Bonnie Curtis

Six Ways to Work Like a Hollywood Producer

Bonnie Curtis has wrangled national armies. She’s negotiated filming rights at Auschwitz. That’s right—Bonnie Curtis has worked as a producer, most notably with Steven Spielberg, since 1990. Building on her experiences on Schindler’s List, Amistad and Saving Private Ryan, she brought her infectious enthusiasm to Chicago  during her 2014 talk “Work Like a Producer.”

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1. You never know what part of your past will be get you ahead in your career.

“Let’s say, for example, you’re working on a film called Amistad. And you’re in a room with all these Academy Award winning writers, and artists and directors and someone poses the question, ‘How would a child be taught the Bible?’ Well, I know that. I attended church 13,720 times before I was 22. Do you need all the books of the Bible? Do you need to know the 12 tribes of Israel? What do you need? I got it.”

2. Keep yourself organized.

“Get up every morning and make a list. I’m just slipping that in as a little bonus; that’s not part of the formal presentation.”

3. Don’t be afraid to come to your boss with a problem.

“I said, ‘Steven, we’ve got a problem—I mean a situation. They won’t let us film at Birkenau.’ I’ll tell you exactly what he did. [He said], ‘Ok, see if they’ll let us film outside the gate. I don’t need to go on the property. If you guys put up some facades and barracks, I can pull the train outside, and we’ll just pretend like we’re inside.’”

4. Think about problems by putting yourself on the other side of it.

“Let’s put it in the personal realm. Let’s say you’re going through a breakup. Looking at that from the opposite point of view would be [to think], ‘You know what, I’m going to stay in this relationship.’ Take yourself through that process. [You’ll find] immediate clarity.”

5. Learn from the success of those who went before you.

“Doing that research we came across the fact that a little film called Braveheart had filmed in Ireland [and] had enormous battle sequences that they accomplished practically with no visual effects, and we loved the way it looked. So we thought, let’s go to Ireland. What did [the Braveheart team] do? They hired the Irish army. Let’s hire the Irish army; they’re not busy anymore.”

6. Other people know more than you. Find them.

“We contacted a group of veterans, and we brought these guys into a room. We showed them the [D-Day footage from Saving Private Ryan] that we had shot and they reacted to it.”

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