In Fords in Four, we ask an alumnus four questions; he shares insights and stories. In this blog post, Bill Kay '84 shares his favorite memories and lessons learned from Haverford, how they connect to his work in the film industry, and why he stays connected to the School.
What are some of your favorite Haverford memories?
I remember acting in Middle and Upper School plays, most memorably the unsupervised “mischief” that we got into between rehearsals. I enjoyed playing on the varsity tennis, swimming, and football teams, where I honed a work ethic and grit (particularly in the latter two sports). I enjoyed English classes with Mr. Berg and Dr. Peck; conversations wandered away from Chaucer onto numerous topics.
Most importantly, they and other teachers at Haverford, in all subjects, really taught me how to write. I think the one critical skill that I gained from Haverford is the ability to write and communicate clearly to disparate audiences. Being able to communicate and advocate with confidence, in both written and spoken form, is such an essential life skill. What I learned at Haverford has allowed me to be versatile, adaptive, and successful in a variety of venues.
What’s next on the docket for you as a film producer?
Our team produced two films in 2017 (The Catcher Was a Spy and Hereditary), and both were selected to premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in January. I served as an executive producer on both. I had input on a variety of elements, but my primary role was on the business and financial side, with investors and financial structuring. Both films were well received by audiences. The critical acclaim and buzz for Hereditary has been absolutely phenomenal, so we are feeling very good about its prospects. The synopsis for Hereditary is: Every family tree hides a secret. After their reclusive grandmother passes away, the Graham family tries to escape the dark fate they’ve inherited. It will be released nationwide in June. The trailer is up on YouTube >
We acquired National Lampoon this past June, and with the support of a group of investors, have re-launched the brand as a film, television, and digital platform. Building on the comedic heritage of the brand (with iconic films such as Vacation and Animal House), we will begin production on our first Lampoon films this spring.
Making a movie takes commitment, persistence, and fortitude and requires a tremendous amount of work and a large number of people. The business and finance sides feature a host of intricacies, and one must always be learning due to the complexity as well as the rapid evolution of the industry.
Being able to communicate and advocate with confidence, in both written and spoken form, is such an essential life skill. What I learned at Haverford has allowed me to be versatile, adaptive, and successful in a variety of venues.
How do you think independent films can continue to succeed?
At Sundance, my key question in discussions with industry participants last month was about the trajectory of independent films moving forward. The landscape has been disrupted by the streaming companies like Netflix and Amazon. Other companies, like Apple and Facebook, were at Sundance this year with open checkbooks, looking to support filmmakers and get footing in the industry. Our model is highly flexible in that we develop projects independently but can set them up inside or outside a studio. We have also sold projects outright to Netflix.
Independent films still have relevance in the marketplace (just look at how many are 2018 Oscar nominees). However, perhaps hundreds of films get made every year but many struggle to find an audience and generate meaningful revenues to recover their cost. It all begins with the story; a compelling script can attract top-flight acting and film-maker talent, which can help, but not guarantee, its commercial viability. Top actors can make their money away from independent film (on series, which offer regular work, as well as on bigger budget studio fare, which can feature large salaries). Many top actors have the luxury to choose which projects they want to do, or if they want to work, and it’s all about getting their attention with a great role and fitting it into their schedule.
How do you continue to stay connected with the Haverford community?
I have been class co-chairman for several years, and have hosted reunion dinners at my home in Haverford. I feel like hosting reunions provides a forum for people to get together and stay connected to each other and the School.
I have seen several classmates recently, including Russ Ball, Rob Ruggiero, Terry Spahr, and Kent Silvers. I started at Haverford in fifth grade, so I have known many of my classmates for over 40 years -- though I still feel very young!
Bill Kay ’84 is the Executive Vice President, Strategic Development of PalmStar Media and also National Lampoon. He holds 20 years of experience in private equity and capital markets, at firms including Apollo, Morgan Stanley, Credit Suisse, and DLJ. Earlier in his career, he held sales and finance roles at Orion Pictures, where he was involved with films such as Silence of the Lambs and Robocop. He has served in a producing capacity on seven motion pictures. He earned a B.A. from Dartmouth College and an MBA from The Fox School at Temple University.
Photos courtesy of Bill Kay '84: the official poster for Hereditary, and Bill (right) on set at Fenway Park with Paul Rudd, who plays Moe Berg in The Catcher was a Spy.