Written by Corinne Garcia Tuesday, July 31 2012
Snapshot: Arianna Eisenberg, CEO, Aegis Film and Television Group
With a drive to educate, inspire and entertain, Arianna Eisenberg changed careers from journalist to film and television writer and producer, creating Aegis Film and Television Group in 2003. Even in the rough and tumble, competitive world of Hollywood and film, she has carved her own niche, worked incredibly hard, and has never looked back. Here’s a look at how she built her business from a post-production crewmember on up to CEO and her advice for other career women interested in film.
Womenetics: How did you start out in the business world?
Arianna Eisenberg: I was a journalist in my former life. It was beneficial for my future career because I had to write and edit and also perform extensive research. It all helps me today as a screenwriter, novelist and producer.
Womenetics: How did you get into the world of film?
Eisenberg: I began working in post-production at Paramount Pictures in 1980 and was very green. It was a life changing experience.
I cannot stress enough how vital it is that you first learn everything you can about the business you intend to make a career of and then begin applying everything you learn from there on out. Consider it a ladder with steps up to different levels. Don’t put any time frame or limitations on yourself. Work hard, and you will ultimately succeed!
Womenetics: How did you build your company, and how do you put the financing together for films? Is it on a project-by-project basis, like in theater, finding backers for each play?
Eisenberg: We don’t have any set rules as to funding. When I opened the company initially, it was self-funded. However, the projects are separately funded on a per project basis. Usually outside funding is combined with some Aegis funds involved as well. We use a combination of funding avenues, like most filmmakers. That can consist of banks, private and/or equity investments and loans on a per annum basis. It really depends on the budget of the film.
Most of our projects are based in European locations, so we have access to many great tax incentives over there. We depend upon those incentives along with our domestic and foreign sales, post-production bids. It sounds complex, and it can be because there are multiple ways in which to fund a film.
Womenetics: How do you manage the risk that goes along with film production?
Eisenberg: Actually, in today’s economy there are a lot of things that are riskier in terms of investment. We surround ourselves with exceptional people, including a great risk management team. We also acquire and develop projects that are exceptional stories. We attach exceptional talent in terms of cast and crew; we try to keep budgets as lean as possible, and we always focus on the content and productions values. We take opportunity of every tax incentive that we can. It’s not a foolproof industry, but it’s still pretty solid. We are a multi-billion dollar industry, and that’s not all due to luck.
Womenetics: How do you decide what projects to take on?
Eisenberg: They have to be stories that touch me in some way. They have to elicit some response on a gut level. Again, if you have a good story and tell it in a compelling manner, you have a good chance of success.
For example, “Black Jacques” really hit deeply. It’s the true story of the first black top gun pilot during World War I, way before the Tuskegee Airmen were out of diapers. He was born in 1892, the grandson of a slave and rose to be one of the most exciting heroes in recent history. He’s such an exceptional man on many levels.
Two days after receiving the script, the director Lord Richard Attenborough called me and said, “This is a story that must be told.” Obviously, we knew we had a hit. Unfortunately, Lord Attenborough had an accident at his home and was unable to direct for us.
Another good example is Mata Hari [a Dutch woman from the late 1800s who was an exotic dancer, courtesan and an accused spy]. We spent years researching and developing her story, which is rich, textured and compelling. It is a life that was infinitely interesting and complex.
I want to make films that move people and that get them thinking about their own lives and the world we all live in. I want to inspire them to reach higher and be better. Maya Angelou has a great quote that I live by daily: ”When you learn, teach; when you get, give.”
Womenetics: We’d love a behind the scenes, business-side look at film and TV production. Is it really as cutthroat as they say?
Eisenberg: It certainly can be, as there are a lot of egos involved at any given time. However, I know who I am and what defines me. My treasures are my family, friends and work. I also tend to associate with those people who are like-minded, and there are many of those in this industry. I enjoy working with people who are creative and can see the bigger picture. I don’t worry about the rest.
Womenetics: What advice would you offer other women interested in getting into the business side of film and TV?
Eisenberg: Do your homework. Have passion for whatever you do because if you have that you’ll succeed. Passion drives you like nothing else in your life, no matter what business you’re in. Your happiness will ultimately be derived from your work, your friends and family and your own creative drive. Be smart and listen to yourself rather than others. Do not let anyone tell you that something cannot be done, or you can’t do it. If you want to do it then you will find a way. Of course you can do it.
Drop the words “maybe,” “if” and “someday” from your vocabulary and your way of thinking. Change your thinking; change your life. It’s really that simple. Also, remember if you don’t work hard, if you don’t put in the blood, sweat and tears for however longs it takes, then you will not succeed. How far you go is entirely up to you.
Womenetics: Is it different being a woman in the industry, and have you faced any specific challenges because of your gender?
Eisenberg: There are always challenges in any business today irrespective of whether it’s Hollywood or whether you’re female or not. You can have funding in place, and then it falls out at the last minute. It can be frustrating at times, but you can never give up. You just start from the beginning and do it again – no matter how many times.
Certainly in the beginning of my career there were challenges. I think again, you have to know yourself, your worth, your talents and strengths and irrespective of anything else do not quit. Success brings its own ease in a way. The only opinion that really matters in the end is your own. If you find you can sleep well at night, that’s the key. I sleep very, very well.
Womenetics: Who were your mentors?
Eisenberg: Producers Dawn Steel, Debra Hill and Don Simpson to name just a few.
Womenetics: Can you explain the meaning of the business name?
Eisenberg: I’ve always liked ancient Greek mythology and culture. Aegis is the shield and the power that goes with it. It was the breastplate of the God Zeus. In reality, I have an 11-year-old Yorkshire terrier named Zeus, and he’s a pretty tough character for being all of 5 pounds!
Womenetics: Finally, what are your favorite movies and TV shows?
Eisenberg: “House,” “Mad Men,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm” — smart writing and great ensemble casts. For film, I would have to say “Braveheart,” “Lawrence of Arabia” and “Amadeus.” These have spectacular artistry on every level. There’s no other medium like film.
More stories on women in creative fields:
Georgia Music Hall of Famer and vocal coach to the likes of Justin Bieber, Usher and Rob Thomas, Jan Smith, attributes her success to learning the art of branding.
Francine LeFrak founded Same Sky to not only fulfill her passion for fashion, but also her passion for philanthropy. Her foundation offers HIV-positive women in Rwanda the opportunity to provide for themselves and their families through the creation of beaded necklaces and bracelets.
Holly Gordon is the project executive director of 10x10, a film and call to social action against poverty. See how the personal stories of several young women are empowering adolescent girls across the world.
Corinne Garcia is a freelance writer and editor living with her husband and two young boys in Bozeman, Mont. She has also written for Women’s Adventure, Christian Science Monitor, Northwest Travel, Pregnancy, Fit Pregnancy and Fit Parent.