|Producer Page Ostrow|
By Ed Rampell
The fact that Beverly Hills-based Page Ostrow is the daughter of two Holocaust survivors has contributed to rather than hampered her success in the highly competitive, male-dominated movie world. The profound life lessons Ostrow absorbed from her parents -- who met in Germany after their liberation from different concentration camps -- have served this producer’s representative well.
“Around 1960 my father came to Toronto without two nickels to rub together, and he went on to have the second largest manufacturing company of leather coats in Canada,” proudly states Ostrow, President of Ostrow and Company.
Ostrow developed the sharp, shrewd negotiating skills necessary for obtaining distribution for hundreds of films and navigating Hollywood’s shark infested waters by paying close attention to and implementing strategies she learned from her Dad, a self made businessman.
“I worked with my father for four years, learning how to do business the old school way, which includes having the long view of building close relationships with clients and associates,” said Ostrow.
But more important than the business acumen Ostrow accumulated from her family is the ethos bestowed by parents who endured Bergen-Belsen, Gross-Rosen and other slave labor camps. Indeed, as one of a handful of the film industry’s producer’s representatives, Ostrow is on a movie mission, using her savvy deal making skills to secure outlets and film financing for socially aware indie features and documentaries that might otherwise fall by the wayside amidst Hollywood’s focus on big budget glitz, glamour and escapism. Ostrow hooks up independent, hard hitting filmmakers with distributors who release their work worldwide on all platforms, including theatrical, television, home entertainment/ VOD (video on demand), Internet and all ancillary rights.
“We’re fortunate to represent quality films,” said Ostrow. “Films of conscience with cinematic vision meet with our commitment and strategy toward championing a new global reality”
The specialty cinema Ostrow and Company represents includes Juvies, a documentary about juvenile offenders tried as adults by what the firm’s website calls “a kind of vending machine justice.” The 2004 doc aired on HBO.
Heavens Fall is a 2006 dramatization of the infamous Scottsboro Boys court case, wherein nine Blacks were falsely accused of raping two Southern white women during the 1930s, starring David Strathairn, Timothy Hutton and Leelee Sobieski. Mohammed Gohar’s 2008 The Anti-Bin Laden is an award winning nonfiction look at the Egyptian televangelist and businessman, Amar Khaled, who preaches a moderate vision. Stolen Childhoods is a doc narrated by Meryl Streep about forced child labor. The firm’s 200-plus titles also include feel good movies like Dating Games People Play and Summer Dreams.
A day in this producer’s representative’s hectic life reveals her to be a whirlwind of activity. At her office, located a stone’s throw from Rodeo Drive, Ostrow and her team seem to need eight arms each to get through in-house meetings, nonstop phone calls and emails from around the globe. Ostrow works the phone with an ease Alexander Graham Bell would marvel at, negotiating contracts with filmmakers and distributors, navigating the finer points of a deal with studio executives to win her producers bigger payoffs.
The firm’s busy pace became fever-pitched during Egypt’s revolutionary turmoil, when Mohammed Gohar, CEO of Video Cairo Sat, made frantic long distance calls to Ostrow and Company, declaring that VCS’ “150 employees are holed up in my office for nine days now with the lights dimmed to protect from looters and security at our door protecting us. We’re providing satellite, crew and information to all the reporters from around the world here in Egypt. We’re currently missing three of our team who went out as crew to report and have not returned.”
The child of Holocaust survivors empathizes with the desperate Egyptian, and asks, “How can I help?” “Just watch our film,” replies Gohar, who, via satellite, sends Ostrow a link to The Last Breath, arguably the first documentary chronicling the events leading up to Egypt’s revolution and the people’s power revolt there. Viewing the doc, Ostrow and her staff are, she says, “amazed by the uncanny predictions detailed in the film which are now a reality in Egypt,” and the producer’s rep signs a contract with Gohar to represent The Last Breath.
Ostrow’s team includes 30 cinema scouts who travel the film festival circuit and trade shows all over the world, including Toronto (Ostrow’s hometown), Austin (where the South By Southwest Festival is taking place this week), the Bahamas, Utah (home of Robert Redford’s Sundance), the French Riviera (Cannes), Santa Monica (the American Film Market), etc. Every day there’s another film festival somewhere; Ostrow’s team covers most of them. At these venues producers seeking distribution for character driven feature films and socially relevant documentaries are encouraged to submit their work for consideration. An in-house team of executives review each and every film submitted for filtration to see which are suitable for producer's representation.
Those selected are then offered a deal in exchange for a retainer and percentage of business done by Ostrow’s multimillion dollar Beverly Hills outfit, which has access to film distributors in various mediums and platforms. Filmmakers may know their art, but Ostrow – who has worked for distributors such as Graham King (The Aviator; The Departed) for 10 years and on her own as a producer’s rep for another decade -- has the business savvy, contacts and database to ensure producers find audiences for their work.
But this Beverly Hills wheeler-dealer isn’t only in it for the moolah. Remembering her roots, Ostrow supports Steven Spielberg’s Shoah Foundation, recording testimonials of thousands of survivors of Hitler’s genocide. In 2004 she served on the board of directors of the National Council for Jewish Women, serving as an activist as well. Ostrow was also the first Hollywood entertainment executive invited to speak at the United Nations Film Festival in New York.
“The noblest search is the search for excellence,” Ostrow stresses. “Could I have made more money doing slasher films and movies with gratuitous sex and violence? I don’t even think about it; there’s many ways to make money. Feature films and socially conscious documentaries are the kinds of films I like to represent. I’d rather leave a legacy, change lives and have an impact. There’s an audience for these types of films."
Another Harvest Moon is one of these films. Starring Doris Roberts, Piper Laurie, Anne Meara, Richard Schiff, Cybill Shepherd and Cameron Monaghan, the film is scheduled for an April release in selected theaters. The movie deals with the circle of life in three generations of a family and stars Ernest Borgnine, who just won the Screen Actors Guild’s Life Achievement Award.
While growing up in Toronto Ostrow was bitten by the movie bug after seeing the 1972 anti-Nazi musical, Cabaret, starring Liza Minnelli, Michael York and Joel Grey.
“When I first started going to Cannes,” she recalls, “I brought with me the Time Magazine that had on the cover a Holocaust survivor in the camps behind electric wires, in black and white uniform, and it said: ‘Love Letters From the Camps.’ Even during the times of the concentration camps people actually sent love letters back and forth. And I thought, ‘If they could do that, and have hope and be brave, then I can certainly handle what any of the notoriously difficult Hollywood players or studio executive at Cannes can throw my way as a young woman deal making on the Croisette of the French Riviera.’ Courage is never letting your actions be dictated by fears.”
Page Ostrow has survived and thrived in Tinseltown, enhancing the cinema scene by championing the indie and the underdog.