By guest blogger Peter Belsito
RONNA B. WALLACE
A Very Singular Woman ‘In the Biz’
Ronna has been our friend, in and out of the business, for many years. When we see each other now out in ‘the wild’ (Toronto, Berlin, Cannes, Sundance) we ask about each other’s families and all of our many mutual friends. Ronna is one of those people whose connection with us makes doing what we do especially worthwhile. Her company at the time was the very first subscriber to FilmFinders!!!
The story of her career is interesting and revealing.
For the past eight years, Ronna has been a full time feature film producer's representative, basing her work on clients’ films on her extensive prior experience and massive contacts in the industry. Her company is called Eastgate Pictures and is located in New York.
She comes from Pittsburgh and went to Boston University where she studied film and video. She went to Santa Cruz, got married, had a baby and then worked for five years helping build KUSP-FM, a non commercial radio station while being a political activist on the side. Her hippy days behind her, Ronna then went to NYC to seek her fortune. Her first job there was as of one of the original waiters at the Tavern On the Green on the day it first opened. From there, due to a lucky conversation with a diner, she got her first real ‘biz job’ at Warner’s QUBE interactive Premium Pay service, hired as a researcher, but soon made it to the Director of Programming. She was then offered a job in home video and joined one of the first companies to distribute home video, even before the studios had their films out.
After that she joined MGM / CBS video which handled all MGM/ UA films, as Senior Vice President and from there went to help start Live Entertainment with the fabled (and ultimately tragic) Jose Menendez, where Ronna went on to executive produce Reservoir Dogs (Quentin Tarantino), Bad Lieutenant (Abel Ferrara), Light Sleeper (Paul Schrader), Bob Roberts (Tim Robbins) as well as first features from directors James Gray, Betty Thomas and Stephan Elliot - amongst many others. She then went to Samuel Goldwyn where she became Senior Vice President of Acquisitions and her last executive position was with Carl Icahn’s Stratosphere in New York City.
The interview with Ronna follows.
PB – So, what’s the main problem for independent films and filmmakers today?
RW –So many films do not get any meaningful distribution, a real heartbreaker for filmmakers who have put untold sweat and years of work to get their films made. And, beyond that, so few filmmakers are able to get any meaningful financial return as well. The odds are especially bad these days for ‘non commercial’ films unless they are amazing! There are so few companies left now in the US who do niche theatrical releasing. The competition for these slots is very tough. And aside from theatrical, it’s now very difficult to secure any meaningful ancillary distribution for films without a real hook and some cast. The big question now with the DVD market is, ‘can we get this into Walmart?’ I see that as my challenge for my clients and I work very hard to make this new down economy still work for them.
PB – What keeps you hopeful?
RW - Jose Menendez used to say, back when we were dealing with VHS and Beta tape formats, ‘We’ll deliver it any way! We can deliver them a movie on a lettuce leaf if they want it. ’ So I look on our world, soon to be, that any film can be delivered to the TV screen or computer and the filmmaker can actually see revenues from that delivery. Niche marketing can be accomplished by a sophisticated menu. Now that’s exciting!!
Some of my “free” advice to filmmakers:
-Don’t wait and only start thinking about the commercial viability of a project at the end of the process of filmmaking. Be at least realistic about its potential before you start.
-Don’t be surprised when a ‘no name’ drama doesn’t interest distributors
-Don’t ever take money for a film from investors who can’t afford to lose it
-NEVER use personal money for a film project unless you can afford to lose it!
PB - Talk to me about your experiences as a woman working for a long time in this business. What are the problems and issues that you see and have seen.
RW – Call me an optimist but I don’t see any ceilings now for women. I just don’t see it today in the business, any barriers.
I think on the creative end it’s obviously a different story, especially for women directors, it’s harder.
I think many women at one time were not raised to aim high enough and that many were just not as singular mindedly ‘goal oriented’ as men were. But I don’t see that today. And, bottom line – women always work harder, I always have. So watch out world!
I was lucky enough to work for some great minds during my career and I tried to absorb as much knowledge and skills as possible. For example, I learned a great deal early on from Jose Menendez. He had a spectacular performance record in business. It’s from him that I learned to always run my numbers. At our monthly Live meetings we reviewed all revenues… in and out. On a forward basis…every dime! He enforced discipline and was very disciplined himself.
The record speaks for itself. While there we made or acquired:
Great films, great results.