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Kenneth Schwenker

Kenneth Schwenker 

Interview with

Kennneth Schwenker

A FilmMakers Exclusive
Kennneth Schwenker, veteran film producer, has been around the film industry for over 15 years. With more than 13 feature films under his belt, Ken has seen many of the ups and downs one must endure when pursuing a career in the film industry. Mr. Schwenker has introduced numerous up-and-coming young actors to the big screen, including Uma Thurman (Kiss Daddy Goodnight), Portia de Rossi (American Intellectuals) and most recently Theo Pagones (yet to be released Boys from Madrid). 

Most recently, EVOLUTION, the latest production venture for Ken Schwenker and his production company Oak Island Films was given the green light and put into development by DreamWorks SKG, a collaborative project with Ivan Reitman and Tom Pollock. This film will definitely put Ken Schwenker into the big leagues. FilmMakers.com is pleased to have had this exclusive interview with Mr. Schwenker to discuss how his career has developed up to this point and what his expectations are for the future.

Film CreditsEvolution (pending); Cursed Part III (in post); Boys From Madrid (Director: Carlo Gustaff, with Theo Pagones); American Intellectuals (Director: Paige Taylor, with Portia de Rossi); The Winner (Director: Alex Cox, with Rebecca DeMornay, Billy Bob Thornton); Condition Red (Director: Mika Kaurismaki, with James Russo); Alligator Eyes (Director: John Feldman, with Roger Dabler); Ice House (Director: Eagle Pennell, with Melissa Gilbert); Exquisite Corpses (Director: Temistocles Lopez with Zoe Tamerelle Lund); Bail Jumper (Direcotr: Christian Faber, with Eszter Bailint; Amazon (Director: Mika Kaurismaki, with Robert Davi; Kiss Daddy Goodnight (Director Peter Ily Huemer, with Uma Thurman; and American Autobahn (Director Andre Dagas, with Jim Jarmusch).

FilmMakers.com (FM): Mr. Schwenker, where were you born? What is your birth date?
Kenneth Schwenker (KS): Born in New York 6/21/58

FM: How many are in your family (brothers, sisters). What did/do your parents do?
KS: One brother, Clifford, he is a pilot for Delta International. Parents were teachers.

American Intellectuals
American Intellectuals

FM: Did you have any specific influences growing up that lead you towards the film industry?
KS: I cut lawns as a kid, down the street there lived a photographer for Life Magazine, one of the original ones. He turned me in the direction of photography. Of course I did cut his huge lawn… it was an estate. 

FM: Did you keep in touch with him?
KS: On and off for many years, but now it has been a few years.

FM: You said you were born in NY, is that where you grew up?
KS: Yes, lived there until college.

FM: When did you first become interested in films?
KS: I always loved films, but did not think about it as a profession until college. I attended Brooks Institute in Santa Barbara, I was a motion picture major.

FM: Did you always know what you wanted to do?
KS: No…I started with photography, then editing, then producing some off off Broadway.

FM: You started to think about producing in college, what happened?
KS: Well, I was a photographer and loved it. In fact, after school I assisted Irving Penn, and ran Arnold Newman's studio…we did President Reagan's portrait in the Oval Office. Anyway, in school I sensed that I would want to do something more involved and interesting.

FM: How did producing come about?
KS: I liked shooting and not having a boss.

Boys from Madrid FM: Was your family supportive of you choosing to major in motion pictures?
KS: Yes, they were glad I was in college.

FM: They weren't worried about your choice of major as far as being able to support yourself?
KS: Not really, although my mom worried about everything, so maybe I didn't notice the extra worry. I think if they knew and I knew how hard this business is, then they would have been worried.
Boys from Madrid

FM: Have you considered moving on to other careers? What keeps you persevering?
KS: Interesting….what keeps me going are the projects. Even though it may take years to set up a pic, every day there are calls and activities to do. It is a daily excitement.

FM: Was How did you get your first brake?
KS: I worked a little in film editing and film distribution, then I just tried to raise a little money and found I could. Then I set out to option a script.

FM: Was "Senior Week" (Comedy, 1987) your first production? How did that come about?
KS: Yes, that was the first picture. It started with a script I read and optioned it. I totally dislike what happened to it. It started out as an outrageous comedy. The end result is a combination of many things including too much input from the distributor. 

FM: What was it about "Senior Week" that inspired you to produce it? What were your thoughts at the time?
KS: Senior week was originally a laugh out loud funny script. We could shoot it cheap and move on. Did you see the film? If so I apologize now because it became a totally different vision. Turns out the director was not cut for comedy. Also, have you seen "The Winner" (Comedy, 1996)?

FM: I did not have the pleasure.
KS: The dream sequences were added, were not in the original script. All the dream scenes were added by the distributor.

FM: How do you handle disagreements you may have with studios, directors, etc.?
KS: Always with tact, but at the end of the day, it depends on who has the right to make the decision, and pretty much one can lobby against bad decisions, but we have to live with the powers that be. One bad decision was with the distributor of "The Winner."

FM: Can you tell us about the experience?
KS: Live distribution became Artisian. Live had bought the pic while in production, on delivery they wanted it rescored. So they made it happen. Alex Cox (the director of the picture) was quite annoyed and bad-mouthed the film, tried to pull it from festivals, etc.

FM: And then?


KS: The picture went out as they wanted. Alex tried to take his name off, but was not allowed. I think the pic would have been successful with the old score and Alex's support.

FM: And then?
KS: The picture went out as they wanted. Alex tried to take his name off, but was not allowed. I think the pic would have been successful with the old score and Alex's support.

FM: "The Winner" had a very good cast. It must be frustrating when such great expectations don't go as planned. Do producers have much authority in film making today?
KS: It all depends on how the picture is financed, that is truly the key. Then besides that, it depends on how much say the director has.

FM: What criteria do you use to select a script, screenwriter, director, etc.?
KS: For the script, it has to be good, and that means many things. If a script can make you laugh and cry and has a great story, that is a start. With the director it is usually the amount of passion I can sense from him or her towards the project. 

FM: Has this criteria changed since your first film?
KS: No, although I am more keen to try and separate the passion from the egos.

FM: Producers are risk-takers who seize an idea, run with it and convince others to follow them, agree?
KS: Yes, producers do take all the risk.

FM: Most of your films seem to have been in the comedy genre. Is this the genre you prefer?
KS: I do love comedy's and will try to produce more.

FM: Your latest project in development, "Evolution," was just given the green light by Dreamworks. What does this mean to you?
KS: This is a good break for me. I am in the process of setting up future studio projects. Everyone notices when something big happens…especially agents.

FM: Where did you obtain the script? Tell me about the screenwriter?
KS: The script I got from a manager. I was getting scripts from him every week, and then one week he gave me this to read…said it was big.

FM: Ok, what's next? Anything else in the works?
KS: Two films in the can, "Cursed Part 3" and "Boys from Madrid."

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