Drama | Filmmaking | Interviews | Massachusetts | New York

Riding the Wave with ‘Girlfight’

1 Aug , 2000  

Written by Francine Latil | Posted by:

Gloucester-based producer Sarah Green talks about working in New England and her latest success, 'Girlfight.'

Opinions about the present state of independent filmmaking swing wildly between two extremes. On the one hand, we hear dire predictions about the studio-ification of small production and distribution companies and the horror of dwindling public funds. On the other, gleeful do-it-yourselfers make enthusiastic proclamations about the ways digital technology and the Internet will transform how films are made and seen. Is the independent film industry getting worse, or is it better than it has ever been?

Gloucester-based producer Sarah Green has the experience to know better, and she puts these debates to rest in no time. "I don’t think the film industry has changed that much," she says. "Everyone’s always looking for a surprise hit." But it’s hit and miss, and what succeeds, versus what disappears without a trace, can sometimes be just a fluke.

"The same ebb and flow happens over and over," she says. Sudden attention to one particular independent hit will create a fertile period with lots of indie successes. But then: "The small distribution and production companies will be absorbed into the majors again, and there will be nothing for a while. But something new always pops up again, and it starts all over again."

For example, after 1989, distributors dreamed of finding ‘the next sex, lies, and videotape’, and that goal transformed festivals like Sundance, building great opportunities for young filmmakers. Ten years later, Sundance has become a higher-altitude, snowier Hollywood for two weeks a year, with distributors now in search of ‘the next Blair Witch Project’.

Does this mean we’re in the beginning of a new phase of independent cinema? Green agrees it’s a strong time. She suggests that the "art-film feel" of American Beauty, though not an independent film in itself, brought "independently oriented" films to the national consciousness, and that attention can only help. But she doesn’t think it means a filmmaking revolution is around the corner, or instead that independent film will suffer and weaken because of other changing cultural factors. It’s like a wave, she suggests. The film industry will always have ups and downs, moments where independent film seems more or less healthy.

She sounds free of the gloomy outlook or anxious zeal that can grip many in the filmmaking world. Green has a strong career behind her, including having produced several John Sayles movies ("City of Hope," "Passion Fish," and "The Secret of Roan Inish") and David Mamet movies ("Oleanna," "The Spanish Prisoner," "American Buffalo," "The Winslow Boy"). And Green is poised for exciting new things with this September’s release of the Sundance sensation "Girlfight," about a Brooklyn teenage girl who learns to box in order to manage her frustrations, produced with Maggie Renzi and Martha Griffin.

The press from Sundance about "Girlfight" was glowing, and much attention has been lavished on its director and star, Karyn Kusama and Michelle Rodriguez. Green says every audience has embraced it. "The performance, the great script and simple direction, seem to touch a common nerve," she notes. After a shared grand prize and a director’s prize for Kusama at Sundance, "Girlfight" was successfully sold to Screen Gems for domestic release and to UA for foreign distribution. The extra attention has allowed for more extensive work on the soundtrack and a deal with Capitol Records, as well as a larger release following an initial limited opening on September 29.

Working with first-time filmmaker Kusama proved to be worry-free, said Green, because of writer-director Kusama’s solid take on the material. "Her screenplay was so assured, and we were so impressed with her mature outlook," she says. Kusama, who worked as John Sayles’ assistant and once ran Green’s New York office, already knew her way around film sets, and Green notes that she was surrounded by skilled, experienced people. Green comments on her greater concern about hiring a first-time actor for the lead role: "It was a risk!" But she adds, "[Michelle Rodriguez] quickly proved her abilities, she embraced the project, and did a terrific job." She calmly handled her preparation, including several months of boxing training, and the stress of being at the center of a film set for the first time.

Green also recently produced her fifth David Mamet film, "State and Main." Due out this December, it was filmed in and around Manchester-by-the-Sea, MA. In fact, Green says she now tries to do most of her work out of her Gloucester office. She maintains a New York office, but now enjoys being able to do most of her business over the phone. "I paid my dues in New York City!" she declares.

She went to New York City after receiving a degree from filmmaking from Emerson College and working with the Filmwomen of Boston (which eventually joined forces with the Boston Film and Video Foundation). "I chose not to go the LA route because I was drawn to the art film sensibility of New York," she adds, "but I couldn’t have started out here in New England and done the kinds of films I have. I needed to become established there, so that I could eventually move back here."

She observes that the Boston filmmaking community is certainly a healthy one. Even if the crew base isn’t as large as LA or NYC, it’s certainly up to the task. But what really bodes well for Boston’s filmmaking future? "Hometown filmmakers," Green pronounces. "People want to live here, not New York or LA. And filmmakers are staying here because they can — writers, directors, they can live anywhere they want. That is what will revitalize this area’s film community."

Over the years, the ebb and flow of independent filmmaking has taken Green from New England to New York and back. What she likes most about production has shifted over the years, too. These days, "I like working closely with writers and directors," she says. "I like being creatively involved in the inception of a project." If reactions from Sundance are any indication, this producer may find herself on the crest of a new wave with "Girlfight’s" imminent release.