us and building long term relationships with our circle of filmmakers. In fact we have done this already, with Alter Egos finding a massive VOD audience and The Lifeguard in competition at Sundance. It is a very gratifying feeling to see the lessons I’ve learned from Harvey and Bob (not sure I’m allowed to call them that), from Clerks and the career of Kevin Smith, and from my own odd journey from the “suit” to the indie producer, finally paying off and giving me the confidence to continue this fascinating journey.
Another reason I relate to Kevin Smith, is that I too am dangerously close to getting kicked off Southwest flights. It’s not our fault we’re size awesome (so much better than BIG & TALL) :).
In conclusion, I want to apologize to all my English teachers. You really did do an incredible job, contrary to the way I have written above.
Thank you for this opportunity.
Happy producing, everyone.
The next screening of The Lifeguard is on January 24, 9am at the Temple Theatre. For additional screenings, visit their page on the Sundance website.
The Sundance Film Festival runs January 17-27 in Park City, Utah.
Thanks to our Guest Blogger, Milan Chakraborty. Next up: Meet Matt R. Brady, producer of the feature film, Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes.