I met Gail at a non-film event and was surprised and intrigued when she started to share with me her involvement in the quasi-documentary “Protecting the King”, a behind-the-scenes look at Elvis Presley and his posse behind-the-scenes while on tour. She generously agreed to the following interview to help clarify what she did for the film and how it was created and produced. If you’re interested in it, it is for sale through Amazon: Protecting the King
Q: What the heck does an executive producer DO on a movie?
GAIL: Nothing about doing this film follows any rules or guidelines. I’ll give you the Hollywood definition and then tell my story.
Basically, an executive producer of a motion picture is someone who finds or funds the film.
A producer is the one who options the story and develops it. Developing it means to hire the director, writer, actors, put together the financing package if money needs to be raised (including legal documents, budgets, etc.).
If you look up the role of a producer or executive producer you will get a variety of explanations.
In my case I partnered with the writer / director and we started the production company. I filled the COO, CFO, Project Executive and investor relations roles. In the true sense of a start-up I wore many hats.
As the film evolved I took on the role of Executive Producer to have credibility in Hollywood. For me that meant helping raise the money, operate the production company, be involved in casting, pre-production, production, post-production, marketing and distribution.
I was with the film from the day the production company was started to the day it hit the shelves. That time frame was approximately 7 years.
Q: Tell us a bit about “Protecting the King”: what’s it about?
GAIL: Protecting the King is the story of David Stanley. David’s mother Dee married Vernon Presley in 1960. David was just 4 years old. He moved into the Graceland Mansion and Elvis Presley became his step-brother.
The film begins in 1972 when Elvis takes David out of high school and on the road with him. It’s a roller coaster ride for David as a 16-year old boy with the King of Rock-n-Roll. You see Elvis’ demise through David’s eyes and you begin to understand that no one could have saved Elvis. His bodyguards, personal aides and friends protected him from everyone, but no one could protect Elvis from himself.
David had written several books outlining much of his experiences with Elvis and we hired a writer to work with David to flush out the story starting in 1972 and ending in August of 1977. The ending is the recreation of the death of Elvis on that fateful day that many remember exactly where they were when they heard the news of Elvis passing. Much like what we experienced with the recent passing of the King of Pop, Michael Jackson. The two deaths have a lot of similarities.
Q: How did you get involved in the project?
GAIL: I love telling the story of how I got involved in the project. Basically it was though my Karate school. I had been working out at a Kenpo Karate school in Dallas, TX when my Karate Master announced a guest speaker would be coming to visit our school and do a seminar. He said the person was the step-brother to the late Elvis Presley. I thought to myself, “yeah, right”. I could not wrap my mind around anyone actually knowing Elvis. He was like an icon, like Mickey Mouse. I decided to come to the seminar just to check out this crazy guy telling people he was family to Elvis.
For those that don’t know, Elvis was an eighth degree black belt in Kenpo Karate and his Master was Ed Parker Sr. I did not know that when I joined this particular school. It was not until I met David Stanley and started working on the project that I learned more than I ever wanted to know about Elvis and his life.
After the seminar I approached David and we talked about his background. Still not believing he was who he said he was I asked him for proof. Yes, I did and yes he did. At the time David was a motivational speaker and he needed someone to help him build his business. I have a strong business background and have built companies before so he hired me as a consultant. I listened to his keynote speeches and motivational seminars. He talked a lot about people doing their dreams and how to define it, eliminate fear, stay focused, etc. One day I asked him his dream and he walked away from me. I was not sure what that meant, but called him back and he said he feared getting to the end of his life and always being known as the step-brother to Elvis and not David Stanley. He continued to say that the one thing that Elvis was not able to do in his lifetime, due to his management only allowing him to be a singer and actor, was direct a film. David told me how much Elvis loved films and shared many fond memories about Elvis renting movie theaters late at night and inviting family and friends to watch movies all night.
Once I heard this story I knew that I could help this man make his dream a reality and create a career for himself that he could be proud of and possibly even come to the end of his life as David Stanley, film maker versus David Stanley, Elvis’ step-brother. I had no idea how this was going to happen, but where there is a will there is a way.
Q: Can you talk about the finances a bit? How much did the film cost to make and, rough, how did that break down on cast, crew, equipment, travel, and so on?
GAIL: This is one of those topics that is not really discussed in Hollywood. I remember trying to find out comparable budgets and looking for information about what things cost on particular films. I think this is treated as sacred knowledge and when you do find the information you are warned it’s probably not true and accurate. It’s a crazy industry.
Our total offering was $2M. What I mean by offering is the legal documentation put together to raise capital from private investors. The production budget was $1.2M. The other monies were used for the development, production company operations, legal, accounting, travel, script development and revisions, salaries, pre-production, post-production, marketing, film festivals, etc. It’s amazing we kept the company running for 7 years without revenues.
Q: Hollywood famously has its own way of keeping the books and it’s amazing how many seemingly successful films ended up never earning back their initial investment. Has “Protecting the King” made it into the black?
GAIL: Yes, a sore subject for most films and film makers especially those that do films outside the major studios. We have sold the rights to our film to 18+ countries and we are in major video retail and rental stores and on Netflix. Our distribution company is Echo Bridge Entertainment and they still have not recouped their investment in bringing the film to market. I will reserve my opinion at this point about Hollywood book keeping.
I am a very optimistic person and I am still working with David Stanley to generate sales of the film through the production company, Impello Films. Impello buys the DVDs wholesale from Echo Bridge and acts as a retail store to generate sales and revenues from the film. David and I both believe all investors will see a return on investment.
Q: What were the greatest obstacles facing your team during the production and editing?
GAIL: There are so many I need to think about which one to mention. Seriously, take two people who have never done a film before and throw them into the Hollywood environment and just sit back and laugh. We broke ALL the rules – mainly because we didn’t know them. Good thing no one told me this would take 7 years.
How about when you have a $500K investor, who was absolutely, positively, without a doubt going to release the money when we were in need of our last $500K back out?! We were in LA and just about finished with pre-production. The wheels were in motion and it would have been a disaster to stop everything that we started. This was probably the most frustrating thing that happened. I was on the phone calling all the current investors which bought in $200K. David and I were out funding raising in the evenings and we did raise the additional $300K. Nothing short of a miracle.
We had a “name” actor committed to playing Elvis who backed out at the beginning of production. Truly a disappointment, but turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Peter Dobson showed up on the set about day 5 of production and we hired him on the spot. Talk about right place, right time!
Those are the two biggies during production.
Editing was a whole different story. Our first editor sold us a bill of goods about his skills. Tens of thousands of dollars, massive amounts of time and weeks later we found out otherwise. He was awful, unprofessional and lacked integrity. Expensive lesson which set us back quite a bit, but we hired a “professional” and got everything fixed in record time without costing tens of thousands more.
Q: Can you explain the difference between an executive producer, a producer, a director, and a cinematographer?
GAIL: I explained producer and executive producer somewhat above. The director and cinematographer (or called DP, Director of Photography) are joined at the hip during pre-production, production and post-production. There is the location scouting, story boarding (planning of each shot in lots of detail) and all the detail that goes with each and every shot / scene of the film. It’s a tedious process. When you see any given scene in a film or on TV you should appreciate what it took to put that together, plan out every angle, position, close-up, etc. It’s an incredible amount of detail and I have so much respect for people who dedicate their lives to this industry.
The Director directs the actors and works with the DP to ensure the finished product is exactly what they planned out in pre-production. It’s the Directors set once ACTION is announced.
That’s a brief summary. There are so many roles once you get to the set. 1st AD (assistant director), 2nd AD, production assistants, set designer, wardrobe designers, lighting, camera crew and on and on.
Q: Did you show up in the film at all, and if so, what was that like? (and did you have to join the Screen Actors Guild to not get in trouble?)
GAIL: I did make an appearance in a Karate scene (seemed appropriate), but you only saw the back of my head / ponytail. I didn’t join SAG and probably won’t get in trouble. They will have to prove it was me. Ha ha!
Q: What is it like to be in the back of the room at the Cannes Film Festival and have your film being shown?
GAIL: Oh my gosh! That was amazing. Nerve-racking too! You see all these people coming in and a lot of times they don’t stay (you have to know this is the process so you don’t think they are walking out and hate it). They look for many different things and they have to screen hundreds of films so they have to manage their time. I enjoyed seeing the places when people laughed or gasped. I remember one scene I didn’t really get, but every audience seemed to get it. Finally someone had to explain it to me. Oh well. It’s fun to experience an audience viewing your work.
Q: Finally, what’s your next film project, Gail, if any?
GAIL: No more film projects for me. I remember telling my Dad I was 32 and the next time I remember talking about my age I was 38. In order to pull this off we had to eat, drink, sleep, breathe, live the movie. It was one of the toughest projects I have ever done. Prior to it I have been challenged in manufacturing with new car builds, telecommunications with $10-12M budgets on high-profile projects with Verizon / Google, built a successful international consulting practice and so much more. Everything I have done in my career seemed like a cake walk once I was in the throws of making a film.
It’s not that I am afraid of hard work, but I don’t fit in this industry. I was traveling 2 weeks or more every month. I lived in LA for the filming. I felt like balance in my life did not exist with the craziness and competitiveness of Hollywood. I envision a calmer, more fulfilling life for myself.
If I had the chance to do it all again, I would. I just don’t want to do it AGAIN since I have already done it. Make sense?
Thanks for the opportunity to share a brief glimpse of my view of Hollywood and the movie making process.