Film Producer and Development Executive Gaylyn Fraiche has numerous credits spanning many years with experience that covers making flight reservations (her early years) to cultivating relationships with feature and television writers, making casting and crew decisions and solving on-set problems. She deploys her gracious Southern manners to good effect and is as comfortable chatting with gaffers on set as she is catching up with top tier directors and actors. Gaylyn was generous enough to answer a few questions for me about her career in the film and television industries for Artzray.
10 Questions for Gaylyn Fraiche
What was your first job?
I answered a blind ad in The Hollywood Reporter and was hired to be the receptionist at Papazian-Hirsch Entertainment, a small but very successful TV production company that did TV movies and was just starting to produce series. I worked for everyone and met everyone who walked in the door.
Tell us about five turning points in your career: education, successes, failures, diversions. Basically, how did you get from there to here?
I was only 21 and about a month out of film school (University of Texas at Austin) when I moved to LA and got that first job. I had been here 4 days, and only knew what I’d learned in film school. I didn’t know anything about the “business” side of the industry. It was great job with great people, but a big turning point was when I got laid off a few years later when the company had to downsize.
That was certainly one of my first big lessons in the business, “It’s not personal, it’s business.” I often have to remind myself of that even after all of this time.
After some time working freelance… for the people who laid me off… I was hired by Curtis Hanson to be his assistant on “The River Wild.” He wasn’t yet the big Oscar winner, but he was incredibly smart and taught me so much about movies. It was my first feature film, and I was working with Meryl Streep. I went on location for the first time and worked on the movie until it was released internationally. It was a crash course in studio filmmaking, at least from the director’s side. I feel like working so closely with a director in the beginning taught me a lot about the kind of producer I wanted to be and hope that I am.
Finally being promoted to Director of Development at Castle Rock Pictures after being an assistant for many years was a bigger turning point than I realized at the time. When you read and critique scripts, writing coverage especially, you feel like you know what you’re doing, but it’s not until you sit with writers and discuss and dissect scripts and have to give the writers notes do you really hone your craft. There are no absolutes in what we do. We are all trying to make the best possible project, but we all have different opinions and taste.
In 2011, when was running Debra Martin Chase’s deal at Disney, we were given the contemporary American Girl Doll/Girl of the Year movie franchise. They wanted to make them feel more like Disney Channel movies. Basically they had oversight, but they were giving us a specific amount of money, much less than we were used to, to go make the movie. We hired a line producer to consult and worked with the writers to tailor the script to get the most for our money. Normally we would be working with a studio or network physical production executive to decide where to shoot the movie for maximum tax credits, etc., but we didn’t have that person this time around. Most of that fell on my shoulders. In talking with lots of people, I was directed toward Winnipeg. We hired a production services company who helped us put everything together. It was a lot like putting together an independent movie, when someone has already given you the money. I used a lot of new muscles. That same year, we were putting the remake of “Sparkle” together for Sony, and ABC Family hired us to produce a musical for them called “Lovestruck.” Debra and I really had to divide and conquer. I ended up running “Lovestruck” from prep through post while Debra was on “Sparkle.” It was a crazy busy year or so, but it was a huge step forward for me as a producer.
In 2014, I went to work at MarVista Entertainment. I had been unemployed for almost a year after the Disney deal expired. I had not been unemployed since I was freelance and had held my last two jobs for 8 1/2 years and 7 1/2 years. Although stressful at times, it was nice to have had the time off to regroup, but I was ready to go back to work. In my job at MarVista, we make movies for television, but I work on the side that sells to and develops directly with networks. Since starting here, I’ve made two movies for Disney (Disney Channel and Disney XD) and four for Hallmark. We shoot mainly in Canada, and I have developed relationships with great creative people there. Since MarVista is the production and distribution company, I’ve learned a lot on the distribution side and continue to learn as the company grows.
If you had a time machine and could only go back to talk to your 21-year-old self only about your work life for only two minutes, what would you tell yourself?
Don’t be so consumed with getting to the next level. Try to live in each moment and take a look at what you’ve achieved. Look at the whole journey. There are some great things happening along the way. I remember one day when I was reading a magazine article about Hugh Grant at my desk at Castle Rock, and he called. I used to talk to him all the time, as he and Elizabeth Hurley had a deal at Castle Rock. It was surreal to tell him I was reading an article about him and getting to discuss “Bridget Jones’s Diary” with him.
What is the hardest thing about your job, and how do you approach it?
It’s a lot of hurry up and wait, and once the trigger is pulled, things can move very fast. You’re often putting together a team of creative people in a matter of weeks to start a project. I try to keep track of the people I like working with and keep up good relationships, so I can be as prepared as possible when we get a green light.
What is something you do every day that is essential to your career?
I read the news and listen to mainstream radio. It sounds silly, but I have friends who only listen to satellite radio… 70s and 80s… whatever they feel comfortable with. I feel I need to stay connected to what is happening right now. I feel that consciously or subconsciously I’m always looking for new talent and great stories.
Complete this sentence: “If I couldn’t make movies, I would __________.”
Own a winery.
What is the weirdest, most unexpected skill you bring to your job, and how did you learn it?
That’s a really good question. I had to think on it a bit. I think growing up in The South and being taught by my mother how to be a good party hostess comes in handy in my job as a producer. You are always putting groups of people together who often have nothing in common but the project they are making. I try to find a commonality between everyone and make things as harmonious and hopefully fun as possible. It is often very stressful, as we all know, but I hope that in the end we all come out of it knowing we made something great together, and we remember the good over the bad. I credit other people for pointing that out to me over the years. I didn’t realize it myself until the last couple of years.
Do you have a mentor? How did you find your mentor and forge a relationship with him or her?
I’ve never had one specific mentor, but I have worked with and for some great people. Curtis Hanson was great. Martin Shafer at Castle Rock was an amazing boss and was always willing to answer questions. He knows so much about the business. William Goldman became a friend via phone when I worked at Castle Rock. I spoke to him almost every day. He always had the best stories and knew how to tell them. When I was promoted, he offered to work on projects or just “spitball” with me if I needed him. I wish I could have taken him up on it more often. I have always been curious, and I think you forge relationships with people when they know you are genuinely interested in hearing what they have to say.
Favorite movie? Favorite TV show? Favorite book?
There are sooooo many movies. My top three in different genres are “Grease,” “Tootsie” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Funny enough, they are all from around the same time period. I guess that was a very influential time in my life… young teens. I’m currently loving “This is Us” on television. There are so many great shows, but this one has risen to the top. I also loved “The Night Manager.” I have always loved “The Great Gatsby,” since my AP English teacher handed it to me and told me she had chosen it specifically for me for my final research paper.
Favorite style of pizza?
Traditional Italian-style thin crust with grilled vegetables and crushed red pepper.