Movie producer Scott Lumpkin manages millions of dollars in movie budgets and hundreds of people in a movie crew. He blows up vans, burns down buildings, drops onto Alaskan glaciers with Navy SEALs, and calms a town frazzled by a week of fireworks exploding all night long, but his favorite place to be is skateboarding with his kids through the streets of Fairhope at midnight. Skateboards and movies are his adrenaline rush, and his five kids and wife Kate keep him happy and grounded.
Lumpkin is becoming one of the most successful producers in Hollywood, but his open, friendly personality is Lower Alabama, not Los Angeles. Wearing jeans, a baseball cap, and a couple of small silver bracelets he can’t get off his arm, Lumpkin worked his way up to produce movies with the biggest actors and directors in Hollywood. Task-driven, he works from lists to make the impossible become possible, often under intense conditions. He replies immediately to texts, even if he is several countries away, and knows the names and personalities of the members of his crew, making each one feel like the most important person in the room. The cast, crew, and location change with each movie, but Lumpkin stays himself, alive in the freedom of telling stories and making movies.
“The goal of making movies is to get people to see it so I can make another movie and tell another story,” Lumpkin says. “I grew up in the South and we are storytellers and it is how I entertained my siblings and now my kids. I like creating something that makes people react–if someone laughs all the way through a movie or it scares the heck out of them. I don’t mind if someone says they don’t like it as long as they can tell me why. The biggest compliment I can get is ‘I love that movie.’”
Two of Lumpkin’s movies are waiting for release dates. Before I Wake, starring Kate Bosworth and originally titled Somnia, was shot in Fairhope. Masterminds was shot in North Carolina and Puerto Rico. It was directed by Jared Hess, produced by Lorne Michaels, and stars Zach Galifianakis, Kristen Wiig, Owen Wilson, and Jason Sudeikis. Lumpkin’s next project is a Jackie Chan film directed by Martin Campbell (The Mask of Zorro, GoldenEye, Casino Royale). Lumpkin is scouting locations in the United Kingdom and shooting begins in London in November.
“I have always loved movies and I have never walked out of one,” he says. “It started with Star Wars and Jaws. The Deep with Nick Nolte and Jacqueline Bisset is the first movie that scared me.”
Lumpkin’s interest in movies began in seventh grade when his father brought home a video camera and Lumpkin re-made commercials with his younger brothers and sister. After high school, he worked cameras with low-budget films and commercials in Mobile and learned how to be a production manager and a problem solver. He went to a short, intensive film school at USC, and broke into bigger projects with the Discovery Channel show, “Floating Inferno,” a re-enactment documentary about a cruise ship that caught fire in the 1950s and the captain took the only lifeboat. More movies followed in Miami and Arkansas, and Lumpkin became one of the only bondable line producers in the South who could manage money for movies.
“I am on my 49th movie and it has never stopped being fun,” says Lumpkin. “I didn’t think of it as a job until a few years ago when the traveling started taking me away from home and my family. I have produced a bizarre spread of movies from comedies, indies, and thrillers, to Nicholas Sparks movies and Will Ferrell’s telenovela.”
On the same level as the director, a movie producer balances the art and commerce of the film. The producer hires the crew, supervises every contract, and protects the director’s creative vision. “I am in charge of writing all of the checks and every penny that is spent is on my shoulders,” he says. “I report to the studios and have to bring together the creative and financial sides and play good cop/bad cop because they don’t always get along. I have to be diplomatic and thick-skinned and know how to fight for what I think is right.
“This is a loosey-goosey business, often with a crew of over 200 people working 100 hours a week. They are transient, creative oddballs living in hotels from movie to movie,” Lumpkin says. “I have to balance the egos and help everyone get along, but that is the part I like. I am an approachable leader that creates a fun environment and will help paint, sling a hammer, build, and weld.”
“Scott is like the general of an army who can inspire and challenge,” says Denise Di Novi, who produced Edward Scissorhands and worked with Lumpkin on the Nicholas Sparks film, The Best of Me. “Scott has a chill personality while still being a taskmaster. He kills himself to get what the director wants, but everyone loves him so much that they want to please him and do a great job for him.”
Lumpkin produces two to three movies a year and each movie starts in negotiations with his agent. “I get five to seven offers and 15 to 20 scripts a month,” he says. “I need an agent to help me weed out what is real and what is not real.”
Production work begins months before shooting when Lumpkin breaks the script into a grocery list to set the budget. The second time he reads through the script with highlighters and puts a cost on everything he needs to make the film. It usually takes 30-60 days to film and costs about $250,000 per day. Production is fast-paced, so he memorizes the 100 to 150-page budget for each film to save time.
Producing movies is as stressful as it is exciting. Production dates, release dates, casts, and budgets change. Scripts are rewritten, and sometimes movies fall through. Lumpkin spent months on a location scout in the sub-freezing Alaskan winter for one of his biggest action movies yet that was to begin shooting this fall, but the studio releasing the film declared bankruptcy and the film was put on hold.
“On one movie, I found out we were $1 million short and we had five days to get the money or lose the $3 million already spent and everyone goes home and the movie doesn’t get made,” Lumpkin says. “I couldn’t let anyone else know or they would quit. I had to cut the budget and find new investors to save the film.”
Lumpkin produced Will Ferrell’s first dramatic role Everything Must Go and Ferrell’s telenovela Casa de mi Padre. “I met Scott on Everything Must Go and he wrangled a very difficult shoot with a lot of compassion for what it takes for low-budget movie making,” Ferrell says. “Scott is so good that I never heard about a lot of the problems. The skill of a great producer is getting things done behind the scene without any drama spilling into actors’ or the director’s laps. On Casa, however, an actor requested to be paid on the spot in cash and wanted a couple of new truck tires and Scott figured that one out.”
Lumpkin works on several movies at a time and alternates between big-budget films and smaller indie films. “Financially, a big-budget movie is better and there is more time to shoot, but you have less creative control because the five guys at the top make all of the decisions,” he says. “With indies, the whole team is collaborative and there is more of a sense of community and a common goal.”
Shooting indies such as Oculus and Before I Wake (Somnia) in Fairhope gives Lumpkin a chance to work from home, hire friends, including artists Bruce Larsen and John Rezner, and bring money into Fairhope. “A lot of people I went to Fairhope High School with work in the film business and we get to work together,” says Lumpkin. “Before I Wake brought a crew of 200 to Fairhope and we spent close to $6 million in the area when we shot for two months in 2014. Two people from the crew bought new cars and one bought a house here.”
“Scott worked his way up to become one of the best producers in the industry and his success and hard work is bringing Hollywood to our L.A.,” says Eva Golson, Director of the Mobile Film Office. “He helped us work on the legislation to get tax incentives that were needed to bring film crews to Alabama, and our growing film industry has helped economic development here. I am so proud of Scott and I hope that he doesn’t get so big that he has to move off.”
Lumpkin stays behind the scenes and away from the camera. “I like being under the radar,” he says. “I will be at lunch with Zach Galifianakis and people say ‘There is Zach and somebody.’ I am happy being the somebody that nobody knows. I don’t like being on the screen. I don’t want to be famous and I don’t want to be a director.”
Movie stars are just co-workers for Lumpkin, but he gets star-struck over musicians. “Rock stars are different. I would love to be a rock star, and the coolest thing I could do is meet Mick Jagger,” he says. “I try to play, but I have a long-lasting love/hate relationship with my guitars.”
Lumpkin paints too, but his work and hobbies come back to skateboarding. A skateboard gave him independence in his childhood and today skateboarding with his kids on the wooden half-pipe ramp covered in stickers, signs, and family graffiti in his backyard is his escape from movies. Lumpkin is 42, and skateboarding still gives him a chance to go fast and fly. Skateboarding taught him to get up after being knocked down.
“This movie business is brutal, it is one of the toughest, meanest things you can do, but if it were easy, everyone would make movies,” he says. “It is fast-paced and crazy trying to make the impossible possible, but I need that rush, and it is so much fun when it works. We laugh and can’t believe we figured out how to do it.”
For Lumpkin, the best part of being a producer is being his own boss with the freedom to take months off from the stress to fish and recharge with his family or he takes them on location. Sometimes his kids have a small part in the film or jobs behind the scenes. His wife, Kate, also works in film production and helps him work through problems and ideas.
“I get to pick the atmosphere for my job every six months,” he says. “No other job is going to pay me to do that. I need the freedom and I have always been better at things on my own terms. I do well and I do awful, but I learn from the discovery and experience and find my own way through it. It’s all about the balance.”