Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

    Tom Heller to speak about producing, making movies

    Tom Heller to speak about producing, making movies

    Heller is one of three award-winning filmmakers the festival is bringing to the Tuscaloosa community.

    “It sounds like a fantastic festival,” he said. “I’m looking forward to meeting students and sharing my experience in the film industry.”

    Katie Howard, executive director of the festival, said Heller’s visit will be encouraging to both Tuscaloosa and the wider 
film community.

    “That’s just the best feeling knowing [Heller] is interested in coming here and talking with our students,” she said. “It’s so cool that we’re able to talk with someone who’s so highly regarded in film.”

    Before the screening of “Mud,” Heller will host a workshop where he will go through the process of what it takes to make a film from creation to post-production.

    “I’m really interested in producing,” Howard said. “It’s kind of disciplinary to learn about a process and the 
different steps.”

    Heller’s film “Foxcatcher,” a true crime drama based on the life of Olympic wrestler Mark Schultz, may be a strong contender in the Oscar race, but developing it was a 10-year journey for Heller. In 2004, he was approached by Michael Coleman with the idea and was skeptical at first, he said.

    “I quickly saw that this could be a special film,” Heller said. “I thought that the story would make a great movie because it had so many unique and compelling elements – the Olympics, complex characters and 
the murder.”

    The next step was for Heller and Coleman to acquire Schultz’s life story rights and then research and develop the film.

    “We brought on several writers and, at one point, had an Oscar-winning actor interested in playing du Pont,” he said. “However, when we pitched the project to the studios, they told us that the story was too dark for them to buy as a pitch.”

    The studios asked the two to pitch the story again after they found a director.

    Heller was drawn to Bennett Miller, an Academy Award-nominated director, but he knew it was a long shot. Heller approached Miller at a DVD signing and was surprised when the director decided to make “Foxcatcher” his next film.

    “It was an amazing moment,” Heller said. “After years of struggle, we had found a champion with the vision, talent and track record to take this story to the next level.”

    Connor Fox, a senior majoring in public relations and the director of public relations for the festival, said he is thrilled Heller is coming to Tuscaloosa. Fox said the festival brings in people who wouldn’t 
normally come to Alabama.

    “I think one of the main things about the festival is to bring these enlightening perspectives, but also to bring people that we wouldn’t otherwise have an opportunity to meet in a professional environment,” 
he said.

    Heller said he likes to tackle material that interests him on a gut level because it’s important to find a film he feels 
passionate about.

    “I genuinely believe that there is an audience for challenging stories if they are told well,” he said.

    He said films like “ET,” “Back To The Future” and “Pulp Fiction” got him excited about the potential of telling stories through film. After graduating from college, where he studied English literature, Heller moved to New York and started working at a talent agency before moving on to Miramar Films.

    “Each job that I’ve had has been a learning experience,” Heller said. “I’ve had to start at the bottom, but because I love what I do, it has never felt like work.”

    Heller’s film “Mud” was partially filmed in Arkansas and along the Mississippi River.
 Howard said she’s interested in learning how working on films in Los Angeles and New York is different than working on a movie filmed in the South.

    “To have the person who worked on it from start to finish, be there and talk about its production is really amazing,” she said. “I think students can learn about what it takes to be a producer.”

    Heller’s advice for those looking to enter the film industry is to be passionate and persistent. The film business is a challenging industry, he said, but it is also full 
of opportunity.

    “You will likely have to start at the very bottom and work your way up,” he said. “But, everything is possible if you 
are committed.”

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