For this installment of A Day in the Life, we’re featuring producer Ralph Winter. He’s known for an impressive list of credits that include the first four films in the X-Men series, Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes and the Fantastic Four movies. More recent work includes executive producing the Shailene Woodley and Sam Claflin-led Adrift, as well as the pilot of Netflix’s Altered Carbon. Winter just finished producing a Michael Mann-directed pilot for HBO Max that shot in Japan and returned home on Christmas Eve. Now, with a number of current projects in the works, the busy producer took the time to virtually sit down with Casting Networks and provide a window into his role.
It’s great to virtually see you, Ralph. To kick things off, let’s talk about what your average workday looks like these days.
It depends on the stage of the project because I could either be in development, prep or shooting. I think it’s important to preface my response with a job description for what a producer does. A producer is essentially the champion of a project, the person who puts the ball over the goal line to ensure that the best story gets made. That can involve finding the material, the writer, the director and the crew. And besides putting all those aspects together, they’re also managing the financing, the casting, the distribution and the marketing. Producers are constantly developing projects with the aim of getting them made and going to market. It’s a matter of always looking for an angle, a story that’s fresh and that an audience might find interesting and compelling. During the developing phase, an average workday really never ends. For example, I’m currently developing an on-screen adaption of a book, All Blood Runs Red. With a partner, we are working with a French director who is nine hours ahead of me so I can’t awaken early enough when it comes to corresponding with timely emails or follow-ups. And I have about 15 other projects I’m trying to push forward in some way, every day. You have to keep track of a lot of different moving parts, whether it be following up with a writer about a script, with a potential investor about financing or a visual effects company about possible options. So there’s no real end to your workday, and you have to set your own boundaries. For example, you might commit to a hard-stop of 8 p.m.
Wow. It sounds like the role requires the ability to keep a lot of plates spinning at the same time! And how has the work of being a producer changed since the effects of COVID-19 hit the industry?
I already had a home office set up that I was working from so that aspect of it wasn’t too much of a change. One of the biggest adjustments was learning how to stay in touch with other industry people when there were no longer face-to-face, in-person opportunities. For example, I would go to awards season screenings before the pandemic and often reconnected with contacts who were also attending. But now we have the Clubhouse app, which brings people together remotely, so I’ve been exploring that. As far as the pandemic’s effect on the process of filming projects, it’s impacted almost every aspect. And the shooting phase of producing is really just manufacturing what you’ve done in prep because that stage is really where the film or series gets made. So there are a lot of adjustments to be made from the start.
Can you share an aspect of your work that a person in another area of the industry might not realize about the position of producer?
A lot of people think that a producer is the person who brings all the money to the project, but that’s rarely the case. Most producers are out there fighting for the best story and finding the investors and distributors who believe in the project. Development is the riskiest part of making a movie because you have to find the money to write a script without knowing if anyone will buy it. So there ends up being a tremendous churn of people who try out producing, make one movie, and then never do it again.
For anyone who has wondered about the work of a producer, Winter’s words paint a picture of the role. He pointed out during the interview that there’s a lot of forward-thinking involved, especially when in the filming phase of production. “You do this enough, and you can sort of smell it if you’re not going to make your day,” Winter asserted. “If you don’t take action, you’ll be in trouble and it doesn’t get better by waiting.” So whether or not your role is that of a producer, this insight from Winter’s workday to look ahead and be proactive is one all industry members can take to heart.
This interview has been edited and condensed.