Gigi Pritzker, co-founder of one of the most innovative Hollywood entertainment firms, Madison Wells Media, discusses how she’s changing the entertainment industry in Forbes’ “Women, Leadership and Vision” series.
Interview by Kathy Caprino
Every day, we hear how women are challenged in the entertainment industry — to be heard, to be able to make the impact they long to, and to be respected as influential, leading voices and visionaries that can shape the direction of entertainment in our world today.
So when I learn of women who are indeed changing the landscape of the entertainment industry though their innovative visions, voices and projects, I’m excited to learn more. Gigi Pritzker is such a woman.
An accomplished film and stage producer, entrepreneur and philanthropist, Gigi Pritzker, together with former executive of Legendary Entertainment Clint Kisker, founded Madison Wells Media (MWM), the production company that empowers talent to create storytelling across film, TV, immersive VR/AR content and live theater. She’s spearheaded acclaimed projects including 2016’s Golden Globe and Academy Award Best Picture nominated Hell or High Water, Tony award winning musical, Million Dollar Quartet, Ron Howard directed television drama Genius, indie darling Landline, as well as Jon Favreau’s magical Gnomes & Goblins VR universe. They also recently formed an exclusive partnership with Sony Pictures to create original, stand-alone VR experiences related to specific Sony titles, the first which was “Passengers.”
MWM was recently named one of Fast Company’s Top Ten Most Innovative Companies in Hollywood for 2017 and currently consists of three individually branded operating divisions: OddLot Entertainment (film/TV), Relevant Theatricals (live theater) and Reality One (immersive media). MWM is also a strategic investor, with a portfolio of minority holdings in companies including STX Entertainment, Wevr, Fandor, Atom Tickets and The Void.
Kathy Caprino: You’ve been working successfully in entertainment for years but recently launched Madison Wells Media. What’s the inspiration behind this venture?
Gigi Pritzker: A few years ago, I was at Sundance and wandered into the New Frontiers building and basically stayed there for three days! The new media work got me so excited, and rejuvenated my thinking about what storytelling is and what it can be.
It came at the perfect time for me as I had been pondering how I wanted to bring pieces of my own work together in order to take advantage of a landscape that was rapidly changing and valuing “content” in new ways. Now you can cross-pollinate between film, TV, theatre, new media, digital, VR, etc. It focuses on storytellers in a way content never has before.
Caprino: What do you believe Madison Wells Media is doing differently than other businesses in this space?
Pritzker: It is about how we align the humans within our ecosystem to work collaboratively and across platforms by design. It’s in our culture, empowering stories and storytellers at the core of all we do. We have a spirit of fearlessness and we take smart risks, whether it be working in VR with collaborators like Jon Favreau, supporting emerging female film directors or workshopping new musicals for the stage. We believe each member of the team adds to the endeavor and brings his or her own creativity whether it’s in finance, legal, accounting or script development. Oh, and we value fun!
Caprino: In working to merge entertainment and technologies in new and unusual ways, what do you hope to achieve for audience members?
Pritzker: We hope that when people see the Madison Wells brand associated with any form of storytelling they know it will be of a standard and quality that means they will get something good out of it; a ponder, a laugh, a moment of amazement and awe or something quiet and contemplative that sticks with them.
Caprino: What are some core values you look for in your team members?
Pritzker: A fearlessness that allows you to freely collaborate, ambition with integrity, agility, tenacity and, of course, creativity and curiosity. But also, and maybe most importantly, the ability to not take yourself too seriously.
Caprino: What about your platforms and projects are breaking through the typical model?
Pritzker: We live in a time in media where the old models aren’t working, which means there is real opportunity to innovate. We have found that the way we organize people to create a team across multiple platforms makes us more agile and responsive than some organizations that operate more traditionally.
The silo effect is largely a product of organizations bolting onto new teams as mediums evolve over time without having an architecture for how they can be optimized to share intellectual property (IP) and relationships and market information- we call it “lateral conversion” and it’s an important part of how our teams work together. We view that as an advantage of our platform as we face a steep change curve driven by the speed of technological change.
Caprino: Entertainment and technology are fields notoriously male dominated. Is genre disparity something you experience through your work in these fields and if so, how do you combat that?
Pritzker: Having grown up as one of a very few females in a male dominated family, I learned how to compete with boys early on. But mostly, I think I have a disposition where I just keep pushing forward, so didn’t really spend a lot of time thinking about it.
Now that I have been around long enough and have gotten to a place where I can be helpful to other women, I put that energy forward. Also, as a parent of daughters, it now feels even more important. I have been fortunate to be a part of a wonderful initiative of Sundance Institute and Women In Film called ReFrame that has brought together a terrific group of committed men and women working synergistically to literally “re-frame” the picture of gender parity in our industry.
Through peer-to-peer ambassador groups and other efforts, we hope to make real changes at all levels. At Madison Wells Media, we hope to lead organically and authentically. I believe it’s about working together to respect each other and to live in a world of diverse opinion s and experiences. It’s more fun that way anyway.
Caprino: What do you believe has encouraged you to experience such success in this industry?
Pritzker: First, “success” feels like a journey and I am definitely not at the end of it! Mostly, I think luck, determination and sticking around long enough are big factors.
Caprino: What are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned throughout the years?
Pritzker: That Anais Nin was right, “Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.” That tenacity is critical. But mostly, you really have no control over how things will unfold, so sometimes you have to patiently wait for the right time to reveal itself.
Caprino: You’ve demonstrated a clear commitment to giving back. What has been the most rewarding aspect of your philanthropic work?
Pritzker: I come from a family that has, for generations, believed in the power of community. Committing to work from a place of compassion and respect has been ingrained in all of us from an early age, and I find it both rewarding and imperative.
Chicago is home and it’s a place I believe in and want to work to make better for all of us. I am fortunate in that I have been able to see a lot of the world and it opened my eyes to many things, good and not so good. I have lived in Asia and worked on films in remote parts of the world. Those experiences have all informed my philanthropy as well.
I have been blessed in so many ways and I am grateful every day for so many things. Being a part of something that brings possibility to people who don’t see any; meeting and working with people from varied experiences and building something together or coming together and trying to solve really hard problems, all of that makes my life so much richer.
For more information, visit http://www.madisonwellsmedia.com.