In Development: A Chat with Director Amy Redford

On Day 2 of the Villanova On Set program, students engaged with producers from Ground Seven Entertainment and White Water Films about their experiences in the industry from the perspective of independent production companies.

This particular site visit started off differently than previous ones right off the bat. We weren’t driving up to a giant studio gate, ushered through a lobby with security checks, nor seated at a long, polished conference room table with fresh catering. Instead, our bus pulled up to a street in a quiet, neighborhood and we gathered round at this patio on a small, but charming property. Here, Amy Redford and Nick Morton (read Evan’s blog for more on him!) greeted us and for the next two hours our conversations touched upon things like advice for moving to Los Angeles, working around smaller budgets, casting a film, what keeps them inspired, and more.

Amy is the current President of Production at Ground Seven Entertainment but began in entertainment as an actress and has notable credits in the films Sunshine Cleaning (2008), Maid in Manhattan (2002), and Giving it Up (1999). After realizing that she wanted to have a greater handle in the production process and making filming decisions, she moved into directing and made her directorial debut in 2008 with the film The Guitar. She also serves on the Board of Trustees for the Sundance Institute, founded by her Academy Award-winning father Robert Redford.

What stood out to me immediately about Amy was her appreciation for the talent she works with on a daily basis. She could be talking about a colleague she has known for years, a producer from a ‘rival’ company or a young, new member of her team, and in each of these instances she praises the individual insights they have to offer. She believes in nourishing her relationships with the people she works with because ultimately that will define the project. Finding people who enjoy the process day-in and day-out despite the harsh realities is a must-have in her eyes.

Ground Seven’s mission is “Redefining Normal Through Film, TV and Branded Content.” Amy mentioned that an important part of achieving this is through dedicating themselves to creating “strong roles for women in front and behind the camera.” During a conversation with a colleague, she observed that the diversity topic that is suffocating Hollywood cannot solely be solved in the casting stage of development. It needs to be addressed at all levels and those who have the power and chance to diversify need to push their efforts. At the development stage, Ground Seven performs tasks like generating ideas for projects, whether television or film, locking in financial support, securing rights or hiring the right team.

Later on, we were joined by Nick Taravella, also from Ground Seven. Nick acts as the creative executive with the new production company and his past work includes writing for Showtime and CBS and being the associate producer on the film Conception (2011). He advocated for practicing every trade in the business meaning that if you want to be a writer you can’t just spend all of your time writing screenplays. Getting noticed in this business happens when you can do it all: the writing, directing, camera, and producing. If you can write a great script and shoot it by yourself, too, then you have something to show for your talent because in these days it is so easy for anyone to access tools to create films. If you can help a buddy with production on his or her set, do it, because you’ll expand your skills and find the people who will help you create. He shared a great enthusiasm and drive for figuring out how you can become better at your passion by exploring other crafts.

As Amy put it, making a film is making the impossible happen. It’s all these different people doing a million things at once to make that magic moment. After personally second-guessing working in the entertainment industry from the informative, yet overwhelming first day, our chats with Amy and Nick today brought me back to the bare bones of why I love the film-making process. They brought it back to sharing real, human experiences and telling stories for the sake of telling a damn, good story.