If you've read my earlier interviews, you'll know that I've mostly interviewed writers and a few writer's assistants. This week's interview is a first in several ways. Carly Feingold was a co-producer on Scream 4, but she got her start like many in this business did, as a PA. In between, she climbed the ladder as Wes Craven's assistant and eventually became his creative executive. If you're among the readers who send me emails asking "How do I break in?" you might want to pay attention and take notes.
I know you went to The University of Texas at Austin – I stalked you on the Internet – were you studying film there?
Yes, I was a film production major. I finished early because I knew what I wanted to do and wanted to get to L.A. And while I was there I was part of a student film club. We organized this thing called Conference where each year we’d bring in professionals in the industry to speak to students about breaking in to the industry. We held workshops and a panel discussion. The year I was the conference director, I was able to get Wes Craven to be our headliner. We also had Wally Pfister there, Dody Dorn, and some more amazing people.
Wes and I just really hit it off that weekend and I kept in touch with him through email after that. When I moved to LA I called him up and just asked if I could pick his brain about what to do. It just so happened he was starting up on Cursed – for the second time – and he offered me a job as an office P.A. Then during that film, his assistant left and I became his assistant.
Wow. How’d you convince him to come to Austin in the first place? It seems like that was the root of all of this.
I was in college and I definitely didn’t have a subscription to Baseline! So I called a lot of people’s assistants… probably cold-called about 300 people in the industry. I picked my top three people that I wanted to come and sent them gift baskets. Wes was one of them. I was always a huge horror fan, and a fan of his, and just always loved the balance of humor and gore in his movies.
So I started a dialogue with his assistant and at the time, luckily, Wes wasn’t shooting anything. We only paid for speakers airfare, their accommodations and their transportation. They didn’t get paid to be there. We got about 12 speakers to come… so I think the gift basket really did it. For the other people I think it was just my persistence – calling every week until finally they were like “Okay, we’ll just tell this girl ‘yes!’”
It sounds like you did the right thing in making them feel special and important, and appealed to them personally. That’s a lesson right there, I guess. You never know who’s going to say yes when you try.
Exactly. It’s worth trying.
So you were an office P.A. for the whole run of Cursed?
I began on Cursed when it started up for the second time. Cursed was an interesting project. On the weekends I’d do Set PA work on music videos and commercials, just to get more on-set experience. During the very end of Cursed, Red Eye was starting and by then I was Wes’s assistant. We were still doing post on Cursed when we were shooting Red Eye.
Does a complete cut exist of that first version, or is it a case where they stopped so early in the process—
I never even saw the very first version. I think I’ve been told there was 8 minutes of the first version that was shot that ended up in the final movie. They recast parts and rewrote the script entirely. I think the problem was that when they started the first time, the script just wasn’t there yet.
So then Red Eye was the first time you were on the set of a feature?
Yes, as Wes’ assistant I was there every single day.
When you’re assisting a director, what’s the day-to-day job, if you can give us an idea?
I’m trying to remember what I did back then…. There’s a lot of making sure he had coffee… making copies of the shot list, making sure he had storyboards, and then just sitting next to him, really observing and being there if he needed anything.
Red Eye was unique because we had the same background actors for six weeks straight. They formed groups and had different holding rooms to retire to. I thought that was so interesting that I started doing a documentary on the background [actors]. I’d go around filming my own behind-the-scenes thing everyday, which was really fun. Then the editor’s assistant and I cut it and made a documentary on that.
How is that not on the DVD? That would be so cool!
I know, we interviewed Wes for it. We interviewed all these people and we gave it to [the DVD producers] and we don’t know why they didn’t put it on. It’s on YouTube.
Well, I’ll go look for it and maybe put a link in the article. That is really cool.
It was really fun and just gave me something else to do on set, because when you’re there 14 hours a day, you’re not busy every second of the day. I was reading scripts that were coming in for Wes but that wasn’t really my job at the time because I was hired at that point for the film and not for his company. Then after that I became an employee of his company.
Wes is such a great guy. He’s a wonderful person to work for and learn from. He used to be a professor, so I think he instinctually teaches. I’d ask a question when I didn’t understand something and he’d explain it to me without making me feel like an idiot. He is just so warm and generous.
So anyway, after you transitioned to Wes’s company as his assistant, were you reading scripts for him and the usual assistant stuff? Filtering through submissions and all of that?
And fan mail. He gets a lot of fan mail… some from prisons and all kinds of places.
A lot from Japan and Russia and all these other countries and you’re like “Really? Okay.”
And then how’d you transition up to being Creative Executive?
I think I was probably his assistant for about two and a half years before I became a CE there. At that time, other executives had left and the company had changed a bit. The other executive there – he would focus more on stuff for Wes to produce and I was trying to find stuff more for Wes to direct. Of course those things overlap a lot, but that was how we separated it. Most of the producing projects were the things he owned the rights to—
Like The Last House on the Left.
And The Hills Have Eyes, The Hills Have Eyes 2. Wes also did a great segment for Paris, je t'aime in there. So when we were on a press tour for Red Eye in Europe, we stopped in Paris to do location scouting and then came back a month later to shoot it. That was a great experience. It felt like film camp for professionals. All these [filmmakers] were there and would be like, “Hey do you want to come be in [my segment]” or “come help in mine.” That was one of my most fun film experiences.
Was there a point in there where you were like, “I didn’t even need to go to film school.”
Texas was great, but I probably learned more in one day on a feature set than I ever did in film school. When I was in high school though, I went to a wonderful film camp in Maine called, the International Film & Television Workshop. I went there for a two week camp, and I learned more in those two weeks than I learned in film school.
Were you making movies in film school?
Yes, but mostly I made shorts.
I mean, I never made a feature. I started making my own movies when I was five years old – not that I was good at it, but you know, after school all my friends would come over to my house and we’d make a movie. That’s what we did all day. So that was what I always wanted to do and what I was working towards.
Part II - What does a Creative Executive do and what do they look for?
Part III - Making Scream 4