An interview with film producer Kira Davis
Photo by Eric Charbonneau
Santa Fe native Kira Davis has built quite a career for herself since trading the Land of Enchantment for Hollywood. After graduating Magna Cum Laude from New Mexico State University, Davis found herself interning on a small, 1996 comedy called Love Is All There Is, starring a teenage Angelina Jolie. It was there she met the co-presidents of Alcon Entertainment and began working with them as an assistant. Since 2001 she has co-produced The Affair of the Necklace, Love Don’t Cost a Thing, Chasing Liberty and Racing Stripes. In 2005 she executive produced The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and became a full-fledged producer with the sequel The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2.
On Sept. 20, Warner Bros. will distribute Davis’ latest producing effort, the intense revenge flick Prisoners. This film stars no less than five Academy Award nominated actors: Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis, Terrence Howard and Melissa Leo. In it, Jackman plays a working-class father whose young daughter is kidnapped. With time running out and the prime suspect released from police custody, our angry protagonist decides to take the law into his own hands—with dark and potentially disastrous consequences. The film, which just screened to positive reviews at the Toronto Film Festival, marks the English language debut of French-Canadian filmmaker Denis Villeneuve (Incendies). Alibi took the opportunity to chat with Davis from her current home in LA before the film hits theaters nationwide.
This has got to be crunch time for you.
I think we’re just seeing the end of the crunch. It’s been a really exciting ride. We started out at Telluride right before Labor Day weekend with the film festival there. It’s always nerve-wracking to screen in front of an audience of real people and critics and all that for the very first time. [Prisoners] just got rave reviews, so we came away from there thinking, OK this is a good sign. I think we’re in good shape. But we’ll take it to Toronto and hope for the best.
And you just screened at the Toronto Film Fest.
We did. Last Friday. [Response was] great. Really great. We’ve had a real love of the film and super positive reviews. I mean, that’s not what it’s all about, but it doesn’t hurt.
You’re originally from Santa Fe. When was the last time you came through town?
I was there in July. My mother still lives there, so I go at least twice a year. I gotta get my food fix, first of all. Most of my really close friends are in Santa Fe still. So I get back as often as I can. Alcon, the company I’m affiliated with, they produced Transcendence, which stars Johnny Depp, this summer [in and around Albuquerque]. So I was able to go hang out [on set] for a few minutes. So it was a nice time to be there.
You went to school at NMSU and studied directing and theater?
I did. I just had always been passionate about theater. When I graduated a family friend was working on a movie in New York, and she was the costume designer. She said, “Hey, you’re going to be in New York this summer. Do you wanna come work on the movie.” I was pretty uppity, snobby, whatever you wanna call it about movie making—because I was in theater. I thought, that’s the real art. Movie making is not where it’s at. But I was a little curious. I was like, if you’re willing to give me a job, I’ll try it out.
I worked my ass off that summer. I think I could have made more money doing manual labor somewhere. I was living in New York making $300, trying to pay rent, trying to eat, trying to get around. I met Broderick [Johnson] and Andrew [Kosove], who run Alcon, on that movie, and we stayed in touch. I ended up going to work for them because I was moving to LA, and I had student loans to pay, and I didn’t want to work at the local coffee shop. They said, “Why don’t you be our assistant. We need help anyway. We’re getting this company off the ground.” So I worked for them. It was supposed to be just sort of a temporary assistant gig. I left 12 years later as the head of production and marketing.
Prisoners was the first project I took to them and said, I have to make this movie. It was just really exciting finally to get it to the screen. It had been four and a half years in the making. It’s a hard road. Movie making is not easy.
The job of producing a movie is nebulous at best. So give us an idea of what went into you producing this film.
My role? Well the beginning is that the agent of the writer sent the script, and I read it and really loved it. I took it to the financiers at Alcon and I said, I think this is a movie you guys really need to read. They read it and really liked it and set about to try and obtain the rights to it. It had been elsewhere and tied up in the “Entourage”-land of Mark Wahlberg and Steve Levinson’s company. It had been set up and disbanded, set up and disbanded, whatever. It was sort of in purgatory somewhere. Once I got it, we started putting it together in terms of casting and directors and so forth.
My job was searching for the director. So after much ado, I ended [up] seeing this movie called Incendies. It’s just a spectacular movie. That just hits you. Actually gut-punches you. But it had a sensibility—even though it’s a very rough movie—that I felt would handle our film in a non-commercialized, non-gratuitous way. One of the things that was important to me was I didn’t want to make a commercial thriller that was just a cookie-cutter version of what this movie could be. I wanted it to be an elevated version of itself. And Denis [Villeneuve] I knew had those qualities. We had been talking to Hugh Jackman a while ago, before we had Denis on board. So we sent the script to him again, and then the director and I went to meet with Hugh to try to convince him to do the movie. Which obviously worked.
I feel like a producer’s job is to get cast. A producer’s job is to find material. A producer’s job is to make sure it actually goes like it’s supposed to. So I was on the set every single morning, whatever the crew call was. And I went home with the crew. I was there 12 to 14 hours a day. I was involved in costume choices, makeup decisions, script changes, marketing, making sure that actors are happy and making sure that we’re gonna make our days, that we’re not going over, we’re not missing out on something, we’re not losing a scene. ... Movie making is a really tough business. You can go off the rails really easily. It’s just easy to make mistakes. It’s easy to squander time. It’s easy to have the creative not go how you want it to. It’s a really fine-tuned art. And it doesn’t always come out well. So it isn’t an accident that this film has turned out beautifully. It’s a rarity, but it’s not an accident.