Women & Hollywood interviews Mary Rae Thewlis

Mary Rae Thewlis has spent the last seven years as a producer and production manager on Law & Order: Criminal Intent. Before that she spent five years as an assistant director on Law & Order. She spoke with Women & Hollywood as her show ends the first half of its season tonight. Catch the episode on USA at 10pm.

Women & Hollywood: Can you explain exactly what you do.

Mary Rae Thewlis: It's not uncommon for a production manager to also be a producer. The production manager is more nuts and bolts - works with budgets, hires crews. As the producer I am on the set at all times for the Chris Noth shows. We scout the locations sit in on script meetings, actor read throughs, casting sessions. On the set I am there to assist the director where needed to help keep things running smoothly, to keep an eye on the budget and to make sure the standards are maintained.
W&H: I thought that in TV a producer is a writer. Is that not the case?
MRT: In most cases a producer is a writer. If I were to flip open the title page of my script most of the producers would be writers. We have an executive producer and a showrunner, my boss who gets the produced by credit, another executive producer who is in charge of post-production. Then there are 3 writer producers and 2 consulting producers who are writers. Then there are those of us who manage the day to day filming and logistics and we get the producer title as well.

I don't think we are unique. I see a produced by credit now every time I turn on a CSI or House. You really need someone to handle the logistics and other non-writing aspects.
W&H: How would someone get into production management?
MRT: I was a DGA trainee and came up through the assistant director ranks. After you become the asst director you can move into production management. The DGA training program exposes the trainee to a variety of sets and environments possible so that at the end of the 2 years people have made a lot of contacts and options to choose from. When I was a trainee I worked on Scorcese's The Age of Innocence, and I also did TV shows. I am a trustee of the program now.
W&H: Are there as many women as men?
MRT: More than half the trainees are women, and we really emphasize diversity and opportunities for women. It takes time but honestly the girls are doing as good as the boys. It didn't used to be that way. At this point there are equal numbers of production managers and asst directors in TV. Features In features the first Assistant Directors are mostly men. Directing features you can forget about and its not much better in TV.
W&H: Why is it still so hard for women to break into directing?
MRT: I don't know. I'm on the DGA diversity task force and it's a constant battle at the directing level. We do extremely well in the below the line jobs like production managers, but at the directing level we still have a struggle One reason why TV is hard is that you have an 8 day prep and then shoot for 8 days. It's complicated and I've seen experienced directors struggle and if you come in without the episodic experience -- it's sink or swim. It's hard to give a person the opportunity to do it when they haven't done it before. It's kind of one of those situations where you have to have done the job to get the job. Men seem to have done better at it.
W&H: Have you noticed that female feature directors are now directing TV?
MRT: I think that's starting to happen and that makes me very happy. I think it's great to have a career as a feature director but TV can be someone's bread and butter while waiting for a feature.
W&H: How has the writer's strike affected your show?
MRT: We have shut down. We've shot everything. We are kind of in a holding pattern until its resolved and then we can make plans. I'm doing a couple a days wrap up. I will be on hiatus effective next week but there are always some accounting issues, checks to sign. Bills don't stop for a strike.
W&H: Do you have suggestions for a person who wants to get into production management?
MRT: You need to know the nuts & bolts of production. Get on the set experience as a Production Assistant or in Locations which is valuable in NY. When the opportunity presents itself learn everything you can learn about money and budgets. It is an industry open to bright people who want to learn.

Posted by Melissa Silverstein, womenandhollywood.blogspot.com