As a leader at the finance and production studio, Jill Ahrens of Argent Pictures is a big part of getting high-profile and award-caliber projects to the screen, along with a slate of very exciting films going into production for 2019. From her background to her career turnaround into filmmaking, the success her production company is having along with the multitude of projects in the future, Jillis becoming a major player in the industry. She talked to ProductionHUB exclusively about getting into the biz, the future of movie-making and more.
PH: Jill, Your career includes work in the real estate investment business. How does one go from that business to producing and working on major motion pictures?
Jill Ahrens: It might feel like a random career transition, but really the world of commercial real estate development mirrors the way films are put together. I was surprised at the similarities. There are similar pieces of the puzzle (debt, equity, forecasts, etc), and it’s your job to figure out how to make them fit while also mitigating risk and finding a path to success. But really it always comes down to making sure the right team is in place.
PH: What kind of obstacles did you face getting into the “business” not only being an outsider but an outsider that is also a woman? Or did that not matter?
Jill Ahrens: I didn’t face many obstacles while starting out and honestly, gender hasn’t affected my experience. In our company, I’m supported and respected.
PH: How steep was your learning curve? Did you inch your way or just jump in with both feet?
Jill Ahrens: The learning curve is and continues to be steep. At first, I dove right in, financing packaged films. Acting as a financier gave me access to the industry, the terms, language, responsibilities, etc. but I was an outsider. Learning from the outside had its benefits though – I could learn without the burden and minutia of production. Now, as a company, we produce as well, and I continue to learn how to develop, finance and produce from the initial stages of a project. I’m still learning every day and hopefully will never feel like I’m not.
PH: Did you have some help along the way (mentors) or did you have to go it alone?
Jill Ahrens: I’ve been fortunate to have access to experienced producers and partners from the beginning, which I recognize is rare. Everyone I interact with is a mentor of sorts – they all bring experiences from which I learn and most of the time they’re willing to collaborate. I am grateful that within Argent Pictures there are three of us that work together daily – myself, my husband, Ryan Ahrens, and our longtime friend and partner Ben Renzo. We truly enjoy what we do, and work never feels like a chore.
PH: When you were starting out did you find yourself star struck? Can you mention anyone? Do you have any funny stories to share when you were starting out in this field?
Jill Ahrens: I don’t have any specific stories to share but I do laugh at the insanity sometimes – whether it’s the scripts I read, the conversations we have about the “what ifs”, trying to predict audiences, or trying to attach talent to a project, there are just very creative, eclectic individuals in this industry.
PH: Did you ever have someone from the technical side of the business try to BS you with a lot of technical lingo?
Jill Ahrens: I’ve learned that typically those that talk the most have the least to say. Growing up in Texas, my Dad used to refer to the same situation as “big hat, no cattle.” There’s a lot of big hats in this industry.
PH: What do you see as the future of movie making? Is it always going to be tied to theatrical releases or more of the streaming world?
Jill Ahrens: Honestly, I hope it’s a combination of both. There’s nothing better than watching a great story with a group of people – you just can’t replicate that experience, the energy that is created. But, let’s be honest, there are times when I just want to watch a film or show in the comfort of my own home. The streaming world is here to stay - hopefully, the vast array of options solidifies our access to quality content, diverse content, and more satisfied audiences.
PH: Did you ever do a film that didn’t pan out as you planned? What did you learn from that experience?
Jill Ahrens: Yes, of course! We all have projects that for whatever reason just don’t work. The bright side of those scenarios is that there is a lot to gain from failure. Within Argent, we talk about risk often and we are always calculating outcomes based on various scenarios. This industry is full of surprises, so we try to consider those variables. But ultimately, I’ve learned that if you’re trying to force a project for others or convince yourself, it’s never going to work.
PH: You have some major successes under your belt. Is there any advice that you might what to share with other women trying to get into the movie-making business?
Jill Ahrens: Well, I certainly don’t feel like I can give advice to anyone, but truly the first step is to stop trying to do something; decide you’re going to do it instead. Also, practice patience. This industry can be full of hurried, insane days followed by silence. Be prepared to take 2 steps forward and 3 back sometimes.