The Insider: Cindy Cowan
Cindy Cowan is a one-woman powerhouse, proving with each new project and each new success that Hollywood is not just a man’s playground. With Emmy and Golden Globe-nominated If These Walls Could Talk and Academy Award-winning Traffic to her credit and Red Lights starring Robert De Niro completed among many more artistic ventures, Cowan is a woman whose ambition and accomplishments rival her beauty, and that is saying something.
HM: Where did you grow up and were you always a dreamer, or brimming with ambition as a youngster?
CC: I grew up in Miami, Florida and yes…I was always a dreamer. I knew I was supposed to do something big, I just wasn’t sure what that would be exactly. I also knew I wanted to do something charitable…something global. I left Florida to pursue a degree in psychology. After graduating, I decided to enter the film business. What I discovered was the film business allowed me to access both worlds.
I am now part of two charities – Grass Roots Soccer, which educates young people globally about HIV and ways to prevent it and Little Kids Rock, a non-profit organization that provides free musical instruments to underprivileged youths. Having a psychology degree didn’t hurt while navigating this industry.
HM: When did your interest in the film industry take hold?
CC: My interest in the film industry took hold when I graduated college. After a stint working with abused and fostered children in New Orleans, I came back to Florida and got a job with a CBS TV News affiliate in Miami. We covered a lot of stories from Haitian refugees, to the Miami riots, and the Adam Walsh case.
When I decided to take a break from news, I came out to Los Angeles and learned the business of film – I was hooked. I enjoyed everything about it – from story conception to the final edit. Seeing a concept come to life on the big screen is an amazing process. I feel like I am lucky to be in an industry that I enjoy so much. An industry where I can travel, meet some of the most interesting people, and learn new things every day.
HM: You co-founded Initial Entertainment Group (IEG) and found incredible success with projects like the Oscar-nominated Traffic. Tell me about the ‘Traffic’ experience and bringing that story into the light.
CC: TRAFFICwas an interesting film. The script had been floating around for years. When I decided to sell my company, I needed a film to raise the profile of IEG – TRAFFIC became the perfect vehicle to do that. We changed the cast that was originally attached, tweaked the budget, and the rest is history.
HM: You are back in the saddle with your new production company Cindy Cowan Entertainment. What is the mission of the company and tell me about some of the projects you are excited about?
CC: After retiring from the business for a number of years, I decided to come back with Cindy Cowan Entertainment. Our mission is to make quality pictures that will have worldwide appeal. With budgets from $2-$20 million, we will concentrate on projects that work overseas such as: elevated horror, thrillers, action films, and biopics with established directors and A-list talent.
My next project is THE CHARLIE PRIDE STORY; hopefully this will also be my next award film. It is a very compelling story and has a very talented writer/director and actor attached, which will be announced soon.
HM: Some would say, you’re a woman in a man’s world running a successful production company. What do you say to that?
CC: The film business is primarily a man’s world, but there is a lot of room for women too. Although there aren’t many of us, I greatly admire the ones who have navigated this world so far. Doors will open for you if you’re a female in this town. The trick is being able to walk through it and stay in the room. If you know your stuff, come prepared believing in what you’re doing, and are willing to put in the long hours and time, there will be plenty of opportunities to succeed. I enjoy being a female in this industry.
HM: We are in the age of the perpetual franchise when it comes to movies these days with studios pouring more and more money into what they see as sure-bets with juggernauts like X-Men, The Avengers, The Hunger Games…and on. These blockbusters have built-in fan bases, which translate to guaranteed ticket sales. What do you think of the phenomenon and where does that leave independent film?
CC: The business of studios these days, is without a doubt a franchise or high profile film business with budgets exceeding $60 million plus. Studios are cutting their risks with projects that have built in audiences and followers. It’s now up to the independent world to make quality films that studios will no longer make. There will be more opportunities to get into certain projects. The trick will be finding a way to make them work both here and overseas, so their equity investors can get their money back.
Certain actors will be more in demand than before and certain genre of films will stay consistent in the market place. You will see more people in the independent world trying to adapt to the changing times by exploring different ways of funding their films to ensure success such as: social media, crowd funding, new TV platforms, digital, or pursing aggressive co-productions. The industry is definitely shifting, but if we stay on top of it, I think there will be more opportunities for the independent world to succeed.
HM: Another interesting trend I see, is women in leading roles topping the box office with Cameron Diaz succeeding with revenge rom-com The Other Woman, and Shailene Woodley with the Divergent franchise and also beating out Tom Cruise’s Edge of Tomorrow with her leading role in The Fault in Our Stars. Studios more often than not, have bet on leading men like a Hugh Jackman or a Will Smith or Tom Cruise at his height, to bring in the money on opening weekend. With the success of women recently, do you see this as a lasting model?
CC: Unfortunately most of the finance models we use to ensure investors get their money back are modeled after the foreign market, where male driven films continue to rule. Action films speak a universal language, so stars like Tom Cruise and Will Smith will always have an appeal to the young and old alike.
Domestically, this trend is changing somewhat with the success of Melissa McCarthy in broad comedies and consistent female crossover stars like Sandra Bullock or Jennifer Lawrence. I doubt female stars will ever equal male stars globally, but you can finance certain female driven films easier than you could in the past.
HM: What advice do you have for young film makers? Top 3 tips…
CC: A) Study the marketplace and know what kind of films are being made/working.
B) Know your audience and how to market your film to that demographic.
C) Make sure you are passionate about whatever project you ultimately choose to get involved with. There are many obstacles to getting a film made; your passion and drive will help you see it through.
HM: Some might not know this, but you have a whole other life as a songwriter with chart topping tunes to your name. Tell me about the importance of music in your life.
CC: I love music. If I weren’t in the film business, I would have wanted to become a music executive. Imagine a film without music – you can’t. A great score or an appropriately placed tune can make you smile, weep, or bring back a memory in a matter of minutes.
I love to listen to music in my downtime. I still go to concerts, love watching the Grammys, and frequent classic rock stations. I have a huge respect for all musicians. I am the West Coast Chair of Little Kids Rock, a music based charity, which allows me to stay involved in this world. Maybe one day I’ll go back into writing songs…it would certainly be a fun thing to explore.
HM: Tell me something we’d be surprised to know about you?
CC: I was one of the youngest world champions in American horseback riding. When I was growing up, my family had a hotel in South Florida. They always wanted my sister and I to shine on our own, away from the hotel spotlight. So they decided to sign us up for riding lessons at a very early age.
By the time I was 14, I had already won world champion titles in several competitions including equestrian, three gaited and five gaited horses. I guess this instilled my work ethic and my desire to succeed.
HM: Where would I find you on a typical Friday night?
CC: At home entertaining. I am a Southern girl at heart, which means my refrigerator is always full and my bar is always stocked. I love to have people over to watch a movie or just hang out surrounded by good conversation.
HM: If you look out on the horizon, say five years down the line, where do you see yourself personally and professionally?
CC: Personally and professionally I see myself doing exactly what I am doing now. I can honestly say that I love my life. I am in a profession that makes me happy and I am able to be involved with charities that allow me to give back…life is so good, I can’t imagine changing a thing.
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