Spirit Awards Tue 2.25.2014

“Have thick skin” – Documentary Producer Caitrin Rogers on Dealing with Divas

Caitrin Rogers knows a little something about managing high maintenance subjects. She was one of the producers of 20 Feet From Stardom, which shines a spotlight on the untold true story of the backup singers behind some of the greatest musical legends of the 21st century. Rogers’ experience on the project left her with a bit of advice for emerging doc makers, “Be calm, be amicable and most importantly, have thick skin… wrangling divas for two years certainly taught me that!” Another suggestion: “Tackle every challenge like your career depends on it no matter how big or small.”

This weekend, the film is up for both an Oscar and a Film Independent Spirit Award. That makes Rogers one of nine Film Independent Members nominated for a 2014 Academy Award.

Rogers became involved with 20 Feet From Stardom when Gil Friesen, the other producer of the film brought the idea to director Morgan Neville. (Friesen, the renowned A&M record executive, has since passed away.) Neville needed an on-the-ground producer to manage the day-to-day of the production, so he found Rogers through a mutual friend. “Honestly, when we first started I wasn’t sure if we had something special. I didn’t know anything about backup singers or what their lives might be like. After the first day of shooting interviews, we all realized there were some amazing stories in the world of backup singing, so we’d have no problem finding great material to work with.”

Given the colorful world they found themselves in, Rogers says the greatest challenge she faced on the project was having to cut material out during the edit. “We interviewed so many incredible people and heard so many amazing stories, it was really difficult to let some of it go. We had fantastic editors: [Douglas Blush, Kevin Klauber and Jason Zeldes]. I have to give them a lot of credit for helping us find the best possible film.”

Though this is Rogers’ first Academy Award nomination, she came close back in 2011, when The Tillman Story, which she co-produced, was shortlisted, but not nominated. “After that experience, I decided this time I would attempt to sleep through the announcement, figuring that if there was good news someone would call me. Needless to say, I was a bit too anxious to sleep.” When she finally allowed herself to look at the clock it was 5:45 am and she hadn’t heard a word from anyone, so she figured we hadn’t been nominated. Then she noticed that she had just missed a call from her dad. “I listened to the voicemail and it was him screaming ‘Congratulations!’ My first thought was ‘There’s been some mistake and I’m going to have to call him back and tell him we didn’t get the nomination.’ I did a quick Google search and found out we had in fact been nominated. I’m not sure how to describe how I felt. It was a pretty incredible feeling.”

“I think the most exciting thing is to be able to have the chance to celebrate with everyone involved in the film,” Rogers says of her upcoming whirlwind awards show weekend. “We spent almost two years making it, and after that much time with a group of people, you all become very close. It’s nice to have a formal opportunity to enjoy each other’s company and the work that we put into this project.” Given the tough competition, Rogers says she’s trying not to think about winning. “It’s been absolutely amazing being nominated, and I’m sure we’ll celebrate either way.”

Next up for Rogers: producing The Sound of Silk, another feature documentary directed by Neville, which will follow the world-renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble.