Everyone in the entertainment industry has stories of a self-serving, shady producer (or “producer.”) It could be that strategic young female who preys on men with money as potential investors or the Peter Pan syndrome-battling old dude with an eye for pretty young aspiring actresses and empty promises of stardom. We sat down and caught up with Vancouver native Sefton Fincham, a producer and entrepreneur, to discuss life as a young film producer. Fincham works closely with influential American contacts in the development and production of feature films, and his job is to bring together the disparate elements of a film, leveraging relationships with talent and financiers. For a young guy, he has seen everything from the seediest of Hollywood to the most seasoned and honest in the business. And he’s been called both.
In the initial stage of his career, Sefton worked with several producers, including Randall Emmett (Emmett/Furla Films), whom he helped to produce, finance, and package several feature films, beginning in 2008. In 2011, he produced the film Setup starring names like Ryan Phillippe and Bruce Willis and has arranged financing for other pictures for Emmett/Furla Films, including Freelancers starring Forest Whitaker, Robert DeNiro and Curtis Jackson. More recently, he produced A Single Shot with Keith Kjarval, directed by David Rosenthal and starring Sam Rockwell, Jeffrey Wright, and William H. Macy. Not bad for someone who just celebrated his 27th birthday.
Armed with his experience in Hollywood and strong entrepreneurial spirit, Fincham founded Look to the Sky Productions (LTTS) in 2010 as a boutique production company, and partner Matt Schmidt joined in 2012. It is currently undergoing capitalization to focus on bringing a slate of films to the screen starting in 2014. In the spring of 2014, they will begin lensing the thriller The Cold with a cast of some of Hollywood’s elite talent (we wish we could say who, we really do). Here’s what Sefton had to share:
I was very lucky to start in this business at a young age. All I ever wanted to do was make movies. When I began raising large amounts of equity financing for film, I worked with many different people on an array of different projects. That’s when I began to realize the kind of producer I wanted to be-and didn’t want to be. I have spent many years building my education and company to the place where it stands today – we have only just begun to take our first baby steps into the greater world of film making.
There’s a large stigma placed on the industry due to a plague of individuals looking to make a quick buck and live a glamorous lifestyle. Too many producers out there looking to pump out a quick movie, make a fee, hopefully recoup their investors’ dollars and then jump onto another one and do it all over again.
Good Old Hollywood:
Hollywood is known for its toxic behaviour and its cutthroat mentality. I have seen all sorts within the industry, from the deceitful and greedy, to the artistic and generous. I have been typecast as either, depending on the situation or the stage I was in. That’s the way it is; accept, learn, and keep going. As human beings we set a standard for ourselves regarding our own worth and we project that into our career pursuits. As a filmmaker and producer, if you don’t please yourself, then you won’t please the outside world. If you want to dance with the pretty girl, you have to know you deserve the pretty girl first… and then prove you deserve the pretty girl. In order to stand amongst the elite in Hollywood, you need to know you should, and then you need to prove it.
Before I knew it, there was a guillotine over my neck and what now, in hindsight, I see as some intentional wrongdoings, which did metaphorically slice me. I was so eager to please people and get things done that I missed the signals that the people I was working with were intentionally doing wrong with my investors with poor intentions, and when the hammer came down, it came down on me. I learned that lesson the hard way. To this day I don’t regret a single part of it. If it were not for the roles those individuals played in my life to prove themselves the way they did, I’m not sure I would be in the place I am today with such brilliant, beautiful minds around me.
The Biggest Challenges:
I would be lying if I said there weren’t any sleepless nights, and to be honest there were a lot. Sometimes there still are. You need to focus on what really matters and not let the voices of the naysayers or closed-minded individuals bring you down. There will always be a right and a wrong approach and we all make mistakes. You have to forgive yourself and, when you know you are doing something with integrity and passion, that’s when you must trust yourself and your vision. It isn’t always easy.
General Advice to New Producers:
My advice to new producers is: don’t dismiss the red flags. Always trust your gut. The minute you ignore it, you’re playing Russian roulette. You must take logical steps, plan it out, and communicate effectively in order not to get caught with your pants down (which I learned the hard way). You will create such a bad name for yourself if you do things based on getting ahead and not on the logical business decisions that need to be made. Common sense must dictate your actions too, and when it’s lost in the myriad of decisions you make in a day, then you lose. You have to stay clear, sharp, and focused without losing your head when it comes down to the wire. That’ll keep you afloat.
The Bad Apples:
I would advise that you know the people you associate with well and don’t jump into anything head first. It’s so important to figure out the intentions of people and to watch those intentions come to fruition before you get involved with them. This will mitigate the risk of losing face from associating with a toxic individual or groups down the road. There are brilliant people out there in this industry. You need to find individuals that have a tenacious mindset and a drive that will not cease and when challenged will continue to accelerate over time. You have to set aside your ego, listen to the people you work with, and compromise. You will learn, with patience, whether or not this person is a value to your team or not.
Relationship Building and Mentors
It is key to have a fully transparent relationship with the people you work with – it can thwart many a crisis and creates stimulating support to rectify and solve issues along the way. People do want to help you. It’s interesting because I always wanted to make decisions on my own and know everything myself, but now I find myself consulting many different people whom I consider my support strings – whom I wouldn’t be able to lead without. I would find someone you can trust with any piece of information, someone who will help you make decisions on the fly based on their experience, know how, and alignment with your vision. Problems arise; having an eye looking in from the outside is such a good strategy. No matter how experienced you are, you always need that outside opinion.
People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it and how it makes them feel. We know how our choices make us feel, as filmmakers, and we trust that we’ll reach people who want to feel that way too. Then you have to communicate your vision and project with clarity so that people can see it too. Then you need to keep on communicating – it creates trust and credibility on many levels. Regardless of the news, whether bad or good, communicate.
At the end of the day the money comes and goes and you can’t base your life on it. To really please the audience, you have to find a satisfying reason for what you do, why you do it and how it makes you feel. Developing this clarity will attract some positive light to each project. I think the most important thing about filmmaking for me is that I actually would be doing it if money was not an object. I try to always revisit the question. My answer always comes down to the art of filmmaking. It’s the creation of life that exists outside of reality or sometimes even practicality. I think our true mission at LTTS reflects our passion. We want to create something that we can get out to the world to show what you can create with imagination and hard work. Hopefully, we speak to that deep-rooted child in us all that dreams larger than life.
Sefton’s Images Courtesy of: Scott Bailey