Q & A with Marcy Patterson, Co-Producer on MAD MEN
Currently in her seventh season on “Mad Men,” Marcy Patterson began her producing career with the award-winning short Band Camp, which circulated numerous festivals and also aired on IFC as part of their shorts program. A graduate of the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts and the DGA Training Program in New York, Patterson has worked on numerous television productions including “The Sopranos,” “Law & Order SVU” and “Law & Order: Trial By Jury,” as well as the feature films Stay, Lord of War, Annapolis, and In Good Company. Additionally, she recently co-produced the film Are You Here, written and directed by Matthew Weiner.
A little bit about Marcy
I graduated from USC with a degree in film production in 2002. After working briefly as a literary agent's assistant, I was accepted into the DGA Training Program and moved to NYC to begin my career working in production. After completing the program (and taking some time off to travel) - I moved back to LA and joined the DGA as a 2nd AD. After working as a 2nd AD for almost a year, I joined Mad Men as Scott Hornbacher's assistant before being promoted to Associate Producer and then Co-Producer within the show.
When did you know that you wanted to be in the film & television business?
I always wanted to work in film / TV. When I was a little kid I would write my letter to Santa asking for a one-way ticket to Hollywood so that I could work in the biz.
What was your "big break"?
I would say that getting accepted into the DGA Training Program was my "big break" because it was what gave me my first jobs out of school, got me into the DGA, and allowed me to work with the people that I would end up spending seven years with doing Mad Men.
How did you get involved with Mad Men?
I was a DGA trainee on The Sopranos, where I worked with Matthew Weiner and Scott Hornbacher. I stayed in touch with Scott and sent him a holiday card in 2006 and mentioned in there that I was looking for work. He called me and told me he had a new show he was doing and asked if I wanted to work with him.
What does a co-producer on a TV series do?
It really varies from show to show. Some television co-producers are writers - others (like myself) are not. Most TV shows have producers that write, producers that oversee post production, and producers that do a little bit of everything else (which is me). I oversee the budget and schedule, and spend a lot of time prepping directors for their episode.
How do you prep directors for their episodes?
Prepping directors involves me riding around LA in a scout van with them for a few days trying to select the best locations for us to film in. It also involves having meetings with each department to go through the script page by page to discuss everything from what props will a certain character be holding in a scene, to what costume they will wear, how their hair and make-up should look, etc. The director is not the final authority on all of these topics - it's a collaboration - balancing what the director wants with what the department heads think is best, and what Matthew Weiner and the writers ultimately envisioned when writing the episode.
Can you walk us through a day for you in the Mad Men office/set?
A day for me in the office usually starts somewhere around 8am if we're scouting or 9am if we are starting our day with meetings. I typically spend from 8 am or 9 am until 8 pm or 9 pm prepping the director for the upcoming episode. Some days the director will break off and do storyboarding or walk the stages to shot list with our 1st AD, and that is usually when I will jump into the accountant's office to go over the budget with our accountant and UPM. Sometimes during that time I'll get caught up on phone calls - it really varies from day to day. Once the director goes home for the night though I then spend time on set just to check in and see how the current director that's shooting is doing.
How did you rise from being assistant to producer Scott Hornbacher to being a co-producer?
Scott knew that I was capable of doing more when he hired me to be his assistant. I was a 2nd AD prior to being his assistant and took a huge pay cut to work for him. He asked me what he could do for me to make it worth it (since I was taking a big pay cut), and I asked if I could sit in on every meeting he had - just to observe. He said yes. Little by little I was no longer just sitting there listening and learning, but I started actually doing things - producing - and Scott promoted me accordingly.
What part of your job as a producer makes you say to yourself, "This is why I'm doing what I'm doing."
When the script calls for something challenging and I am able to help make it happen. When I see it on screen when the episode airs - that's when I feel good.
Can you give an example of a script challenge you solved?
Mad Men's season 6 premiere episode shot in Hawaii.That was a huge challenge because it was scripted that Don and Megan were staying at the Royal Hawaiian hotel (which is a very iconic pink hotel) and see Diamond Head in the background.Those are not things that could be easily cheated in Long Beach for example.Filming a period show in Hawaii, however, is challenging because they don't have the vendors there that we have in LA where we can go shop for period items and find a lot of what we need.We determined that in order to achieve what we wanted to creatively we needed to shoot in Hawaii and we needed to ship a lot of the period items from LA. That was expensive, so trying to find ways to make cuts that would reduce costs in other areas of the episode was a challenge.
What are some of the other challenges of your job?
Everyone involved in making a show has different objectives - part of my job is to balance all of that, and sometimes it's a challenge. The show runner may want one thing, the studio or network may want something else, and then factor in what the director wants and what the budget allows - it's a challenge.
What important lessons have you learned on the job?
It takes a lot of hard work to have success - for EVERYBODY.
Mad Men has dominated your professional life for the past seven years. What other projects have you worked on during breaks from the show?
I was a Co-Producer on Matthew Weiner's film "Are You Here," I produced a short film "Fruit of Labor", and I 2nd AD’d a Showtime pilot as well.
How has your USC education played a role in your career?
USC definitely played a role in my career. It taught me the importance of relationships within the industry, and to this day - I have never gotten a job from a resume, but rather through people I knew (and I moved here from Delaware to attend USC knowing no one). My USC professor Brenda Goodman has been instrumental in every step of my career - from showing me how to produce a 480 when I was in school, to encouraging me to apply to the DGA Training Program, and supporting me along the way as I've grown in my career.
What has prepared you best for your career?
USC and the DGA Training Program.
What career achievements have you been most proud of?
I don't know if there is one specific thing I am most proud of, but in general I am just very proud that I am where I always wanted to be - producing. Coming from a small town in Delaware with no connections to the industry, I didn't know how to make my dream a reality. USC definitely helped lay the groundwork for me to do that, and I'm proud that I was able to take what I learned in school and put it into motion in my professional life.
Can you tell us about spearheading the effort that earned Mad Men multiple EMA Green Seals? How does one "green" a TV or movie set?
Mad Men decided to try to go green around season 3, I believe. It's hard to make a show fully "green" because we still use a lot of paper, etc. but we decided to make our best efforts to improve our thumbprint on the earth and it really helped. We had already been shredding and recycling all of our paper on set since day one, so that wasn't an issue, but we wanted to do more. We started off by getting rid of bottled water on set. We gave the entire cast and crew reusable water bottles and craft service started placing large water coolers on set instead of individual bottles of water - making it easy for crew members to fill their own reusable water bottle. We brought in environmental consultants who helped us come up with a plan for other things we could do. As a result of that - we decided to offer our employees the opportunity to take public transit to work and get reimbursed for the cost. It isn't easy to take public transit everywhere in Los Angeles but our sound stages are downtown so it was possible. Additionally, we required our caterer and craft service team to switch from using standard plastic utensils to biodegradable utensils. We also met with LA Center Studios (which is where we leased our office space and sound stages from) and worked with them to make the studio more green too.
What are the most important qualities you look for in hiring people? (And what qualities do you avoid?)
I look for people who are willing to put in the hard work - with a positive attitude. We work a lot of hours and you want to work with people that have the endurance for that, and also have a can-do attitude. I avoid hiring people who think work is a time to surf the net and update social media.
What advice would you give to women starting out in the film/television industry?
I would give them the advice to just be themselves. Don't play up your femininity to try to get jobs, but don't downplay it either. You can do anything a man can do and if you are yourself, people will see that.
One of Mad Men's themes is the struggle of women to rise in a male-dominated field. What parallels does the world of Mad Men have to women in today's film/TV industry?
The parallel is that women working in the entertainment industry, much like the ad world of the 1960s, do work in a male dominated world. Don't let that intimidate you.
Mad Men has been lauded for staffing a good number of female writers, producers and directors. What do you attribute that to?
I think that our Executive Producers Matthew Weiner and Scott Hornbacher are a few of the men out there in this industry that really do see the value that both men and women bring to the table. I think they both honestly seek to hire the best candidate, regardless of gender.
What Mad Men character do you relate to the most, and why?
I personally relate most to Peggy because she is so ambitious, though I've been told by coworkers that I am more of a Joan since Joan is the person who everyone goes to to handle things, and that's definitely me.
What is the most memorable thing that's happened while working on Mad Men?
Getting nominated for multiple Emmys our first season was definitely the most memorable thing that's happened while working on the show. None of us were expecting it and it was pure joy.
Tell us about the camaraderie of the cast and crew.
We are a family, and there is a deep love there for each other. Some family members you love and would hang out with even if you weren't related to them, and other family members drive you crazy and you would probably never see them if you didn't have to, but at the end of the day - you love them all the same and they are a part of you. That's how I feel about the cast and crew that I've spent almost every day of the past seven years with.
Now that the show is in its final season, what's next for you?
I hope to produce more great projects! I am currently developing a TV show with another USC alum, writer Tara Pinley. I'm also having meetings to see what other projects are currently out there looking for a producer.
Anything else you can tell us about that?
We are developing a one-hour drama that's very character driven. That's all I'll say for now.
How did you connect with Tara? How do you find collaborators in general?
Tara and I met at USC when I interviewed with her to produce the 480 she wrote and directed. Twelve years later we're still friends, though we haven't worked together since our film school days. In general I find collaborators by working with them and just clicking. Be it working with Tara at USC or working with someone on one project and really getting along well, so deciding to do something else together. It takes trust and similar taste to be able to collaborate with someone and I feel like it's much easier to do that once you've already worked together in some capacity in the past.
One last question. Any tantalizing hints you can give us on how Mad Men is going to end?
Nice try. ;-)