Mike Macari, producer of The Ring and a former Duke student, was offered a free dinner and ticket back to campus through Duke Conversations. recess' Janet Wu managed to snag some time and speak about film, Duke, and the transition to Tinseltown.
Who approached you about taking part in Duke Conversations and why did you want to participate?
Someone from Delta Kappa Epsilon contacted me a couple months ago and said would I be open to it and I said, "Yeah, that would be great." I always like coming back to Duke. I really like talking to the students. I came back for career week last year I think and there were a lot of really smart, talented kids that were thinking about careers in entertainment. I was one of those years ago at Duke and I had no idea what possible careers were out there in Hollywood and how to even go about pursuing them. It's fun for me but also I think it's hopefully informative for the students as well.
What advice can you give to students looking to get into production/development? It's a big change going from Durham to Hollywood...
It's scary and it's very different-it's a tough business to break into. But you have a Duke education which makes you much more prepared than most people and it's really just about moving out here and working very hard and finding the opportunities that are out there. It really comes down to especially, actually not just when you're starting out but all the way through your entire career it's your relationships and who you know and there's actually a pretty good number of Duke alums that are successful in Hollywood. So for Duke students, there are actually more resources here than they may realize because when I moved out here I had no idea and I didn't really look up Duke alumni and I just kind of did it on my own. There are opportunities and a lot of successful people out here.
Would you suggest undergraduates to go ahead and do internships? Or wait until graduation- does it help?
Here's the reality is, it definitely helps but even if you start once you get out of college. You're only 21, 22 years old you have your whole life ahead of you. I'm actually really happy I went to law school and didn't work in the entertainment business until I was 25. Because I actually had experiences, I went to duke, studied abroad, in Europe twice, had a lot of experiences that I could bring to Hollywood as opposed to just spend only time in Hollywood. Like kids who go to USC film school and then go work in Hollywood it's like they have no life experiences, it's all about Hollywood. It definitely would help. It might help-I mean I wouldn't suggest anyone move to L.A. to work in the entertainment business unless they're 100 percent sure that's what they want to do. It's a tough business to break into especially when you're making no money and you look at your friends that are making huge salaries and you're making nothing. You have to say well the reason why I'm doing this is because i see a light at the end of the tunnel in the entertainment business.
When you were an undergraduate, did you find that there was a supportive film community at Duke and has it changed at all now?
It seems to be bigger than when I was there. I was on the Duke Union but that was more art related. And I worked for Cable 13 a little bit. So they had the stuff there- I don't think I took advantage of the resources they had back then. But they definitely have more. They have this Duke in Hollywood semester, so that's I think they started that in 1995 or 1996 so that was after I graduated but that's a great opportunity. While you're still in school you can get out here and see if this is what you want to do and make contacts so that you can get on the ground running when you get out here.
When you moved out there, what was your process in working your way up? Did you start as a writer?
After Duke I went to University of Texas Law School and then I moved to California and passed the California Bar and then I just sort of sent my resume out to every production company every agency as to be a lawyer and they all called me back and said, "We're not looking for lawyers, sorry." The world of entertainment lawyers is small. There's under 100 of them, they're a very small community and very hard to get in as a lawyer. But I had sent my resume to a bunch of talent agencies and one talent agency, which was one of the major four agencies, United Talent Agency, called me back and said we would love to interview you to come work in our mail room-$250 a week with no overtime working 80 hours a week delivering mail and running errands and that was my first job.
What I didn't realize was- there was no one to complain to about the hours and the fact that I was a well-educated attorneys because everyone else was an attorney or had an MBA or MBA and a JDE or went to film school so everyone was in the same boat. But it was a great training ground. So I had to work in the mail room then I became an assistant then I became a junior assistant then I decided I didn't want to be an agent and I left but I was able to take what I had learned there which was essentially the equivalent of going to grad school in the entertainment business and go on to become an production executive and development executive at new line cinema which is a studio and then was there for two years and then left and took one of my properties which was the ring and sold it to Dreamworks and produced that and been producing ever since. I started as low as you can get. You look at it like David Geffen and Jeffrey Kaffinberg- they all started in the mail room
Probably your first job in Hollywood will be in the mail room or as an intern and the pay will not be good-it's an opportunity to make relationships and learn the business will be great.
Have you had any Duke students approach you and does your production company offer internships?
We just started a new financing company where we're actually financing genre movies under $10 million and we're definitely looking to hire interns.