Executive Producer Interview: Tim O’Hair

Tim O’Hair:  “Historical movies give us the chance to go into another time and place . . . where you are immersed in a world that seems to come alive, that we’ve only known or experienced between the pages in books.  So when you see things that are historical photos and they are recreated on the big screen, it engrosses the audience and gives us a chance to walk in the shoes of the characters we’ve seen on the screen.”

Here is the whole interview between Ken Haron, Half Crown Media’s Director for Partnerships and Development, as the interviewer and Tim O’Hair.

Tim O’Hair Interview by Ken Haron February 18, 2023

KEN: Hello and welcome, it’s our pleasure today to have Tim O’Hair with us. Tim O’Hair is an American film producer, executive and educator with over a quarter century experience in the entertainment industry. And he’s known for such diverse films as Hulk (2003) and A Hologram for the King (2016). He began his career in international distribution with Orion Pictures (now part of MGM/Amazon), before becoming a creative executive, and ultimately began to be working in a senior position at Universal Pictures. So, Tim has extensive experience in film finance and international distribution and Tim it’s great to have you with us today. Thanks for joining us.

TIM: It’s great to be here, Ken. Thanks for having me.

KEN: Yeah. And this is sort of an initial podcast for us or interview together from Half Crown Media. And Tim has been helping us or consulting for us with his experience for several months around the development of the Hudson Taylor movie project. And so, it’s been a great encouragement to us and I think the first thing I want to ask you, Tim, is: What are your thoughts on this Hudson Taylor movie project? You’ve read the screenplay. You have a sense for what it’s like. Where does that fit, or how would you characterize this movie if you were telling someone else about it?

TIM: Well, Ken, it’s an interesting thing. One of the first things I thought about when I read the script was – Why didn’t I know more about this fascinating individual who has had such an impact on the world? And the deeper I dug into it, I’m one of those readers who goes down into the rabbit hole, and I go into the library, into the university library and I’m pulling out books from the 1840s and the 1870s and all of these biographies and my instinct is the second I read a screenplay that compels me to do initial research, I’m intrigued. And I think this is a story about an amazing individual, it’s an inspirational story.

But what Aaron and his team have developed is a wonderful, wonderful engrossing screenplay, which we would characterize as a fish-out-of-water story, but not in a comedic sense. More of a – How do you take a protagonist and put them in an environment where they are not completely comfortable? – and that allows the audience to feel the pressures on them as they try to sustain themselves in a certain environment. It’s an uplifting and inspiring drama about a man of deep faith. It’s a period movie. It takes us to a different time and a different place. I would characterize it as an uplifting and inspirational drama with romantic elements to it as well.

KEN: Okay. That’s very helpful. Now there’s all kinds of movies being made. There are huge studio high-budget movies and there’s independent movies. This is definitely an independent film, with a special impetus behind it. It’s historical. How would you say this might fit in the marketplace and because this has faith elements, how do you think it would be best positioned?

TIM: Another interesting question. In the independent film market, like many things, there have been a lot of disruptions because of technology. And specifically, streamers. And what we call Subscription Video on Demand or SVOD; most people understand that as Netflix and its contemporaries, which have uprooted a lot of the traditional methods of distribution, not just in North America, but also around the world. So when you are doing a film like this you want to find out whether you have a targeted audience and one of the great things is that movies which have an inspirational or religious or faith-based bent to them do have a targeted audience; there’s a thirst for these kinds of stories.

It also overlaps into another sub-genre which we call “quality drama.” And, these are the kind of films you might see for award kind of characterizations, and these overlap [with one another]. And both of them, interestingly, were studied by a business focus group which works around the American Film Market, and they were two sub-genres: both the inspirational-religious or faith-based film as well as the quality drama which have the potential to break out among audiences which shows that there is a great audience demand for specific types of movies even if they do not enjoy the giant budgets of the movies we might see from Disney and from Marvel.

KEN: You know it’s interesting, a lot of us read historical stories like this, we read books. What does it take to convert a historical story from the 19th century into a movie and what are some of the considerations that producers have to look it?

TIM: There’s a couple on that one. First, from the creative standpoint. Even if something is non-fiction in real life, it’s no different than trying to go from a book to a film. You’re still adapting one medium to another. And one of the important considerations when you take a period film or a period drama, is you want to make sure that you give a lens, a contemporary lens for a modern audience to enter the story. We don’t live in past times, but we need to understand why we are interested in going to those past times. So that’s one challenge you look at and that’s where we get the fish-out-of-water element in this particular picture where you’re taking someone to what one would consider an exotic location at that time. It’s an uncomfortable place to take the character out of Victorian England and put them into 19th century China.

The other aspect of this which appeals to a movie-going audience is the setting and the background. Again, it gives us the chance to go into another time and place; sort of a vicarious experience where we know these wonderful dramas that we’ve all experienced in the past, whether they are on television or film, where you are immersed in a world, that seems to come alive, that we’ve only known or experienced between the pages in books. So when you see things that are historical photos and they are recreated on the big screen, it engrosses the audience and gives us a chance to walk in the shoes of the characters we’ve seen on the screen. It doesn’t come without its challenges.

Movies have always been a very expensive undertaking. It takes a large crew. It takes a cast. It takes a director. It takes production design and art design. And you have these specific challenges when you are recreating distant locations and periods.

You can imagine, it can be something as simple as – well, we want to show this city, but right now this city, of course, doesn’t look as it did a hundred or a hundred and fifty years ago, and skyscrapers and towers and all the modern amenities showing up in the background. We have to figure out how to recreate those in a compelling manner. Sometimes that’s done with visual effects and on computers, but other times it is done practically. And there’s many benefits from shooting practically on location, finding a location and dressing a set and using the art direction so that we are actually having characters walk in the setting. It replicates – it’s not going to be perfect, but it replicates – where our characters might have walked. And a producer, and a financier, often are meeting these challenges. It’s not just what’s on the page creatively, but it’s also what you can handle logistically. What is your budget incorporating? What can you afford to do? And you’re trying to make a balance between what is creatively on the page and what you can afford with your vision with what the logistics of your crew can encapsulate.

Crew rates are different all around the world. You know, when you make a picture in – California or Canada it’s different than making a picture in Georgia or Hawaii. And of course, that would be different than making a picture in China or Korea or Japan or Thailand or Australia. So, the producer has to weigh out the benefits, they make a cost-benefit analysis among different locations, where you’re going to be able to secure your crew and where the director is going to be able to get the practical locations they want to shoot. And by “practical” I mean, it’s really nice to be able to shoot and not have to build entire sets and entire – for this picture – villages and periods. Are there villages and periods which we can recreate a little more easily?

Where are we going to get our extras? Right? If we are going to need a get a lot of extras who are Chinese extras in the 19th century as well as Victorian English extras, it presents two sets of challenges for the producer and their crew. So you budget among different territories and find out where you are going to get your budget to stretch the most in order to maintain what you need creatively. At the same times, jurisdictions, not only in North America but all around the world, have awakened to this and they welcome films and filmmaking crews. One of the more popular things they do is they apply tax and other incentives to make their jurisdictions filmmaking-friendly. And there are a number of jurisdictions which I know Aaron is looking at for the picture around Asia where there are significant financial incentives available to bring a picture like this to their shores with wonderful crews and a wonderful opportunity to capture backdrops; practical backdrops which will make the film-making process that much more compelling.

KEN: Absolutely. And you mentioned Aaron a couple of times. Aaron Burns is our producer for the film. Aaron has done like seven movies and several of those are period films where he has personal experience of helping to bring stories from the past to a present reality. So, Tim, I just want to thank you for your time today. Is there anything else you would like to add that I didn’t ask about?

TIM: Yes, I share a soft spot for period dramas; one of my favorite genres to work in. I think it’s really interesting when the past can come alive. My favorite movies of all time are almost all period dramas and period movies and you know, with this particular subject, Hudson Taylor is so compelling, and people have heard about Hudson Taylor; they might have researched him. But this is a chance, a really great chance for one of those – letting the story from the past that we may have read about or seen a documentary about – get a chance to see a picture which allows us to get into his shoes, to witness his struggles and his triumphs, the ups and the downs, the journey. And feel, just feel that inspiration and be compelled by what he must have gone through with himself and his people around him when he was in China in the last 19th century. I’m excited for you and look forward to continuing on this journey and sharing with people as we go forward.

KEN: Super. Thanks so much, Tim.

TIM: Thank you too, Ken. We’ll see you soon.

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