Music exec Kevin Black with
Sitcom TV producer Lisa Helfrich Jackson ‘86, center, with Pi Phi sisters
Movie producer Hunt Lowry
Rapping about music
Kevin Black is the ranking executive for urban music at Warner Bros. Records. Black, who says he’s an executive who “can go from the street to the suite,” could moonlight as a motivational speaker. He shared his “Four ‘F’ Theory:” be friendly and “walk into people with energy,” be focused and “get to your job on time;” be firm because “people like someone who tells them the truth,” and know when to say, “forget it, because sometimes that hill ain’t worth going up.”
After meeting with Black, students headed to the office of Doug Frank HON ‘06, president of music operations for Warner Bros. Pictures, for an afternoon of meetings with senior executives in the entertainment industry. They first learned about Frank’s role with Warner Bros. “We distribute over 20 films per year. Happy Feet had over 80 songs,” Frank said, noting Prince and k.d. lang were among the performers.
Frank said the role of music in a movie is to enhance the “image,” or the movie itself. He said downloading music from the Internet has changed the music business, and it’s important for the music industry to make the transition to keep the industry profitable. In addition, the growing popularity of buying and renting DVDs is changing the movie industry. “We’re trying to keep the box office alive. The opening of a film is treated like an event,” Frank said. He also talked with students about issues such as film piracy and considerations when determining when a DVD will be released.
Discussing the value of expedition courses, Frank said, “I think it’s imperative and absolutely necessary for anyone who wants to pursue a career in the entertainment industry to come out here. You can’t do this long distance, and the opportunity to come out here and be immersed in it for even a short time is invaluable.”
Talking with an alumna/producer
Emmy Award-winning Lisa Helfrich Jackson ’86 met with students to discuss her role as co-executive producer of The New Adventures of Old Christine. The show stars Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who also played Elaine Benes on Seinfeld. “We shot a pilot last spring and were chosen as a mid-season replacement. We went on in March with 13 episodes. The show was perceived as a ‘chick’ show, and we had many meetings about how to launch it. We made a mad rush to get Julia on every talk show we could. When the show first went on the air, every review talked about the ‘Seinfeld Curse.’ Luckily, the reviews were positive, and Julia had a positive attitude. She says you can’t hit a home run every time you come up to bat, but you have to keep trying.”
Jackson was offered the position on Christine by the show’s creator, Carrie Lizer, whom she had met on the schoolyard while picking up her child. “This business is very relationship based. People ask you to work with them because they know you and like you.”
Jackson became interested in production while working at WTVP-Channel 47 on Bradley’s campus. She explained a producer’s responsibilities include all logistics of a show including finances, scheduling, working with publicists, serving as liaison between the network and the studio, and “all the everyday stuff.”
Learning about movie making
Hunt Lowry, movie producer and CEO/president of Roserock Films, explained movies are aimed at any of four quadrants: males both under 25 and over 25 and females in the same age categories. “If you make a four-quadrant movie like Pirates of the Caribbean or Men in Black, it’s a big deal. If a movie appeals to one or two quadrants, you can’t spend as much.”
He receives about 20 movie scripts a week. When considering a movie, Lowry said, “I look for freshness, great characters, and a great story.” A few of the titles he has produced include Airplane!, Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, White Oleander, and A Time to Kill, starring Matthew McConaughey. He counts McConaughey among his best friends, adding, “We knew right away that Matthew was going to explode.”
Lora Kennedy, senior vice president, feature casting, at Warner Bros., has cast actors in movies such as Superman Returns, The Matrix, Harry Potter movies, The Dukes of Hazzard, and Syriana. She currently is casting Get Smart and has started the process for Batman Begins.
The road to Los Angeles goes through Peoria, and this access to Hollywood can only be had from Bradley University.” Dr. Jeff Huberman
When casting an individual for a part, Kennedy said, “I try to latch onto somebody who has certain qualities. But, these are actors, and sometimes, they can make you see something you hadn’t seen before [in the characters they’re portraying]…There’s just something that comes across—an essence.”
The afternoon in Frank’s office ended with a visit from Mark Cohen, vice president of national publicity at Warner Bros. Cohen outlined the promotions and publicity that went into introducing the animated movie Happy Feet. “I was assigned to the movie about two years ago and had to learn everything penguin. Our job became educating first the press, then the public. All hands were on deck for this, and each department was finding a way to help other departments. We had Robin Williams, Nicole Kidman, Elijah Wood, Hugh Jackman, and many more doing voices. Most voice actors don’t like to do publicity, but luckily, the actors really liked the director and the film.” Cohen outlined ways the movie was publicized, including preparing study guides for schools, distributing trick-or-treat bags at malls, and working with zoos across the country, just to name a few. “This was the most extensive national promotion Warner Bros. had ever done,” he said.
Dr. Jeff Huberman, dean of the Slane College of Communications and Fine Arts, said, “When we finish the day at Warner Bros., I always ask students to think about where they’ve just been. They’ve just had an entire day with top creative people at Warner Bros. The president of music operations at Warner Bros. Pictures hosted them in his office and arranged in-depth discussions of the entertainment business with some of the industry’s top executives. No other students have such access, and people in this industry would give their eye teeth for even a brief e-mail from any one of these executives. The road to Los Angeles goes through Peoria, and this access to Hollywood can only be had from Bradley University.”