The new Great Guns MD and EP for the US speaks to Addison Capper about how Covid-19 is re-shaping the directorial market and how a catering qualm led to a friendship with Madonna
Oliver Fuselier was a self-proclaimed late bloomer in the production industry, at least when it came to standing behind the camera. His early career sights were more focused on performing in front of it. He first landed in Hollywood to be a dancer and actor but after one too many rejection letters he set his sights on producing. He's always been a control freak, a bit bossy and very organised so being a producer seemed like the role that suited him. Sorry producers, those are his words, not ours.
Anyway, fast forward to now and his career has involved being David Fincher's producer, becoming mates with Madonna, and bonding with Aretha Franklin over the love of a good cigarette. He's worked with the likes of Michael Bay, Danielle Levitt, Alma Har’el, Jaci Judleson and Mike Mills. He's been a managing partner at Tool of North America and most recently served as MD, partner and strategic consultant at Keeper. He's also a keen advocate for the next generation and diversification of talent, in a way that goes beyond merely saying so.
He also has a new job. Earlier in July he joined international production company Great Guns as its managing director and executive producer of the United States. LBB's Addison Capper caught up with him to find out what tempted him to move, how Covid-19 is re-shaping the directorial market, and how a catering qualm led to a friendship with Madonna.
LBB> Congratulations on the new role! What was it about the opportunity at Great Guns that was too good to pass up?
Oliver> Laura [Gregory - founder of Great Guns] and I knew of each other but had not really met in person. It just so happens that we met in October of 2019 while we both were judges at the LIAs (London International Awards) in Las Vegas. I saw her sitting having coffee with another colleague as I was walking to day one of judging. I stopped and we had a moment and I must admit that I thought to myself as I walked away, “what a great opportunity” but I didn’t say anything at the time. Sometimes, life gives you an opportunity, it’s right in front of you and then for some reason the time comes and you don’t seize the moment. You walk away and think, ‘I should have said something’ and yet you keep walking.
A couple of months after meeting Laura, I got a call from a friend who asked me if I was interested in talking to Great Guns. Well even though that first opportunity that we talked about didn’t work out, this one did.
It was then that I really realised the opportunity was too good to pass up. I was being offered a role that would use every ounce of the knowledge, experience, connections, passion and fight in me - to elevate Great Guns’ brand and business in the USA. Now don’t get me wrong, GG has a good name in the US but they are more successful globally, known for their great creative and diverse talent internationally. I feel that in the US, Great Guns is somewhat of a diamond in the rough and I believe that I am the right person with the vision needed to lead us out of the pandemic and into a successful future and shine as bright as any diamond out there!
LBB> What are your main aims for the rest of the year?
Oliver> Starting a new role during a pandemic creates its own challenges and they are big. There are a lot of details that need to be considered when restructuring and reorganising a company. My aim is to make sure that I am building and fortifying a solid foundation that will allow us to focus on clients and agencies for the rest of the year and completely be ready to charge come 2021. We are of course busy with projects, just like the rest of the A-List companies, so there is that!
LBB> A unique aspect to Great Guns is that it's a global business with offices all across the world. What impact do you think this is going to have on your role and the opportunities it presents?
Oliver> The great thing about Great Guns is that we can tap into amazing talent from all over the world. I think the US has historically struggled to diversify its perspective and often works with the same tried and tested directors because they are a safe bet. We can offer them new, raw original thinking as well as hugely experienced talent that can help them break this mould.
We have directors on the US roster that are ex-creatives, are writers, are creative thinkers and can help ideate, or come up with topline potential ideas to help solve client’s business problems.
LBB> How did you get into this industry in the first place? Was it part of a plan or more a happy accident?
Oliver> It was an accident of sorts. I came to Hollywood to be a dancer and an actor. After many years of more rejection than paying jobs, I decided to go behind the camera to see if I could make a living there. I’ve always been a control freak, a bit bossy and very organised so being a producer seemed the most appropriate position for me. I set that as my goal. I was a late bloomer in this situation. I woke up the next day after my 30th birthday and decided then that I can’t put on another pair of tights and jazz shoes to audition for another commercial any longer. So, I put away the tap shoes and tights, pulled out some jeans, a pressed white shirt and a pair of Jack Purcells and looked for a job at a production company. I didn’t really even know what a production company was at the time or what the path to line producing looked like. I learned fast. I picked up Variety and the Hollywood Reporter and I found a job posting for an office coordinator and a receptionist position. I landed the receptionist role with the understanding that I would work for six months and then move up. Well, it happened like I planned.
LBB> Tell me more about that first role in production and your first impressions of the industry.
Oliver> It really was my first real job of note and I remember thinking how exciting the world of production was. The directors were so cool and the producers were calm, collected and smart. I knew that this was for me and that I had to keep my ears, mind and heart open. I had to say yes to every opportunity that came along until I became a producer. I was promoted within six months of joining the company to a production assistant. I stayed in that position as PA-assistant coordinator for a little over six months and became a coordinator. I never took my position for granted at any level because I felt so honoured to be let into this business in the first place. I worked very hard with a laser beam focus to become the best producer I could. Shortly after the six months I got an offer to production manage for a line producer that was working with a new company called Propaganda Films. The director was David Fincher and it was a music video for Paula Abdul called ‘Cold Hearted Snake’. 12 months later I started producing for David. I have to admit I owe a lot to David. Working with him opened a lot of doors for me and helped me to get to where I am today.
LBB> Which piece of work from your career are you most proud of and why?
Oliver> C21 Restaurant for the National Down Syndrome Society holds a special place in my heart. This project was incredible from the start. At the time, Saatchi & Saatchi CCO Javier Campopiano had a real passion for the project. So, I jumped on and got behind it right away. It was a true collaboration between a production company with a talented director and the agency working with the client towards one common goal. That goal was to make an ad that affected a change in the law regarding people living with Down Syndrome, their health and work. The director, Danielle Levitt, brought such a great vision. With my support she created a pop-up restaurant in Washington DC run solely by a Down Syndrome staff. The rest, as they say, is history. The bill was passed and the C21 law was rescinded. I will always champion the underserved, the underprivileged and the voiceless. I will always look for the human-centred story. I will always be grateful for opportunities that come to me from great creatives like Javier and his team.
LBB> You're passionate about nurturing young talent and “taking chances on the new, the unknown, the up and comers, the yet to be discovered”. Given the situation that the world is in now, and the diminished opportunities for internships, hiring, shooting, etc. - what are your thoughts on the discovery of new talent in 2020?
Oliver> I think finding talent in general takes a keen eye and a gut instinct that allows the finder the ability to foresee a kind of future ‘talent output’ of that talent. But in today's situation it could be one step harder. Covid has added a very real competitive appetite for the established director, with a reservation about the young newcomers. What do I mean by that? Being in isolation and having to produce projects remotely limits the amount of work and the type of work being created. There are a lot of A-list directors available for work and there are fewer jobs to be had. Finding projects that can support the young talent and their reel is going to be harder. But, in some cases, as more projects increase I think it will help reveal who will be the talent of the future.
I think there is a lot of fear on everyone's part, and rightly so. The production companies, the agencies and clients as well. We all need to be open to the opportunities that come to us everyday. Taking the time to assess what it is that is needed and be realistic about which talent you share with the agency for any given project is still a priority. Don’t waste people's time but dare to push the envelope a bit. Give it your best pitch to get your talent, young, new, inexperienced or not, into the mix. We have to be fearless! And smart leaders look beyond their comfort zone, beyond people like themselves to source from a diverse talent pool. We need to overcome our cognitive bias of self-selecting people who remind us of ourselves, and open our eyes to the myriad of different perspectives.
LBB> Another question with the current state of the world in mind - how do you see the future for the production industry? Will this pandemic change the way you work forever?
Oliver> The thing about production is that you are constantly facing new, big challenges. As a producer it's your job to always be ready to adapt, to think your way around something new and to find a positive outcome for you and your clients. I think most producers who love their jobs love it because every day is different, every shoot is different. We are true ‘multi solutionites’. If we don’t know it we will find out everything about it. Post-Covid it certainly will continue to be so. As mentioned, I think it will be more competitive than ever out there for production companies and their clients - and especially for young directors. But I hope that as we are all challenged to take more creative risk and push the boundaries of what we can achieve, that my job will become more exciting than ever - but maybe with a lot more video calls!
LBB> I think producers have often got the best stories to tell - have you ended up in any particularly hairy or memorable scenarios during your career?
Oliver> I have to tell you about the first time I met Madonna. We were on the shoot for the music video for Oh Father. It was day one of the shoot and we broke for lunch. We were shooting a massive snow scene with a young girl playing a young Madonna. We were 30 minutes in and I noticed the queue of crew waiting at catering was still massive. You have to run a tight ship at lunch because if you go over time the charges can be huge. I grabbed my walkie and headed to the front of the line to see what was going on. And there was Madonna, poking her finger into the salad dressing, one at a time and tasting it. I said, “what are you doing? You know if we go over we have to charge you right?”
“I want fat free,” she told me. So to speed things up I tasted the lot, found the fat free and said, “I’ll send it straight to your trailer.” Not many people stand up to Madonna, hence the queue, but she loved the fact that I did. We became fast friends after that and worked on two or three more videos together that year. She also once sang Happy Birthday to me on a shoot… but that is a whole other story!
On my first job as a production assistant I was sent on the road to shoot a Target commercial in Detroit with Miss Arethea Franklin as the star. She took a liking to me and asked the director if I could play the role of the taxi driver. I think it was because I smoked and she liked having the company. Ha!
LBB> What do you get up to when you're not working? Do you have any hobbies or quirks that keep you busy?
Oliver> I love two things outside of work that are my go to emotional, physical and creative rechargers: tennis and buying and renovating real estate. They are both in my blood. During Covid, I’ve been watching old matches from all four tennis majors. I mean, I watch them as if it were live at that moment including screaming, tears, standing up for great shots… really! And to be honest the house that I leased in New Port Richey, FL in March, just days before the quarantine started, I’ve decided to purchase. So, I am in escrow and in the process of developing a design plan for the house. Most likely, I will start renovations in September or October. I am excited about so many things right now.