Interview: Producer Gigi Pritzker to be Honored at 51st Chicago International Film Festival

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CHICAGO – Chicago-born Gigi Pritzker is a prominent and successful film producer – through OddLot Entertainment – and a perfect headliner to be honored during “Industry Days” at the 51st Chicago International Film Festival. An Industry Days Tribute to Gigi Pritzker will take place October 22, 2015, at the festival site.

Gigi Pritzker is a Chicago native. She has worked in the film industry since the late 1980’s, and through the 1990s and 2000s worked her way up from line producer to full producer status. Pritzker co-founded OddLot Entertainment in 2010, which began by producing “Rabbit Hole” with Nicole Kidman, and includes familiar titles like “From Prada to Nada” (2011), the Oscar nominated “Drive” (2011), “The Way, Way Back” (2013), “Ender’s Game” (2013) and the Jon Stewart directed “Rosewater” (2014).

Gigi Pritzker
Producer Gigi Pritzker to be Honored at the 51st Chicago International Film Festival
Photo credit: Sally Ryan for OddLot Entertainment

The 51st Chicago International Film Festival “Industry Days” – sponsored by TIAA-CREF Financial Services – is a festival within the festival, designed for industry professionals and the public to attend four days of networking, receptions, master classes, panel discussions and workshops. For more information about Industry Days, click here.

On the eve of Gigi Pritzker’s tribute at the 51st Chicago International Film Festival, the producer spoke with via phone about her illustrious career and what’s coming up for OddLot Entertainment. You are headlining the 51st Chicago Film Festival’s new Industry Days. Can you remember your first mentor in the industry, and what advice they gave you that you follow to today?

Gigi Pritzker: I was at a ‘Women in Film’ retreat as part of the Sundance Film Festival recently, and one of the things we were talking about were ways to systemically change the fact that women directors are only six percent of the entire film industry. Among those issues, it came up that we need to strengthen women’s networks, sponsorships and mentoring opportunities. But I don’t feel like I had a specific mentor. There were many people I learned from, but I can’t point out one person in particular. In your experience at film festivals like the Chicago International, what do your think the festival circuit contributes to the culture of cinema, as far as being a vital link for the audience?

Pritzker: Film Festivals in general – and Chicago is one of the top ones – is that they bring films to an audience that they wouldn’t necessarily find on their own. They also, in the midst of so many competing forms of entertainment, trumpet the stories and films from all over the world, and bring them all to one place. That is very exciting to me, and I really enjoy film festivals. You seem to have a knack for backing successful projects. What is your criteria in OddLot Entertainment for taking on a project? Do you have a process?

Pritzker: Yes, we have a process, but first and foremost as a producer I live with the project for so many years, and you have to champion it. That’s really what a producer does – you’re the first one in, and the last one there. When everyone has come and gone, you’re still there, pushing the project. You’ve got to really love it. So the criteria for me is ‘do I really love it, do I want to live with it, and regardless how it performs, will I still be proud of it?’ So does the producer ‘turn off the lights’ when the project is finally done?

Pritzker: Basically, yes. [laughs] By the way, just so you know, everything is never done for a film project. Years later, there may be some foreign sales issue you have to deal with, for example. Oddlot Entertainment backed Jon Stewart’s directorial debut, ‘Rosewater.’ What did you admire about that film, and the way Stewart approached it?

Pritzker: From the minute I read his script, I fell in love with it. What was so terrific about it for me, is that although it dealt with a really heavy topic, it was so smart, funny and insightful – typical of Jon Stewart’s style. From there it was an extraordinary journey for me, I was so proud of the film, and was glad I had an opportunity to work on it. Jon is a amazing person, and shooting on location in Jordan was special, with the crew we had and the story we were telling. It was a profound experience.

Ryan Gosling in ‘Drive,’ Produced by Gigi Pritzker and OddLot Entertainment
Photo credit: Film District I read that your upcoming 2016 project is from that famous ‘Black List’ of scripts, the list from a survey of industry favorites that development executive Franklin Leonard puts together every year. I believe it’s call ‘Comancheria’?

Pritzker: We’re going to change that. [laughs] At this point, we’re referring to it the ‘Untitled Jeff Bridges and Chris Pine Movie.’ When negotiating and deciding on a production, how were you and your partners able to wrangle a Black List script and make it work?

Pritzker: We have a couple of Black List scripts in development, another is called ‘Queen of Hearts.’ I think Franklin Leonard has done a tremendous job creating the Black List, I have an enormous amount of respect for him – it provides a huge service for both writers and the industry. I love when were able to wrangle a Black List script just because they are terrific pieces of material. When we get our hands on one of those scripts, we know in advance that a lot of people have read and liked it, and feel that there is something worthwhile in it. There is a community of folks championing the script right from the start. How involved are you in the hometown Chicago film scene, are you keeping tabs on what is going on here, and do you plan to do anything here?

Pritzker: You know, every time we take on a film, I think can we shoot it in Chicago? I would love nothing more than to shoot it at home. We are getting closer on some things, we have a few TV projects that we’re trying to get off the ground, and we have a film we’re in contention for right now, and if we get it we hope to bring it here. I’m always trying, even though I haven’t done it yet. Because of timing, the scope of a film project, and availability of actors, what kind of balancing act do you have to do as a producer in process of casting, in order to get the actors you want? I was thinking of your film, ‘Drive’ because it was so precisely cast.

Pritzker: Casting is the heart of it all, and it’s so critical to a film. And you’re so right, it has to do with timing and schedules, and the balancing act is weird. You want to get the movie going, but you need to get the right actor in place. And it’s gotten harder, because so many of these ‘tent pole’ movies sucks up a lot of talent into just one film, and has made the scheduling that much more difficult.

But we figure it out, and put it together like a puzzle. With respect to ‘Drive,’ it was all about director Nick Refn. From day one, he knew he wanted Albert Brooks in the role of Bernie, and Ryan Gosling totally agreed with that decision. So because that had to happen, that is how we maneuvered the whole production. When you have a director with such a clear vision, with an actor beside him every step of the way, that’s a very strong package. When movies were invented, the projectors were called ‘Magic Lanterns.’ How does that lantern still shine in our culture, and what magic has it personally given you in your career?

Pritzker: I feel unbelievably lucky and blessed to do what I do, I have gotten so much out of the films I’ve had to privilege to make, and the people associated with them. For me, it’s really the camaraderie and the experience of doing something that is fundamentally impossible to do – we’re always stuffing 25 pounds of things into a 5 pound package, no matter the budget. It’s long hours, improbable problem solving and I just love the process and the people. Personally, it’s given me an enormously satisfying life, and I’m grateful for that.

In regards to the evolution of that magic, what is thrilling and exciting to me is what’s happening in the development of virtual and augmented realities [VR and AR]. It’s mind-blowingly exciting, and simply amazing. The way people can tell stories, and create general empathy, is incredibly powerful. So for me, that’s the new Magic Lantern.

An Industry Days Tribute to Gigi Pritzker is Thursday, October 22nd, 2015 (7pm,) at the 51st Chicago International Film Festival. The Film Festival continues through October 29th, 2015, at the AMC River East 21, 322 Illinois Street, Chicago Click here for film schedules, information for “Industry Days” and to purchase tickets. senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Writer, Editorial Coordinator

© 2015 Patrick McDonald,

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