Q & A: Timothy Peternel
November 26, 2012
Timothy Peternel is an assistant professor in the College of Computing and Digital Media who has also worked as an independent film producer for the past 15 years.
He has producing credits on such critically acclaimed films as “Spun,” “Love Liza” and “Buffalo 66.” His newest film, “Small Apartments,” has been picked up by Sony Pictures for worldwide distribution. Peternal, who joined DePaul’s faculty in 2011, spoke with Newsline’s Ryan Johnson.
Q: What do your students learn about in your classes?
A: In one class, called “The Big Picture,” I discuss how the major studios operate. But in the producing classes, I try to give students relevant and realistic advice on how to get a movie made today.
If you want to be a producer, you can start and finish just by buying properties. I want students to know that you can’t make anything unless you own the rights. Once you buy the rights, then it’s about how to put a movie and a cast together. We talk about distribution, how deals are put together and how pictures are released.
The physical act of making a movie is understood. The mystery is: How do you find the material, how do you raise the money, how do you get the cast and how do you sell it? Students have to think about what is going to happen after you make your movie.
These questions are more complicated now, because the rest of the world is now the business. If you look at revenues, you will be shocked to see almost 70 percent of revenue on pictures coming from outside of the U.S., with Russia, China and Japan being the primary sources. It’s amazing how the business has changed in three or four years.
Q: How did you get started in the producing business?
A: I went to L.A. to be a writer, and I started working at an independent film company called Muse Productions.
I started in development, which is finding properties and acquiring the rights. By the time we made “The Virgin Suicides” (1999), I felt that I was great at development, but if you want to expand and make more money you have to become a producer. I took associate producer credits on “Buffalo 66” and “Love Liza” and got a full producer credit on “Spun” because I put the full thing together – the cast, the money and everything. After that I became a full-on producer. It’s a good life, it’s interesting – it’s kind of like being a gambler.
Q: What does a producer do?
A: The lead producer finds the material, acquires the rights to it and packages it. If it was a book, he would hire a writer to adapt it into a script, or he would set it up at a studio which would cover the costs for a writer.
The next step is attaching the talent. Usually that means finding a director first, then you try to attach one or two stars and that helps with raising the money for the film. Then, once the money drops, you go out and oversee production.
Next there is post, where the producer oversees cuts with the director, the editor and the financiers. Finally, if you don’t have a distributor, you take the movie to Sundance, promote it and hope that you sell it to somebody like Harvey Weinstein and they release the picture.
Q: What is your new film “Small Apartments” about?
A: That was a book, and the publishing company sent a copy to me. We really loved it, so my partners and I optioned it and developed it for about five years.
We had several actors attached to the project: Toby Jones, then Zach Galifianakis and then Rob Schneider. Finally, we filmed with Matt Lucas (“Bridesmaids”) in the lead, who is a superstar in the UK – a very brilliant comedian.
The main character is a shut-in, and Matt Lucas is a very unusual looking person, which kind of added to the oddness of the character. With Matt starring, we put a great cast together, including Rebel Wilson, Billy Crystal and Johnny Knoxville. We took it to South by Southwest, got a good review in the Hollywood Reporter, the audience seemed to love it, and Sony acquired it for worldwide distribution.
I also started a local production company called Under the El with DePaul professors Ron Fernandez and Matt Irvine. We are looking at couple properties we’d like to bring here and produce. Hopefully if we get something going locally, some of our students can work on them.