GreeneStreet Films

Jason Guerrasio Interviews Tim Williams


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What is GreeneStreet Films?
GreeneStreet Films is a production and finance company. We mostly concentrate on films, but we do a little television as well.

When did GreeneStreet Films start?

It was begun in 1996 by John Penotti and Fisher Stevens. They both were interested in starting a company that could support artists who have a vision, commitment, and passion for filmmaking. We feel we’ve been successful in that, and I think it shows, as we are one of the few New York-based production companies left.

What types of projects do you seek?
It has to be something that has a good script. I think a perfect example is In the Bedroom. The script was just great. The director, Todd Field, had a concise idea of how to make the film. It really was just perfect for us.

Did you know Todd Field before you saw the script or did he approach GreeneStreet?

No, Good Machine passed us along his script. We had been wanting to do something with Good Machine and the script was so good we jumped right on it.

How many projects do you do on average each year?
Around two to three.

How many submissions do you receive annually?
They come in all the time and we read them constantly.

Talk a little about the review process.
First, we don’t look at unsolicited scripts. If a script comes to us and we all like it, the next thing we usually want to do is look at some of the work the director has done. We then talk to the director and start developing the project.

Do you fund projects in development?
The way our business is set up, we can only be involved if the project has a producer and director already attached, and a cast [has been] put together or actors [are] interested. We aren’t able to work on projects that are on the ground floor.

When you go to festivals, is it to promote your own films or are you looking to acquire?
We usually go to promote the GreeneStreet name. But we are hoping, with the start of our new international sales arm, GreeneStreet Films International, that in the future we will start coming to festivals looking to buy films, or perhaps provide finishing funds for films that we come across and want to be involved in. But right now we are selling the name.

Are GreeneStreet and the filmmaker involved in the marketing side of a film? Does the collaboration mesh when you work with a studio?
Both GreeneStreet and the filmmaker are involved in all aspects, because it is our movie. It’s a very difficult process to get a film shown and get the word out to the public; more difficult than many may imagine. When we work with a studio, like we are doing right now with Uptown Girls (MGM), they’re not used to working with an “outsider;” they are used to marketing their own films, but the collaboration works out. When we do something more independent, it’s more challenging. A good example was marketing Piñero. We had to break the marketing down into different sections for it to really pay off. We starting getting the word out to the Latino communities and people involved in the world of poetry because we knew those would be the people most interested. Then we broadened our focus out to the main public.

Tell me a little bit about GreeneStreet’s new venture, Raw Nerve.
Directors Boaz Yakin, Eli Roth, Scott Spiegel, and David J. Schow will oversee it, and its main focus will be
horror films. There was a time in the 1970’s when films like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes really touched a nerve with audiences, and we’re hoping to do that, to make films that have a style of the early Wes Craven films. These four will be directing some of the projects, but they will also develop films with other filmmakers.

How many projects has GreeneStreet funded since its inception?
We’ve made twelve films, we’ve financed eight.

Was it disappointing to see Good Machine fold?
It was a shame because we loved the Good Machine label. But they had the opportunity to expand into something bigger [Focus Features]. When you have that kind of opportunity, it’s hard to pass it up. It’s either that or you end up like Shooting Gallery or other New York-based companies who have had to close up shop.

Could you ever see something like that happening to GreeneStreet?
Though we are similar to Good Machine in some ways, we are going in a different path, so I don’t see that happening.

What’s the most common mistake
a filmmakers makes when they approach you?

I think it’s when filmmakers give us scripts that are not finished. They don’t cut the fat from the story, or there are grammatical errors throughout and you can tell that the person didn’t put the time in. Also, you have to know the company. There are times when we get pitched a project that’s similar to something we’ve already done. For example we’ve already done In the Bedroom, so we don’t want to make it again. You’d be surprised how often that happens.

How can filmmakers make projects look more attractive?
Don’t oversell the project. Let it speak for itself. Sometimes I feel like I’m in Robert Altman’s The Player when I’m getting a project pitched to me. I don’t want to feel that. The story is what I want to feel.