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The perfect moment: why Gail Katz is in the biz

By Anna Dolinsky

The resumé of producer Gail Katz, SOM '80, the president of the film company Radiant Productions, includes such blockbusters as In the Line of Fire, Outbreak, and, most recently, The Perfect Storm. Following a JE Master's Tea on Mon., Oct. 30, Katz spoke to the Herald about her role as a producer, her experiences in the film industry, and the projects she hopes to bring to the theaters.
TANYA PALOMO/YH
It's easy to sit back and relax when you control Hollywood.

Yale Herald: What makes a good producer?

Gail Katz: A good producer has to have tenacity and gut feeling. Those are more personal traits. Obviously they don't teach you that at SOM, but they do teach you leadership skills—we were basically taught how to run IBM. I definitely fight for what I believe in, but in this business, as in any business, people don't like a fighter, especially a woman. So I have to pick and choose my battles.


YH: What are the battles you fight?

GK: I feel a responsibility as a woman to make sure that women are portrayed realistically—and there are often forces in the opposite direction. I have to pick and choose my fights, because it's not going to do any good to be the token flaming feminist in the room. It's really a struggle for the little things. In In the Line of Fire, when Clint [Eastwood] first sees Rene [Russo], he says, "The secretaries are getting prettier and prettier." And Rene was just supposed to smile and blush. Well there was no way Rene would go for that. So we had her answer, "And the field agents are getting older and older." She won the scene. The myth in this business is that people go to the movies to see the big male stars and that the female lead is just there to elevate him and to make him look good. That's why I cheer for any movie coming out that stars females—even Charlie's Angels.


YH: How do you feel about working with some of the biggest talents in the industry?

GK: It's hard not to be in awe of all those incredibly famous actors—most of them have huge personalities. When they walk onto a set, all the lights immediately shift to them. One of my favorite moments on the set was when we were filming Outbreak and Dustin [Hoffman], Morgan Freeman, Donald Sutherland and Cuba Gooding [Jr.] were sitting around with Wolfgang [Petersen] and me, just riffing. Here were these amazing talents, playing around, pretending to be drunk, and Wolfgang and I just looked at each other and thought, "This is why we are in this business." Another thing that always excites me is to see actors that aren't famous, like John Hawkes and Rusty Schwimmer, who played Bugsy and Irene in the Perfect Storm, doing a really great job. You just know that someday they're going to be famous.


YH: Do you still feel the magic in movies?

GK: When it's a good movie, I can just sit back and watch it. When something doesn't work, it always hits me. Also, I've read most of the scripts out there before they were made [into films], and it's interesting to see what's been changed and what's been added. I read the original Sixth Sense script and it took my breath away—I thought it was the best script I had ever read. When the movie came out, the flashback scenes at the end weren't in the original script, but I thought they were perfect, because right after I read it, I flipped back to the beginning to see if all those twists really happened.


YH: What projects do you want to work on in the future?

GK: I definitely want to make what I call an "important movie" some day, a movie that is not necessarily commercial and has a lasting social message. But it is very rare that a film comes along that has great meaning for other people. I don't know if I'll ever be involved in a film like that. I'd like to make a romantic comedy, but that's one of the hardest genres to make, because it's not just about the script, its about the chemistry between the actors. There are movies that I wish I had made...I read The Legend of Bagger Vance in galleys and loved it. But I wasn't sure how to make it work and I passed it up. It's coming out soon with Matt Damon, Charlize Theron, and Will Smith. Robert Redford directed it. That taught me a great lesson—I realized I didn't have the courage to act on my convictions. When you love it, you gotta grab it. I recently read a short novel, The Reader, by Bernard Shlink, set in post-World War II Germany. It dealt with a relationship between a young law student and a former concentration camp guard. I thought it was the most moving and disturbing book I had ever read. I tried to sell it to various studios, but everyone kept saying they didn't want to make that kind of Holocaust film. Eventually Miramax bought it. I would have loved to do it myself, but it is a very difficult adaptation and unless a production company has independent financing, it is basically in the business of attracting talent and then selling it to a studio that can develop the script. And it's always hard to find someone else to get as excited as you are about a script.

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