In honor of the back-to-school season, ReKon Productions has decided to take the classic “What I did on my Summer Vacation” assignment and give it a little twist. Everyone knows we spent our summer working on productions, what they might not know is who we spent the summer with. “Who Spent Their Summer Vacation with ReKon Productions” is a five part interview series highlighting some of the cool kids we’ve gotten to work with these past few months.
Who Spent Their Summer Vacation with ReKon Productions Part Three:
Justin Bell, Producer
Introduction by Jon Michael Kondrath
Interviewed by Alyssa Bellia
I met Justin Bell on a project called Second Best, a USC short film that was directed by Jason Wong, a friend I’ve known since middle school. I had just finished working with Jason on a short film a few months prior, and Justin was working on Second Best as the producer, while also working for Edward Saxon. When Justin talked to Jason about needing some production support, Jason recommended he speak with me.
Second Best was a wonderful growing experience for me as a producer and it was shortly after that project that ReKon was born. I knew immediately upon working with him, that Justin Bell was a tremendous producer who had a love for story and fostering talent coupled with his generosity and good nature, which can sometimes be hard to find in producers.
Over the years myself and ReKon have worked with Justin on numerous projects, and have several more already in development. I’m delighted Justin continues to spend his summers with us (most recently working on Covergirl and SK-II) and I’m glad to call him a friend as well as a producing partner and look forward to continuing to work with Justin on the many great productions down the road.
Photo of the Crew on SK-II, June 2014.
What moment in your life first stimulated your desire to become a filmmaker?
When I was in high school Spanish class, I was assigned an essay. I knew if I attempted that, it could have ended up terrible so I asked my teacher if I could do a short movie instead. She said I could, so I made a Spanish-style soap opera. My teacher and class loved it, and I was jazzed by their response. This moment and wanting to engage an audience led me in wanting to be a filmmaker.
What was your first job in the film industry?
I worked with major studios on a marketing campaign to distribute movies to church leaders. I would watch movies, and use my judgment in deciding if churches would like them.
I also interned one day a week with Edward Saxon (The Silence of the Lambs). I spent 15 weeks getting him out of parking tickets and doing his laundry, but I liked him. Six months after my internship, Edward called me to be director of development and production at his company. The first movie Ed and I made together was Away We Go at Focus Features. That’s the movie I really cut my teeth on.
As a filmmaker, you sometimes have a style that blends faith with art. What is the hardest part in achieving this delicate balance? Has your background in earning a Masters in Divinity and attending USC’s film school greatly influenced this work?
Earning a Master’s of Theology from Fuller Seminary expanded my view and gave me a deeper understanding of the kind of stories I could tell. Knowing more about Scripture and Church history provided me with a creative well to draw from as a Christian filmmaker. I use this knowledge as inspiration to liberate my art, and in no way feel fearful or limited by trying to make art live up to faith.
Faith is not always the basis of my content, but even when it is not, I live my faith in the way I conduct business. I say yes to honesty, and I do my best to treat all people respectfully on set. Valuing people and humanity is a big part of my spirituality.
How would you describe your process in producing commercials versus a feature film?
Feature production can be driven by any different sources, whether that be a director, a studio, a producer, a writer, or an actor.
When commercials are made, the brand is the biggest decision maker. And more often than not, brand managers are not filmmakers and they need more help understanding the demands of shooting. The process for a commercial, however, is much faster than a feature, as financing for producing is rarely an issue.
How was it collaborating with ReKon on SK-II and other projects?
I love working with ReKon whether on a feature or on a commercial. The people there are great to add to your team and have a positive attitude, professional outlook and can-do mindset. I never have to worry about my clients having a good experience when ReKon is involved. I learn something new from ReKon every time I partner with them whether in the area of budgeting, getting permits or scheduling.
What would you consider the biggest challenge you have faced in the entertainment industry?
Independent production in Hollywood is very speculative, and can be tons of work up front. Creative pitches, development, budgets, and locations may all have to be figured out before a project is official. It can be frustrating to do this work and have the project fall through, but I have learned that this is not wasted time. It is actually a time for relationship building and an opportunity to develop your skill set. Actors go to auditions and do not get every job, but their time is not wasted because it is a learning experience. This is kind of how an independent producer must see their work.
How have your experiences been with film festivals?
There is a perception that your movie will sell when taken to a festival. Though this did happen for me with my film “A Leading Man,” it is more important to value the time meeting other filmmakers. Finding people there on your same level can lead to future collaborations.
In your opinion, what is the key to great storytelling?
A key to great storytelling is to push even further once you think an idea is good. Make it more surprising, and maybe even surprise yourself. Be on your toes when seeing how the story is moving and growing. It is always important to be open to discovery and to dig deeper.
If you were stuck in a movie what movie would you choose?
The Matrix! I would love to ride those space ships and test out some of those superpowers.
Are you currently working on any projects?
I am working on a feature called “Full of Grace,” which is a creative interpretation of Mother Mary’s life. It even goes into her relationship with the disciples. I am also working on a web series with Franciscan University. It is like Funny or Die with a Catholic twist. Funny enough, both projects are in association with Rekon Productions.
More About Justin Bell:
Justin Bell is a creative feature film and television producer based in Los Angeles.
Justin serves as Producer-In-Residence at the Act One Producing & Entertainment Executive Program, and is an AP Delegate of the Producers Guild of America. He is the former Director of Development & Production for Academy Award-winning producer Edward Saxon (The Silence of the Lambs). Currently he’s a creative consultant for Motive Entertainment, firm that specializes in grassroots marketing of feature films and TV. In 2014, Bell also helped Roma Downey and Mark Burnett’s Lightworkers Media oversee the distribution of Son of God, an epic Christ film distributed by 20th Century Fox, which has grossed over $60M to date. He is also Co-Producer of BAFTA-winner Michael Radford’s Elsa & Fred, starring Academy Award-winners Shirley MacLaine and Christopher Plummer, which Millennium Entertainment will release fall 2014. Justin is the Producer of writer/director Steven Kung’s A Leading Man, a feature film that premiered at Hawaii International Film Festival and will be in theaters Fall 2014 through Mance Media.
In addition to narrative film and TV, Bell specializes in producing commercials,live events, conferences, and content for non-profit organizations. Bell is a former producer of the City of the Angels Film Festival and Reel Spirituality Conference, both held at the Directors Guild of America.
Justin earned his MFA in Motion Picture Producing at the Peter Stark Producing Program at USC. He also has an MDiv from Fuller Theological Seminary, and holds a B.A. from Wheaton College in Illinois.