In Conversation with BD Gunnell – An Extraordinary Film Producer

Almost Paris Crew, Photo: Courtesy of BD Gunell, Filmmaker
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Life can be very challenging for anyone. Now, imagine life for a women living in a man’s world. Today, I am speaking to a woman who is raising the bar and making a name for herself as a talented, respected, and successful film producer in a male dominated industry. Here is my Q&A with one of the most hard-working film producers in the industry, BD Gunnell. Read on for a fascinating inside view.

Chris Dupre & Rudy Youngblood

Hello BD. Thank you for taking time out of your schedule to speak with me. My first question is what inspired you to become a film producer?

It’s funny.  When I first got into the film industry, I didn’t know that I would gravitate towards producing. I was just climbing the ladder from an entry level position like everyone else. But after working with a bunch of producers in the independent film world for a couple of years, I saw that, what I had to offer was sorely needed. With the support of my family and friends, I transitioned from being a department head to producing my own films.

What do you look for in a script that you have chosen to produce?

Typically, the script has to speak to me. And it’s best if I read it and just can’t stop thinking about it afterwards.  I know a lot of films are purely for entertainment, and that’s fine, but I love the films where you learn something about yourself when you reflect back on them. I’ve been fortunate enough to travel all over the United States and abroad during my life. Traveling gives you a perspective on life and on the world that you can’t really get any other way. But not everyone has that opportunity. Some people are born and live out their lives never seeing much of the world beyond what’s outside their door or what’s on the movie screen. And I’d like to have a positive effect on people in that situation. I want to spark conversations. Movies can put you in other people’s shoes in a way that few other experiences can. Maybe watching the movie makes them reflect on their own lives in some meaningful way.

Paul Sorvino

How do you select a director for your films?

Making a movie is like getting into a relationship. From concept to realization you might be paired up with this person for several years. Obviously, I want someone who shares my vision of what the movie can be, but I also want them to have strong opinions that they can support articulately. It doesn’t hurt if we can be friends and challenge each other in a positive way.

Has there ever been a film you produced you wish you could have had a better outcome than what the end product was?

I really wish that my second film, “Birds of Feather” (2011) could have reached a larger audience than it did. It did the festival circuit, and we got it out on iTunes and similar venues, but I think it could have really caught on if it found its audience.  It was such a wonderful little parable about “coming of age” but in your 40’s. It was not your typical movie about finding yourself, but it still has a lot to say even today. 

David Harris

How do you determine if someone is truly worth collaborating with? 

When looking for collaborators, take it slow. Like any relationship it’s important to see people under all types of circumstances. You need to know who they are under pressure. And even then, sometimes things won’t work out between collaborators. You can do everything right and it might turn out wrong. In the beginning, nothing beats that face to face meeting. If you can, try working on something together in another capacity. 

As a woman in a male dominated industry what has been your biggest challenge?

Whether I am Producing or Line Producing, I’d say it’s being truly heard and respected for my experience in the film industry. There’s the old cliché about the unseen woman in the room. And that’s not me. If something needs to be said, I’m also a very direct person. It’s in the way I talk, the way I text, it’s how I communicate. When I’m surrounded by other team members that are women, I can speak plainly and be directly. For some reason there are still some men in the film industry that are put off by my directness. 

Jeff Goldblum

What have you learned about yourself as a producer? 

I’m constantly learning things about myself, but it’s more than that. Becoming a Producer has been more about finding my true calling. I tried out different worlds when I got out of school: sales, customer service, medicine, music; but nothing has spoken to me like Producing. There’s always something challenging in this world. That’s important to me. If it’s not challenging and testing me, I lose interest. Producing challenges me in all the best possible ways. I have yet to be bored in this profession. 

What has been your greatest moment as a producer to date?

For me it’s more than just one moment, it’s a series of experiences. I’ve been to Tribeca, Sundance, Berlin, and when I go to these events, it’s like a dream come true. You’re there, you’re being seen as a professional; it’s a tremendous validation. Sometimes even more than winning an award. 

Whenever I’m feeling low, I reflect on that first time I wanted to bum a ride to Sundance just to be there, and have that experience, and it puts it all in perspective for me. 

Being a part of these events is kind of a rite of passage for independent filmmakers. These events are paramount for one’s development. Now when I go back to Sundance each year, even if I don’t have a film there, I get to see some of the same people over and over. I build those relationships. It’s a communal experience that you only get when you go there. You can make movie after movie but having the shared experience of the festival circuit is a way that you can create your network and your foundation of colleagues.

Tom Hanks

What are some new projects you are working on? 

I’m currently in Miami, working on a film called “iMordecai”. It’s the story of an Octogenarian immigrant from Poland being given his first smartphone by his son and how radically it changes his life and their relationship. It’s about finding faith in yourself and realizing your family’s faith in you. 

I was drawn to the project because the heart of the script, the love, just stuck with me. The love between the parents, the relationship with the son, the person teaching Mordecai to use his smartphone.  It’s actually based on the real experiences of our writer/director with his father.

This story is a true labor of love. We are telling a family’s story. There is passion everywhere in this story. It’s an amazing experience to be a part of.

What advice can you give anyone trying to make it in the film industry? 

Never give up. No matter how difficult it gets, no matter how many “no’s” you hear, to matter how many times your family asks when you’re going to get a “real job”. Never give up. This industry is about hard work and relationships. Work with people you love, work with people you trust, and keep at it. 

What would you want your legacy to be?

I would love for my legacy to be a smile across people’s faces. Obviously, I would love it if people hear about my movies and it inspires them to sit down and relive the experience. But on a more individual level, I would also love for the people I’ve worked with to look back fondly and simply have a smile on their face.

Lance Henrickson

Thank you for your time. Lastly what are words of wisdom you want to share with all the readers?

Never quit learning. No matter what you do, you are learning something new all the time. Every film makes me learn something new. Always be open to that. If you can always be open to the Universe putting something new in front of you, then you can learn and grow as a result.

And always ask questions. Never be afraid of that. Good leaders don’t shy away from questions. I would rather have you ask questions at the start then to have to go back and fix problems when something has been done incorrectly. 

Photos: Courtesy of Filmmaker, BD Gunnell

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