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Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

August 17, 2017   |   Ithaca, NY

Accent

Accomplished producer discusses business in film industry

Breaking into the film industry can be a serious undertaking, and having business sense is vital for countless budding filmmakers all battling to see their creative visions realized on the big screen.

The Roy H. Park School of Communications welcomed alumnus Mark Burg ’81 into the Park Hall Auditorium on April 3 to speak with students and faculty during his lecture, “The Business of the Film Business: Challenges, Opportunities and an Unconventional Point of View,” addressing how these aspiring movie-makers may interact with the industry from the business perspective.

Burg, a veteran of the film industry, has produced several notable projects, including the acclaimed baseball movie “Bull Durham,” the “Saw” franchise and the television series “Two and a Half Men.” Assistant Accent Editor Steven Pirani sat down with Burg and discussed the nature of the film industry, the power of perseverance and the value of thinking outside the box.

Steven Pirani: The lecture you presented, “The Business of the Film Business,” mentioned the idea of an unconventional point of view. Explain to me the value of this unconventional point of view and why it’s necessary when you’re working in the film industry.

Mark Burg: I think in today’s world you have to think outside of the box to be successful. The people that do things the way things were done yesterday kind of get looked over. When I did “Saw,” nobody financed their own movie. But I also looked at the amount of money my friends were making and how they were getting movies made, and I wanted to do something a little bit different. It took me eight years to get a movie made, called “John Q,” and it was so frustrating afterwards, and I said, “If I ever make another movie, I want to do it my way.” And the only way to do that is to control your own destiny and not be at the hands of the studios.

SP: So is this the sentiment that you want to instill — to do it your way?

MB: What I am trying to tell people is, “Here’s how I did it, and it worked for me.” Just because somebody says no, doesn’t mean you can’t do something. Accept the “no” and say, “Well great, how else can I do it? What can I do to get someone else to say yes?”

SP: What do you think contributed to you breaking out of the box during your career in the film industry?

MB: It was really just perseverance, and getting lucky. People said nobody makes baseball movies, there’s no foreign value in them. Yet, I believed in “Bull Durham,” and we got it together and made the movie.

SP: So intuition is key?

MB: Exactly. Just believing in something and saying, “Hey, I like this.” I didn’t end up producing the movie, but I spent a year on the set of “Dances With Wolves,” knowing it was going to be a good movie. Believing in it. But people were saying, “Oh, it’s going to be three hours, and he’s going to be speaking in an Indian dialect.” But I knew it was a good movie. The trick is just believing in yourself, especially in the film business: you’re going to get a thousand noes, but that doesn’t mean the next person you go to won’t say yes.

SP: Ultimately, what is the sentiment you want to instill in both the people who attended your lecture, and those who didn’t?

MB: Everyone is going to leave [the college] wanting a job or needing a job. One of the two. And if you want to do it in the film business, it can be done. Plan on starting at the bottom and working, whether it’s on a film set or in an office. Get your first job and that will lead to your second job, and your third. Be the first one there and the last to leave.

Steven Pirani can be reached at spirani1@ithaca.edu or via Twitter: @stevenpirani