THE ROLE OF PRODUCER on a film is largely unsung. Albert Berger and Ron Yerxa’s dynamic-duo production team has brought a number of memorable films, including last year’s multiple-Oscarnominated Nebraska, to the screen. Both they and their movies have made the trek to the Mill Valley Film Festival several times in the past. This year they’ll be bringing their new film Low Down, based on Amy Albany’s memoir about her father, jazz pianist Joe Albany.
1. How did you two initially meet? RY: 1982, New Year’s Day, in Chicago at Albert’s parents’ house. Albert was a graduate student at Columbia University and I was a new junior executive at a production company. By 1989, we were ready to go to the Sundance Film Festival together as producers.
2. How did you guys get connected to Low Down, about the life of pianist Joe Albany? AB: We both read the book and got very excited about it. We went to Book Soup (an L.A.-area bookstore), where Amy Albany was reading and convinced her to let us option it.
3. How did you then get Jeff Preiss on board to direct? AB: Amy suggested Jeff. He had shot a documentary, Let’s Get Lost, about Chet Baker.
4. Musicians Anthony Kiedis and Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers are on board as executive producers. And Flea is in the movie, too. How did these two get involved? AB: Amy knew Flea from growing up as a kid in Hollywood. And Flea had gotten his start as a jazz trumpet player. Amy very much had in mind that Flea would be wonderful in the part of Hobbs, as well as somebody who might very well support the movie. Flea said, “If there’s any way I can help beyond acting in the movie, please let me try.” We needed contacts for various music issues or money situations and, every time, Flea came through trying to get this movie made.
5. How is the Mill Valley Film Festival experience for you? RY: It’s great. We’re both big fans of Mill Valley. We’ve known Mark Fishkin for a long time. It also became the premiere location for our movie Election, the year they opened the Rafael Film Center. They closed down the street and we had a tremendous premiere. It’s a great festival that has a community feel but is also very sophisticated.
6. Happy about presenting at the MVFF? RY: Even though it’s an L.A.-based story, it feels like it will really be great for audiences in Northern California. AB: This was a project 10 years in the making. The story is very moving and, ultimately, very optimistic. We’re just happy, after such a long time, to be able to share it with everyone.