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An Interview with Charlotte Larsen

Charlotte Larsen is a producer, writer and actor. Her credits include, Auckward Love, Great Expectations, Gloria, and Human Traces. I spoke with Charlotte about her preferred role in the industry, the differences between working in LA and her native New Zealand, and her upcoming projects.

Did you always want to pursue a career in acting/producing? What was your first experience in this line?

When I was in school I did plays. I wanted to be an actor and that was my first kind of calling that I wanted to do something in the industry. Then I went to University in New Zealand. I went and did a film and theatre degree and wanted to be an actor and director, but when I left University I had my film degree. What do you do with a film degree is the question. So when I graduated I decided to start my own production company and that ultimately led me into producing because I wanted to make projects, but in order to make that happen I had to produce them. Acting and directing kind of fell by the way side a little bit. Then I kept producing, but I still wanted to be an actor and eventually that’s what I really wanted to do and what led me to move to Los Angeles. Go to acting school here. Now I do both, which is great.

You’ve worked across the board as a producer and actor. Which role do you prefer, and which is the most challenging?

I think they both have their challenges. Being a producer there are different challenges, whereas acting there are also a lot of different challenges, but you can sort of expect what those challenges will be because you’re focusing on one part, whereas producer is broader and focuses on all parts of production. Problems can arise in any department, any situation. Each project is different. It could be a legal problem, it could be a technical problem, it could be a problem getting your people to do what they are supposed to do. But with acting there’s a lot of challenges as well, because you have to, if you’re a good actor, really delve into the character that you are playing. You really have to try to understand what’s going on with your character, as well as with the story and the situation of what is going on. They are both very challenging, which is great. I love it. But they both have completely different challenges, which is also great.

What does the role of executive producer entail?

I like to explain what a producer does by comparing it to a project manager. A project manager has a project and kind of oversees everything. That’s kind of my broad generalisation. A producer does everything really depending on the project, depending where you come into the project, what part of the process they are in, everything from casting to finding the scripts, to working with budgets and locations and finding the money, or not finding the money. It’s really a bit of everything from getting the script that’s just been written off of the page and onto set and then edited, final cut and then you have the distribution, the backing as well. It could be five or ten years and you’re still getting money from the film hopefully. So it’s all just keeping track of everything and making sure that everything runs smoothly.

You’ve been producer on films and TV series, both in New Zealand and in the United States. What’s the biggest difference in producing a TV series and producing a feature film?

With a feature film it’s almost finite because you have your 90 minutes to put everything together from the story. With a series, and I’ve only just started working with TV series in the last few years, so it’s still something I’m finding my feet a little bit with, but I’ve discovered that because it’s a shorter film so to speak, you don’t necessarily end the story within the one hour, or thirty minutes depending how long the show is. There’s more room to explore because you can say to the writer, or the writer can decide that, I want to move this to later on so you don’t have to finish that story in that time frame. You can play around with it a bit and things evolve as they go, which is really exciting and really interesting to work with.

What’s the biggest difference between working in New Zealand and working in LA?

In New Zealand we’re very fortunate we have a film commission, so they are very supportive financially, as well as with afterwards supporting and selling and really just being a champion for New Zealand films which is really great. I think that’s very important, especially as we’re such a small country. It’s a very small industry, very small population in the country in general. It’s great to have support from our government. We have different arts bodies that support film and it’s a lot smaller in New Zealand, but then in LA there’s a lot more projects. There’s a lot more people obviously competing, but there are many more projects to work on and that gives you more opportunity. So whilst it’s really great to be in New Zealand and making films there, there are a lot more opportunities in LA to make things happen.

Do you still plan on working between the two, or is your primary focus on working in LA?

Ideally I’ll be working between both. I still have a production company and projects that are being produced in New Zealand, which is great. I’m in LA for many reasons, one of them is the weather and one of them is the opportunities here as well. If I can get a project that is LA, or US based, and a US production company, and they want to go to New Zealand to shoot their film that would be amazing. If I can get that project and film in New Zealand that would be ideal. I kind of like to go between the two.

I suppose with the current climate it must be quite difficult?

Yeah. I know that New Zealand has a lot of big productions going on and that they have started back up, and back shooting. I would like to be able to take projects here and go to New Zealand. So I think with the current climate that is very appealing to people because New Zealand has been very, I wouldn’t say lucky, but they’ve handled the world situation a lot better than a lot of countries. So it’s very appealing to people right now to go to a country where there’s not been any, I think 74 days of no community contamination of COVID.

You were executive producer on Auckward Love. Could you tell me a bit more about this?

It is a great series. A couple of friends of mine, Holly Shervey she created the series and her partner Emmett is one of the producers as well. They came to me and said do you want to be involved with this? I said yes, absolutely. Their work is great, I’ve known them for a long time. It’s just a very funny, quirky series about dating in your 20s in a city like Auckland (which is a play on Awkward). It’s great, a lot of awkward moments, dating in your 20s in Auckland, New Zealand.

It’s great to see more stuff coming out of New Zealand.

Yeah, as I said, it’s a very small industry in New Zealand. So seeing people creating new content and putting that out in the world is really great to see.

Is there anyone in the industry who has really inspired you?

Starting out I was kind of just inspired by anyone who was getting stuff out there. You know, ‘wow you’ve made something and people are seeing it!’ I think that was inspiring, especially in my early days when I started my production company. I’m inspired by so many people these days. My roommate and my best friend is a writer, Michael Benzaia. He’s actually working on one of the TV series with me. He’s very inspiring and it’s great living with him because we push each other every day to work and to create stuff. Being in quarantine with him it has been so easy to get up and start working on a project with him because he’s right there. Other people inspire me in different ways. I think people I’ve come in contact with have somehow inspired me.

What are you working on currently?

That series I mentioned is called Neon Lights. We were starting to get into production before everything shut down, so we’re hoping to get back into that very soon. So I’m very excited about that project. I have a few other projects I’ve been working on, with a couple of writers. This whole situation in the world has been a blessing in some ways because people are able to stay home and write. There’s going to be a lot of content coming out very soon. Once things are back to some kind of situation where we can start shooting things and making stuff happen. I think the next half of the year is going to be a lot of content and a lot of creating come out of what’s happened.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve had, and would you give this piece of advice yourself to someone pursuing this line of work?

Best piece of advice I was given was don’t do too much at once. At the beginning I wanted to do everything, this project, this project, and this project. I wanted to get them all done. I would pass that on too to other people starting out, that it’s really exciting because you’re really fresh to it and you want to get so much done. You don’t have much behind you, so you want to build your reputation and your resume, but I would say focus on one project at a time. When you’re more experience build to two, or three and build that way. Starting out I was told to stay with one project that you feel, depending on how the work is, this one’s going to make more money, or this one I feel more passionate about, but stick with one project and do well. Even if that means passing up opportunities that you feel might be where the money is. There will be projects which pass you by where you went, ‘gosh darn it I wish I had been involved with that!’ I still have that today, I still feel there’s projects that I could have been involved with, but I passed on and you feel, well I missed the boat on that one. But that would be my advice, and the advice that I was given.

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