Providence Day grad climbs Hollywood ladder

Norman says the company “has never bought a script that’s already a 10: Writers always have to make revisions, so we’re looking for high potential.”
Norman says the company “has never bought a script that’s already a 10: Writers always have to make revisions, so we’re looking for high potential.”

Wanted: The diplomatic skills of an ambassador, secrecy of a cardinal choosing a pope, stamina of an Olympic marathoner, appetite for film of a Parisian grad student, speed-reading skills of a court stenographer, self-effacing nature of Queen Elizabeth’s butler and optimism of a revivalist.

You can’t have the position right now, because Andrew Norman occupies it. But if things go as hoped, it’ll open up, as the Providence Day alum continues up the Hollywood ladder toward his goal: producer.

He works for Original Film, where producer Neal Moritz oversees the billion-dollar “Fast and Furious” and “Jump Street” franchises.

Norman’s official task as story editor is to study up to 30 scripts a week to find one (if there’s even one) that Original ought to turn into a picture. He’s also expected to sort through an infinity of books, articles and unpublished manuscripts to locate a winner. All the while, he helps prepare projects, including the upcoming drama “Passengers” with Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence.

At 29, he gets tired – but never tired of his job.

“A lot of my friends think I’m insane,” he says. “I have coffees with writers planned for a month and a half out. I have drinks and dinners planned for the next three to four weeks. On weekends, I’ll have coffee or meetings with directors or writers. I am constantly trying to meet new people and maintain the relationships I have. When I have a day without anything scheduled, I get mad at myself, because I’m not using the time.”

Moritz, whom the Hollywood Reporter described last fall as the highest-paid producer in the industry, admires his work ethic and judgment.

“For the kind of hours people work in Hollywood, you really have to be enthusiastic and love movies,” he says. “We are all searching for a needle in the haystack, and we have to sift through a lot of crap. To move up the ladder, you have to find material that turns into movies before anybody else does. You have to keep your fingers to the keyboard, because it can come from anywhere. He’s like a truffle-hunting dog: He’s resourceful, and he can find that material.

“Producers straddle the business world and the creative world. (A movie) should satisfy me and the audience, but I also have to have an acumen about what’s business and what’s art. He’s very adept at that. I could see him taking my job in another five years.”

Chasing his destiny

That would surprise no one who knew the kid who “always did entrepreneurial-type things. At 7 years old, I would create a restaurant in my bedroom and have parents and friends over for paper pancakes. Once I built an ‘amusement park’ with boxes and a pinball machine. I tried to do things bigger than I could have accomplished.”

At Providence Day, music seemed to be his future. He took the drum kit he got for his bar mitzvah – he sometimes played during services at Temple Beth El – and created the jazz-rock band 3HourCrowd. He saved money as a Harris Teeter bagger-cashier to convert the bonus room in his parents’ house into a recording studio. “If I’d had me as a kid, I’d have killed me,” he says, laughing.

But Gordon Bynum’s “Media in the 20th and 21st Centuries” course diverted his aim.

Students critically analyzed TV ads – camera angles, camera movement, the role of music and lighting in shaping a message – and went on to political ads and news stories. Eventually, they created videos to mimic each unit.

“Andrew was really effective at analyzing video,” says Bynum. “I recruited him for the class because I knew he had done a fair amount of audio production, and he applied that same enthusiasm to video production ... Lighting, camera angles and rapid edits in Andrew’s ‘Behind the Music’-(style) video were really impressive.”

Epiphany number two came when he entered UNC-Asheville to study music technology but took a film genres course. “My favorite movies were ‘Speed 2,’ ‘Die Hard 3’ – not the originals, just the sequels. I had terrible tastes. ‘My Darling Clementine’ was on the syllabus, and I thought “This is a Western from the 1940s in black and white. I don’t want to watch this!’ But by the time it was over, I was caught up in it.”

He realized two things: He cared about criticism and film appreciation, but he didn’t love putting a movie together in terms of finding locations and working on a set.

“It doesn’t really matter where you go to school,” he says now. “That’s a cliché, but it’s true. It’s about who you know and knowing how to sell yourself. And luck falls into it somewhere.”

His luck changed when he moved west. A Best Buy job paid his bills, but he won a 2010 internship with the talent and literary agency Verve. He served as a clerk, watching how deals were made: “You have to be so on point when you talk to agents. Every conversation has a goal, a purpose. An agency takes calls every two seconds.”

An upward path

Norman followed chaos with Chablis.

He’d heard about a job assisting a director’s manager but ended up assisting the director instead. He worked for Mikael Håfström on “The Rite” and “Escape Plan” in a gig that covered “the entire spectrum, from helping with his kids to taking him to doctors’ appointments to getting him to meetings – but also reading scripts he received for consideration,” says Norman. “We’d hang out in his backyard in Santa Monica, drinking wine.

“He very much values assistants’ opinions; you almost become part of the family, because you’re so interwoven with their day-to-day life.”

He realized more than ever how much he enjoyed plowing through scripts. And he learned a vital truth: “Getting that job was about who I knew. I have never once gotten a job through a posted list.”

Sure enough, after Håfström moved his family to London, a friend tipped Norman that producer Ori Marmur needed an aide at Original. Norman watched Marmur’s previous work (including “The Green Hornet” and “Battle Los Angeles”) and even got access through friends to projects Marmur was still working on.

Norman got the job and his first real glimpse of a producer’s world in 2013.

A typical (wild) workday

He rises at 6 to hit the gym or hit more scripts, from unsolicited online submissions to slips (watermarked copies of screenplays whose agents expect to spark bidding wars).

After consuming smoothies or eggs – “the easiest things to make, and filling after 15 years of Reese’s Puffs” – he gets to the office soon after 8 to start fielding the 30 meaningful e-mails and 50 to 60 phone calls he might handle in a day.

Marmur’s usually in by 9. If not, he’ll call in by 9:10 to ask “Who do I owe?” Norman will connect him remotely to people that matter.

“They accomplish a lot on the road or en route to meetings,” says Norman. “Almost everyone in my business listens in on bosses’ phone calls. Every call I place, I’m on there, muted. There are two reasons for that. First, if Ori’s talking to an agent who wants to put a director on a project and gives Ori a list, Ori wants me to get all that and pick out people he wants me to meet with.

“The second reason is for assistants to learn. So much business is done over the phone. When agents submit scripts, there’s almost never a face-to-face meeting. I’ll read it. Then Ori reads it, if there’s something I like. Then attorneys negotiate over the phone. For something confidential – maybe 5 percent of the calls – a caller will say, ‘Have your assistant jump off,’ and I do. Ori is a good people person. He can deal with the crazier ones and calmer ones, so he’s a model for me to observe.”

Because Marmur has a wife, three kids and maybe 20 projects in the hopper, he trusts Norman to decide whether a script might turn into a viable project for Original.

The veteran Moritz says that can be a tough call for someone as young as Norman: “Junior executives have a tendency to get excited about a lot of different things. There needs to be a filter that lets you go to bat for things you really care about and exercise restraint over things you kind of care about. But I’ll take enthusiasm and passion every time.”

Why people take to him

Mark Freiburger, a former Charlottean who has produced half a dozen feature films, says Norman “possesses the rare combination of excellent story sense, business acumen and a genuine passion for films and storytelling. He also has the kind of patience and intangible skills a good producer needs to deal with artists or entertainers. And in this industry, that is a skill very few people have learned to develop well.”

Gordon Bynum talks about Norman’s wry humor – “I’ve always sensed a similarity between him and Larry David” – and kindness: Norman has lent his senior video project from UNC-Asheville to Bynum’s Providence Day class and will Skype with that group in the fall. He is, after all, where some of them long to be.

Yet tenacity may be his main asset.

Short-term, he aims to help Marmur in any way necessary with “Passengers,” in which Pratt and Lawrence play voyagers on an interstellar journey who awaken from cryogenic sleep years before they’re meant to. (It goes into production soon in Atlanta. Why there? Tax incentives.)

Longer-term, he’d like to be a “creative executive” in charge of his own schedule, interfacing more directly with agents and managers to put packages together. Longest-term, he aims to “start my own company, whether it’s me and three other people or the size of Original (which has a dozen employees).”

And in the interim, he occasionally remembers to sleep. He aims to get six to seven hours, going to bed before midnight and getting up at 6, “although I do keep an iPad by my bed.

“Sometimes I wake up and find it lying on my face from the night before, when I passed out. I pick it up off my face and start right back in.”

Toppman: 704-358-5232

Andrew Norman

Age: 29.

Hometown: Wilmington, Del. Moved to Charlotte at 9.

Education: Providence Day School, grades 3 through 12, graduating in 2004. B.A. in multimedia arts and sciences from UNC-Asheville, 2008.

Family in area: Parents Judi and Michael Norman, both retired. She was a school psychologist, he a head of pediatrics at Carolinas Medical Center.

Movie that turned him on to serious filmmaking: “My Darling Clementine,” John Ford’s 1946 Western about the Earp family gunfight at the O.K. Corral.

Relaxes by: Playing racquetball (L.A. prices: $100-a-month fee, $15 per court reservation) and taking weekend day trips to Santa Barbara, Hearst Castle or San Diego.

His career in an alternate universe: Rock drummer, which he was in a high school band. “When I moved (to Los Angeles), I sold all my recording stuff. But I always planned to buy an electronic drum kit that would go in my apartment and not disturb anybody. One morning, I woke up with a weird buzz after a night of alcohol and found an e-mail invoice in my inbox. I thought, ‘I don’t remember buying that!’ But I still have it and still play.”

Four tips for success in his job

1. Write a handwritten thank-you note – not an e-mail – after every interview or significant meeting. Mail it, or better, drive back and drop it off: “If (candidates) have similar weight in a job search, that can put you over the top.”

2. Immerse yourself in your potential boss’s work. While interviewing to become an assistant to Ori Marmur, a producer at Original Film, “I marathoned all his movies. I even read scripts he had in development, which I borrowed from friends at agencies.”

3. Embrace new technology. He uses iCloud to sync his iPhone, iPad and Mac, so he has constant access to all the lists he keeps – one for story ideas, a script log he started in 2013 (title, writer, Norman’s rating and comments), agents he knows, links to articles....

4. Be respectful to people who show you junk. “The volume of material we get from agents and managers, and the percentage that’s mediocre – it’s insane. You sift through it and say politely, ‘I don’t think this is for us.’ You want to maintain that relationship, in case they send you something good.”