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That's 'Life': Producers Bonnie Curtis and Julie Lynn go big for a change

(L-R) Producers Dana Goldberg, Bonnie Curtis and Julie Lynn seen at the SxSW Film Festival premiere of
(L-R) Producers Dana Goldberg, Bonnie Curtis and Julie Lynn seen at the SxSW Film Festival premiere of "Life."
Eric Charbonneau

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Bonnie Curtis and Julie Lynn bring together the kind of producer experience needed to tackle everything from small independent films to bigger budget movies.

The duo behind Mockingbird Pictures have made small, character-driven films like “Albert Nobbs” with Glenn Close and “Last Days in the Desert” with Ewan McGregor. But on March 24 they release something entirely different.

“Life” is a nearly $60 million sci-fi movie that’s part “Gravity” and part "Alien.” There are astronauts floating in zero gravity and scientists wrangling a strange creature. The Sony film is directed by Daniel Espinosa and was produced and largely financed by Skydance Productions’ David Ellison and Dana Goldberg. 

Bonnie and Julie came to The Frame studios recently to discuss the release of “Life."


On why they decided to work on "Life":

LYNN: We're old dogs that like to learn new tricks. So the idea of learning: How do we film something in zero gravity? How do we create a creature from scratch? What will it be like to see if our skills are transferrable from a $3 million movie to a movie of many multiples? We wanted to have a new challenge and we really like these people. We really like David Ellison and Dana Goldberg and we thought, Let's try this with them. But also, I will say the movie is about something. It has a thematic underpinning ... which is something that we think it has in common with our other movies. 

On the tendency by studios to pigeonhole producers:

CURTIS: Yeah, that's happened to us at every stage of our careers. I actually am really grateful to David and Dana. They went out on a limb. I don't know of any other studio/production companies that would have just handed us this big movie and said, Let's see what you can do, kids. I hand it to them. They had the foresight to think that we could do it and give us their trust.

Jake Gyllenhaal and Rebecca Ferguson) in Columbia Pictures'
Jake Gyllenhaal and Rebecca Ferguson) in Columbia Pictures' "Life."
Courtesy of Sony Pictures

On how they managed the budget on "Life":

CURTIS: We also had a lot of very smart people working with us who had worked in the realm of this type of film before. "The Martian," "Interstellar," "Gravity" — a lot of crew had been in this zone. So a lot of mistakes had already been made, not on our dime. We had some very inventive ideas come to the table. The one that saved us, both financially and in every way, was one of our first [assistant directors], Josh Robertson. He came to the office one day and said if we had two simultaneous production units shooting — two full crews, not a second unit — Daniel, our director, could go back and forth and we could shoot twice as much in a day. And because we had two units going, once they started moving we started gaining time, getting more shots, saving more money.

Daniel wanted to build all the sets. He didn't want to do a lot of green screen. So we physically built the modules of the [spaceship]. That saved us, at the end of the day, an enormous amount of money. I would say that making films for a lower amount of money in an independent zone, it was just invaluable. You could spot what was going to save you money.

On lunchtime on set and their 'French hours' solution:

LYNN: We don't stop for lunch. You know how most movies come to a shuddering halt at lunch and then there's that period of getting started again? We didn't have that. We had lunch available for quite a long period of time so that people could break themselves and go as necessary. But we didn't stop in our days. Our days went from 8 in the morning until 6 in the evening and then people went home to their families and it was great. They loved it that way.

Ryan Reynolds in Columbia Pictures'
Ryan Reynolds in Columbia Pictures' "Life."
Alex Bailey

On their creative partnership:

LYNN: If she quits, I have to quit. We do do everything together. We actually don't fight. We have so much fun. And we do disagree about things, but we have so much fun doing it. We still even go to the bathroom together. But we don't even really talk about the division of labor. 

On the first movie we ever did together, I remember very clearly the day because Bonnie came up to me — because she's from Spielberg land — and said, "I have some great ideas for the [electronic press kit]. Can I handle that?" Are you kidding me? Yes, please. Go. She's like, "You go back to [the] set where you know the names of grip and electric people I don't know." Really, since that [day], we don't talk about it that much. There are things she does better.

I learned so much from Bonnie on this movie about visual effects, which I had not really done to a great extent. Also about how to talk to our financiers and studio people. I've had many financiers in my 20 years of making movies, but they're individuals. They're not generally big companies. So she taught me a lot about how to do that communication. But we don't really discuss division of labor or fight other than in really fun ways. It just is very organic.

On the difference between producing a big and small film:

CURTIS: When you're doing a small independent film — and one of the reasons I loved it so much is, it is, from a creative standpoint, like a warm bath — you are just supporting fully and wholly and intelligently the vision of your writer-director. It's wonderful. It's really art. The studio filmmaking, and I'd experienced a little bit of it — working with Spielberg is rarefied air. Daniel actually had more experience than Julie and I did because he had made several studio movies and he had a studio calling every day wanting their notes heard, looking at dailies, being critical of certain scenes or an actor's performance, wanting certain things reshot, wanting certain things done differently every day, all day. It's this layer of politics and conversation and respect at the end of the day, because it's their money, that you just don't have to deal with in the independent sphere. 

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