Thea Kerman (second to left), director Afia Nathaniel (second to right), and crew of Dukhtar at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival.
New York Women in Film and Television member Thea Kerman recently gave an interview to Susan Modaress, another NYWIFT member, about her work in the industry—including as an entertainment lawyer and a film producer.
Why did you decide to join NYWIFT, and why is it important to be part of a professional network like NYWIFT?
When I began my career the motion picture and television industry was even more dominated by men than it is today. I was looking for an organization of like-minded women who would support each other and advocate for greater career opportunities for women. Although we have made progress on these fronts, there is still much to be done.
What made you decide to become an entertainment lawyer?
My mother introduced me to the performing arts by taking me to see Broadway shows and movies. In the summer before my last year of law school, I knew I had to decide what I wanted to be when I grew up. Based upon the love of the arts that my mother inspired, I decided that I would be an entertainment lawyer when I graduated.
During the last year of law school, I sent my resume to every law firm in New York and Los Angeles that had an entertainment law practice. My research and persistence paid off because I was lucky enough to secure a job with a New York law firm that did copyright and entertainment law.
What are the most interesting/difficult parts of your job?
Helping creative artists and business owners grow their careers and businesses by furnishing them with strategic advice, helping them structure business transactions, and advising them on creative, practical, and cost-effective solutions to problems.
How did you get involved in the indie feature Dukhtar, and what drew you to want to produce?
NYWIFT member Afia Nathaniel, the writer, director and producer of Dukhtar, came to me in 2007 to represent her in negotiating an option agreement for her screenplay that ultimately became Dukhtar. The option agreement provided that Afia would be the director of that picture, her first feature-length film. The producer held the option for five years, but, unfortunately, was unable to raise the financing.
In 2012, as his option was expiring, Afia was awarded a 100,000 euro grant from Norway’s Sørfund. Afia decided to use the Norwegian grant to produce the picture herself. I was originally engaged to be the production counsel on the film. As preproduction and production progressed, I assisted her with respect to many of the business aspects of the production and became a co-producer. Dukhtar is a Pakistani/Norwegian/U.S. production. It was shot entirely in Pakistan. It had its world premiere last week at the Toronto Film Festival and was chosen as Pakistan’s official entry for the foreign language Academy Award.
Is this the first film you’ve produced?
I was the Executive Producer of Doctors of the Dark Side, a documentary about the physicians and psychologists who designed, administered and supervised the program of Enhanced Interrogation Techniques used by the CIA and military to interrogate detainees in Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib and secret sites operated by the CIA. Former NYWIFT member Martha Davis produced and directed this documentary.
What would be your advice for up-and-coming producers or entertainment lawyers that want to produce?
Be relentless and never give up.
What’s next for you?
I am always on the lookout for quality projects, be they narrative or documentary, for which I can provide legal and/or producing services. I am currently working with a longtime writer-director client whose is writing, directing and producing a thriller that is a sequel to a television MOW [movie of the week] that he wrote. With the help of the WGA, I secured from the producer of the original MOW the reversion of the sequel rights to my client. This allowed him to move forward with production of the sequel.