News & Press

February 6, 2019

In Her Own Lane – Dany Garcia’s Unique Strategy For Production Magic

“I’m a very frustrated individual who really wants to globally impact the world through my thoughts,” admits PGA member Dany Garcia. “I just haven’t gotten there.” One might beg to differ with the former Merrill Lynch VP turned producer, manager and media mogul, who lives and breathes her passion for enterprise, especially this goal of building one with global impact. That enterprise was built with ex-husband and still client, Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson, based on the belief she could create a corporate model around an individual in a way that had never been done before.

It’s a notion that has paid off. According to Forbes’ Celebrity 100 list, “DJ,” as Garcia calls him, is now the highest paid actor in Hollywood. (While George Clooney was No. 1 on the list, he can credit that position largely to having sold his tequila company in 2018 for $700 million.) But the real boost to Johnson’s profile stems from his own personally written social media postings for his 190 million global followers. And in fact, the social media strategy Garcia and Johnson have embraced, of putting their audience first and keeping them intimately connected to Dwayne, is the brainchild the producer prides herself—and their success—on.

“DJ was six to seven years within the WWE,” she explains. “I loved business so much, I was convinced I could build a corporate model around an individual, if it was the right individual. And DJ is. From the moment I met him on [the University of Miami] campus … within him I [could] see this magic.” That vision met its first major test when Johnson began his transition from wrestler to movie star. “The audience used to see him twice or three times a week in their living room. Intimately. Like, you’re hanging out in your PJs in the morning and the Rock’s there. He’s your buddy. So what was taken away was something weekly, where people would invest in that relationship. For social media, it was like, there it is. We aren’t wrestling every week on TV, but we’re doing this.”

Garcia considers herself an “enterprise producer.” For her, “What that means is, each project we do, my job is not only the film but the on-the-ground production. My responsibility is the project: the relationship of the project to the entire cast, the relationship of the project to the studio and then, the relationship of the project to the audience. I produce the entire experience.

“It’s also one of the reasons why a lot of our films feel so big,” she continues, “because we are actually activating multiple mechanisms, in addition to what the project is. So if you’re going to do that, even if it’s a small, little $1 million project, or it’s a very large $200 million-plus project, that project has to be large in scope to be able to activate all the mechanisms, to really activate my position.” At a baseline, Garcia feels that the ideas of her projects need to resonate strongly enough to live on for the next decade. She wants them to impact not only the audience that sees a given film but also those who will only ever see the trailer.

Garcia’s penchant for numbers and mind for business emerged from her background as a daughter of Cuban immigrant parents and her determination to create a better life for them. She grew up in New Jersey amidst a family of musical hopefuls, including a brother and a sister who went to the U of Miami on performance scholarships. Garcia herself plays piano and the French horn, but the producer always knew she wanted to make money more than she wanted to make music. She majored in international marketing and finance and learned how to be the only woman in high-powered rooms from her professors there.

“So that strategy was practice, practice, practice, practice, practice,” she recalls. “It was prepare, prepare, prepare, prepare. Be so good, so that by the time you did speak, or you were in the room, you knew. So I was concentrating on one thing—to be that prepared and that good. And what happened, concentrating on that, it took care of all the other things.”

The Garcia Companies and Seven Bucks Productions’ roster is vast and varied, including documentaries (Racing Dreams), reality TV (Wakeup Call), competition shows (Titan Games, The Hero), big budget features (Rampage, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, Baywatch), action (Skyscraper) and drama (Lovely, Still), to name a few. Garcia sees the through-line as heart. “I have this obsession to have done something that really puts people in a different place, a better place and to have that happen globally … I’m very concerned about how you feel once you leave the experience.”

For Garcia moving the company forward in today’s industry is a matter of “trying to look for more magic.” You can’t get much more magical than Disney, and that’s exactly where they’ve developed one of their most anticipated productions. Jungle Cruise, based on the famous Disneyland ride, and starring Johnson and Emily Blunt, opens in 2020. It’s difficult for Garcia to contain her excitement about the film, given the level of secrecy it requires. “The Dwayne in [Jungle Cruise] has never been seen before,” she declares. And insofar as the Jungle Cruise is one of the rare Disney attractions that isn’t attached to a pre-existing story, Garcia and her team got a taste of what it’s like to create with the Imagineers from the ground up.

“It was culturally, for us, a fantastic experience,” she smiles. “[It] absolutely impacted how we look at our own people. We like to consider ourselves Imagineers as well, we really get out of the box … It’s just the collection of these very unique individuals who are nurtured to be as expansive and out of the box as possible.”

The Jungle Cruise social media strategy is a new twist for TGC. “Instead of the conversation behind the scenes,” she says, “we’re going to be a little more forward-facing. Because everyone does know the Jungle Cruise, we don’t really have to do that type of work. But we want to begin the transporting into the magic and fun. It lies in a little bit more tactile experiences, because we have the parks all over the world.

“And then we’ll allow the social media to just sort of gloss over the top,” she continues. “If we do it correctly—which I think we will, absolutely—we can just use [the Disney] magic as well. If you went into Disney and there were no lines, you would be ‘Ahhh, this is going to be great.’ That [feeling] is our goal.”

Their latest feature, Fighting with My Family, based on the documentary of the same name, marked Garcia’s first time at Sundance. It’s a classic underdog story based in the world of WWE and a working-class family of four from Great Britain. Even if you’re not a wrestling fan, you’ll be rooting for the characters to make it. Garciasingles out the spot-on casting, with Vince Vaughn garnering laughs as the “bad cop” coach and real wrestlers handling much of the stunt work. “It’s so dangerous,” she reports, “that you can’t have your talent come in to take bumps. There were moves that [cast member] Florence [Pugh] could do, though, and that’s why it looks so seamless. But in the end, it’s not a wrestling story, it’s a story about dreams coming true.”

Outside of business life, Garcia is a competitive physique body builder who trains alongside DJ and her husband/their mutual trainer, Dave Rienzi. Asked if there was anything she uses in her bodybuilding practice that applies to her producing career, she confirms, “Yes there’s actually a tremendous amount. Whenever I do get a chance to step on stage, there’s a direct correlation between my contest prep and the amount of productivity that happens in the next six to 12 months. There is a discipline process whenever you prep. I go up in weight in the off-season. And then I have to come down in weight. When you come down in weight, obviously you’re dieting and it’s really strict. You begin to shed all the things that make you eat chocolate cake. Every time I go through that process, it redefines in my head all the areas that I’ve allowed some softness, where I’m not all that sharp. Through that process I become very, very focused, very clean, very sharp. And there’s a purity that has to be in everything around me, so I don’t have these pressures to need an outlet of relief that is a drink or chocolate or a little bit more carbs. That has to move. And then everything becomes very efficient. I can come back into the creative process and I can cut through. It’s wonderful. You are really energetically clear.”

Every time Garcia trains, the process differs depending on her body and the competition. And in fact she is constantly shedding old processes. “That makes me very comfortable with doing things brand new with every project. I am continuously training myself to not be comfortable; any old process makes for comfort. To be in a space that you’re challenged continuously … I like to say, ‘I’m used to the wind being in my face because there’s no one in front of me.’ You get chapped lips. You’ve got to build yourself up … being the only one who’s doing what [I’m] doing, the way [I’m] doing it. So having that, not being attached to holding on to processes, [is] very, very beneficial.”

Garcia acknowledges she is a role model to other female producers and women of color, although she didn’t set out to be. “When that became more apparent to me over the last three years, four years—of the importance of my role—it was such a good realization because it allowed me to honor what I’m doing. Now my steps are not only, ‘Are they important for the execution in business?’ But they may actually carry some importance to the rest of the world. And you remember my overall goal, right? Global [impact]. So it was funny to realize that, ‘Wait, you’re there. You’re doing it. Honor yourself more so they can honor what they’re doing.’”

Since the #metoo movement and fight for equal pay, Garcia has seen a direct impact in her work, noting that, “It did make me look at how we were doing movies.” Garcia now hires her female leads first; in doing so she aims to cut any difficult conversations about salary comparisons off at the pass.

But she goes a step further. “I am working to be more vocal,” she states. “We cannot be successful in a quiet manner. We must be successful as loudly as possible. So that everyone else can see, and they can learn, and they can be inspired, and they can say, ‘I can do that.’ We aren’t doing our job if we are just quietly being successful. We have a bigger responsibility.”

Garcia is striving to meet that responsibility with The Titan Games (NBC), a reality series that’s billed as “a groundbreaking new athletic competition.” Garcia explains, “There is a great female story that’s going to come out of it. The audience is used to seeing men be physical and achieve great things. But women, they don’t have that same kind of exposure.

“We have it in the Olympics,” she owns. “But this is a matter of brute strength. What happens with our women is they quickly reach their physical max because we don’t change weights between men and women … maybe one or two. But the women quickly get to the point of physical fatigue. You see them go through it emotionally, and then they come out the other side. That’s greatness … to have the honor of witnessing that and the majesty of it.”

Invited to consider the nature of her ultimate legacy, Garcia reflects, “At the end of the day, I think I would love [my legacy to be] not only the enterprise and the body of work, but a true understanding of my philosophies and how I believe things can happen, that the way we executed can be teachable to the world and impactful to people’s lives and goals.

“I have no—“ she breaks off, widening her frame of reference. “We have no time to break any glass ceilings. If we’re breaking glass ceilings here, then that means we are not spending enough time creating. I like working that way. That’s the way that the world should be … Going forward our films will be very sensitive to [those factors]: This is how the world is or how the world is maybe working to get that way.” Garcia has already created a place for herself in that shift. It’s just a matter of how far she can extend her magic.

 

Originally found in Producer’s Guild of America.

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