Section: Arts

On the Record: Jonathan Sehring ’78

On the Record: Jonathan Sehring ’78

By Elana Spivack

Jonathan Sehring ’78 said that “nobody in their right minds” would finance a project over a 12- to 13-year period, but Richard Linklater’s Boyhood was too good for Sehring, president of Sundance Selects and IFC films, to turn down. From its inception in 2001 to its many award nominations, including Patricia Arquette’s recent Oscar win for best supporting actress, Sehring has played an integral role in the film’s production.

What did your role in producing Boyhood entail?

I oversaw the financing end of the production. I wasn’t out hiring people. When you’re working with an auteur filmmaker, and I consider Richard very much of that auteur school of filmmaking, your role as a producer or the executive producer is much different than the producer of a studio movie or the producer of another independent movie because the filmmaker is very much the writer, producer, director. So I considered myself the facilitator to help Rick enable his vision.

What’s some of the criteria that you have for picking films and projects?

First and foremost you always look for a great story or a great concept and you go from there. I like to work with filmmakers that are writer-director-producers because I enjoy helping them get their vision from page to screen.

What were some of the greatest difficulties that you encountered over the course of the 12 years of film production?

It is surprising when I say there weren’t any major difficulties. I would say the greatest difficulty I had from my role, and there were three other producers involved, including Rick, but I think I could speak for everybody and say probably the greatest difficulty we had was … reassuring the financiers that at the end of the day we would have a finished project that would be more valuable than the money that was invested in it over a 12-year period.

What do you think of Boyhood’s exponential success in the awards world?

Nobody could have dreamed it. It was an incredible run and we were just all so thrilled for Patricia. If I have one disappointment it was Rick not coming away with something at the Oscars because what he did was so unique and will never be, I don’t think, repeated in the history of cinema.

What was the most rewarding part of working on this project?

The relationships we all developed with one another over the 12-year period. You have to take a giant step back and look at what we accomplished, what Rick set out to do and what he did, and through that time when you have a cast that comes together every year, it really was like an extended family.

Which successes of the film process did you find most surprising?

The single probably most-rewarding thing for me was the fact that the movie touched so many people. I always relate it to looking at your own family photo album. You love them but when you start sharing them with people, invariably people get bored by them and that’s kind of what this project felt like. We had no idea [what the] reception was going to be like. Nobody really wanted to let go of it and share it with other people for fear that they wouldn’t like it.

Is it rare for an independent film to get so much attention?

Yes. I’ve never seen an independent film go so far and get so close to winning best picture. It was a first — best picture, best director. The fact that until they opened the envelopes it was a coin toss… it was great for the entire industry. It’s very, very unique.

How did your liberal arts education prepare you for your career path?

I could have done grad school in biology or art history because I wanted to be a birdwatcher or an art historian, and my father told me, “Son, you should get a real job.” So back to the liberal arts education — it was great. Taking art history courses or taking courses in English literature… they gave me the ability to do a critical analysis of things, and it gave me a love of literature and storytelling and visual arts through art history.

What does the future hold?

Back to work today. Ethan Hawke [“Father” in Boyhood] directed a documentary that’s pretty incredible called Seymour that we’re releasing in two weeks. My main job is as a distributor, not as a producer. My role as a producer kind of ended with Boyhood, although we’ve toyed with the idea of getting back to the production game.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


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