An Interview with SEAN AKERS, Part 2
IAFT Producing Mentor Sean Akers served as co-producer on the recent Robert Redford/J.C. Chandor picture, ALL IS LOST. We sat down with him for a recent talk about how he got his start in the business.
IAFT: You’re from Pennsylvania originally. What led you to want to be a producer?
SA: I don’t know that I came out here wanting to be a producer. I think I just wanted to work in film. I was a web designer in Philadelphia for 12 years, after I taught high school. I figured I don’t have anything tying me to Philadelphia, so I came out to L.A. and met up with my friend, Chris, a musician. He was like, “You could work at my friend’s place. He’s just opened this production company.” And I’m like, Okay, I’ll go work there. And he said, “Well, no, I’m just saying that’s one of your options.” No, I’ll just go, who is it? “You know Zach Quinto, the guy who plays Syler on Heroes?” Yeah, I’ll go work there. So I did. I met Corey, Neal and Zach, the founders of Before The Door, and got to know them a bit. And I blatantly asked to design Zach’s website. They said no. But after a few months, when they saw the price of some other web designers, they called on me to help them figure out who to hire. I knew what they were looking for, so I called Chris, and designed a site for him with all of the things they wanted for Zach. I shot the photographs, programmed everything and launched it by the next day. Chris sent them an email to show them his new site, and I was hired to do Zack’s website. I ended up staying on with them, becoming a daily fixture in the office. I made a deal that I would work and prove myself, project by project. Which was fine with me.
MARGIN CALL was the first film. They called me two weeks before they were supposed to shoot, I was still in L.A. at the office, keeping things running while they were in New York, and they said, “I think this is going to fall apart. So come to New York because you learn just as much from something falling apart as you do when it actually succeeds, and you should see this.” So I got on a plane the next day, and they called again and said, “Hey, things may not be as bad as we thought, but we need 130 computers. Do you know anyone who could give us 130 computers? Because you use computers…” And I said, I don’t know, I’ll look around. I called them back an hour later and said, Okay, I’ve got them, now what? And there was dead silence. I had called Pennsylvania Leadership Charter School, an online charter school based in Philadelphia, and found that the school term was going to end about two weeks before we shot. Dr. James Hanak, who created the school, loaned us their computers, delivered them and picked them up. They were incredibly generous.
When it comes to producing, there are problems like that all the time. How do you put something on screen for a trading floor in MARGIN CALL and make it look like a real computer? So you have to get to someone like Bloomberg who has those programs, and screen-capture real trading activity on the floor, what it looks like for those monitoring systems, and then dupe it on every computer and make it run over and over again, so that it looks like they’re all doing something. Everything from that to the photographs on the desks. They had to be somebody. You can’t just use magazine cutouts. I actually have my mom on Stanley Tucci’s desk in that first scene in her wedding dress.
You gotta do what you gotta when it comes to this stuff. If you start in the beginning, you try to solve the problems before they happen, but when I got pulled in it was two weeks before shooting. We hadn’t even finalized the casting with Demi Moore. Jeremy Irons was stuck in London without a work visa. He couldn’t come to work. We had to get his visa renewed over the July 4th weekend in a 24-hour period. That’s usually a three-month process. Hilary Clinton’s office helped get it done. Jeremy got on a plane, landed, came right to set, met everybody, had his hair cut, went home to sleep. The next day he came back in and delivered 11 pages without missing a beat. He was great.
That was the first movie. I thought that’s what all movies were like. No one was yelling at each other. The crew kept saying this is the best movie we’ve ever worked on. And I realized by the end that the way Zack, Corey and Neal ran the set was different. It was about making sure people were taken care of. Even on a 3 million dollar budget, you have to be nice.
That was a 3 million dollar budget? And you had that cast.
When you get someone like Kevin Spacey to sign on, his interest piqued other people’s interest. Getting someone that other actors really want to work with. And then they saw the material, even the smaller parts are pretty meaty.
That film is really really good.
It’s a blessing and a curse. You do your first movie, and you have that kind of success at such a low cost. You know, the team at Before The Door does the legwork ourselves. We were there morning to night. Every question, every problem, everything was taken care of as quickly as possible. We worked for a year and a half before we went to New York. And then there was almost a year of work afterwards, while they were posting. We’d never delivered a movie before that. We didn’t know what all that paperwork was. But we learned, and it became our process from then on. But to have that kind of success, and the expectation from the industry is that everything you bring is gonna be that caliber. That puts a lot of pressure. But you don’t want to not do what you think is great material. It really takes the decision-making team, together, to say this makes sense. And let’s take a huge risk and do the next movie with only one guy, or let’s shoot a low budget horror movie—in New Mexico—in 3D.
What movie is that?
It’s called THE BANSHEE CHAPTER.
Haven’t seen it.
It’s not out yet. It comes out in December.