Film Short: Q&A with Producer/Actress Charlene Blaine-Schulenburg Part II

The second part of my Q&A interview with Producer/Actress Charlene Blaine-Schulenburg concentrating on her point of view as a film producer.

Q. What made you decide to start your own production company?

Producer/Actress Charlene Blaine-Schulenburg

A. Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve been a story teller and have dreamed of ‘creating’ stories.  In 1993 I helped launch an alternative cable satellite network called Network 1.  I eventually rose to be the VP of Production.  When I left a couple years later, it was apparent to me by then that I had gained good experience and believed in myself enough that I thought I could do it,  so I started my own company.

Q. How has being an actor influence your perspective as a producer?

I have been acting for years, so I have always held on to the point of view of an actor (whether they be good or bad, fear based, or a confidence based view – yes, actors are mostly neurotic).  But I always appreciate that at the end of the day; a production needs actors and needs to appreciate actors.

Q. Looking at your production company’s website I noticed a number of projects in development, which are what I’d call “from the heart” true life type movies.  Is this the market you want to focus on or are you open to other genres?

A. Thank you for noticing.  I’ve joked before calling myself the ‘message’ girl, but somehow that’s more true than it is funny.  For some reason, I have either been drawn to those types of heart-felt stories, or they’ve been drawn to me somehow.  I’m from Maui, maybe that’s the heart/aloha connection.  Anyway, I’m not in this industry working this hard to just make schlocky films or horror flicks.  If I’m going to put years of my life into a project I would hope that it would make people think, talk, and matter, to the point where people could ponder the meaning of whatever the subject of the film is.

Q. If someone has a project they think is a good fit for a company like yours what advice would you give them before approaching someone like yourself with it?

A. Have the basic answers to pitch questions ready, things like:  What’s the log line?  What’s the premise or theme?  What’s at stake in the story?  Who’s your audience?  Where does it take place?  What’s your budget range (estimates ok)?  Who is your dream cast?  Why is this important to you?  Why would it be important to anyone else? 

Q. Taken in Broad Daylight seemed to catapult your company into the public eye with its huge success on Lifetime.  How did that come about and what have you learned from the experience?

Charlene with Actor Seymour Cassel

A. I’d love to say it was an overnight success, haha, but TIBD actually took me 8.5 years to get it from concept to screen.  That’s an average time, or so they say based on Hollywood statistics, but feels like an eternity.  ‘TIBD’ was the 3rd highest rated film ever on Lifetime Movie Network, and I’ve been told it is currently their highest rated film in reruns.  And yes, thank goodness it is a success, it was my baby, but it was a very difficult and long process.  When I discovered the project I optioned it from the actual kidnapping survivor, Anne Sluti.  Then I spent a lot of time interviewing her and researching how she survived those terrifying days with that horrendous kidnapper.  I wrote a first draft script and eventually brought on a hard-edged male writing partner to help me with the disturbing perpetrator’s part.  In the end, I’m glad TIBD got made into a movie, but it was not as enjoyable a shooting process as I had hoped.  We chose to do Principle Photography in Manitoba, Canada…  Manitoba Film and Music were huge supporters of the project and are phenomenal to work with.   The film qualified as Canadian Content which included using some Canadian funds and thus getting a bigger tax refund, but then since I was not a Canadian Citizen I had to be willing to relinquish my traditional ‘producer’ credit.  I had also always seen myself acting the part of the female FBI officer, but other people had a different vision, so I gave up on that dream and it broke my heart.  I sacrificed a lot for that film.  And there are still some expensive unresolved business issues that continue, so that experience, albeit a success – and I know this might sound like an oxy-moron, but it was a painful success.

Q. Do you prefer working in television like with Lifetime or prefer a film being in the film festival circuit heading for theatrical release?  What are the pros and cons of both?

On the Red Carpet at Reach for Me Premiere

A. I’m one of the lucky producers to say I’ve been able to do a lot of different types of production, Theatre, Commercials, Documentaries, TV, MOWs and Feature Films.  I enjoy all mediums, but they are all very different.  The pros of having a ‘Lifetime’ per se on board for a MOW, is that you don’t have to worry about how the film is going to be distributed.  The con is that they may have a lot to say about the creative process and trump your ideas.  One of the pros to having a feature on the festival circuit is that you get to see if people in the audience and if they really like your film or not.  You get to do Q&As and hear real reactions in real time about how your film may or may not have affected them.  The con is that while you’re on circuit, you usually don’t have a distributor yet, so you’re hoping that it will get noticed and picked up and bought in the process, so that you can recoup your investors’ monies.

Q. You have numerous projects now in various stages of development.  Describe how you’re going about building your production company and what it takes to find financing and distribution for your films. 

A. I’ve been building my business by just taking it day by day, putting one foot in front of the other and learning as much as I can.   Ultimately, it takes, time, perseverance, tenacity and ‘balls of steel’.  LOL

Q. Any future plans or projects you’d like to discuss or promote?

A. I’m honored to say that Mr. Seymour Cassel has asked if I would help him with his memoirs.  I think writing a book is about the only thing I haven’t attempted… creatively that is….so perhaps that’s my next project.

I think putting the camera on him and letting him run with his stories is a great way to start and maybe I’ll end up with a documentary on his life as well.  Or… the next film project is whichever one gets financed first….it’s a race…so let’s place a bet to see which one wins.  Please visit my website www.amediavision.com for more information.

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