‘Black Swan’ Producer Lands at Microsoft

Posted on March 29, 2011 by Comments Off

Jennifer Roth (producer “The Wrestler” and executive producer “Black Swan”) looks at the infamous “staple scene” from “The Wrestler” like it is her wedding video. The scene starts with Mickey Rourke working out a routine for his match with Necro Butcher, his goateed, staple gun-wielding opponent. We don’t see the match instead the film cuts to “The Ram,” Rourke’s character, walking back from the ring bloody and stapled and reddened. He is about the collapse. Black Swan producer

Recently, at Microsoft Corp., Jennifer delivered a Waggener Edstrom Worldwide-organized master class talking about the choices she and Darren Aronofsky faced maintaining his creative vision despite their project constraints. Why she views that scene with such pride is that instead of shooting the entire match with some “Rocky”-like bravado, their limited budget forced Aronofsky to re-evaluate the best impact for the sequence. He chose instead to represent what happens to “The Ram” in the ring in flashback. It saved them a day in their production schedule and a significant amount of money. The way the sequence is filmed and how it progresses is extraordinary. This scene alone almost cinched Mickey Rourke his first Oscar for Best Actor.

The challenges of low filmmaking are well-known. The budget constraints that agencies and their clients face every day are not too dissimilar. Jennifer left us with some wonderful nuggets on how to handle creative challenges with limitations.

  • Jennifer sees directors and creatives like brides just about to get married, with visions of a William and Kate wedding (and sometimes a shoestring budget): “I tell them to tell me the three things that they can’t live without. After that I do everything to fight for those things or at least come very close.”
  • “The dozens of other priorities truly become secondary when a director sees that I’m advocating for the things they believe matter.”
  • Focus on the top two or three things that matter most. Oftentimes, we can’t have it all. Oftentimes, we don’t really need it all. 
  • The story/message has to be first always; if it is, then you don’t always need a big budget to create something great.
  • There is a way to tell stories that doesn’t involve complicated logistics, effects, processes – find that voice.
  • Trust your own taste/gut; it’s gotten you this far.
  • Love what you are doing and believe in it.
  • If you do good work, you’ll make good money.

Jennifer Roth recommends that anyone working with creative people should read “Shooting to Kill” by Christine Vachon and David Edelstein. “Shooting to Kill” is a good mixture of practical, hard-edged information and road worn knowledge. At work when you face your own “staple scene” challenge, you may be able to look back on that experience with the pride of watching your wedding video.

 Photo by Marcos Perini.

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