Picture by Owen Zucker: La La Land producer Fred Berger answers a question from Emily Renner ’17.
Fred Berger is the producer of award-winning film La La Land and an alumnus of Mamaroneck High School. Recently, he returned to Mamaroneck to talk about his experiences at the school and his eventual success in the film industry.
Berger’s interest in the arts began as a student at MHS, when he took Photography freshman year. His real passion for movies began when he decided to take Video as an elective and worked for the local news station, LMCTV.
During his senior year, he took the class Art of Film, crediting the teacher, Dr. DiGennaro, with his eventual success. This elective proved to Berger that arts aren’t just a hobby, but something that can actually be pursued as a career. Unlike many other high schools, MHS does an amazing job of embracing and encouraging students to pursue the arts; As Berger explained, “I was very lucky to be a part of a community that fosters the arts and tells you that the arts are possible.” When asked about what he remembers from his high school years, he said, “I look back on high school and I feel really lucky. It’s a very formative time in your life and it can be intense. I had such good friends. It was a pretty great experience.”
After graduating from The University of Pennsylvania, Berger had already gotten some experience in the film business, interning with the company Big Film and working on Spellbound. Berger continued to take on new internships, eventually meeting Ross Katz, a young producer who inspired him to want to be a producer himself. At the age of twenty-seven, Berger took a leap of faith, becoming an independent producer and writing movies with Katz. These experiences were crucial in leading to Berger’s involvement with the making of La La Land.
Many obstacles stood in the way of La La Land. The story depicted in the film faced a lot of criticism, yet Berger and his crew believed that its potential was worth it. In total, the film took six years to complete and recently passed $400 million in profits. Berger explained that the first scene ultimately symbolizes the tiring journey in creating this movie; while it was long and arduous, the results trumped the challenges of the journey.
Although Berger knew he was interested in film during high school, he wasn’t sure how this interest could be applied as a real job in the industry.
As a producer, he is able to have an influence on every part of the creative process. When describing the role he plays in making a movie, Berger said that he is “a creative partner to everyone in the project,” working with the individuals and actors responsible for making it come to life. He loves being a producer because, unlike a director, he can jump among movie genres. Berger gets to see every part of the entire process without having the entire fate of the movie on his shoulders.
Being a producer, however, does come with risks. Berger explained that producers are not paid until a movie is finished, which can be an issue if the public does not respond as anticipated. That being said, he feels as though the benefits outweigh the potential costs.
Despite his immense success in the competitive film industry, Berger continues to hold onto his roots in Mamaroneck. When explaining how his career related to his experiences in high school, Berger said “It’s a very direct [path]. The things you’re excited about and passionate about now are exactly the things that define what you do later and how you do it.”
By Emily Renner and Rebecca Novick