Richard Brick (1945-2014)

The following words were shared at the memorial of producer, professor, and former NYC Film Commissioner Richard Brick, who passed away on April 4, 2014. This excellent NY Times obituary details Brick’s tireless work to save the NYC production business during his tenure as film commissioner.

Richard taught me everything I know about line producing, and a great deal more about life.

In 2010, Richard closely advised me during the pre-production of my first feature. Along with Professor Hausman, he devised a brilliant scheme to avoid the potential unionization of a 35mm low budget feature – we registered the film with the Mayor’s Office under the title “NYU Thesis Film” (this was not fraud – the director attended a lesser film program downtown – only lesser because they didn’t have teachers like Brick and Hausman).

In recent years, I worked with Richard budgeting several films. Given our shared interests in social justice, our workplace conversations segued naturally from producing to politics to the personal; from the Palestinean-Israeli peace process, to the pros and cons of an Avid Isis versus EditShare, to the bottle feeding of kittens; from the most attractive production tax incentives to the moral bankruptcy of Zero Dark Thirty. If Brick didn’t know something, he researched it meticulously. He expected the same dedication to knowledge and mastery from me.

The comments below include the reflections of several alumni, including Brigitte Liebowitz, Shawn Wines, Lily Niu, Rob Cristiano, Julie Buck and myself. The full statements can be read on Columbia’s tribute page for Richard Brick.

Richard Brick’s Columbia course was called “Pre-Production of the Motion Picture” but it could easily be titled “The Ethics of Filmmaking.”

In a business reverberating with sirens’ calls to take a shortcut, an easy way out, or Faustian bargain for a discount, his clear, professional voice cut through the clamor like a bell.

At his core, Richard was dedicated to justice, fairness, compassion, and honesty. He infused these values into the heart of Columbia’s Producing Program, uncouraging all under his tutelage to conduct their careers seriously, honorably, and ethically.

He taught us that truly good films excelled not just in the quality of the product, but in the quality of the process, in how people were treated both above and below the line.

He taught us reverence for the writers’ words, humility when working with others, and instilled in us a love for insurance which, in and of itself sounds mundane, but behind that love for insurance was a deeper understanding – that nothing is perfect. That no producer is perfect, no script, no actor, no director, and circumstances won’t always shake out as planned.

We experienced Richard’s ironclad sense of right and wrong. He was a master of memo-writing, and he did not sugar coat his words. Over the years, Richard’s “enemies of production” included major Hollywood stars, unscrupulous big-shot producers, and Oscar winning crew members. He did not discriminate based on ones perceived level of power or importance.

In the years that I worked with him, I saw the joy Richard gained from his role as Professor, teacher, and mentor. He went far beyond what was expected of an adjunct, corresponding with former students regular, advising on all matter of production, sharing contacts, making phone calls. He would hire editors to re-edit his students’ short films, paying the editors himself. When he had the time, he would do anything for his students.

He delighted in sharing his knowledge. He practiced what he preached, taught by example, and was the Platonic ideal of a true producer.

In remembering Professor Richard Brick, his forever students compiled a production stripboard of notable lessons from Richard Brick, some of which we will share with you now:

• Forever in my memory lives a vision of Richard Brick: straight-backed with impeccable posture, under fluorescent light, mustachioed to perfection, meticulously aligning the black binders that would become gospel and legacy

• The pre-production binder he gave me at the beginning of his class at Columbia is still on my table today. After many features, I still look for advice from him there.

• Richard was single handedly responsible for getting me into the DGA, a reality for which I will be eternally indebted.

• For the first time I’m jealous of a vanity license plate: “PREPRO”

• One night as he was teaching us about insurance, he very matter-of-factly described supplemental insurance as “sexy.”

• I told Professor Brick that I loved his neighborhood. In his no-nonsense way, he said it’s turned into a giant mall. Then he made me a really great cappuccino and we discussed my stripboard.

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