The Thinkers Behind Screen Gems
by Michele Elyzabeth
This month, Screen Gems, a feature division of Sony Pictures, releases the romantic comedy “Think Like A Man Too.” Based on the first movie, the sequel is expected to draw a huge audience. However, as we all know, there are no guarantees in life and this goes as well for any movie. So what can studios do to increase their chances of making a successful movie? In my opinion, it all starts with a good story. Then you need great writers, a brilliant director, an outstanding cast, a creative editor, a talented location manager and the main person whose job it is to keep it all together: the Producer. Since 2007, Glenn Gainor, who presides over Screen Gems production department, is that person. He also has produced multiple movies for the company including “Friends With Benefits,” “Priest,” “Takers,” “Death At A Funeral” and “Obsessed.”
As a producer, Gainor is known for his innovative ways in production, using batteries over generators and plug-in lights that require no rigging, etc. His dedication to maintaining environmentally sustainable productions began with the construction of the super-structure built on Stage 23 at Sony Pictures Studios. It was repurposed on seven other Screen Gems productions. He is also a believer in implementing green initiatives in his productions.

A few years ago, Gainor met Brian O'Neill, a location manager who had recently relocated from New York to Los Angeles. Brian had a successful start to his career, quickly becoming one of the sought after location managers in Hollywood. His keen eye for scouting and finding new and different locations has contributed to his longstanding relationships with studio executives and directors. He distinguished himself in recreating “Miami” in Los Angeles for the hit series “CSI Miami,” which he guided for five seasons with over 100 episodes. With an impressive list of film credits to his name (What Women Want, The Glass House, Dude Where’s My Car, A Perfect Getaway, to name a few) Gainor approached him, knowing that he would be a major asset to his team. Their collaborations include “Takers,” “Think Like a Man,” “Think Like a Man Too,” and most recently, “The Wedding Ringer.” Sharing the same point of views and beliefs, a solid friendship developed from there. I met with both and immediately realized the synergy and the drive that they had in common.

For the past few years, it seems that you have been working specifically with Screen Gems. Are you an independent?
Brian: I’m independent, but Glenn has kept me under his wing at Screen Gems for the last five to six years.
I don’t hear a lot about Screen Gems these days. What is your role there?
Glenn: I’m the president of productions at Screen Gems. I executive produce a couple of movies a year, typically. Screen Gems is a division of Sony Pictures. Some people call it the genre label. It’s run by Clint Culpepper — he’s the president. He decides which films we’re going to make; we make 2-4 movies a year — something of that nature. I’m in charge of physical production for him. We’ve shot a good many of our films in Los Angeles, but we are also a global company. If the film calls for England, we’ll be in England. If it calls for Malaysia, we’ll be in Malaysia. It just depends.
Walk me through the process from the time your company decides to shoot a movie.
Glenn: Once Clint and the studio decide what to make, I help them figure out how to make it. It’s a very in-the-box job.
How did Brian come into the picture and what makes him different?
He’s come up in the ranks of Screen Gems; he was an assistant location manager with us, and when our mutual friend decided that he wanted to move on to try something else, I turned to Brian.
It looks like you favor Los Angeles for your shoots such as, “About Last Night.” In the film we discovered a nice side of downtown LA.
Brian: We showed that downtown is a nice place, and has a nice side. I don’t think a lot of Angelenos and, certainly, the world know that. With that movie in particular, it was a remake of a movie that was very much the heart and soul of Chicago. Glenn came to me and said, ‘We want to make this movie here in LA now.’
The original is one of my favorite movies from my childhood. As I teenager, when I saw that movie I loved it. And then I said, ‘Wow this is a great idea.’ We collaborated on it and Clint, Glenn and I collectively came up with an idea of an area in downtown where we could find a parking lot in the middle of it all where we could put all of our gear and equipment for our home base.
It was like making a satellite studio, almost. I had an idea — I said 6th and Main. It was a year before we made it or so, Clint, Glenn and I walked the streets and just had appointments to show some inside spaces. I had done some scouting ahead of time, but one afternoon we showed Clint everything we could do within a five block radius and he said, ‘Done. Let’s make the movie here.’ I was given the freedom to go to the businesses and make them a partner in the movie as opposed to just being an object or a space in a movie that we were going to fictionalize. We had done this one other time on a movie called “Think Like a Man.”
How do you partner with the businesses?
Brian: Typically, we’ll walk into the bar, and the bar is called Joe’s, and we’re going to call it Bill’s. We’re going to make it a fictional place. Well, we embraced the actual, real community that was there, and we went to a place — the Broadway Bar. That was the main hangout for the guys in our movie, and I went to the owners at the Broadway Bar, and said, ‘We want your name and your likeness and it’s all going to be portrayed well. We want to show your business as it is.’
In return they saw the potential advertising revenue that that would bring in and they gave us a better discounted rate, and were more open to giving us the flexibility we needed to shut them down. We literally had to close their business for four or five days, which is a large loss of revenue for them, but they were willing to do it because they saw the upside of it and how we were not only embracing that particular business, but the entire community of that area of downtown LA. And so the whole world will get to know.
Where is that bar?
Brian: It’s between 8th and 9th on Broadway, right in downtown. It’s right next to the Orpheum Theatre. And then Casey’s Irish Pub was another bar that we spent a lot of time in. And Casey’s was one of the first pubs, and it’s one of the only traditional Irish pubs downtown. It’s been there since the 60s. Most Angelenos have never seen it, and you would think that you were in Boston or somewhere else.
We went to basically each and every business and building. Like the Santa Fe Lofts is where one of the character’s lives. Pacific Electric Lofts is where another character lives. And we tried to make a postcard for the city and our motto with some slight exceptions was, ‘If you couldn’t walk to it, we couldn’t film it.’ From our parking lot that we found at 6th and Maine, if we couldn’t walk to the location, it was too far.
“Think Like A Man” had that too.
Brian: That was the first thing we did. I remember a conversation with Glenn and Tim Story, the director. We were in Glenn’s office and Glenn said, ‘Well, we don’t have a lot of money to make this,’ and Tim asked, ‘How are we doing this, Brian?’
That’s where we just collectively decided we wanted to go to the businesses and say, for example, ‘Hey we want to use Rush Street, the bar — can we use your name?’ and show that there’s some value in it, other than just closing it down and calling it a fictitious place. We made a postcard for Culver City and Downtown, partially. We had two satellites there — it was a little bit downtown and the rest was in Culver City.
As a producer, are you hands-on from the very beginning to the very end?
Glenn: I’m on staff, so I’m there throughout the entire process.
Are you guys working on anything together right now?
Glenn: At the moment, we’re busy trying to get our next movies up and running. I’m calling Brian from time to time, chatting about ideas, and we’re very excited about our next movies.
Can we talk about any of them?
Glenn: Almost. They don’t have the directors attached to them. They’re almost there.
“Think Like a Man Too” will be out soon. What can we expect?
Brian: If you have seen the trailer for “Think Like a Man Too,” that was another opportunity to embrace a different community — albeit Las Vegas. Glenn and I went out there a year ahead. Right after the success of the first one, the second they said, ‘Let’s make a sequel,’ we went out to Vegas and met with all the hotel groups, and wanted to see who would be our partner. And Caesars Entertainment came to the plate. They wanted to be a part of the movie and you’ll see it in the movie that you really don’t see the other resorts and companies the way you’ll see the Caesars’ properties.
Brian, I understand that you are quite involved in sports.
Brian: Yes, I participate in endurance sports, marathons and triathlons.
Does that help you release stress?
Brian: It’s my own personal therapy. I get to go out and run, swim or bike. I also like to swim with dolphins. When the weather gets a little warmer, there will be a group of ten or 20 —maybe a hundred of us, at times, and the dolphins come and play. It’s a good way to start the day. I travel with my bike. When we do a movie, my bike comes with me and you come in my hotel room, and you’ll see my bike, my swim gear and my running gear. You find and meet great people, and you also find that there’s no better way to scout a city that you may not know that well.
What made you decide to be a location manager?
Brian: To be honest, it wasn’t something I necessarily sought out to do. I went to film school at the University of Colorado. I happened to be still living in Colorado at the time, but I went back to New York for Thanksgiving to see the family, and I met a guy in a bar, another location manager named Sam Hutchins and Sam offered me a job on the spot, basically. And it was kind of an experimental job — he sent me to Harlem the next day. I went knocking on doors in Harlem, and for barely any money that day. It was basically pro bono work I was doing, but it was a foot in the door. It was for a period movie.
Are there some dos and don’ts when you look for locations?
Brian: Yeah, because there always has to be a light source somewhere. We have to be able to have that — whether it be natural light or a high enough ceiling to put light in. And it depends on what the story calls for. I mean, we can shoot in an incredibly small space if we have to, but the lens likes to see depth — the more rooms you can see into. The longer open space is typically what a director and a director of photography are going to lean toward, as opposed to flat walls with no light source.
Actually, your profession is quite close to being a photographer.
Brian: Basically we are photographers. That was my initial major in college — photography. And what I like to say is if we as scouts don’t stop and photograph it, the director never gets a chance to see it. The scouts go out and find a bunch of things, and bring them back to me, and I’ll sort through them and show the ones I like best to the designer. The designer picks his best and then we present it to the director and that’s the process. And then we take the director out to his favorites. Houses, especially, are always tricky. Sometimes we’ll have to look through 20-50 houses until we get the right one.
Do you have a preferred area in Los Angeles?
Brian: No, it really depends on what the story calls for. What we’ve tried to do in the last couple of films with “Think Like a Man” and “About Last Night” and some other movies, is to eliminate a lot of expenditure that doesn’t wind up on the screen. And what I mean by that is, every time you have to move the company from one side of town to another, that’s a lot of money and manpower and time and effort that never winds up on the screen.
So we try to get creative and think a little bit outside of the box, and find a place we can hunker down for a couple of weeks or longer, and find out how much can we get in the surroundings. We’ll look at things differently and fortunately we have a more open collaboration with the director and the director of photography and the writers and producer to maybe find something that it isn’t exactly the way it was written, but works to tell the story nonetheless.
Your profession is really different when you do film than when you do television.
Brian: Yeah, television is just about getting done. You have 7-8 days to make an hour long show. It’s more of a factory. Commercials are different, too. I do a lot of commercials in between as well.
Glenn, when did you become a producer?
Glenn: I became a producer probably about 20 years ago.
Was that your passion?
Glenn: It really was my passion. I was involved in the arts in many ways, but I always was told, through achievement, that I was best at putting things together, and at putting people together. I always believed that no matter how passionate I might be about a project — and I have been — that if I meet someone who has a project and has a group of people passionate about that project, and I like the project, it’s a great way to create a momentum. Hollywood is really about one person’s sole passion. A person has to convince others as well, and so I‘ve been very lucky to be with many passionate people throughout the years, and be a part of some great experiences.
Are you ever scared that when you take on a project, you may not be able to bring it to terms?
Glenn: Every project has its challenges, and I think about these movies and these stories every part of my waking life. Even when I’m home, I’m thinking about these projects. I will never forget a movie I saw, probably over 20 years ago. It was “New York Stories.” Nick Nolte was talking to Rosanna Arquette in the film, and she was thinking of maybe not being an artist, and he said something to the effect of, ‘An artist has no choice but to be an artist.’ It’s not something you do because you want to do it; you do it because you have to do it. And filmmaking is that to me. You don’t do filmmaking because you want to; you do filmmaking because you have to.
So it’s a calling?
Glenn: I really do think so. I think Brian feels the same way.
Brian: Yeah. It was said to me a long time ago, when I was in the business for a year or so, that if there’s something else you think you want to do with yourself, go do it, because filmmaking is everything. It becomes every bit of your life. And it’s not uncommon for Glenn and I to send a text or e-mail at 11 or 12 o’clock at night discussing films. He’ll drive by something and say, ‘Hey, do you know what’s in that building? ‘What’s it like?’ Or I have this idea of, ‘Hey, I just saw this idea that can work for this movie that we know we have in development.’ It’s constant and never ending. You can try to go home and shut it off, but that’s why I, for my own personal escape, go running, swimming or biking. Not that I’m not thinking about it, but it gives me another outlet.
Glenn: I took a class from Sony, actually, so many years ago and the teacher said the best thing to clear your mind is to shut everything off. The best thing you can do as a manager is sometimes drive home with the car radio off, because you need 15 minutes of silence.
What do you do to clear your mind?
Glenn: Whenever I can, I jog 20 minutes in the Hollywood Hills.
If you didn’t do production, what would you do?
Glenn: I would be in the entertainment industry. I always knew as a kid I was going to do something in the entertainment industry.
Do you write?
Glenn: I used to. I was a film major with an emphasis on writing, and that’s why I have the utmost respect for the men and women who get their scripts made, because I’ve tried.
Is there a lot of talent in Los Angeles?
Glenn: Yeah, we love telling our story in Los Angeles — you can tell that from our films. There’s no question about it. We don’t necessarily specifically look for the LA story because stories have become so universal that they really can be told everywhere. So we’re story driven first.
How do you see the future Brian?
I’ll be in the film business. I’ll be making films. Do I want to be a location manager for the rest of my life? Probably not. As a location manager, we’re kind of one of the other management and don’t have a producer title, but we’re dealing with, on a daily basis, the nuts and bolts of how the production happens.
So, becoming a producer is not that much of a reach.
Brian: That’s hopefully where we’re headed. Something I’ve always appreciated, but I’ve since had to learn and study and have knowledge of, is architecture. I find it one of the most amazing mediums in the art world. In my opinion, with all other art, you have a choice. You make a subjective choice whether or not to view it, enjoy it, see it, read it, watch it, or hear it. With, architecture you don’t. Buildings are there. They create your movement and your day. I guess you could choose not to go into a building, but there’s another building next door. They kind of force our hand a little bit, and there are so many stories about every building, if you just stop and look at a building. I don’t think a lot of people look up too much and they stay at eye level. At eye level, you have all these shops, but if you look up, there are all these awesome buildings.
From an architectural point of view, what do you think about what they’re doing to downtown, with all the new buildings coming up?
Brian: I think it’s great. The skyline needs to constantly evolve. It’s a part of evolution. If you look, the New York skyline is constantly changing and it’s been there a lot longer.
A portion of it doesn’t change though.
Brian: The old building’s stay, right? And then you build around. I know that the Wilshire Grand probably did need to come down, and what’s going to go in there I’m excited to see. We watched the whole L.A. Live building in the Ritz Carlton, and we actually were able to shoot there. That’s where, in “About Last Night,” one of our characters lived, and we made a deal with the Ritz. We were the first people to film in the new high rise.
Was that in Think Like a Man?
Brian and Glenn: Yeah.
Brian: That was Taraji P. Henson’s apartment. It was done and ready to be sold, and it hadn’t sold yet, so they let us come in there and we furnished it.
You got lucky; you were there at the right time.
Brian: Yeah. And a year ago we tried to go back for another movie, and they’re 99% sold now.
Glenn: It worked for them, it worked for us. We were very excited about that. I think what they’re doing is they’re preserving the pre-World War II buildings, and the ones that were up in the 60s and 70s, which may not be as architecturally unique. They’re adjusting…
They were not well made either.
Glenn: Yeah. There’s a lot of debate about preserving the 60s, 70s and 80s, but you have to ask, how is it unique, and how is it special?
Brian: Downtown LA has changed so much since I first came out here 16 years ago. The only people that ventured east of Hill Street were the homeless, and most of those buildings were abandoned and empty. Almost every residential building we filmed in for “About Last Night” were abandoned. They were just empty shells. And now there are all these beautiful lofts and all these beautiful spaces.
The city’s coming back to life in downtown, and they’re talking about bringing back the red car going up and down Broadway, and there are things happening. As you saw in “About Last Night,” there’s that park in that final scene — that big beautiful park in front of LA City Hall: Grand Park. We were the first film company to film there. We were the very first people to do any production in there, and it was well worth it. We debated about it. It looks beautiful and we knew where it was going to play in the movie and the impact it would have with LA City Hall in the background, but had a bit of an issue with the cost of it. Eventually we saw the value in it, so we went with it.
From the time we spent together, It is clear that they are both passionate about films and love the city of Los Angeles. We have that in common as well.