Robin Nelson Sweet (’87) has worked on the whole gamut of films: low-budgets, multimillion-dollar budgets, action flicks, ‘awards season’ titles, indies, big-name actor features, and the like.
After serving as unit production manager for “The Help,” which is gaining accolades during this year’s awards season, Sweet sat down to reflect on some of the more memorable moments in her film career.
On the tasks of a unit production manager:
Once the producers get the money and they attach the cast and they develop the script to a point where they like it, they work with someone like me who oversees putting the project together. I’m responsible for the budget, I’m responsible for scheduling, I hire the crew, I help pick locations — and so I’m responsible for the nitty-gritty of getting it made for the right amount of money.
On how a liberal arts education helped advance her career:
I think mainly how Wake Forest has shaped my experience is because of the liberal arts school. And I think that that was really important conceptually for someone like me who was encouraged to focus specifically on business and developing business skills … I’m very much a left-brain, right brain person.
On the being a business person in a creative field:
I started at the level I’m at now, obviously on much smaller projects, but I’ve always been the production manager. I never really started lower and worked my way up. And I think that’s mainly because of my business background that people felt very comfortable entrusting me with the money and the budget.
On the best part of shooting ‘The Help’ in Greenwood, Miss:
To be able to enter this small-town community and just live there for six months and work on this film project — that’s the chance of a lifetime. The community just welcomed us with open arms and would drop baked goods by the production office every morning. I remember I had someone I met on the street on a Thursday and that Sunday dropped off homemade chocolate-dipped strawberries at the hotel for me on Mother’s Day because she knew I must be missing my son.
On what surprised her most about the film industry:
What surprised me the most, especially because I started in very, very low budget movies — the under $8 million movies — is that you go into a film like “Knight and Day,” which has a $100 million budget, and realize there’s never enough money. There’s just never enough money. And the director is never getting everything he wants. And it really doesn’t matter if you have $8 million or $100 million — you’re never going to have enough time or enough money.
On dealing with big-name actors:
I think the hardest thing is to work with well-known or successful actors or actresses on smaller films because you don’t have the resources to give them either the time that they would like for their performances or the perks that they’ve become accustomed to. And that’s the trickiest combination. Sometimes a lesser-known actor is slightly more difficult to deal with just because they wish they were more well known. And the well-known actor can walk in and be so professional and gracious and humble and be completely at ease and easy to deal with. So it’s always a surprise and always a job in and of itself to attend to the cast and make sure their needs are being met and that they’re happy.
On the best part of having a career in film:
I love the people. I love working with the people. Every time you work on a film, it’s like going to war. For someone like me who’s managerial, I really get to work with people and work with the best of the best and learn from them. I get to work intensely with people over a short period of time. And you just walk away feeling really gratified that you have these relationships and that you worked together to accomplish something, for instance, “The Help,” that I’m really proud of.