Do What You Love: The Movie Producer

Ever dream about finding a way to do what you love for a living? In my "Do What You Love" column, I ask people who've done it to tell me their secrets. Here's hoping they inspire you to do the same.

Caroline Baron is the award-winning producer of feature films including “Capote” and “Monsoon Wedding”and is the executive producer of the recently released film “Admission,” starring Tina Fey and Paul Rudd. Baron is also the founder of A-Line Pictures, along with her husband and producing partner Anthony Weintraub.

When she’s not making movies for audiences to watch for pleasure, Baron is focused on using film to save lives. She founded the nonprofit organization FilmAid International, which uses film and media to provide life-saving information on HIV/AIDS, landmine awareness, health and hygiene, women's rights, and conflict resolution to people in conflict or disaster areas around the world. Using large mobile screens on the side of trucks, FilmAid presents films — and works with communities to create films — containing vital information for communities in need.

Baron is also the co-founder, with "Blue’s Clues" creator Traci Paige Johnson, of the new interactive children’s media company yummico.

Baron tells BusinessNewsDaily in an email interview how she found a way to do what she loves and offers some very succinct advice on how you can find a way to do what you love, too.

BusinessNewsDaily: Explain you what you do for a living.

Caroline Baron: I don’t make a strong distinction between what I do “for a living” and everything else I do. I am a producer.  I produce – movies, apps, stories, books, games, kids, dinner, lunches (the last three I do for free). And, I am the founder of a humanitarian aid organization called FilmAid International.

BND: How did you end up doing this for a living?

C.B.: I graduated from Brandeis University with a degree in English and no clear career path. I always had a travel bug and had spent a semester in Italy. Many of my friends were going off to graduate school. The first job I got was as a production assistant on a low/no-budget movie called “The Toxic Avenger.”  I was not paid for that opportunity until I proved to be a valuable asset to the producers and I was promoted to production manager. My salary capped at about $100/week. That job launched my career in film production. Since then, I have worked on numerous movies, TV shows, a couple of documentaries and I have traveled extensively around the world, almost always with a connection to cinema.

BND: What was the crucial decision you made that led you to this place in life?

C.B.: I was fortunate to have two children in my 40s. When I was nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award for “Capote,” I was 44 and pregnant with our second son.  I had an emergency C-section in LA 10 days before the Oscars. The day after the awards and five blood transfusions later, our son was discharged from the NICU.  The juxtaposition of those two life-altering events was stunning. I thought that the nomination and the success of “Capote” would automatically translate into financial security and that it would be easier to get films financed and produced. In actuality, the opposite occurred. The economy tanked, technology was altering the way audiences consume content and fewer independent films with midrange budgets were being made. I reassessed my priorities. I realized that I love creating and that I could create in other ways. I could take pride and enormous gratification in the collaborative creative process by working with other producers to make their movies and I could embrace new technology and start creating digital short form content. My interests also shifted towards wanting to produce media that my kids can enjoy. My husband and I are fortunate to work together. We have a complimentary set of skills that make us a great team. When our older son, Asher, was 2 ½, his best friend in preschool was the son of the creator of "Blue’s Clues," Traci Paige Johnson. Our kids were not watching TV yet, so we were not familiar with the show or Traci’s extraordinary talent. On a rare night out, my husband and I went to see “Pan’s Labyrinth” and ran into Traci and her husband Bob, who were also on a rare “date night.” Not only was that night the beginning of a deep friendship, but it planted a seed which is now starting to take roots in the form of a new kids' media company, yummico.  

I think we each looked at the others and thought, “Hmmmm, the four of us could make a formidable team of creators and producers.”  We agreed to brainstorm ideas. Then, one morning after a particularly difficult “night, night” with our kids, I wrote a rhyming book about putting kids to bed. I read it to Anthony. He said “you should call Traci and read it to her.”  I did. She loved it and said, “I’ll illustrate it.” That was a couple of years ago. Since then, we have developed four brands and last week launched our first product, an app called “Yummiloo Rainbow Power.” We’re thrilled that it is a featured app on Apple’s App Store.

BND: What did you want to be when you grew up?

C.B.: A philanthropist.  I don’t think I realized what that meant – exactly.

BND: Why do you love your job?

C.B.: Again, I feel that my job and my life are one. I love learning, I love people and I love to travel. It is enormously stimulating to collaborate with brilliant, creative people who are experts in their fields and people who are involved in a type of work that I would not ordinarily meet.  Depending on the project, I may be given the opportunity to work with an incredible visual artist, dancer, scientist, opera singer, university administrator, truck driver, crane operator, helicopter pilot, stuntman … the possibilities are endless. Our kids are a big part of yummico. They are our inspiration, our testers. I love that I can work with my husband. I remember thinking when we first decided to work together that there was no one I respected more in terms of taste and intellect. We got together on my 40th birthday. I enjoy creating with him, building a life with him – projects, children, birthday parties. We are very fortunate to work in a creative world that is limitless. There are no boundaries to what I can learn or the places I can explore or the people I can meet. Last week was a busy one for me. In addition to Yummiloo making its debut, a film I executive produced, “Admission,” was released and a multimedia project called "Dadaab Stories" (written and executed by Somali refugees) was launched by FilmAid.  

There is a saying, “if you want to get something done, give it to a busy person.” "Admission” was a wonderful experience. It is rare to get to work with so many talented and genuinely good people. I love collaborating with Paul Weitz. We have now worked together on two films and are in development on a third, an adaptation of the novel “Bel Canto.” Creating content and adding value to people’s lives is enormously rewarding. When we founded yummico, we did it with the specific goal of making “Delicious Media, Good and Good for You.”  I love being part of creating enjoyable experiences for people. I often think of a line from the Preston Sturges’ film “Sullivan’s Travels.” “There’s a lot to be said for making people laugh, did you know that’s all some people have?”  

In 2002, I went to Afghanistan with FilmAid and showed "The Wizard of Oz” to children who had never heard music, seen a movie or a photograph of a woman. Talk about a moving experience. 

BND: What's the biggest misconception about your job?

C.B.: I think the biggest misconception is that all movie producers are wealthy.

BND: If you didn't do your job, whose job would you like to have and why?

C.B.: I’d like to be in a position to execute ideas I believe in and not have to convince investors. Do you know someone who has that job?

BND: Do you think having a job you love has made you a better person in other areas of your life?

C.B.: Absolutely. I think the ups and downs, highs and lows and stress of production have helped me to take life as it comes and not to sweat the small stuff as much. But, I don’t think you necessarily have to LOVE your job. I think you need to understand why you are doing your job and accept that and embrace it.

BND: What's your best advice to other people who are trying to pursue their career dreams?

C.B: Do it.

BND: What's your idea of the perfect retirement?

C.B.: No retirement. If I am fortunate enough to have enough money to retire, I would like to continue working by helping others, however and wherever I can.