INTERVIEW: Rose Ganguzza – The godmother of New York independent film

By Dr. Alan Carlos Hernandez on October 13, 2013


Rose Ganguzza with her son, Antonio Campos

NEW YORK (Herald de Paris) —  Rose Ganguzza is the founder and CEO of Rose Pictures and Fully Branded Media. Known as the “Godmother of NYC independent film,” she has over 30 years of experience in the entertainment industry.

Her latest film project is Kill Your Darlings starring Daniel Radcliffe. The film is portrait of the early days of the Beat Generation, a young Allen Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliffe) and William S. Burroughs (Ben Foster) become embroiled in the notorious 1944 murder of Burroughs’ friend David Kammerer by the object of his affection, the Beat muse Lucien Carr.

For Beat Generation aficionados, the 1944 murder of David Kammerer by Lucien Carr has always sparked a morbid fascination. Kammerer was an old friend of William S. Burroughs and Carr was a charismatic, transgressive figure who inspired many in this group of young literary iconoclasts. Amongst those who fell under Carr’s spell was Allen Ginsberg, and it is Ginsberg who becomes the hero and conscience of Kill Your Darlings – John Krokidas’s darkly alluring film about this formative event in the story of the Beats.

Ginsberg is played by Daniel Radcliffe, who embodies this young poet in the throes of a sentimental education. Ginsberg arrives at Columbia University and soon witnesses Carr (Dane DeHaan) reciting Henry Miller while perched atop a classroom desk. From there the two plunge into New York’s wild jazz clubs and wilder parties at the apartment of the elder sophisticate Kammerer (Michael C. Hall). Historic meetings with Burroughs (Ben Foster) and Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston) are realized with propulsive energy, while the relationship between Carr and Kammerer becomes increasingly precarious and uncertain.

Herald de Paris Deputy Managing Editor Dr. Al Carlos Hernandez, thanks to an introduction by Anna Wilding, had an opportunity to communicate with Ms. Ganguzza about her life and times.

AC: Tell us a little about your upbringing and your family. I understand you had a strict Italian father.
RG: I was born in New Jersey to Italian parents. My father had to deal with four girls – I was the oldest. He always told us that we could do anything a man could do and that we could succeed at whatever we put our heads to. My family’s business was a large chain of department stores in the Northeast of the United States – we had to start working at an early age and learn how to deal with people on a one-on-one basis. This is the best education one could have.

AC: Any memories of your tenure at Dickinson University?
RG: I had to go to Fairleigh Dickinson University because it was close to home and my father would not let me go away to school. When I got perfect grades in my first semester there, the head of the university called me in and asked me if I was sufficiently challenged. When I said, “No,” he allowed me to do what was called “Independent Study” and I was given a mentor. I basically made up my own courses and was able to finish college in three years with a perfect grade point average. Between the finishing of my undergraduate studies and my Graduate School at Colombia, I taught high school English literature and I began traveling to Brazil. My undergraduate studies were marked by protests against the Viet Nam war and producing rock concerts.

AC: How did you parley an English literature major (then a fellowship at Colombia’s School of International Affairs) into a career in film making? What skill set did you bring to the table?
RG:  I learned how to think creatively and how to tell a good story. When I finished my graduate work at Colombia I went to work for the Brazilian government office in New York in trade promotion. It became apparent to me that, once I convinced multinational companies to go to Brazil, I had to explain why they could not repatriate their profits because of the currency restitution of their soft money. Soon I figured out that the only way to get money out of Brazil was by investing the soft currency in something that was worth real dollars. A can of film qualified as a product with no tariffs and free exit and entry and it was paid for in hard currencies.

AC: I’m told you stumbled across film making while in Brazil. Can you explain? You helped bring Kiss of The Spider Woman down there?
RG: Kiss of the Spider Woman was a “debt equity swap” film with Brazilian money spent on production and then converted to US dollars. In that period many other films were made which followed the same scheme.

AC: You speak five languages. Which languages do you speak?
RG: I, of course, speak English. Also Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and French.

AC: What was the dream when you came back to the US and what is the dream now? How has that dream changed over the years?
RG: The dream has always been to leave a mark on the world and something visionary. When I was younger I painted. With film I find a bigger canvas. I just want to tell stories in a unique way that resonates with audiences around the world.

AC: What is it about producing that ignites your creative juices? Good and bad about being a producer? Do you write, act and direct as well?
RG: I have directed a documentary and, if I had put my mind to it a long time ago, I probably would have directed. When I read a script that hits my soul, I see it in all its dimensions and then I start putting flesh onto the bones. I did write when I was younger. I also acted so I appreciate the process from all angles.

I respect directors enormously and I love actors and what they do. The producer provides the balance beam between the two but must understand that film is a director’s medium. A good producer stays behind the director and makes his life easier. I do not think producers should be taking bows. They are there to silently support the creative process and if things go wrong, it is the producer who must take the blame. In today’s world it is hard to do independent films and often the producer has to work without compensation unless the film succeeds

AC: Is it harder to be a female producer? Do men in the industry discriminate against women producers? Is there a glass ceiling?
RG:  Just recently I had a financier say to me that I had broken ‘the glass ceiling.’ I was a bit taken aback, having thought that I had broken ‘the glass ceiling’ when I was the only woman in my graduate program at Colombia all those years ago. It made me think how little has really changed and how much women have to constantly prove themselves no matter how much they have achieved in their lives.

AC: You are acknowledged as one of the first women independent producers that really made a mark in the industry. When did you decide you wanted to produce? What were some of the first projects?
RG: I have always been producing something. I really got my start doing productions for the major Brazilian TV networks and in those days was producing a lot of new content. I did the first documentary about AIDS. This led to working with Jim Henson and the Muppets, and doing barter syndication deals overseas to get Henson Productions done around the world. When my son decided at thirteen that he wanted to be a director, I produced all his first films with him. Now he has a wonderful career and a great team around him, and so it has gone on and on…There are many women in this industry and we all work very hard.

AC: What was the exact moment when you realized that you could be a successful producer? What was your first big success?
RG:  I think the film Margin Call was the first time I felt that I could really make a difference in the feature world. I knew that I was capable of taking on the mantle of producer after that film instead of executive producer.

AC: You are considered by many as the ultimate independent filmmaker. How did you enjoin such a worldwide reputation and what are some of the films that put you in that position?
RG: I think we always stand on the shoulders of others. Since I had an international background and experience – when everyone else was just thinking that the United States was the center of the Universe – I was first in a lot of places that many of my peers had not gone. Now that the international markets are so important to our industry, I have an advantage.

AC: You have two very successful children. Can you tell us a little bit about them?
RG: My son is Antonio Campos, the writer/director. He won his first Cannes when he was 21 with a film called Buy It Now. He has a company with two partners. I just went to Karlovy Vary in the Czech Republic where they were given a retrospective of their last ten years in the industry and all of their features and shorts were shown and discussed. It was wonderful!

My daughter, Francesca Damato, is a successful businesswoman and an executive vice president at Estee Lauder.

AC: Has new media and You Tube killed the independent film industry? What do you think of new media, twitter, Facebook, You Tube, et al?
RG: I think you have to know how to use social media to your advantage. In tracing the new media on my latest film Kill your Darlings I am constantly amazed by the amount of coverage we are getting in all platforms. Today you cannot launch a film without all of this as a part of your strategy. Blogs, Facebook, Twitter…it is all valid and all necessary..

AC: Tell us about teaching at NYU. Do you incorporate new media into the classroom? What is it about the real business of filming that academic people do not know?
RG: I truly love teaching and most importantly being with young energetic and creative people. Hopefully you can keep them from becoming hurt by the industry and help them avoid the pitfalls. It is important to let them understand that the struggle is part of the process but not let it get you so down that you lose your passion. It is a delicate balance between complete despair and the brass ring that comes with great success.

AC: You named your company Hollywood/NYC Productions. Tell us about the kinds of projects you have done over the years. I understand you have many TV and live-action projects as well.
RG: I have done live events, sports, television, film, theater and music. I love live theater and I adore TV. It is all-important and I try to tell people not to box themselves into one medium. When you come up with a story, you need to consider all options for telling it.

AC: Tell us about your latest film “Kill Your Darlings” featuring Daniel Radcliffe, Dane De Haan, Michael C. Hall, Ben Foster, Jack Huston, Elizabeth Olsen, David Cross, and Jennifer Jason Leigh.
RG: This film was a labor of love. When I met John Krokidas he said that he had been struggling for ten years to make the film.. When I read the script I was determined to get it done. I raised the money and put together the deals and worked closely with him to bring in the wonderful cast. We all were into this with a lot of love and we came out of it still loving and respecting each other. This is the most important thing. I am very very proud of John and what he has done with pure perseverance, strong will, and enormous talent..

AC: I am a SF native and a student of the Beat movement. How much of the Ginsburg/Kerouac/William Burroughs dialogue is true to form?
RG: I think so much has been done about The Beats that we were running the risk of people not paying attention because what they have seen or read before. But our story is unique and really deals with them before they were famous, when they were students and around Colombia University. They were not yet formed, they were seeking their dream. This is a coming of age piece against the backdrop of 1940’s New York and a hidden murder.

AC: How hard was it to raise financing for a project like this one? What is your highest hope for this project?
RG: This was an extremely difficult project in terms of financing, but fortunately we had a script that was so good it attracted a wonderful cast, which then got the numbers we needed for the foreign markets. I think that the fact that this film was produced and is enjoying attention from every corner, then others can be inspired to do the same.

AC: What can the public do to support this film and find out more about it?
RG: The best thing to do is to go and see it. There is certainly enough information about the film everywhere. We are so fortunate that the film is receiving such a positive response..

AC: What are some of the new projects you are working on now and what are some of the projects you would like to produce in the future?
RG: My next film is  Mary Shelly, about the writing of Frankenstein. The script is written by a very talented woman writer – Deborah Baxtrom is absolutely brilliant. It is a wonderful gothic tale and am so anxious to start shooting it. It will star Hailee Steinfeld and Ezra Miller.


edited by Susan Aceves

Jim Jordan May 7, 2014

I went to SIA at Columbia with Rose & she was an amazing – and amazungly beautiful – woman even then. Her films are serious & beautifuloy made. Hope to see her again someday. Bravo, Rose. Much love. Jim

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