#10 Ralph Winter - Executive Producer

Updated: Jul 9, 2020

$100M films or $50K films, Ralph does them both.

Over the last 30+ years, Ralph Winter has produced Star Trek, the X-Men franchise, and Fantastic Four while also delving into micro-budget, faith based films such as Captive and Thr3e.

He chats with Tanya Musgrave about his experience on big-budget films, about the elements  that have to be present for the success of small-budget films, and why big doesn’t always mean success.

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Full transcript:

Tanya Musgrave (00:00):

Welcome to There to Here, an educational podcast where industry professionals talk nuts and bolts about how they got from there to here. On today's show, Ralph Winter talks about his experience with high budget films and how it compares to his current involvement with low budget films, what defines their success and how in the face of a massively changing environment the basics stay the same. As this is a new podcast, we're really wanting feedback. So go to media.colabinc.org, fill out the feedback survey and you'll be entered to win a $25 Amazon gift card. From CoLab INC. I'm Tanya Musgrave and today I have Ralph Winter, a producer whose work includes the classic '80s Star Trek series, X-Men and Fantastic Four. Welcome to the show.

Ralph Winter (00:39):

Thank you.

Tanya Musgrave (00:42):

That's quite the journey, huh?

Ralph Winter (00:44):

I've been very fortunate to work on a lot of interesting projects and yeah, I feel very privileged it wasn't necessarily my design. I'm a graduate from UC Berkeley in History, so I'd never intended to be in the motion picture television business.

Tanya Musgrave (01:05):

Well that sounds like a very interesting starting point. How did you get from there to here?

Ralph Winter (01:10):

Yeah. I graduated from UC Berkeley in History and got a job while my wife was going to nursing school so we could support the family and then when she graduated, I might go on to graduate school to something else. But the job I got was at Broadway Department Stores in the training department making videos. I'd had some experience growing up in high school and college doing some stuff and kind of stuck. It was fun. It was really fun. And I made about 50 short industrial videos all for employees, how to train employees, how to take inventory, how to ring the register, how to greet customers and it was all for a business purpose. And I got some attention doing that. Some of them were fun, someone got me in trouble. And I enjoyed myself and I realized that retailing, there was no future in doing videos so one of my connections there referred me to Paramount Pictures where they were looking for someone.

Ralph Winter (02:11):

And I came in and I memorized the Eastman Kodak chart for film Stock and I got the job. And so I worked in post production at Paramount and really right time, right place. There were 10, 12 TV series on the air that were being produced at Paramount, only three networks then and happy days, Laverne and Shirley, Mork and Mindy, all these big series that I met all the creatives and help these people out. And then more opportunities came and one of those was with the producer and I went out to work on Star Trek III I had helped them make Star Trek II, The Wrath of Khan. So then it just kept going from there. I just kind of leverage one thing to the next and there you go.

Tanya Musgrave (02:58):

One thing that I am really interested in, in addition to all of these big series, what I see on your IMDB in your roster is a lot of the low budget films, either multiple levels of your work. So it's not just these big studio films, you're also involved with micro budget films too. And that is generally where our audience is sitting right now.

Ralph Winter (03:24):


Tanya Musgrave (03:24):

It is the people who are not in the union yet. They are working on these types of films where they're mid level that kind of thing. So I would love to get the perspective of somebody who has worked on both what that perspective is like. And if there is any crossover between the skills that you use on a big studio side where somebody who's mid-level can get to that and whether or not they even should want to.

Ralph Winter (03:53):

I was, I was working on huge movies for studios and I didn't want to be pigeonholed into someone who is only working on 100 million dollar movies and up. So I set out to work on specifically smaller movies. So I made a movie for $500,000 with Bill Shatner, a new director. I put it in theaters, I put it in something called Blockbuster that used to be a video store. And went through the process of raising the money and helping a young filmmaker get a story he told and I enjoyed the process. The movie is called Shoot or Be Shot. It's not really worth viewing but fun with Bill Shatner and we had a great time doing it and we shot for like 18 days in Los Angeles, non-union, running around borrowing equipment, doing all the things that you do when you start out and the process is the same and he's still gonna have a good story, you still got to manage a shooting day and you still have to put together a story in the editing room that makes sense.

Ralph Winter (04:59):

You don't really have budget arguments at that price point because you can't argue about a crane, you don't have money for a crane. So it's not about what kind of crane or equipment. I mean it was because a new filmmaker, I was able to get a Panavision camera for free and I had to scrounge around for film and lower budget movies generally used to be that you had to worry about food and film. You got to pay the crew a little bit, but you got got to feed them, you got to have film for the camera. And then I embarked on some other lower budget, $2 million. I made a deal at Fox to make movies for the Christian market that were in the $2 million range and try to open up that market for Fox.

Tanya Musgrave (05:39):

So three and one an adaptation from Frank Peretti and Ted Decker and that for sure.

Ralph Winter (05:47):

And trying to convert... what every filmmaker tries is to try to convert book buyers into ticket buyers. Not easy, not the same. That's book-

Tanya Musgrave (05:57):

Not the same market.

Ralph Winter (05:58):

... Yeah. Book readers say, "Oh, that's not as good as the book." And so two different mediums and everyone's aware of that, but it's still a trick into making the book cinematic. When we do a mainstream film like The Giver Phillip Noyce, Lois Lowry book that's required reading in California for middle school students as a writer in a book, you can imagine what the future of this dystopian future looks like, you don't have to make choices. As filmmakers, we have to make choices.

Tanya Musgrave (06:29):


Ralph Winter (06:29):

So what does a futuristic wardrobe look like? Does it have buttons? Does it have zippers? Does it have Velcro? All those choices have to be cinematically made. So when you're turning a book into a piece of filmed entertainment, you've got to make a lot of different sets of choices and not everyone excels at that. I think that again, so the process is the same. I think I'm mounting another $500,000. We're guessing 500 in this sort of virus environment, small movie, not many actors try to contain it. Again, try to shoot an 18 to 20 days. Not much of that has changed. And really the questions that crossover from big and small is, is an audience going to come?

Tanya Musgrave (07:18):

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Ralph Winter (07:19):

I think all stories are worthwhile. All stories are good, but there's a limited number of stories that an audience will pay for. And that's the difference, that's what makes you a producer is to figure out what that commercial angle is. How are you going to tell the story? Can I really get an audience to pay for this? Because there's lots of things that we love and want to see and think, "Oh, that'd be great. That'd make a great movie." Yeah. Well you need a large number of your friends to pay $10 to make it a business, otherwise it's just a very expensive hobby. But that principle I think has to be guiding and has to be at the front.

Tanya Musgrave (07:53):

How do you define a success? Like whether or not... because there are some that say, "Well, did it work? Not that it was good, it worked because it sold." It was still a little bit awful, but it sold. I mean, so is it successful? you have like the B-level hallmark movies that there's a huge market for it, but quality wise, you can't really rest on that. So how do you specifically define a success?

Ralph Winter (08:16):

Right. That's exactly right. You've got to define success. So I think people that bring the 5,000 or plus movies to Sundance, it's about a platform. It's not about making money. It's about getting noticed. It's about demonstrating you have skill to tell a story. And so it depends on what you're making and what that purpose is and what success is. And making the short films that I've made, it wasn't about making money. It was about demonstrating I can tell a story and not have to have 100 million dollars.

Tanya Musgrave (08:45):

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Ralph Winter (08:45):

Hallmark probably defines their success by viewers. They get an audience and that's how they make money. Netflix if their stock price goes up, then they've done well. They've, managed to, from a tiger story to whatever they're making, if it gets attention and it gets press and it drives up the stock and it gets increased subscribers, that's how they measure their success by subscribers. If the is measured by Box Office so...

Tanya Musgrave (09:16):

For a small budget film.

Ralph Winter (09:18):

You got to decide what you're doing it for. So do you have investors you have to pay back? if you want to make it a business, you do.

Tanya Musgrave (09:24):

Yeah, Okay.

Ralph Winter (09:25):

So if you raised a half a million dollars on a small budgeted feature, then you better figure out how I'm going to get that money back for those investors. So are there streaming options? Do I really want to try to manage marketing and going to a theater these days? Probably not. So you probably want to line up a buyer before you start shooting because that'll give your investors confidence and your investors may demand that, they may demand that you need some kind of streaming distribution plan in place before. And that depends on who the talent is, who's directing, where's the script from, etc.

Ralph winter (10:06):

So when you're starting out, you probably can't do much of those things. So you probably can't spend half a million dollars. You might spend 100, you might spend 50 you might spend zero.

Tanya Musgrave (10:16):


Ralph Winter (10:17):

And it depends if you want to make it a business, you want us to make it a hobby and make movies, you can do it. You can borrow a camera, you can edit on a Mac, you can slap it together and show your friends. Cool. But if you're going to make it a business, you pretty much, if you want to do it a second time, you got to pay back those investors. You got to respect them. You got to respect the money.

Tanya Musgrave (10:36):

So what if they don't have those particular connections with a distributor yet?

Ralph Winter (10:40):

No one does. No one has those connections, come on. You got to develop that, you got to figure that out. You got to figure it out just like everybody breaks into... there's people breaking in the business today. Everyone breaks in, everyone gets in and figures it out. You're going to have to figure it out. You got to get on that path. You've got to get on that journey. You got to apply yourself. How bad do you want it? So go to film festivals. How did they do it? What did they do at Sundance? What did they pay for it? How did they find a distributor? The film festivals actually are one way to do it because there's all those distributors are there and looking for something that stands out.

Ralph Winter (11:17):

So it depends on the material you choose. Is it a commercial? Is it meaningful? Is it emotional? I think if you're going to make a career of it and demonstrate that you're passionate and you're a writer, then you should write something that's going to change your life. Why would you attempt anything less?

Tanya Musgrave (11:36):

Yeah, exactly.

Ralph winter (11:37):

Why would you try to do something that wasn't as important or valuable as... well, you want to copy Hunger Games or copy... everybody's copying stuff. What's original that you have? What's your voice? What do you have that you think the world needs to hear and you can deliver that in a unique way? That's what you should do.

Tanya Musgrave (11:57):

So from a producorial side of things, what elements other than story, you're starting out with a solid story, what do you put in place to make a small budget film successful?

Ralph Winter (12:10):

It's pretty simple. I think you have to have a script that is compelling, a page turner. It's got to be something unique, emotional. Secondly, you've got to have a director who knows what they're doing, or if they don't and their script or their funding it or whatever, then you better surround yourself with the director of photography who knows what he's doing, he or she about how to compose the visual image. An editor that knows what he or she is doing and probably some kind of production person, a first AD. Again, that knows what he or she is doing to put it together and help make that happen efficiently.

Ralph Winter (12:46):

Those three key positions I think are important. Then you've got to have talent. So what kind of talent can you attract in front of the screen that's going to stand out and make a difference? It's not easy. There's five to 10,000 movies that get put up at Sundance every year. That's one of a festival a week around the world. So it's a very competitive, what makes you think you can stand out? And you have to take chances to demonstrate that you can deliver the goods so you better choose wisely in terms of the material and how you want to approach it and how you want to go about it.

Tanya Musgrave (13:28):

So if you don't have the budget, it's kind of one of those things where you have to distribute what little meager budget that you have. And-

Ralph Winter (13:36):

Let me just say this, let me interrupt you for just for a moment to say that it isn't always about budget because in 2009 the best picture that won the Oscar was Avatar was a four, $500 million movie. A few years later, the movie that won the Oscar was in black and white. It was silent. It was made by a foreign company inside of Hollywood about the Hollywood history and didn't even have any help from California and the incentive to get it made. That won the Oscar, the artist. So if you tell a compelling story, you can be a little out of focus once in a while, you can have some bad edits. You can have some stuff that doesn't quite work production-wise, but if the story is compelling, the audience will show up, the audience will watch. It isn't always about budget. Budget is not the compelling thing that makes an audience want to consume entertainment.

Tanya Musgrave (14:41):

Yeah. So on a practical level when... I'm going to put you in the situation that you had told a story you were on Planet of the Apes and you had to first pump water into a lagoon and then raise the temperature for the horses to satisfy the standards onset. So, alright, first of all, obviously on a small budget film, you're not going to have horses necessarily, you're not going to have the resources to do that[crosstalk 00:15:12]. Yeah. You're not going to be at all those places, but if a curve ball comes at you real fast like that, which direction do you go? Do you go to the writers to rewrite it in a way that doesn't include something, "Hey, we are on set today. This is a snag that we didn't see coming". Do we rewrite it out? Do we change the location? Did we try to negotiate? What's the first place you go to?

Ralph Winter (15:37):

Well, not to the script. If we all believe in the story and we've been tracking that, we've built a plan to make that script work and we're probably not running to the script first. We're trying to figure it out ourselves on the ground. What can we do? So in that situation was a studio movie, so the studio liked the script, they liked everything that was there. Tim Burton was the director and so there were a lot of things in place that weren't about to change until we did our job. I think if we failed on five or six steps then we would have gone back to see, "Okay, does it have to be horses in the water? Could they be around the water?" Could they... we'd figure out some other thing. But my responsibility, at least on that picture was to figure out immediately how could we solve the problem.

Ralph Winter (16:23):

And so on a bigger movie, I build an infrastructure that allows me to pivot. So the level of that lagoon was low because Lake Powell was beginning to lose water air, which has no a very common story in California. That was the first problem. So I had my effects guys with a platform floating out there to pump water from Lake Powell into that lagoon so that was the first problem. We started a few days ahead and when we realized when we got there that the water level is down three or four feet and it was only after we were pumping water that we found out that the temperature was too cold for the horses and the ASPCA. So then we had to hook up a steam plant to heat the water going into the lagoon so that it would be good for the horses. No one cared about the actors or the stunt guys only about the horses.

Ralph Winter (17:11):

So we just took sort of logical steps. How can we do this when we've needed snow in a certain location by a date? I did the same thing. I put a platinum and an eczema and we put a platform out on a Lake and we actually had a webcam and a thermometer and we could look at the webcam at when we woke up to see did it get down to 26 so they could turn on a blower and pump water through the blower and create snow on the location we wanted. So you just try to find creative solutions along the way. Those are bigger budgets solutions. You didn't have that budget, you'd find other solutions. You'd move to a location where you know you're going to have snow, you'd think in Canada you would, but we were stuck in Canada.

Tanya Musgrave (17:54):

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Ralph Winter (17:54):

So when doing The Giver, I knew we would not have snow in South Africa that'd would have been a nightmare. Why create that situation? So we looked around the US and said, "Where is it always going to have snow?" And in Utah, actually near Park City and Sundance, how convenient the water shed for most of Salt Lake is up in those mountains. So we found a suitable place up there to shoot where we knew there would be snow in March and April that not be chasing it.

Tanya Musgrave (18:25):

So for a low budget film though, you automatically don't go to the script to fix it that way.

Ralph Winter (18:33):


Tanya Musgrave (18:34):

Yeah. So do you go towards negotiating something with let's say The Keepers of the Land or would you just change the location altogether? That kind of thing? What if like... I'm just saying nuts and bolts wise, which part do you gravitate to?

Ralph Winter (18:51):

Yeah, I think that you primarily would probably try to negotiate with the owner. So I made a small little movie about kids in a cemetery and we wanted to use the incinerator, the crematorium, so you got to build a relationship with those people. And "Well, we don't let people in there. It's private." Yeah. Okay, well how could we do this and what could we do and what would work for you? What time of day, what if we came after hours? There's a myriad of solutions and it's trying to find a way that you create value for the stakeholder that's the location owner and value for you that's helping to tell the story and that negotiation, you've got to be clever and creative about that. So I don't think I'd run to the script first, not at all.

Ralph Winter (19:41):

I try to find an exhaust as many opportunities and variations and permutations that I could before I start changing the script. That's if you've done your job properly, you built a story that is efficient to begin with. If you don't have money, then you aren't having a battle see on the water, so you're not going to be in that situation, right?

Tanya Musgrave (20:04):


Ralph Winter (20:04):

You're going to talk about that battle and you talk about how, how important that battle was and you're going to do it in a closet or you're going to be outside and refer to it just over the horizon, whatever. There's lots of creative ways to do that, but you're going to think that through in the script stage and you're not going to put yourself in a situation where it's going to fall apart.

Tanya Musgrave (20:24):

Mm-hmm (affirmative). How involved are you in the post production and distribution side of things?

Ralph Winter (20:32):

Well, it depends on the project. So on some projects I function like a line producer and so I'm there in all the prep and the shooting and very little in post. If I'm producing the project, I'm involved in all stages of it all the way through putting it in theaters or getting it on the Netflix or working with the marketing and distribution so it depends on the role that you're hired to play and depends if it's something that I've developed or whether I'm a hired gun and I mix those up. I'm a hired gun to pay the bills and I'm passionate about my own projects where I have to pay the bills.

Tanya Musgrave (21:09):

So with low budget films, I've heard a couple of different approaches for when it comes to distribution. They say like, "Oh yeah, you're going to package them together with other low budget films and kind of present this whole entire package or I'm just going to go with just getting mine to it." Is there a better approach?

Ralph Winter (21:27):

No, again, it gets back to what your definition of success is and what you're trying to achieve. You're probably-

Tanya Musgrave (21:34):

If you're trying to sell.

Ralph Winter (21:36):

Yeah, if you are trying to sell it and you get packaged with someone else and you can't go on your own, then guess what, you're going to go with the package. So it depends on... again, it depends you want to make it a business. Are you going to do this again and again and again? Or is this your passionate project? One time I want to get this made and if that's it, that's it. And you might make different decisions, but if you're anxious to get this one scene so you can move on to the second one, you're probably going to take the path of least resistance to get it out there and keep going. The longterm prognosis, the longterm is getting your work done.

Ralph Winter (22:09):

Getting your movies made. Not all of them are going to be great, but if you work a long time, I think you win in this business. You're not going to win making one movie that's a lottery ticket and that you have about the same chances of winning. You're only going get better as a filmmaker when you make more of them. So if you're not shooting or developing something, even as a weekend shoot, why not? Why aren't you doing that? You can sleep anytime, you can go see your Games 14 anytime. No, you should be spending your time advancing that, getting stuff made, getting it shown, getting it seen. Even if it's only in the first one you don't make money. Okay, onto the next one. What's the next one? Keep going. Keep making stuff. Keep failing, but getting more experience about how to tell a compelling story.

Tanya Musgrave (22:57):

I think where the majority of our crowd is right now, our audience, they are the kind of first time directors where they really want to get something made and they are making either shorts or they're not interested in doing shorts anymore. They're like, "No, I want to make a feature and explore my talents in what that whole entire process looks like." But there's always a huge shroud of mystery kind of surrounding distribution and that kind of stuff. And so not even knowing how to put together an attractive package for a distributor, like what does that even look like?

Ralph Winter (23:35):

It's a compelling script. It's talent that they want to see on screen and that then the audience wants to see. So the short line to distribution is, If you could make something in your closet and get millions of people to see it, that's all you need.

Tanya Musgrave (23:50):


Ralph Winter (23:52):

But it's kind of a problem unless you have a million people on your email list you've got to figure out what is it that a distributor wants. Build relationships with those people, which means you've got to meet them when how do I meet people? Well, how do you make friends? You've got to go there. So if you're going to try to navigate the festival circuit without ever going to a festival, well how does that work? How are you going to do that? So the same thing's true of if you want to develop a relationship with studio or Netflix or at festivals, you've got to go there. You've got to meet people, you've got to build relationships. And people say, "Well it's all an insider business." Really?

Ralph Winter (24:32):

You don't think the hedge fund or investment banking or real estate as an insider business, it's who you know. Well of course it is. Every business has that. So get out there, you're not going to make it. You're not going to succeed from your bedroom. You've got to get out there and you got to meet people and do that so there's a wealth of information. There's lots of stories of other filmmakers who have made it, read those stories. Who did they meet? How did they do it? Where did they go first? We want to make this $500,000 movie and the material we think actually works for lifetime or works for Hallmark. Not sexy for a filmmaker, but hey, if we can do a decent job and tell a story and get it out there and do it for a price and the license it for the amount of money that gets the money back for the investors, then great. We get to play again. So everybody wants to go to Netflix. Okay, enjoy yourself, have fun. Go meet some people and see if you can figure out and crack the system.

Tanya Musgrave (25:36):

So when it comes to meeting these people, I had listened to this podcast about the guy who had actually gone to Sundance and was talking to distributors. And with the changing market now with the streaming services all having a content war right now, distributors are even a little lost. They're throwing everything against the walls, seeing what sticks and what will or won't happen. What are some of the changes in the industry that you're seeing coming up? I mean, this coronavirus might've been the catalyst for a lot of this change. It might be, but it was the path was already kind of happening [crosstalk 00:26:15].

Ralph Winter (26:15):

I agree.

Tanya Musgrave (26:16):

So how are you... I mean right now there was an article that was talking about, I think he was on medium and talking about like the death and rebirth of Hollywood and how everything is going to be changing and the low budget films are really going to be coming into their heyday. But how do you feel like those are going to affect those bigger industry films? And is this really a hidden opportunity, smaller filmmakers to come up?

Ralph Winter (26:45):

Well, sure. I think you're exactly right. I think this has only been a catalyst. I think things that were cracking and had fault lines and might've changed in five years have now changed in five weeks so that everything has been accelerated. So that disparity between small and big is just getting... that gap is getting bigger and faster. Yeah. So that opportunity for lower budget get, a foot in the door, is as good as it's ever been. Same principle applies. What's your compelling story? What's your angle? How are you going to do this in a way that like the Blair Witch project that no one else has done before? Coming up with that competitive, creative, compelling material is still going to be a winning strategy. What does the audience want to see? That's why except for Disney, that's so big right now and that's probably an anomaly for a while, all the studios have about the same market share.

Ralph Winter (27:41):

Nobody knows the secret. If they knew exactly what the audience wanted every time they'd knock everybody be batting 1000 they don't. They bat 250, they bat 300 they fail seven or eight times out of 10 so they're in the same position you are, you're smart. You may know and be able to speak to an audience that they don't and they'd be interested in that. That's how I made the deal at Fox with a small budget Christian market trying to develop that, but there'll be less and less to go to the theater. Theaters will be bigger movies that'll take more money to get there, but streaming will just become more competitive. There's 26 streaming services that you can subscribe to in your home. 26 there's a wealth of stuff out there. What makes it stand out?

Ralph Winter (28:27):

I mean that's why people make horror movies because they try to be the most outrageous horror movie that can be made that gets attention and then you got to go see this. I think at Paramount when I was there, we had the first Halloween movie and it was rated X, and we had to go in and watch the movie. Eight or so of us executives went into cut it down to an R rated movie. That movie was clever and creative, and to this day, I remember being in that room and the surprise at the end of that movie made every single person stand up out of their seat and go, "Oh my God."

Ralph Winter (29:03):

So finding a creative way to make a compelling story that you think an audience wants to see is your angle to go out and talk to people and show it at festivals and demonstrate that you have the chops, that you have the ability to tell a story in a compelling way. That's what an audience wants. That's what they're going to tune into. That's what they're going to select on their Netflix screen. Or they're going to figure out from their phone, or they're going to figure out in the most powerful way from their friends who say, "Oh man, you got to go see this. You gotta watch this piece, you've got to watch. This is the best thing I've ever seen."

Tanya Musgrave (29:39):

What changes have you seen in your immediate circle and platform, how these changes have affected that?

Ralph Winter (29:46):

Well, we're waiting to see how this happens. I was in Tokyo shooting until March 13th and then we shut down on the 14th came home from Japan on the 17th and I think everyone's struggling with how do you make it safe? When is it safe to go back to work? Etc. I think personally it revolves around two or three things. I think number one... and I don't hear enough about this, I may even write about this, it's about the actors. When are the actors going to feel safe without the visible mask protection over them and feel safe working 10, 12, 14 hour days? Who's the first person that's going to work next to Tom Hanks or Idris Elba and know that they're safe?

Tanya Musgrave (30:32):


Ralph Winter (30:32):

Is there a longterm immunization from... we don't have any longterm survivors yet. We don't have reliable tests yet or quick testing or we certainly don't have a vaccine. So I think that comfort level, unless you write a story with people with masks, Oh, there's a creative idea hmm. Wonder if anyone's doing that. So other than that, if you're going to tell a story, when are the actors going to feel comfortable? That's an issue for our small budget movie. If the actors are comfortable, well that's the first big step. And then I think the second step is how to keep the crew safe but they can wear a mask, we can do pods, we can wash our hands, we can do what mom told us and get lots of rest and wash your hands and do all that stuff. I think insurance will be an issue. They got to figure that out. If you sign a waiver and say, "Well I won't hold you responsible if I come down with the virus."

Tanya Musgrave (31:21):

But is there still an argument for duress?

Ralph Winter (31:24):

An argument for what?

Tanya Musgrave (31:25):


Ralph Winter (31:27):

Sure. Yeah, I'm sure there is. And then you know if, "Okay, I'm not going to hold you responsible. I come down with the virus." Well now what do you do with the production? There's 30 other people that got exposed. Do you shut down the production? It's a really tricky... I don't think impossible to figure out, but it's tricky. And so the DGA, the IFC, SAG, lots of groups. I've read probably 10 different papers, 20 pages long. We need a medic every 15 crew members, wash your hands every 30 minutes. This could be really more complex than it needs to, but-

Tanya Musgrave (32:00):

It's going to more money in the long run.

Ralph Winter (32:02):

... add more money. I think it'll add 10% to everything. And this look, we don't board planes the way we used to, we won't make movies the way we used to. So all of that will shift and adjust. But primarily I think we've got to figure out when is Nicole Kidman going to feel comfortable in front of the camera. And frankly, a lot of the higher paid actors probably don't need to work. They don't feel a rush to come back and do this. Why would they endanger their families? So it's going to be an interesting transition to see who and what happens. In Tokyo, we had shot about a third of it, Michael Mann, just wrote an article today in Vulture about it and about when do we come back and coming back is, I think going to be about Ansel Elgort and Ken Watson Abi, when are they going to feel comfortable? I don't know.

Tanya Musgrave (32:52):

How about yourself?

Ralph Winter (32:54):

I feel comfortable. I'm probably in that target zone because I'm old, but I feel healthy and take care of myself. My wife's a school nurse and so we're sheltering in place as much as possible. You go to the store when only when you need to. Cars don't get fired up once, two or three times a week maybe at the most. But I didn't feel uncomfortable in Japan. Not Japan is a mask wearing society. I felt very good about all of that and we were actually having dinner and in Japan, restaurants are very, very small. Tiny. I had dinner with Michael before I left and his wife and a couple of other camera operator, we were all crushed into a 14 seat restaurant. We all felt comfortable. We weren't wearing masks.

Ralph Winter (33:40):

We're taking care of ourselves or coughing at anyone, but we don't know enough yet about this virus. I don't want to diminish it. We just don't know enough about it and how it transmits and all that. And people are working hard and brave people are putting themselves on the line to help sick people.

Tanya Musgrave (33:59):


Ralph Winter (34:00):

So we need to figure this out. It'll be an odd transition I think. The transition could be 18 months. It could be a long time.

Tanya Musgrave (34:07):

So for particularly crew that aren't necessarily being taken care of, I read maybe 100,000 people in Hollywood were out of jobs. [crosstalk 00:34:18], So what are your words of advice or thoughts for those particular crew members to position themselves coming out of this or how to sustain themselves in the meantime?

Ralph winter (34:27):

Yeah. First of all, I think a lot of the gig workers, crew members in Hollywood are used to working their tails off for six months and then being off for three or four months. So it's not, they learn to spend and save their money differently. So it's not that unusual. I think people that work in a factory and work 52 weeks a year are probably more at risk than people in Hollywood. Not to diminish that not earning an income isn't a good thing.

Tanya Musgrave (34:57):

But being used to irregular income.

Ralph Winter (34:58):

Yeah. They're used to an irregular up and down process. So it's not that unusual for us. It would be unusual if it goes on for six months or eight months. A lot of people have figured out how to adjust over time anyway in terms of other gig jobs they can do or so everyone tries to figure some of that out. Maybe if you're a hairdresser on set, you might give haircuts, although that may not be a sustaining job during a downtime. But everyone tries to figure that stuff out. The hard part is if it goes on too long, people have to change and get out of the business and do something else. So a lot of people moved to Atlanta to work there because there was a lot of production, not a lot of production there.

Tanya Musgrave (35:41):

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Ralph Winter (35:41):

Now you know that, that's a tricky question. I don't know. I don't know the answer to how to sustain yourself when you're a crew member and there's nothing else to do. Maybe if you're in special effects as other engineering or other work you can do in the meantime but there's 30 plus million people out of work right now. So not a lot of jobs.

Tanya Musgrave (36:02):

Jobs that you think that you'd be relatively safe in. I know people who work at GE, I know who specialized biking the majority of their sales are in Europe and they're shut down. That's not happening. So I mean, I know that it is everybody and I guess that's a little bit of a comforting aspect that it's not just great depression only in the United States. It's everywhere in a way that hopefully everyone will bounce back after this.

Ralph Winter (36:30):

Yeah. I mean, getting on a plane to Europe wouldn't help you at the moment to find a job nor South America or nor any anywhere else. So yeah, I think it's the same all over. Everyone's trying to figure it out. They're doing some filming in Iceland.

Tanya Musgrave (36:45):


Ralph Winter (36:45):

Balt is our film maker. I worked with him on The Drift. He's got a project that's shooting there now and they're trying to figure it out. There's been articles about that.

Tanya Musgrave (36:52):

Oh, so they're shooting right now, like presently?

Ralph winter (36:55):


Tanya Musgrave (36:55):


Ralph Winter (36:56):

So, but there's little spots of that and they're figuring out, there's little examples of that. We'll figure it out. It's hard to be patient. It's hard to sit still. It's hard not to get an income. And for people that want to break in right now, probably pretty tough. There's a lot of people out of work and who knows how the festivals and how you're going to get to do that remotely. That's not going to promote relationships. It's hard to meet people over Zoom and build relationships that...

Tanya Musgrave (37:28):

What are you talking about? We're meeting over Zoom.

Ralph Winter (37:30):

But in terms of doing business together and trying to...

Tanya Musgrave (37:33):

Yeah, no, it's rough. I have heard like a converse theory that there's actually probably going to be a lot more opportunity after this because there's going to be, such a cloud of confusion almost with a lot of the bigger entities. There's always been a shortage of capable crew so it's just kind of like, alright, well maybe this is your time to go forth. There's going to be lots more streaming services that are going to be clamoring for content. Smaller budget films will have more of a chance that kind of thing. Do you-

Ralph Winter (38:11):

It's possible. I mean, again, those 26 streaming services are still at work right now and they're figuring out when we go back to work, what are we going to do first? How do we get that crew back? There'll be a crush and a stiff competition to get a lot of production back up so that they can keep their inventory deep enough to keep offering fresh things to an audience and that level it will be, and those 26 streamers are actively trying to figure that out as well as what can they repurpose they have in their libraries. So I think that'll happen. Whether that creates new opportunities beyond that. I don't know. It was busy out there before with 500 scripted television series going. That's a lot of stuff. And there's not enough crew for all that around the world.

Tanya Musgrave (39:01):


Ralph Winter (39:02):

Not enough qualified crew at least.

Tanya Musgrave (39:04):

I remember in your podcasts that I had listened to that you found a lot of value in being a low level learner.

Ralph Winter (39:13):

Yeah. Look, I think you got to be... in my job, I think you have to kind of be a servant. Kind of be being sure that you're helping others in the crew get to their desired goal. So that I want to help the prop person, the prop guy, realize his or her best work on the picture. And how can I help them do that? I'm not going to tell them what kind of pen they should use or what they should buy or how they... I don't care about that. All I care about is that they're going to do something the director likes. And how can I help facilitate that so that I can serve you so I can help you get there.

Ralph Winter (39:53):

And to me, that frees up, that person, motivates them, satisfy the director. Don't go over budget and don't be late. You can do all those three things and knock yourself out. I don't care how you do it, don't break the law, don't steal, don't lie to me. But if you can do all those other things, then have fun. And I like to develop that on a crew. And to me, how I treat a crew is very, very important. I want to make sure that there's an environment that we all have a job to do and we do it well and we promote people and fire people so that happens. But hopefully it's an environment where you can succeed, you can get the best out of what you do. And I want to create that environment and when there's something that goes wrong at home or somebody's sick, go home, go be with your family. I don't want you, you're distracted, you're not useful to me when you're distracted and if you're sick, I don't want you around because I don't want to get sick even before the virus.

Ralph Winter (40:59):

So you treat people fairly and compassionately and you build loyalty and you build trust. And then when it comes to the short strokes and I need people to stay a little longer or coming in on enough time, they're more than happy to come in and give a little extra because I do the effort of trying to do that along the way. So how you treat people in this business, I think also it's going to serve your longterm interests. So you better be careful with the person that works for you today because you may be working for them tomorrow. That's happened to me a number of times in my career. So you got to treat everyone with respect you, you diminish other people at a risk to yourself.

Tanya Musgrave (41:44):

Well, thank you so much for your time, for your insight and sharing your expertise.

Ralph Winter (41:54):

I hope it's useful. If there's anything useful, it could be a 10 minute podcast. That's fine.

Tanya Musgrave (41:59):

We'll make sure it's longer because it definitely was [inaudible 00:42:02].

Ralph Winter (42:02):


Tanya Musgrave (42:04):

If you enjoyed this interview, follow us right here and check out more episodes at colabinc.org. If you have comments or know someone who would be a great guest on our show, send in your suggestions to Tanya@colabinc.org and again, we're really wanting feedback, so go to media.colabinc.org and fill out that feedback survey and you'll be entered to win a $25 Amazon gift card. Ralph, thanks so much again for your time. We'll see you next time on There to Here.

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