Friday, February 25, 2011

Alma Kuttruff shares life advice

Last Thursday’s Reel Women Students meeting featured Alma Kuttruff, a relatively quiet, little woman who claimed to be intimidated by following Beth Sepko, our previous guest speaker. She need not have worried; Alma had some amazing, worthwhile things to say that translated well to almost anyone going in to any field.

Alma, who always loved film, never intended to really have a career in it. She started out with a secretarial job at Texas Film Commission that lasted about three years, to which she wisely advised us all, “don’t dismiss the office.” She emphasized how much one can learn from seeing, hearing and reading all that passes through offices. She got a job working on the Coen brother's first film, Blood Simple, as production office coordinator.

After some freelance work and a job at KLRU, a friend asked her to work as a production manager on a low-budget film that would soon be a classic—Raising Arizona. Alma claimed that this project required a lot of team effort. “We were all PAs,” she said. She then shared all the dirt you’d ever want to know about the Coen brothers. (Not really.) Apparently, they are super nice guys who are really organized and believe in “long, leisurely prep.” This makes things run smoothly when shooting begins…a glaring contrast to many larger studio films.

Following her work with the Coen brothers, she served as UPM, or Unit Production Manager, for Dazed and Confused, which got her foot in the door with Universal. After that, she was pretty much the go-to girl for movies made in the south.

As a UPM, Alma says one does not deal with the actors as much, and is not on set all the time. For her, she said, it’s mostly about talking to department heads, opening and closing the set, (occasionally staying to make herself sick with worry while watching a dangerous stunt that is scheduled for filming that day) and doing a lot of prep work for the next day.

Alma calls the early part of her career “a series of very lucky breaks.” But based on her credits and her stories, anyone can tell it’s more than just luck she’s running on. For someone who never intended to go into the film industry, Alma seems to have come a long way. Though she says that this industry is a referral business, my guess is Alma got all those referrals and so-called “lucky breaks” because she stands by the traits, values and mantras that would make anyone successful. When asked what the biggest lesson she’s learned over the years is, Alma surprised everyone by saying, “Always respect transportation.” 

Think about it. How’s the work going to get done if the camera car driver doesn’t show? This just goes to show that everything is truly a collaborative effort, and to make a movie, everybody counts. Everybody.

So in case you missed it the meeting, kids, I’ll recap Alma’s nuggets of wisdom:
1. “'No' is not a solution.”—She insists that you have to work together and be resourceful.
2. “Don’t dismiss the office.”—Hey, that’s where Alma got her start.
3. “Respect every single job.”—You respect your crew and you get back respect. Remember peoples’ names; it goes a long way.
4. “I’m very organized and resourceful…and I don’t quit.”—…where hard work meets opportunity.
5. “Always respect transportation.”—Remember: Everybody counts.

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