How To Go ‘Straight Up’ With Production

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Photo Source: Shawna Ankenbrandt

Founded in 2008 by Marisa Polvino and Kate Cohen, Straight Up Films has productions starring the likes of Johnny Depp and Natalie Portman, and SU produced “Manos Sucias,” which premiered at the Tribeca Film Fest; the film's director Josef Wladyka walked away with a best new narrative helmer nod.

“Manos Sucias” was shot in Colombia. What advice do you have about producing outside of the U.S.?
MP: It is vitally important to acquaint oneself with the local film community whenever you are shooting overseas. They are incredibly helpful in making introductions to the best crew, equipment, and locations available. They also understand and will advise on the local cultures and nuances associated with filming in that territory. There are a multitude of tax advantages around the world, and doing the necessary amount of research while choosing a location can help reduce your negative cost and mitigate risk.

What was the biggest challenge about starting a production company?
MP: Finding the right partner and subsequent team members whose collective vision for the company, taste in material, and future goals are aligned. It’s very difficult to grow and be successful in this business when the people you are working with put their own agendas first. Filmmaking is a very collaborative process, and finding the right people to work with is essential.

What advice do you have for women who want to produce or start their own production companies?
MP: Just go out and do it already, and don’t let anyone stop you. It is a humbling and empowering journey being a woman in this industry today, but that being said, none of us have any excuses. The business of making movies is a difficult world for everyone, not just women. We don’t make a habit of thinking of ourselves as “women in the industry.”

What can actors do to make your job easier?
KC: We’ve been so fortunate to work with some of the most capable and professional actors out there. I don’t know if anyone can make the job easy, but they certainly make it rewarding with their incredible talent and dedication to bringing the characters we love to life.

What types of projects do you hope to add to your résumé? Actors you’d love to work on a production with?
MP: Our selection process is extremely filmmaker and story driven, as well as curating commercial projects that reach across several media platforms. We have taken chances with first-time film directors, like Wally Pfister on “Transcendence,” but are also working with more seasoned filmmakers. We would love to work with Steve McQueen, Wes Anderson, David O. Russell, Benh Zeitlin, David Lynch, Tarantino (of course), PTA, Spike Jonze. We would also love to work with more female directors: Sofia Coppola, Kathryn Bigelow, Dee Rees.

We have worked with some fantastic actors. In the future, it would be amazing to work with Rebecca Hall again, as well Cate Blanchett, who also wants to direct. Other actors on our dream list are diverse as well, but some actors that come to mind who continually amaze us with their talent would be Michael Fassbender, Christoph Waltz, Sean Penn, Marion Cotillard, Helen Mirren, Elizabeth Olsen, Kate Winslet, Rooney Mara, Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba… There is a world of talent out there, our list could go on!

What do you have on deck for future projects?
KC: I would love to find a smart psychological thriller to add to our slate, but I’m open to almost all genres. We don’t like limiting ourselves and potentially missing out on something truly amazing.

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Briana Rodriguez
Briana is the Editor-in-Chief at Backstage. She oversees editorial operations and covers all things film and television. She's interested in stories about the creative process as experienced by women, people of color, and other marginalized communities. You can find her on Twitter @brirodriguez and on Instagram @thebrianarodriguez
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