Award-Winning Film/Television Producer Jennifer Ogden by Jamie O'Quinn
Missing an outing to the lake proved to be a turning point in the career of Emmy Award-winning film and television producer, Jennifer Ogden. In 1974 between her freshman and sophomore year at Milsaps College, Ogden returned to her hometown of Natchez, Mississippi for the summer where United Artists was filming “Huckleberry Finn”. Though many had applied for positions with the project, it was Ogden who happened to be home on that Friday afternoon when an emergency on the set got her an immediate second interview and a job starting the following Monday.
Though she eventually attended New York’s prestigious Neighborhood Playhouse School of Theatre and landed roles in off-Broadway theatre and television, it is her film production career in movies such as “Annie Hall,” “Manhattan,” “Hair,” “The Verdict,” “Tuesdays with Morrie,” and “The Family Stone” that has distinguished her career. Ogden was one of the youngest women admitted as a production manager into the Directors Guild of America and served as vice-president of the film division of Twentieth Century Fox. In 2001 she received an Emmy Award as supervising producer on Oprah Winfrey‘s “Tuesdays with Morrie“. Ogden is to be inducted into the Hall of Fame at the University of Southern Mississippi’s School of Broadcasting and Journalism in November.
I recently spoke by phone with Ogden at her home in Natchez where she just finished conducting a week-long performing arts camp for 150 kids from throughout the state. She is currently making wedding plans with her fiancé, Robert Combs.
Q: You have worked as supervising producer, associate producer, executive producer, etc. Can you explain a producer’s role?
A: If you can imagine a bicycle tire, you have all the spokes that lead into a hub. The spokes can represent anything from studio and financing to seamstress to actors to makeup and props, all the things that go into making a film. It is the producer(s) jobs to serve as the hub, to facilitate and keep an overview of the big picture along with the director. A producer does a lot of crisis management because when something goes wrong at the cost of $150,000 per day on an average studio film, you’ve got to be on top of things and quickly come up with a solution.
Q: Are you currently working on any new projects?
A: I am in the pre-production stage of an independent documentary entitled “Instant Gratification” and I am also working on a drama called “The Cotton Gin Athletic Club”. My partner and I are also in negotiations for a really wonderful series of children’s books that we plan to develop into feature films.
Q: You have worked with some big name actors such as Jack Lemmon, Katharine Hepburn, Paul Newman, Dustin Hoffman, Sean Connery, and Whoopi Goldberg. Is there a particular moment on the set that stands out in your mind?
A: One of the most powerful moments in my career was shooting Jack Lemmon’s last scene of “Tuesdays with Morrie”. The movie is based on the true story of Professor Morrie Schwartz played by Lemmon and his former student, Mitch Albom, played by Hank Azaria. When the professor finds out he is dying, he and Albom start meeting every Tuesday afternoon so he can share the final and greatest lesson of his career: when you learn how to live, you know how to die.
Jack’s last scene portrays the final time Morrie and Mitch meet. He shares that the most important thing in life is to love each other and to forgive everybody everything. It was incredibly moving. By the end of the shot, not only was Jack crying, but Azaria was crying so hard he could barely get his lines out. I was standing at the monitor with the director and we, along with every crew member had tears streaming down our faces. When the director called “cut” there was dead silence and suddenly the entire crew started to clap and cheer through the tears.
It was the last scene Jack Lemmon ever performed. Six months after winning the Emmy, he died. Retelling that story still brings a lot of emotion.
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