Photo Credit: Courtesy Todd Traina
As the 58th San Francisco International Film Festival winds down we catch up with film producer Todd Traina, a board member of the San Francisco Film Society, whose festival ends on May 7. Traina, son of philanthropists Dede Wilsey and the late John Traina, was born and raised in the City by the Bay but left us for nearly a couple of decades while he made his own name in Hollywood—he was named a “Top Ten Producer to Watch” by Daily Variety in 2007. He’s been back with us for several years and, as the producer and founder of Red Rover Films and Traina Productions, has consistently produced unique and varied product and focused on independent films of all different genres. Traina answers our questions about Silicon Valley’s role in movie making, what movies he’s looking forward to seeing this summer, what he’s working on [dog lovers will particularly love one of them] and, oh yeah, how we in northern California view Hollywood celebs. His answer to the latter may surprise you!
How long have you been on the SFFS board and what’s your role?
I have been on the SFFS board for about six years and I am currently the co-vice president.
How many films will you see throughout this year’s festival?
At this year’s festival I will probably only see about five to 10 films because, like much of the board and staff, I devote my time to a variety of events and presentations and meetings surrounding the festival. So coupled with work it doesn’t leave a ton of time for the films.
Can you sit and truly enjoy a film or are you always analyzing?
Both. Depends on the film.
What film are you looking forward to seeing this summer and why?
The films I am most looking forward to seeing this summer [are] Spy (directed by my friend Paul Feig who did Bridesmaids), Pixels (directed by the amazing Christopher Columbus) and A Walk in the Woods (produced by my partners at Route One Films).
How has filmmaking changed over the past few years?
Over the past few years, filmmaking has become slightly more cost effective with the advancements in digital technology and know. There are actually more films being made today than ever before. The downside is that it is impossible for audiences to actually see all of this product, but the upside is that there is an explosion of creativity everywhere you look, and I believe that there are budding filmmakers in all of us.
How is Silicon Valley playing a role in filmmaking today?
Silicon Valley is playing a huge role in creating new channels of distribution, hiring and training creative people, developing software and technology that makes filmmaking easier and by funding film and media companies and content creators.
Why is it that you are now able to work from San Francisco?
I am able to work from SF now because FaceTime and skype and emails have become such an accepted constant within business practice and interactions. Also, so many tech companies are now getting involved in the entertainment space and there is such a wealth of creative and successful people in the Bay Area that SF is a pretty great place to be at the moment. Plus, ya gotta love Southwest Airlines. Reasonably priced and usually on time!
What’s the difference between having someone in the Bay Area finance your film and someone in LA?
There is very little difference between having someone in the Bay Area finance a film versus someone in LA. The real differences lie between a film company or studio investing in a film versus independent investors or private equity. It is generally easier to work with equity investors and funds and things tend to go faster and cost less in the long run.
There is such a NoCal vs. SoCal thing in terms of how we view Hollywood celebs. How do you balance the two?
It seems to me that Northern California has never been particularly Hollywood focused; however, it is clear that celebrities can very effectively promote and drive sales for a startup. Branding alliances are still very lucrative. Also, studios and celebrities have had good success investing in start-ups or partnering with tech companies. While the Bay Area has traditionally thumbed its nose at celebrities there is irony in that the Bay Area heavily indulges in its own “celebrity” worship by anointing and crowning various entrepreneurs and billionaires. There is clearly no lack of idolatry.
What are you working on these days?
Having traditionally produced independent films and lower budget films, I am now focused on higher concept films with major actors. There is more money at risk, but there is more upside and distribution is far more likely. I am veering away a bit from the darker indie films I have made such as Morning and Another Happy Day and am looking to do a wider variety of genres, including comedies and family films. I just did a fun little family film called Wiener Dog Internationals, which comes out in June, and I was an Executive Producer on a dark comedy called Ten Thousand Saints with Ethan Hawke and Emile Hirsch which we premiered at Sundance and comes out in 2,000 theaters September! Very thrilled. Maybe next I can find a film called Ten Thousand Wiener Dogs, about an underground society of Dachshunds that takes over California. As a dachshund owner, we know that they can be quite territorial!
Photo Credit: Courtesy Todd Traina