To be a successful producer in Hollywood you better be at the top of your game. Ralph Winter has put in his time and come up through the ranks. From humble beginnings in the industry, Ralph is loyal, passionate, and his understanding of the entertainment business is razor sharp. If you want to learn about the business, start by reading his insights below.
Ralph Winter (Bio): Mr. Winter has proven himself to be one of Hollywood’s most profitable assets, producing motion pictures and television. While working for 20th Century Fox for the past 10 years, Winter has been on some of the studio’s biggest box office successes including the X-Men Trilogy, Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes, and the Fantastic Four movies, which together have grossed nearly $2 billion. The latest movie, Wolverine, has grossed more than $373 million in worldwide box office. Over the past ten years Mr. Winter’s movies have achieved more than $2.4 billion in worldwide box office. In 1978, Winter started working in the film business for Paramount Pictures television, where he worked on Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, and Mork and Mindy. Following his experiences in television he started working alongside Harve Bennett on the Star Trek films. He was an associate producer on Star Trek III, executive producer on Star Trek IV, and producer on both Star Trek V and VI. He is currently a co-foundering partner of his own production company 1019 Entertainment in Hollywood where he continues to develop feature documentaries, Cool It released in 2010, and several new feature films.
RW: I grew up in the Valley. I lived in pretty much the same neighborhood and went to the same schools, all in Glendale, California. I went away to college to UC Berkeley, in Northern California. My first job after college was at a department store where I got involved in training and ironically got involved using video. I was more into literature and history, and actually was a math major until I was a junior in college. I switched over to history because math and computer science seemed irrelevant to the future at the time. That’s how much I knew. So I never studied film or film production.
I got a job at Paramount Pictures after about three years and worked in post production because I knew video. I didn’t know film but I learned film. I was at a great place in those days. I had gotten a job inside the castle walls, as it were, working for a big company as a junior executive. Paramount in those days had twelve television shows on the air.
I’ve had my own production company for a while, but the movies I’ve made at Fox were all contract movies. I’m a contract player, I don’t own, or control the material. So what I’m trying to do now is leverage my career and find creative materials that I control and then gather the resources to get them made and take them across the finish line. It is an even harder task than just physically making the movies.What makes you stand out is doing what you say you’re going to do. When you’re starting out, just in the simplest of tasks that you’re given, if you can actually deliver those things and add value to a producer or a director or a production company or whomever you’re working for, you’ll stand out. There are so many flakes in the business. There are so many people that want to direct the next movie and they’re beneath doing all those mundane tasks. It takes time to build relationships. You’ve got to pay your dues. But, if you do what you say you’re going to do and you can actually deliver, you will stand out.
I think the first thing that I wish I knew when I started out is it’s about controlling your own material. If you want to be a producer, control the material.
I probably over commit myself to the reading of scripts. But the premise has to be something that looks interesting or compelling. The next step for me is I’ll probably only read the first twenty pages and if I can’t get excited about the first twenty pages or it’s a struggle to get to page nineteen, I’m done. If I can’t figure out who the hero is, if I have nothing to care about, or there’s nothing that helps me empathize with who the main character is, I’m done. It goes in the reject pile and I move on.
If I were going into the business I would be reading great literature. I would be reading some of the great stories of history. Why have they lasted? Why are they still powerful? Why are they still important? Are you reading some of Shakespeare’s work, are you reading great books of the Western world, are you reading magazines, newspapers, and everything from some of the best sellers? Why are they best sellers? Why do people read John Grisham’s books and why do they continue to be made into movies? What is it about those kinds of stories that connects with an audience? You’ve got to be reading, you’ve got to be looking at that art form and understanding it, appreciating it, and discerning it if you want to be creating and producing great films.