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Producer Hadeel Reda

I sat down with Producer Hadeel Reda (pronounced Ha-DEAL RED-uh) June 6, 2002 at her Winchester Films office in Venice.

She arrives 30 minutes late for our interview.

Dark, tall and slim, with long curly hair, about 30 years of age, Reda makes a few calls and then invites me into her office. She puts one dog outside but allows another to play at her feet.

Hadeel sits on her couch and stifles a yawn. She's just back from Cannes. She pats her dog. She apologizes for being late. She's friendly and relaxed. She sniffles and wipes her nose.

"I get this cold every year when I get back from Cannes. I'm so run down. And I can't avoid it."

Reda grew up in Boston. Her father, a chemist, started his own medical equipment company which flourished. "I get my entrepreneurial spirit from my father. We were just getting by. And then for him to quit his job and start his own company, without knowing anything about the system was brave. I have an older brother who works in the same field.

"I went to Needham High School. It's a little town west of Boston. I wasn't in a clique. I was all over the place. I'd go from hanging out with dead-heads to hanging out with jocks, popular girls, stoners... I never had one group. I was voted most likely to become a rock star even though I wasn't involved with any musical activities. I didn't think I had any musical ability. I was always out front. I always liked to be on. Highschool was about figuring out how to get the best grades for the least amount of work, and have a good time. By the time I got to college, I was more serious.

"I went to Emerson College, a film school in Boston. At first, I wanted to be a screenwriter and then I quickly learned that I was a much better producer. When we had to put together our film projects, I was great at getting everybody else to do my work for me. I would get the best person who knew how to shoot, the person who knew how to edit... I found it was just a natural instinct to find people who did things better. I enjoyed creating a team and still telling my story. People would ask me, 'How do you get people to do your projects for you?' I said, 'They bought into what I'm doing because I bought into what they excel at. That makes people feel good and want to be part of a team.'

"After college, I worked for producer Dan Blatt. I was his assistant in Boston on a TV show called Against the Law. Dan said that if I moved out to LA, he'd help me find a job. He noticed that I had ability. He'd say things like, 'We need somebody to do the script revisions.' And I'd say, 'I know how to do that.' And I didn't but I would figure it out with a few mistakes along the way. By the time Dan would find out, I'd had already learned how to do it. He'd say to me, 'You are the best natural liar. You will either end up running Hollywood or in jail.' I was eager to learn everything.

"I moved to LA and Dan got me a job as a PA. Then I got a job as a casting assistant for Barbara Clayman. I realized that casting was not for me. I can't remember who all these actor's names are... My best friend, who I trained, is now one of the top casting directors in television - Jill Anthony. I had a tremendous amount of responsibility for a 22-year old. I liked making deals. One thing I couldn't do was remember actors from bit parts in television from way back when and put them together for a reading.

"After nine months working for Barbara, I moved to Disney. I worked in development for a year. It was a complete change from the pace of the casting world. Casting is go, go, go. Development is about waiting and giving notes and waiting. I got to Disney and I was so ready to go. I was young and full of energy. And to just sit around was not acceptable. I spent most of that year putting together proposals for the higher-ups to get transferred into Buena Vista International and move to Europe. Finally I was sent to Paris and London to oversee promotions. I liked being in Europe but approving Sinmba on Happy Meal boxes was not exactly my dream.

"In 1995, I left Disney to produce on my own. I spent a year going around foreign sales companies learning how the business worked. I got my own business card. I called myself an independent producer.

"Most studio producers have not understood how their films were financed. They just put together projects. They're on the studio payroll. I wanted to offer these producers the opportunity to hold on to some rights to their movies.

"At the IFM, I saw this film in progress called Courting Courtney, written and directed by Paul Tarantino [a distant cousin of Quentin Tarantino]. I fell in love with it. I had to piece together the rest of the financing. I made a couple of pre-sales. I sold the airline rights to Virgin and Paul and I put the rest on credit cards and finished the movie. We got some money from a sales company that ended up suing us. It was ugly. We eventually settled out of court. I realized that having control of the sales of your own films was a good idea. So I hooked up with Winchester Films to run their Los Angeles office. We produce, finance and sell films. It allows you full control over your projects.

"I helped produce Palmer's Pick Up, directed by Christopher Coppola. That film instigated Winchester setting up an LA office. It was Winchester's first US production. Gary Smith, who runs Winchester, called me to oversee the film. In a way, that's a good memory. But Palmer's Pick Up was a bad experience."

Luke: "I assume you were excited by the script. Did the director shoot the script?"

Hadeel pauses: "I thought the script had problems. I thought we could address them. The way that Christopher would talk about the script made me think that he got it. But once they started shooting, it became apparent that his vision of the film wasn't what we expected... Sometimes a director's vision can be much different in execution than how they verbalize it.

"With Courting Courtney, I always trusted Paul. He was always on. I had problems with Christopher. I could not get them to listen. Christopher insisted on final cut [having final say on the editing of the film]. If I knew then what I know now, I would have worked more closely with Chris to get a cut that would satisfy his creative vision and also be commercial enough to sell.

"I just worked on Scorched. I loved the script. I thought a two-year old could shoot it without screwing it up. I started seeing the dailies and some of the jokes were being missed. But once we got into the editing room, we created a movie. I brought the writer in. We all sat in a room for three weeks and cut the movie together. And the film works. It feels seamless."

Luke: "Do you notice people treating you differently because you are young and female?"

Hadeel: "They do all the time. Does it affect the ultimate outcome? I don't think it does.

"I've had lawyers say to me in meetings, 'Well, you're a smart girl, aren't you?' This is a lawyer negotiating on the other side of a deal who should be doing nothing but being respectful of the fact that I am going to be financing his client's movie. And he talks to me like I'm a kid."

Luke: "Ethnic reactions? To your name?"

Hadeel: "I get that all the time. People always ask me, 'What kind of name is that?' And then when you say you're Egyptian, they seem surprised.

"Last October, a friend of mine brought me to a party. And she introduced me by saying, 'Hey everybody, this is Hadeel. She's Egyptian.' And she'd never introduced me that way before. And the hostess of the party says, 'Really? I have this joke about Arabs.' And it was horrific.

"People want to know my opinion more. I don't have the luxury of being able to have an opinion because I can only have one opinion that is acceptable. I'm American. And on things like the Palestinian-Israeli issue, we're all divided on what's going on there. I can't express an opinion on it without seeming biased, but my opinion comes from being American, that's how I was raised.

"I was raised agnostic."

Luke: "How did you get mixed up with the Australian film Muggers?"

Hadeel: "It was another learning experience. It was project we did with the Australian Film Commission. The script was not ready for production. Director Dean Murphy and producer David Redman were insistent that they had to shoot this script.

"It could've been so much better. It was a great concept. It had two great characters. This is where if you spend more time on development it goes from a movie that is released and nobody remembers to a film that has longevity and laughs.

"I brought on two US writers to punch it up and they made it more laugh-out-loud funny."

Luke: "You were an executive producer of Heartbreakers. After it became a number one box office success, did you notice a change in how people around town treated you?"

Hadeel laughs. "Totally. This town is so fickle. There was definitely a change of attitude. It's tough being a young minority woman. You have to work so much harder than everyone else because they so want to write you off. 'Oh, she's only here on a fluke. She's some token hire.' That always amuses me. It's done nothing but help me become better at what I do. I'd like to thank all the people out there for being totally judgmental."

Luke: "Do you dream at night about winning a Best Picture Oscar?"

Hadeel: "No."

Luke: "What do you dream about?"

Hadeel: "The ultimate goal is to be so good at what you do with a particular type of picture is that everybody who works in that genre comes to you first. To become the goddess of comedy movies. 'Oh, that sounds like a Hadeel Reda movie.'"

Luke: "What are your strengths as a producer?"

Hadeel: "I stay optimistic because, let's face it, the whole business is negative. We're all tearing each other down. We step over each other.

"My biggest talent is that I can read people. I can read what they need and I can mesh it into something. I can keep things moving forward. Many times you have to tell somebody something that hasn't happened yet, and then turn around and make it happen just to keep the project going, and you hope that by the time they get there, it will be true.

"You say to the writers: 'Yeah, you are going to do the rewrite next week. Everybody loves you.' While the director is going, 'We don't want them to do anything.' You know you need both and you need to keep the project moving forward, so you tell each side the other side loves them.

"By the time they meet, they each think the other side is a fan. They fall in love for real and everyone's happy, until the next crisis."