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Newhall film producer nominated for Spirit Award

Frederick Thornton up for Piaget Producers Award

Posted: December 7, 2013 11:29 p.m.
Updated: December 7, 2013 11:29 p.m.

Indie film producer Frederick Thornton, 27, has been nominated for the Piaget Producers Award, a category of the 2013 Spirit Awards.

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Next spring, Newhall resident Frederick Thornton will be sitting anxiously in a beachfront tent in Santa Monica, surrounded by stars and big-time industry leaders no less famous than Robert Redford and Cate Blanchett.

The 27-year-old independent film producer will await the envelope, withstanding an excruciating moment of suspense that could alter the course of his career to more accurately reflect his childhood dreams.

With a handful of film credits in his pocket, Thornton has been nominated for a Spirit Award, the premier awards event for the independent film community. His name was tossed into the hat by peers in the indie film community, and on March 1 he will find out if he won the Piaget Producers award for his feature “Lake Los Angeles.”

At last year’s event, films such as “The Artist” and “The Descendents” accepted wins, and actors such as Michelle Williams, James Franco and Natalie Portman have won for leading roles in recent years.

“I was not expecting it at all,” Thornton said.

Since its 1986 inception, the A-list indie awards ceremony has set out to celebrate the “spirited pioneers who bring a unique vision to filmmaking,” according to its website.

But Thornton didn’t make it to the Spirit Awards without some serious credits under his belt first.

Thornton has screened films at international film festivals, won awards for features and distributed films to limited theatre releases and Netflix.

His friends have even sent him photos of his DVDs in Wal-Mart.

 

Falling for film

A kid growing up in Cleveland, Ohio, Thornton remembers when it all started. His brother took him to see “Jurassic Park” in theaters. He was 6 years old.

“When that T-rex started chasing Jeff Goldblum, I ran straight out of the theatre,” he said with a chuckle. “I didn’t see the ending to that movie for a couple years.”

But in the moment a film caused Thornton to feel sheer terror, he simultaneously decided he was in love.

“I became so interested in the film process,” he said. “I fell in love with it.”

After moving to Newhall for high school, Thornton didn’t seriously pursue filmmaking until he took a film course at College of the Canyons, and then it all fell into place.

“It feels so natural,” he said of learning the filmmaking process.

 

A day in the life

Though he has dabbled in various aspects of filmmaking, such as sound mixing, Thornton gravitated toward providing and organizing the means to make a film happen.

“I prefer to stay behind the camera and not operate it,” he said.

When asked what he does as producer, Thornton said: “I do whatever it takes — paying, hiring, firing, logistics, location management, distribution. I’ve done my job if the director is only worried about the scene and not everything that’s going on around him.”

During a regular day on set, Thornton says his responsibilities can range from filing permits or paperwork to arranging lunch for the crew to “making sure the grip isn’t fighting with the makeup artist.”

Once production wraps up, Thornton may assist in post-production and then focuses his efforts on distribution.

“You can make a great film, but if a distribution company doesn’t see a money-making opportunity, it won’t get picked up,” he said.

When a film is finished, it’s on the producer to make sure the film is seen by the desired audiences, making the whole effort more rewarding for the team.

Successful distribution requires just the right mix of factors.

“You need luck, so the right person sees your film. You need connections to make that right person see your film. And you need a quality film for it to be acceptable to that person,” he said.

For Thornton and his filmmaking partners, the goal is often to screen at large or well-known film festivals, not to reach a large distribution.

 

‘Lake Los Angeles’

“Lake Los Angeles” is one of Thornton’s deeper films, telling the story of a man who runs a drop house — an intermediary point in the smuggling of immigrants who are not legally permitted to enter the U.S. The houses are usually rented properties where smugglers stash immigrants while awaiting payments.

“The film follows a man who runs the drop house — he eventually comes to see one little girl as a daughter,” Thornton said. “It tells the story of their connection.”

With only a $200,000 budget — meager resources for even a low-budget, indie film — Thornton had to make it work.

“I went to a meeting for low-budget filmmakers and people were talking about $5-million films,” he said.

He started by securing a $30,000 post-production grant from a Polish organization and a $50,000 grant from Panavision, an American motion picture company. The rest was contributed through private financing.

“We have to be resourceful. But it’s easier when you trust in your crew and co-producers. I try to run the set in a positive way that makes everyone feel a part of the team,” he said.

And then for the sweetest part.

“The first film screening is such a rush of nervousness, adrenaline and joy,” he said. “I get anxiety during the film. What if they hate it? But I’d rather have the audience hate it or love than not feel anything at all — because then I know I’ve left an impact.”

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