Once upon a time there was a girl..
Like many who did not grow up in sunny Los Angeles, Hollywood was out of reach for me. I grew up in a small town in Germany. Removed from the world, I was often found sitting in a corner, reading books. I spent many afternoons at the local library. Fiction books were my life. They inspired me to write. At the age of 11, I started writing plays, and the kids on my street became my actors. We all grew up together in a poor neighborhood, with not much to do, and not much to offer. We spent our afternoons in the nearby park and rehearsed my plays. The Cathedral, the landmark of the city of Cologne, was our backdrop. Every Saturday afternoon our group of kids between 5 - 12 years old, would perform the plays and the neighborhood would gather in the park to watch my new play of the week. I sold tickets each for 10 "Pfennig"(U.S. pennies) and split the revenue with my team. A producer at heart, even then.
When I became a mother myself, I was still at University. While this course wasn't planned and created a difficult shift in my plans, it turned out to be the one that changed my life forever. I took a job at a temp agency to support my daughter. My first post was to fill in for the secretary of the program director at Germany's leading network TV station. This was the beginning of my career in film and television.
Over the following years, I was lucky to be able to observe some of the leading executives of the industry, learned from them, and worked my way up into the ranks of producing. I produced my first feature film at the age of 29. Always eager to learn and expand my horizon, I took an internship with a network station in Los Angeles.
At the age of 35, I packed two suitcases and immigrated to the U.S. My then 11-year-old daughter and I lived a small studio apartment just off legendary Sunset Blvd. I launched a little production company with offices on the corner of La Brea and Hollywood Blvd. where I sublet an office for $400 a month from two producers who did Dolph Lundgren action movies. Interesting times. They introduced me to some of the dos and don'ts of the Hollywood industry, most of which I ignored, being a stubborn German.
It was my sense of story that led me to get excited about a script written by Eric Tuchman ("Handmaid's Tale"). I paid way too much for the option because I didn't know better. I finally got the movie made, but not before I almost ran out of money, and faced having to go back to Germany, tail between my legs. Using my relationships with former colleagues in Germany I ultimately financed the film by structuring a co-production between the leading German distributor, Constantin Film, and the U.S. distributor, FOX. I'm not saying it all went smoothly - because it certainly didn't. But I learned a lot and the film made me enough money to be able to stay in America.
This first step of creating a bridge between Germany and Hollywood opened some doors and I started working with German equity firms, that were flooding Hollwyood with cash. My job was to source projects for them and it's there I got to see up close how the deals were structured, the films were made, and how most of the money was lost. This unfortunate turn of events caused Germany to stop funding for Hollywood. After working with equity funds, I was hired to manage a fund for a bank in Los Angeles. They too had issues with collecting on their investments and believed I was the solution to their problems. I was not - but I did make them money by reworking their production slate and subsequently selling the library of the projects we produced.
Incorporating what I had leaned and optimized the bits I thought could be improved, I structured my own investment fund. This enabled me to produce mainstream movies with a-level stars. And yes, most of them made money, and the investors seemed happy.
The disruption of Hollywood caused by the streamers changed the financial model of feature films, which caused me to move back into television. After I produced two non-scripted television series, one for TLC and one for the CW channel, I am moving back to where it all began: Writing. Writing a television series to me is like writing a new play every week when I was 12 years old. Granted I'm a little older now, and the twists and plot turns are more complex, but the process is invigorating. My series just got picked up by a major literary agent and we secured the first 50% of the first season's budget. We are on our way.
It seems, my story is not so different from the story of so many who aim to break into the Hollywood industry or want to expand their career from where they are currently. I hear this whenever I am invited as a guest speaker on industry panels around the globe, lead seminar workshops, and when I teach courses, as I do for UCLA and others. Inspired by what I hear and see how the industry changes and how it affects all of us, I recently wrote a book called "Entertainment Finance Today." Some say it's the "most comprehensive guide for financing, producing and distributing content today." I can't speak for the readers, but what I can say is that I included what I know: How I make deals, what pitfalls I stepped into, and how I protect my investors - and myself - from losing money.
The most important aspect of it all I found is the story. A truly strong and unique story has a way of finding its path onto the screen. That's what worked for me, and I believe it can work for everyone else who is hardworking and determined to make things happen.