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Producing an Impact: Money talks when Page Ostrow believes in a box office hit! - Hollywood Script Writer Magazine
By Jaclyn Greenberg
Hollywood Scriptwriter Magazine
Somewhere between Michael Moore and Al Gore, Hollywood started paying more attention to socially-relevant, politically ambitious documentaries and feature films. Big names started making pet projects and unknowns found financing to get their visions up on the big screen.
After films like Moore’s Bowling for Columbine and last year’s March of the Penguins brought in big box office results, movie studios and distribution companies were apt to put their money behind these types of films. Aside from the bottom line, audiences were rallying behind the issues raised in these films, inspiring globally in tune filmmakers to capture their own topics on camera. And yet, there lacked a strong hand to connect the material to the money.
And then came Page Ostrow. After working as a hired gun for the distribution side of the industry for over a decade, the Toronto-native switched focuses to represent filmmakers and their projects. In 2000, Ostrow and Company began helping films find financing and distribution. So rather than help buy up existing projects, by hopping the deal-making fence, Ostrow created a whole new window of opportunity for socially relevant projects to find homes in front of an audience.
“You could count on one hand the pre-existing producer’s representatives,” she says, in between meet-and-greets with potential clients. “Plus, they were all primarily male and attorneys. Suffice it to say, I felt I could bring a different style and twist to the table.”
Ostrow’s style, a blend of industry savvy and striking negotiating skills coupled with a mission to influence the world, has equaled astounding success. With over 125 feature films and numerous documentaries distributed and financed through her company, every filmmaker or producer she’s worked with has seen their project get financial backing, their distribution rights sold, and ultimately ready to affect viewers by what they see.
The founder of Ostrow and Company’s career changing shift actually only happened by chance. During the Q & A portion of one of Ostrow’s revered talks, a filmmaker asked if she would consult with him about his film. After her talk, she ended up spending hours talking with the filmmaker, giving advice and passing on tips. Her advice convinced him of only one thing - that Ostrow herself is what his film needed most.
“He said they’re my people,” she says of the distributors and studios he needed to contact. And her people, they were; Ostrow created a bidding war for the films’ rights, between major studios Miramax and Artisan. Director James Dalthorp, who not only saw his film, Cottonmouth, widely released, is the person the other 124 producers and filmmakers should thanks for seeing something in Ostrow, before she even saw it in herself.
Ostrow says she didn’t chose this career, with this genre, because it was popular. In fact, when she started out, it wasn’t. Ultimately, the industry would come around, following Ostrow's footsteps in pursuing globally-sensitive material from such a central focus.
"I felt it was essential to marry some of my personal beliefs with my company’s goals,” she say of executing a mission at her company, to seek out and support socially relevant content. Under the company’s profile on their website, the opening lines vouch for their commitment to a compelling story that ultimately changes the way people think globally.
“Being the daughter of two Holocaust survivors, I always had the sense from a young age, of the importance of leaving my mark,” she says, adding, “to do something that would carry on through future generations.”
Ostrow’s social agenda doesn’t strictly pertain to her business model. Away from the office, she works with numerous non-profit organizations and volunteer groups, like Steven Spielberg’s the Shoah Foundation (where she is helping record the testimonials of Holocaust survivors in over sixty languages), as well as Free Arts for Abused Children, not to mention sitting on the boards of The National Organization for Women and the National Council of Jewish Women.
“I think there’s a great value in being of service to these groups and their goals,” she says. But Ostrow’s quick to add that Ostrow and Company isn’t solely focusing on socially-driven material.
Ostrow believes in pure entertainment, too. She believes in a great date movie, like Dating Games People Play, the feature comedy Ostrow negotiated a six-figure advance for, at Cannes this year; or really any movie with a strong story that can provide a much needed break from the everyday, just as Liza Minelli and Joel Grey did for her, when she first saw Cabaret, as a little girl.
“I found the magic and the escape I had been longing for,” she says recounting the event that triggered her desire to break into the business in the first place. “I was compelled by the fantasy created in a dark movie theatre.”
The lure of that mystery gave a 15 year old Ostrow the tenacity to leave home for Toronto, the Mecca of industry business north of the border. It wasn’t long before she was the assistant director in films like I’ll take Manhattan. But her big break (hey, it's not just for actors) came when she met with producer Robert Lantos’ New York partner, who invited her to work in LA, at Cinema World in the Orion Pictures Building. Armed with a handful of languages she immediately began working the markets: Cannes, MIFED in Italy and AFM, to name a few.
By the time Ostrow started working for filmmakers and producers, to many she was considered a veteran of the business, despite having only hit the other side of 40 just recently. She credits her ability to multi-task as the reason for accomplishing so much, in so little time. “Historically, women have had to multi-task, so I think that the way I run the company explains how I was able to reach my competitors’ level in a few short years.”
Multi-tasking seems too general a word to really get to the heart of Ostrow’s work, and her schedule. Up early to hike with her dog, she’s been known to make calls to the east coast at six am, three hours before she arrives at her desk.
“My life is a tapestry of the work,” she says. “It’s something I live, eat, and breathe.”
It’s clear that by combining her personal ambitions with her business expertise, Ostrow has blurred the lines of the work/life balance but only because in her life, she enjoys the sort of thing she sits down behind her desk.
She watches every single movie that’s submitted to the company. And once picked up, she will meet with her clients to discuss their expectations for Ostrow and Company and for their film. She mulls “My life is a tapestry of the work,” she says. “It’s something I live, eat, and breathe,” says Page Ostrow. “Page Ostrow” over contracts, and goes for broke with distributors and financial bookers all day long - all in the pursuit to help get the artists’ ideas ready for public viewing.
“It takes up to two years to get a film distributed all over the world,” Ostrow says. “We help filmmakers and producers do what they do best - which is to create - by taking care of the entire business side of things for them.”
She did just that for the Leslie Neale-directed documentary, Juvies, which HBO released in 2005. Executive produced and narrated by former juvenile offender turned actor Mark Walhberg, the film follows a number of juvenile offenders sentenced as adult criminals, for unbelievably long terms. Juvies was a coup for Ostrow from both a financial and a socially-impacting standpoint.
Ostrow negotiated a mid-six figure deal within one month of being retained to handle the film, after it had been shopped around by other reps for two years. Her hands, being not only knowing but deeply committed, Juvies hit homes with big ratings and with impressing ideas.
“I think the public is hungry for intelligent stuff,” she says. “It must be entertaining and riveting, of course, but people can be impacted in their daily lives by what they see on screen.”
Case in point: after the release of the documentary, Neale and co-producer Traci Odom lobbied successfully in Washington to change some of the laws questioned in the film. One of the film’s subjects had their sentence reduced 25 years, as a result. Big-money deals aside, talk about making an impact.
“I think [these types of films] deserve to make money,” she says of whether these gritty, true life films can be box offices successes. “But I also feel that when they don’t, if they don’t, they’re still creating a huge impact on our society, that ulti- mately changes lives and in this case, saves lives.
”Whether it’s movies like Juvies or Stolen Childhoods, another harrowing documentary that takes viewers into the world of child labor, narrated by Meryl Streep, or features like Dating Games People Play, surely Ostrow must feel like the determined, young-girl who once promised herself she’d make an impact has accomplished something.
“I’ve superseded my wildest expectations” she says. “And ultimately, that feeling has allowed me to feel like the sky is the limit.” Considering the soaring-upwards trajectory of Ostrow’s career, it’s safe to say, she’s on her way to landing among the stars.