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The Independent Critic

 Princeton E. Holt - CEO of "One Way or Another Productions LLC"  
One Way or Another, Princeton Holt was determined to make it in the film industry. The year was 2000, and Holt was on the verge of graduating from the New York Film Academy when he stepped out boldly and launched One Way or Another Productions LLC, a New York-based independent film production company that produces independent films, documentaries and online TV content. In 2005, Holt directed the acclaimed short film "Phish" and by 2008 had completed his first full-length feature film, the even more acclaimed "Cookies & Cream." It was during the Summer of 2008 that Holt landed a gig in the production office for television's "Law & Order: SVU" and had the opportunity to spend a season picking the brain of Executive Producer Ted Kotcheff. Holt left the show at the end of the season with a fierce determination to take what he learned and apply it to his own work in independent film. Holt began feverishly building a catalog of niche-specific, ultra indie projects that have without fail garnered considerable critical acclaim while building a reputation for quality and fiscal responsibility for One Way or Another Productions LLC. Holt is currently in post-production for his second directorial effort, "The 10 Commandments of Chloe" starring Naama Kates, and is now working just as feverishly as ever on putting the pieces together for his third film, "The Butterfly Chasers," based upon one of his earliest scripts while continuing to produce, cultivate and nurture the growing community of One Way or Another Productions, LLC.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITICLet's start off simple...Tell me about your latest film, "The Butterfly Chasers."

PRINCETON HOLT

The Butterfly Chasers is a relationship comedy about 7 adults in NYC who are each at relationship crossroads. Each character is the ex or current husband, wife, girlfriend, or boyfriend of another - that's how they are connected. It has some really good actors attached to it.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

You're approaching funding for "The Butterfly Chasers" a bit differently in that you're using a hybrid of equity investors and crowdfunding. What made you explore this way of funding your film?

PRINCETON HOLT

Well, necessity, really. It took us 5 years total to raise money for this film, and after getting so close to our full budget recently, we attempted to try to add crowd-funding to the mix. But we are approaching failure in the crowd-funding option, and that's based on a few technical things (like commitments from a couple people on our campaign team being unfulfilled because of unexpected changes in their lives, etc). We did everything else right - kept content going and fresh, constant updates to friends, family and associates, and our social media presence stayed strong. But outside of crowd-funding, we raised most of it through equity investors - the traditional way, and that is where I think we are best suited. Equity financing just simply works better for us - although it takes time. This past Kickstarter campaign just solidifies this for us, and I'm actually quite pleased with having that factual, proven information about us as a company. (Critic's Note: "The Butterfly Chasers" did not reach its Kickstarter goal, a campaign that had been primarily targeted at financing one additional "name" actor for the film).

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

You've populated your cast for "The Butterfly Chasers" with a combination of regular collaborators and known "names." You've proven with your previous films that you can make quality ultra-indie films by identifying and nurturing talent. What's making you reach inside Hollywood a bit this time?

PRINCETON HOLT

First, thank you for saying that. First of all, I am a fan of the Hollywood talent we have attached. Rochelle Aytes and I have been collaborating on this since day one. It's sort of like Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams did with the director of Blue Valentine - they just worked the project for 6 years or so while fine-tuning it because they believed in it. I am a fan of every other known name attached. I am also a huge fan of the people we have worked with in the past like Jace Nicole (Cookies & Cream), and Meissa Hampton and Chris Riquinha (from Uptown). Shannone Holt, Vincent Caiola, and David Vaughn are all people I have worked with before and am looking forward to working with again. But as you know, Hollywood talent is just a financially responsible way to make sure that you take care of your investors by making the film more marketable to distributors and wider audiences. I think it should be the natural progression for every filmmaker that wants more people to see their work.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

This is your third feature as a director...what attracted you to this project?

PRINCETON HOLT

I wrote this to be my first film. I wrote it before I wrote Cookies & Cream. What drew me to it was how personal it was, and I really wanted to work on a large cast full of people I love. I really dig ensemble cast films - they are actually some of my favorite films. Robert Altman is my favorite director, second only to Mike Nichols. PT Anderson and Woody Allen are also my favorites because they work with large groups of actors and do it so effortlessly. Altman was the king of working with actors - I mean, that's been well documented. So it definitely has something to do with that - I'm intrigued by how much fun it's going to be to work with all these people.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

You weren't even a graduate when you started 1 Way or Another in 2000...I know you spent some time working on "Law & Order:SVU," but you seem to have been drawn early on into the indie film scene and into...I guess I'd say maintaining artistic control of the filmmaking process rather than giving it over to a studio. What made you go for it so quickly and can you share a bit about those early days of creating/producing your own projects?

PRINCETON HOLT

You know, I really don't know why I started the company right away. The only thing I can remember is my producing professor at the time Dylan Kidd (director of Roger Dodger and P.S.) would bring up "your production company" a lot in class and I guess I started thinking about it in company terms. I started off wanting to be a writer-director. The producing thing just happened because I couldn't find "the perfect producer." I actually had completed scripts and worked with tons of producers - but they never concentrated on securing funds for my work. They were too busy trying to shape it creatively or put their stamp on it because I had already had so many of my own resources set up and they wanted some creative credit too. I had name actors attached to a couple of them, or a famous composer, or some kind of other great connection, and they never did what I felt at the time I couldn't do - which was find the money. After a while, I realized that I was doing all of this stuff myself - I was hustling hard by finding the connections and making these deals and friendships, AND finding investors, that I just had to wake up and stop being a baby and just go out and reluctantly add "producer" to my title to get these things made.

Then one day, the position just stuck with me, and I feel I am way more a producer than anything else. I don't like the term "filmmaker" or "director" when referred to me because I am not that. I make a decision to direct when I think it's time to step in and do so for the good of our company. Like Cookies & Cream - that was a calculated move - we needed our first feature to get going so I was first in line because I had a script that was ready to go and could be shot for very little. That film satisfied me so much creatively - mistakes and all, because the feedback was endless and mostly positive. I didn't feel like I had much else to say at the time, so we did Uptown, Brian Ackley's film, and a bunch of others. Then, after a while we felt that we needed another push because we were dealing with investors, etc. We needed something else and on a whim, Naama Kates (also from "Cookies") sort of woke me out of my creative slumber and we just poured everything we were feeling and going thru at the time into "10 Commandments of Chloe." But again, that came second to the decision that I had to make as head of the company that we needed "something new." "Butterfly Chasers" is no different. For where we are headed as a company, which is a slate of new films with higher budgets, Butterfly Chasers has already been developed, cast, partially financed, etc and it's a no brainer that its next in line, or at least set up to be our first larger budgeted production. Then after that, and I will say this here first, don't be surprised if "Butterfly Chasers" is the last thing I direct - if not ever, than at least for several years. Because I get so much satisfaction producing, that is not as tragic a prediction as some of my friends make it out to be. I feel just as creative, hardworking, and satisfied producing these films that mean something to me, as I do calling all of the directing shots on set. In fact, from start to finish, I am more creative producing than I am directing. I like to cultivate new directors or directors I am a fan of and getting them set up to get their films made from start to finish. For our company, it's just not financially responsible in the long term for me or any of us to try to be directing everything. For our collective, this isn't a hobby It's something we take seriously.   

Princeton E. Holt, CEO of One Way or Another Productions LLC

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

How did you build your network? One of my observations would be that One Way or Another is simultaneously a very open and "community minded" organization while also being very business and legal savvy.  For example, your counsel has a very visible presence in daily operations. 

PRINCETON HOLT

Well the network came from people we have worked with. We simply love them. There is no mystery to that. Lots of people work with people on stuff and as soon as the project is done they all go their separate ways and forget about each other. We are just so damn grateful to people who work with us and help us, that its just fun for us to keep them in mind or make sure that people are aware of what their new projects are or what they are up to. Building a "network," if that's even what it is, is about everything BUT yourself. It's going outside of yourself and your own head to see what others are doing - whether they are your friends or people you don't know but admire.

I just got back from LA and I was hanging out with an actor who is a tv series regular on a couple of shows and he told me flat out that this is how it is in Hollywood, too. If networking or being a good person or a good friend is so foreign to you, than maybe it's best to just be in a different business where you can just be to yourself because without your network, you are a hobbyist. You are more in love with the idea of controlling everything than you are with actually completing projects and learning from others and actually challenging yourself to do better work by having others question your decisions - thus making you better.

As far as the legal aspect to what we are doing, that part is also essential because as our partner and in-house counsel, Monica's function is to make sure our negotiations are legally sound and binding to both who we work with and to us.
Although we are this big family and work and "play" together all the time, every single project is legally sound and taken care of. Friends or not. That keeps us all honest.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

"The Butterfly Chasers" seems to be a growth film for One Way or Another - perhaps a film you couldn't have done early on or it would have been more difficult to do. You've been building your distribution network and expanding your opportunities. What's your vision for this film? Or is that even possible to know going into production?

PRINCETON HOLT

Well, it's to premiere at a larger festival. Our investors want us to explore whatever the best distribution outlets are and if that means a traditional deal that involves some sort of advance for the rights to show it then that's what we have to do. But we are also at all times fully equipped and ready to exercise the self distribution option, where we split up rights and sell them to different territories. For instance, you split up your rights in what is called "hybrid distribution" - dvd rights sell to one company, digital rights to another, tv rights to another, etc. Where as a traditional deal is usually one where at a festival, some company loves your film so much that they pick up ALL your rights in exchange for some advance - if that advance is more, or even equal to what it cost to make the film, then you have a reason to consider going for that kind of deal. If it isn't then expect that advance (if there even is one) to be all you are going to see. Either way, whatever you sign with a traditional distributor is usually all the money you can expect to see. So if you are a film like that movie Like Crazy, and you screen at Sundance and they love it so much that you get a 4 million dollar advance when you made it for less than 300k, take that deal and run. So what, you will never see another dime, who cares? They couldn't have ever expected to do 4 million with a self distribution deal - so the advance is everyone's profit. Every one of your investors gets paid and some, and your company takes in good money and you go on to your next one. But if that deal isn't made, and the advance is wack, AND they are asking for all of your rights, then that's when you have to think about the fact that you may make more if you release it yourself into different territories. We are prepared with The Butterfly Chasers to explore both options, and that is pretty exciting.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

Can you talk a bit about the importance of both crowdfunding and the film festival circuit? I know the festival circuit, in particular, seems to have been a very positive experience for your films.

PRINCETON HOLT

Yep. Festivals are still very important to indie films. It is also the only chance many films get to play in theaters so I always think they are essential. Festivals have been good to us - I think regional festivals are great because most of them actually watch the films. I think almost every festival that chose our stuff told us they actually sat down and watched the films which made a big difference. I just wish more filmmakers adapted realism into their way of thinking. The old festival model is broken and these large ones do not even watch your films (unless an agent submits them or something). Yet they think because theirs is so brilliant that it will change but it doesn't work like that. So, target those fests that actually watch your work.

I think crowdfunding is very important as well, because it can be an alternate source of financing. In this day and age, I think it's pretty exciting to have another option like that. It's not for everyone though - it's definitely not for us. People see us as somehow less "needy" - with the catalog, the in-house (and outside) counsel, the distribution history, etc. I could wish it were different, but again, I'm a realist.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

How have you changed as a filmmaker since you started? How has One Way or Another Changed? What has a bit over 10 years taught you?

PRINCETON HOLT

We realized that with the amount of people that we work with both in and out of the company, that we have to make sure our films are financially responsible. You are talking about people's lives here and the ability to feed their families, etc. So we no longer just jump at anything that comes along, we have talk about it. Even our socially conscious projects that are only about social change have to have at least SOME opportunity to make sure that the people that work on them get paid something. We have done all the no budget stuff for the love of the art, building the brand, etc. Now it remains about making sure it makes sense for our entire company - it's way less self centered on one individual filmmaker. It's about the group. We also have discovered that we are strong on social networking, but weak on crowd-funding. We also now know that we are a slate production company, rather than one that just does random, sporadic projects. It makes more sense for us in terms of momentum and financially to produce (and sometimes release) films in bunches, rather than one at a time whenever one comes up.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

Your company's filmography is a wonderful array of deep character studies, heartfelt stories, cause-oriented stories and much more...You also do a lot with social networking and building of community. You run a regular blog with some really vital info for indie folks. In short...it seems like your growth and success has been multi-layered...personal, professional, business, artistic and in building and nurturing the talent of others. Is it my imagination or is having this creative community important to you? I know a lot of CEO's who like to be the "center," but you really seem to empower others.

PRINCETON HOLT

Wow, good question. You nurture the talent of others by simply being thankful. That's it. If you are thankful that your sound mixer stayed up all night working on one of your productions even when it went over his schedule, then show gratitude for it. You keep him in mind for future work. You let everyone know where they can find his work. You say his name first when people call you to recommend a good sound mixer. We do the exact same thing for the actors we work with. When a lead actor who already is getting paid very little if anything at all, opens their own home for your crew to shoot in which invades their personal space, etc, then that is an example of an actor who is going above and beyond what their job title is. When an actor sees with their own eyes that 3 people are carrying about 6 people's worth of equipment, and they begin picking up lights, sandbags, and camera equipment, that is an example of an actor who is doing it for the love of the project and not just themselves. You don't forget that right after you wrap and get everything you need from them. That sucks. You are a jerk if you do that. How could you forget that? Ya know?

People we work with are very important to us. Maybe it's because we have had a few stories where the people were not so great and were not great people to work with, that it made us appreciate good people even more. Maybe that's it. The horrible people make you appreciate how random and small that amount of bad people is, and how many great, legit people there are, and you simply want to thank them. It just so happens that our thanks lasts years, instead of just for one or two blog posts. Incidentally, Lena Connoly took over our blog and has been on it for nearly a year now. She is our social media manager, and is an intern. Whatever she needs from us as far as recommendations, jobs, etc, she is guaranteed to get because of her hard work. So us providing those things she needs is simply us saying thank you.

I wish more people were up front with what they want from you. I have had lots of great collaborations and partnerships recently with people who grasp that. They are upfront about what it is they want from us, and then they are totally clear on what it is they will provide for you. That allows us to go back and analyze whether or not we are a good match. If we cannot provide that person with what they need from us, then we will be wasting their time and they wont perform as well as we need them to. People are so desperate sometimes for help and assistance that they never stop and ask themselves if they can provide to that person what that person needs or not. If they can't, they get crappy work and look up a couple months later and they are good. That's not good team building. So I make sure that each person we work with is getting something from us that we can actually provide. If they can't, they get crappy work and look up a couple months later and that person is gone.

As far as being the center of things, I think that is the lamest thing. If I want to be the center of stuff, then I'm going to form a company and just be the only one in it. Then I can have all the attention to myself. But you know what? Nothing gets done. I can't stand self centered companies or people. Their work usually sucks, and people hate working for them. Ask some actors I know. I have heard at least 4 horror stories in the last year and they all involve people who write and direct and produce and direct and act on every film (give or take a couple slashes). If you can't figure out how to get someone to join you to take some of these jobs off your hands, then that's a huge red flag. Now I won't indict everyone that does this, but most of the horror stories I hear involve people who do everything just because they feel they are the only ones who can "do it right." That is, historically, the recipe for failure.

And its the same about being the CEO of a company. People should check the definition of a CEO. Its nothing more than a person who visualizes the direction and end goal of a company, and ever so often keeps the "car" going in the right direction. That's all. Once in a while you step outside the office and make sure the people in your organization are ok but that's about it. But my right hand is our COO - that is our Chief Operating Officer Cassandra - she never forgets the end game. She always sees the company's whole view. She does our budgets, everything. I may be the main one going out into the wide world and making all the deals but its she and Monica who are there to close them. Everything you see from our websites to our posters or other promo work has been meticulously directed, supervised, and in most cases designed by J. Lynn, our art director. She is in charge of how we "look." Crystal is in charge of how our actors look - head to toe - even when she isn't on set. Brian is head of development - and you can't get a script to him before one of our readers requests and approves it first. Then on top of that, the films are sometimes directed by others like Kent, Ryan, Omar Sharif, Marco and others we haven't announced yet. With that much man power, why would I try to be the center of all that? There is no center. It's a giant circle.

When the Yankees lost, these crazy fans tried to blame it all on A-Rod. But then they had to keep into account that CC pitched badly, Jeter wasn't good in the clutch, Garcia didn't pitch well to cover them, Swisher had a bad post season, and on and on. When they win, no one ever says it's all because of one person because you need the pitcher to pitch well, or your homerun(s) will not win the game. Everyone - the catcher, the pitcher, the outfield, and the hitters combine to win a game. Kobe is arguably the best player in the NBA right now - but without the rest of the Lakers, they got no where. The same for Lebron James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh on the Miami Heat. I think if more people studied the way sports works, then they would have a much better grasp of the science of teamwork.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

I read that one of your "idols" is Roger Corman...Explain.

PRINCETON HOLT

Corman is one of my heroes simply because he turned out films in huge bunches and always made his money back. He knew what his niche market was and he gave them what they wanted. I would LOVE to meet him one day. Someone please arrange that. I'll pay you! My other idols are Jay-Z and 50 Cent because of their business sense, Sean Parker because of how he intensely focuses on one thing at a time, Harvey Weinstein because he brought "the award-winning indie" itself back as a marketing tool and made the Oscars take notice, and Spike Lee not for his branding ability but for his CRAFTSMANSHIP. My parents are both personal idols of mine as well. My drive comes directly from their DNA.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

Talk about other your other projects such as "10 Commandments of Chloe"...or what's coming up for you and your company...Other areas of film that you'd like to explore?

PRINCETON HOLT
 

10 Commandments of Chloe is almost finished in post production now. There are a couple projects being cleaned up and cleared out at the moment, but our new slate of films is completely new, and a huge surprise. Lots of different genres, different tastes, different directors and writers. We have discovered some exciting new filmmakers and we can't wait till you see their stuff. Look out for our next slate of films, that's really all we have our eyes on right now.


For more information on Princeton Holt or One Way or Another Productions LLC, visit the One Way or Another website and blog. Be sure to watch for Holt's upcoming films "The 10 Commandments of Chloe" and "The Butterfly Chasers."


© 2011, Interview by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic

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