Suzanne DeLaurentiis: Humanitarian, Youth Mentor, Award-Winning Producer

Suzanne DeLaurentiis is an accomplished, award-winning filmmaker who’s worked on over one hundred feature films throughout her 30-plus years as a filmmaker and received numerous awards.  A powerhouse of activity and inspiration, she is also a tireless humanitarian and philanthropist, actively contributing to over 30 charities. As she talks about her work as a producer and her work with veterans, one cannot help but be inspired to push forward.

How did you transition from opera? How did it all happen?

I think a lot of it has to do with wanting to be in control of your own destiny.  You know, being in front of the camera, you never know when your next job is coming.  You’re relying on other people to employ you.  And I just got to the point where I really, really loved being involved in the business, but the acting was just too . . . difficult . . . to have that, and the longevity as a career, and hoping I’d get lucky; so I started developing and writing my own stuff, and then I opened my own production company in the early 80s, and started raising money and producing.  And from there I just completely . . . pretty much lost interest in the acting part of it because the producing and directing is so all- consuming I didn’t have time to do much else.

So do you miss singing at all?

You know, I still sing . . . sometimes I do events here and there.  One thing I really enjoy doing is the movies.  I do a lot with the music scores; I do a lot of writing; I do a lot of Music Supervising; so I really still keep my hands in the music end of it.  I enjoy it quite a bit.

What kind of music do you still sing now?

Still classical . . . I was also a trumpet player, too, in the late 70s.

What’s the most challenging part of being behind the camera?

You know, movie-making is all a challenge.  Whether you’re raising the funds, you’re trying to get everybody creatively on the same page, you’re dealing with talent, the unions, it’s being able to manage a hundred balls at once without losing your mind…it’s just being able to super-multi-task, and do a lot of things at once . . .

. . . and keep track of all of them, of course . . .

Suzanne DeLaurentiis at the Palm Beach Film Festival Awards with Wolf, Dennis Hopper, Bobby MorescoYou have to be very very organized, absolutely!  You have to be tough—I’d like to say I’m tough, but I’m really fair.  So I like to listen to other people’s inputs . . . I’m not an egomaniac. I really enjoy mentoring young people; that’s one of my passions. It’s helping up-and-coming producers, directors, talent . . . I really enjoy giving young people an opportunity.  Yeah, I would say the real challenge is being able to manage so many different fronts at once.

. . . movie-making is not a one-person job; it’s not like painting . . .

No, no, by far, and when people think of it like that, sometimes that’s how they get into trouble because they think, “Oh, I want to do everything myself, be in control of everything!”  And you really need the support of your staff, or you’re going to drown. You really need to have talented people around you.

What do you enjoy most about what you do?

I really like raising financing.  Obviously finding interesting projects, it’s always very stimulating.  It’s always a crapshoot.  Sometimes the stuff that you think is going to be the huge money-maker isn’t, and then you come across . . . something that’s just ridiculous, and it makes a fortune.  So it’s really hard. You know, it’s almost like playing the roulette wheel, trying to decide which project is going to be successful.  The bottom line is you never know what people are going to want to see, so that’s always been a bit of a challenge for me.  My passion . . . I really enjoy Italian-type movies, I like the mafia genre a lot; I like horror, suspense thrillers, but then I like comedies, too . . . I kind of like them all, I think.

Do you prefer being behind the camera more than being in front of it?

Now I do.  Obviously, if I were doing something that I felt strongly that I wanted to be in front of the camera, that would be a consideration; but now I like to be behind the camera and be able to relax a bit.

Even when it comes to other things, like on the red carpet?

Suzanne DeLaurentiis at the American Music AwardsWell, I do enjoy promoting, which is very, very important.  And a lot of investors and financial people that I also do business with also own other businesses.  There’re always a number of different things that go along with them handing you a check, or wanting to finance your film.

As an independent, which I’ve been for 30 years, I have done nothing but raise money on my own.  I don’t have any studio deals, bank deals . . . I’ve done it all on my own.  After 30 years, believe me, you learn tricks of the trade to get people excited about your movie.  So there’re always different things promotion-wise that you could do that do involve being in front of the camera.  But everything that I do I always ask them to give a percentage of receipts or donation to a veterans’ charity.  I always keep that in there.

What was your favorite movie project?

I would have to say Tenth and Wolf.  It was a pretty big budget independent film we did eight or nine years ago.  I would say it was that one, just because it took me so long to get it done.  It was in development for almost 2 years, quite a big show.  I grew up in New Jersey, and this dealt a lot with the Italian neighborhoods when I was growing up, a lot of things about it that I could really identify with.  I was young and a teenager; a lot of people that the movie was loosely based on, I knew growing up, so it was just kind of nostalgic for me.

Is it hard being a woman producer?

That’s the first question everyone asks.  I think being an independent might be a little easier for me because I don’t really have to answer to anyone.  I can pick and choose what I want to make.  I imagine if I were a woman in a position of power and had several people that were not women that I’m dealing with, on a daily basis, that could be difficult.  It could be challenging.

I think men are suited to doing certain jobs, and I think women are also suited to doing other jobs.  I’ve been more fortunate being a woman producer because I have my own company.

Being a woman, in some ways, women have the ability to multi-task, and men are very different.

Yeah, men are very different, a lot more task-focused, which actually works fantastic for me because I have mostly men that work in my company and my staff.  And the fact that I’m all over the place doing a thousand things at once—they tend to go back, stay focused on one thing. And whatever I present to them that I’ve put together, they fine-tune it, where I might not have the attention span to do that.  Actually, if the men in my workforce were like me, it would be organized chaos, which it is anyway.  But I do earn my wings.  When I go on the film set, I’m in work boots and dirty jeans, helping fix generators, move trailers . . . Whatever has to be done to make things move smoothly, I will always roll up my sleeves and get my hands dirty.

The charity that seems to be near and dear to your heart is the Veterans’. . . .

Yes, I’ve been working with the National Guard for the last 6 or 7 years. One of my partners in that is Sergeant Vince Jock, and he started an organization called “The Re-integration Team.”  The Re-integration Team is a program that helps veterans adjust when they’re coming back from deployment.  Most people don’t know, but the majority of men and women, when they come back from their deployment, they can’t get work anywhere.  So not only are they not paid a lot of money when they’re away fighting for us, but when they come back, they can’t find work anywhere.  No one will hire them. One of the reasons is because technically they’re still enlisted, so at any time they could be called up for active duty again.  And number two, people have the stigma of “Oh, my gosh, they just got back from fighting on the lines; they’re going to have issues, psychological problems,” which so isn’t true!

AC Styles and Suzanne DeLaurentiis at the Diversity AwardsIt’s a very, very small percentage of men and women that come back with what they call the Post Stress Syndrome.  The majority of them are fine.  I employ a lot of them on my film sets whenever I can because to me they’re 100% employable.  They’ve got incredible discipline . . . have so many different skills and traits that I’ve been able to apply to a lot of different positions on my crew.  And there’re the wounded ones I’ve been helping for the last 8-10 years, the ones that are either severely brain damaged, or they’ve been burned, or have physical disabilities.  My company sponsors a lot of different events during the year to raise money and raise awareness for them.  I was thrilled to be honored two years ago with the Civilian Medal from the Military for my services to helping veterans.  It’s very much a passion of mine.  Film-making is my passion, but helping vets is my passion, too.

So charities-wise, because you’re contributing to so many, where do you see the greatest need, the biggest holes?

That’s such a tough question, you know.  It’s with all of them.  And I work with about 30 or 40 different charities, as a philanthropist.  I can’t think of one charity that feels confident that, at the end of the day, it’s all good, and they’re where they need to be.  You know, everybody is always struggling . . . whether it’s funds, raising awareness, fighting for the cause . . . all the charities I’m involved in I even feel personally like I fall short,  not doing enough . . . I want to do more.

In the industry, you’re a role model for many women and young people that want to make it in the movie business.  How do you feel about this?  Is there anything you’d say to them?

You have to do things on your own.  So many people come into this business or come into Hollywood relying on people to hire them or to listen to them or to make their movie.  You have to do it on your own, even if you raise money from your dentist, accountant, your next-door neighbor . . . whoever it is . . . it’s important to get something off the ground.  I always tell women that, especially who are starting out as producers.  It doesn’t matter what it is, if you can say “I made this,” to me you get my approval no matter what it is.  Otherwise it could be a very long, difficult, frustrating road, which still could lead to you never getting to where you want to be.

I personally have the luxury of loving what I do, and doing what I love.  How many people have that luxury?  Yeah, it’s always important to follow your dreams: you get one life, and you live once.  And it’s so important to feel like there isn’t anything you can’t accomplish, if you want it bad enough.  I mentor new people that come into the business, and I remind them that we live in the greatest country in the world, and there isn’t any opportunity that can’t be yours, if you’re willing to work hard and stay with it, and keep focused.

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