I met Ms. Patel for a brief conversation prior to La Mission’s first evening screening in Minneapolis. I wrote a critique of the film. Her film career began on the ground floor of one of Hollywood’s blue chip talent agencies. At different times, she wound up working for William Morris and International Creative Management. This thoroughly contemporary, and American, Indian professional spoke about how hard it is producing a film in costly San Francisco, the slow increase of South Asians in the film industry, and why blaming it on bigotry misses certain cultural circumstances.
I wish I would’ve brought my danged camera! Solo photos of Alpita Patel are not strewn across web.
If La Mission’s Che Rivera is struggling, as he says, “to make $1 out of 15 cents.” The film’s budget was approximately $2.4 million. What should the budget have been to make a full $1?
I mean that’s a hard question. You kind of go by what the industry says. The budget sort of keeps decreasing, in terms of what you can get financed. So, comfortable for us would have been $4 – $4.5 million. I mean to really not have to stress about it. And to shoot in San Francisco really, you can’t go below $4 million. We also had to make a lot of cuts in the script in order to do it for $2.25 million. Also, if we had anything left over, it would’ve helped for marketing.
During the post-screening Q&A, she mentioned that the production had struck it lucky: they had “really supporting private equity investors who did not want a return.” They were the executive producers. One of them put up 85 percent of the money; the other, the balance. She said that equity is really the only money.
I remember when a typical Hollywood movie budget was $20 – $30 million.
I think what you’re seeing is a dichotomy. The studio movies have gotten more expensive. The studios don’t make $20 – $30 million movies. They only make movies that’re $100+ million and then it has to be a movie that can justify that kind of budget. So it’s gonna be an Avatar, or it’s gonna be a Salt, or Twilight, and Batman. And then what happened, independent movies, a lot of the funding sources have dried up, especially internationally. There’s a cash flow issue. Ten to 15 years ago, you could make a film for $12 million and get independent financing. Definitely even $8 – $10 million would not have been a big deal. Now, raising even $2 million is a huge deal, on the independent side.
Basically what’s suffering is you’re not getting a lot of quality films. Ultimately, you’re not getting enough drama. You’re either getting comedies and you’re getting, you know, big action movies.
Did you pursue the brothers Bratt or did they pursue you and your skill set?
It was a very organic relationship. I’ve known Benjamin for over 10 years. When I was training to be an agent, I assisted, and learned from his agent. So, when I was promoted, he had seen me come up through that process.
When I was promoted, I actually started working with him, so I was one of his agents. His brother (Peter Bratt, La Mission’s director) had the script. So, unofficially I said let me just work this with you. That just worked. Now, the three of us, having gone through this project, have realized that we want to continue making relevant, thought provoking, and conscientious films together.
We created a company called 5 Stick.
On a completely different topic, I had to ask her to discuss, ever so briefly, her experience as a South Asian female in the business. She began at ICM, and was the first “one” there. She said that the problem isn’t necessarily or simply bigotry. She said that, in South Asian culture, children are raised to become professionals, not artists, not in entertainment. As South Asians become more Americanized, it’s changing.
She said that the situation in Hollywood has definitely improved. When it comes to the idea of a swelling cadre of South Asians in the business, she kind of scoffed.
“Are there hundreds? …Dozens?”
“There are over 10 – 15, in agencies, with authority,” she said.
Now that you have a taste for producing, you want to stick with it?
Absolutely! I love it. You know, what’s great about producing is that you can be creative in a much more overall way; sort of like putting together the ingredients in a recipe. You’re not in charge of the black pepper, or making it, but you want to get the best quality that you can to help your chef make something, so to speak.
So, I like that process, and I like helping artists. I like protecting the artist so that he or she can make a product and have the creative freedom to do that, so that they can do their best work without any interference. As a producer, that’s my job. My job is to protect the director and give him the tools, and everything he needs to or she needs to make the best movie – to make the movie that they envision.
So a problem solver, protector for the filmmaker.
In the process, I’ve learned that I do have good taste, and I can find quality people, on a budget! So I’m proud of the elements that I’ve added as well.
What’s next? Do you have a set of scripts, of projects to work on over the next two or five years?
Absolutely. Peter and I have a list of projects that we’ve been mulling back-and-forth. We’re honing in on a bunch, because you have to. You just don’t know which one’s gonna go next. And Peter’s actually writing, called the “Silent Spring,” by Rachel Carson. is sort of the mother of the environmental movement.