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Vanessa McMahon


Vanessa is a novel writer, screenwriter, rep and a film producer. She shares her discoveries and film surprises. :-)

 


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Interview with Founder and CEO of Phiphen, Molly Conners

Interview with Producer and COO of Phiphen Studios, Molly Conners


Molly Conners is founder and CEO of Phiphen, an independently owned film, television, and digital media company focused on producing, creative, smart, and efficiently budgeted productions for a global audience.

Currently a member of the Producers Guild of America, The British Academy of Film and Television Arts, the Television Academy, and the advisory board for the production software company, SHOWRUNNER. Molly is Emmy nominated and has produced or executive produced dozens of feature films over the last 15 years that have earned a total of four Academy Awards and 11 Academy Award nominations.

Some of Molly's notable credits include the 2014 Academy Award-winner BIRDMAN, the 2009 Academy Award-nominated FROZEN RIVER starring Melissa Leo, William Friedkin's KILLER JOE starring Mathew McConaughey, James Gray's THE IMMIGRANT starring Marion Cotillard, Joaquin Phoenix and Jeremy Renner, JOE, starring Nicolas Cage, and Warren Beatty's RULES DON'T APPLY. She also produced Eli Roth's THE GREEN INFERNO, Zach Braff's WISH I WAS HERE and John Hillcoat's TRIPLE 9 starring Casey Affleck, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kate Winslet, Anthony Mackie, Woody Harrelson, Gal Gadot and Aaron Paul.

At Phiphen, the credits roll on with Netflix's LIKE FATHER, starring Kristen Bell, Kelsey Grammer & Seth Rogen, Saban's epic Western BUTCHER'S CROSSING starring Nicolas Cage & Fred Hechinger, IFC's CENTIGRADE, Vertical's medical thriller THE GOD COMMITTEE, Netflix's Emmy-nominated short-form comedy television series IT'S BRUNO.

Through Phiphen's Media Fund, Molly has also produced or executive produced PLAN A starring August Diehl, the best-selling video game, BLUE FIRE, as well as the upcoming documentary, STASI FC. In addition, Molly is the COO of Phiphen Studios, a new, full-service post-production studio in Englewood Cliffs, NJ which opened in Fall 2022. She also serves as the Chair of the Maine State Film Commission.

Phiphen's current slate includes the upcoming COUP which premiered at the 2023 Venice Film Festival and stars Peter Sarsgaard & Billy Magnussen, CHIMERA starring Jermaine Fowler, Pauline Chalamet & Brendan Hunt, as well as Julia Stiles' directorial debut, WISH YOU WERE HERE starring Isabelle Fuhrman & Mena Massoud, and many more. 

 

In a recent interview with Molly Conners following the Venice International Film Festival, here is what she had to say:

How long have you been a producer and how did you get your start?

MOLLY: I started producing in 2007 and I got into it by producing political commercials. I got the bug. It was in NY state that I worked on different campaigns there.

 

Getting films financed is very difficult today. What is your best advice for beginning producers?

MOLLY: I always tell people if they want to get into this to really learn all the different departments to work not only in production but to try all the departments out. I think that's really useful. I also think that you'd be surprised that if you just pick up the phone and call people you'd be surprised how many people will return your calls or emails. I get people that email me all the time and I always try to respond. Just don't be afraid to jump in and do any task on a film.

 

Do you think phone calls get more done than emails?

MOLLY: Most people are usually doing emails. But even for myself I'm trying to pick up the phone more versus just sending an email. It's much harder to say no to someone when you're talking to them on the phone versus text or email.

 

Is that why it's so hard to get people on the phone sometimes?

MOLLY: (laughs) Yes, that's true. I'm not saying it's easy to get people on the phone. Sometimes the Hollywood circle back phone sheets can be really exhausting too sometimes. But just keep it up. Keep calling!

 

What have been some of the biggest challenges in your producing career?

MOLLY: I think the biggest challenges are always casting and making sure that is adding value. To package because everything is so cast dependent. I would say that's the trickiest part of this business.

 

It's the chicken and egg conundrum ... no cast without money and no money without cast. What has been your model for jumping over that fence?

MOLLY: It's a challenge every day because some things you're working on simultaneously casting and financing. I'm always pretty straight forward with agents and reps on what the status is on that. I think as you build relationships in the industry it gets easier. Yeah, it's virtually impossible to go find unless it's a creature movie or something very genre driven. To go out and find financing without any cast in this market it's virtually impossible.

 

Do you have to find financing first to get the interest from talent?

MOLLY: Yeah. Absolutely. But not always. I think there's no magic remedy for that. I really think no one is just setting it up before it's cast. It's very challenging.

 

Do you have a film thus far that you're most proud of?

MOLLY: I'm really proud of FROZEN ROVER and BUTCHER'S CROSSING recently. It was a really hard movie to produce. It was very challenging. Frozen River I'll always have a soft spot for as well.

 

Do you have any anecdotes? Something that happened on set on one of those that was nail biting or funny? Like a behind the scenes story to tell us?

MOLLY: Both of those movies were filmed in cold weather. FROZEN RIVER was mostly night exteriors. So we were always filming overnight very far north on the border with Canada. In terms of BUTCHER'S CROSSING, we rented a trailer park that we lived in and it was very cold because it was Glacier National Park. I lived in my van for 66 days making the movie. It wasn't a 66 day shoot. There was obviously prep and all of that. Yeah, we took over a trailer park and all of us lived there. It was fun and definitely different. But I think because supply chain issues were so limited in terms of where we were. Everything shuts down for the winter there and the hotels do too so it was very challenging. We did take over one motel where some crew stayed as well there. It was nice. We got used to it. I look back on that as happy times but challenging. We ate a lot of processed food. Very glamorous! Trailer park, right? But it was a lot of fun.

 

You have a production company called Phiphen Studios. Can you tell us about the creation of that and its mission?

MOLLY: I founded Phiphen in 2015. We produce movies of all genres. Mission wise, we look for movies that can be made that speaks to the marketplace. We have production service capabilities. We have a post production facility in NJ. We develop things from the ground up. We have our media fund. And we also do consulting work.

 

What's the criteria you look for when you take on a new project?

MOLLY: We look at what the elements are. Writer, director, any cast attachments, strong IP. Looking for that. Like I said, probably more trying to focus on genre stuff versus talky dramas that are more challenging. That's not sayin we won't but they are more challenging in this market place.

 

After many years producing and winning awards, what has been a highlight for you that you look back on and smile?

MOLLY: There's a lot of them. A big one was when I was producing LIKE FATHER we had a big force majeure event and we had to evacuate all of our crew and cast up to Disneyworld to wait out hurricane Irma for seven days in Disneyworld and get back down to the port and get back down to Fort Lauderdale to board a ship. A Royal Caribbean ship to finish shooting the movie. I think getting everyone on the ship after all that event was a huge highlight moment. That was a big high five.

 

As a producer, everything is on your shoulders? Is it sometimes really stressful or do you love it?

MOLLY: I love it. The stress can be challenging and intense at times and you develop a high threshold for pain over the years. But there is comfort in that too, knowing that it ebbs and flows. When it's intense you remind yourself that it was hard on other movies too and we got through it.

 

How do you keep yourself calm when everything is falling apart?

MOLLY: You have to have a certain sense of humor about certain things. But you have to realize that you're just making a movie. We're not curing cancer here, which is always grounding. Just not trying to take things too seriously when things are falling apart. Because sometimes when things are falling apart, there's a better cast drop out, which means you can cast up and add more value to your film. Or it could be a win win if you lose out on doing a movie, that can be a wine too. Less headache.

 

You recently attended the Venice Film Festival for your recent movie COUP. Can you tell us about it?

MOLLY: We were in the giornate section. We had a world premiere there which was fantastic. It was great to be there. I hadn't been back in Venice since 2014 so it was great. We are extremely proud of it. We are in the process of selling it so I can't say that much but hopefully I'll have some new ones soon.

 

You also produced a film last year called BUTCHER'S CROSSING. Can you tell us about that?

MOLLY: BUTCHER'S CROSSING is a story that follows Will played by Fred Heckinger whose inspired by Emerson and sets out on this journey to the western frontier and he's lured by this mysterious figure Miller played by Nick Cage in the search for this immerse herd of buffalo that's deep into the Colorado Rockies. They go out in hopes of gaining all these riches and they encounter a lot of weather and it becomes a kind of journey into the heart of darkness and a man versus nature. There's a lot of themes like ambition and obsession and human drive. It's interesting. It's kind of like a survival western in some ways.

 

Were there challenges in that film for you?

MOLLY (laughs) Yes! I had never worked with that much livestock before. Obviously the story is set around this big hunt of a buffalo herd. We had to identify the herd and Montana has a lot of buffalo but we ended up with the Black Tee Tribe's herd, which was the only way to make this happen. There was no way to make this movie without them. So every day there was a lot of logistics. When you're moving that much livestock and mules and not a lot of time to shoot, it was very ambitious and very rewarding but there were hurdles all the time. And weather too because the story has so many different seasons of weather and you're kind of chasing weather in certain areas and problem solving for weather that doesn't come. So we had a fantastic crew and cast that were amazing. The only way we could get this movie made was with everyone's participation and their flexibility and drive as well.

 

They say it takes a village to make a film. Is this true?

MOLLY: Yeah, it's like an army for sure. That's what's awesome about filmmaking. It's such a collaboration. Other professions are too. This one is really magic, leading from prep to shoot and seeing all the pieces fall into place. By the time you are on day 1 shooting it's pretty magical like that. And this movie in particular was just a logistical nightmare. It could have been a logistical nightmare and it wasn't and that's what made it so beautiful.

 

What was the easiest film you ever worked on?

MOLLY: Coup was not easy but it was not in that many locations. When you're not moving around a lot it's much easier. Kind of seamless. I dont want to say easy because none of these are easy. But it was more contained. Less variables to have to control. Although I'm looking at CENTIGRADE (2020), which was just two people in a car talking. How hard can that be? But it was outrageously hard. So it really just depends on the movie.

 

People always ask me how many producers it takes to make a film. Or what a producer is. For the layman, can you tell us your function as a producer?

MOLLY: It depends on the project really. Sometimes I come on and develop it, bringing a director on, casting it, finding the financing to it. Sometimes I'm just brought on to physically produce the movie and I'm getting hired on it to produce it. I think you see a lot of producer names on a movie because it takes a lot of people to get it put together. So it needs a lot of EPs and producers. And functions for producers can range from development through delivery of a movie. There can be many different hats. And depending on the budget, the smaller the budget the more hats you're going to wear on the production. With BIRDMAN, that was more on the financing capability. That was a great one.

 

What's next on the pipeline for you?

MOLLY: We have a couple that are not announced yet so I can't say but we're gearing into shooting one. I just wrapped a Steve Pink film we shot in LA in summer/fall and that was announced. We're in post on that and a couple of others I can't announce yet but some good ones are coming up.



Interview by Vanessa McMahon

 

 

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