INTERVIEW by MARIELLE OLENTINE | PHOTOGRAPHY courtesy of TRENTON WATERSON
Trenton Waterson assures me that, after spending the first 18 years of life on a farm, giving up was never an option. This go-getter-from-birth has climbed steadily up the ladder-rungs of film production, not because he “knew the right people” or got a “lucky break” – phenomena too often used to explain success in the entertainment industry — but because he put in the time, the passion, and the hard work. Now a Creative Executive at Marvel Studios, it’s clear that all of this effort has been worth it. Waterson takes a break from the bustle of the Iron Man set to tells us about what sparked his desire to embark on the uncertain journey that is filmmaking, which films inspire him, and when he decided to stop identifying as an aspiring producer and become one.
I thought we’d begin with a little bit about your background; you were born in California?
I was. Fourth generation on a farm… which I think has a lot to do with the feeling that nothing’s ever done. I spent 19 years just working on the farm. We had cows at one point, we bred Labrador Retrievers, we grew corn and alfalfa hay, my dad ran his own business. I really loved it, but I definitely had a passion to, you know, live in a city.
I’ll never forget when I had my real first apartment and just felt like I was on a movie set, walking down the halls of the apartment just because that’s “city,” you know?
On your IMDB page, the only thing it says in your bio is that you had two open-heart surgeries before you were ten.
As a baby I was born with a paracardial sack that was too small and was trapping fluid in my heart and I was failing. So at ten months old, I flew to San Francisco and the doctors basically took off the sack and cut open my sternum bone, and back in 1984 medicine they sealed it up with wires. Then, when I was ten, I was running around and the wires busted; some of them were hitting against my lungs, so they had to take me back and remove all the wires.
Did you grow up watching a lot of films? What made you really want to go into the film industry?
Well, first of all, I love movies. Like reading a book, all of a sudden I’m just in this other world, experiencing something new. Or I’m time traveling with Michael J. Fox, or I’m Home Alone at Christmas time. Movies were just so cool. I also have this extremely large sense of nostalgia. I love all the old Disney movies, those weird adventure ones, like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. I realized what gave me more pleasure than just watching a movie was watching a movie and then taking someone else with me. I enjoyed that person’s reaction, influencing people and making them laugh. So that’s really what it became about. And even today there’s no greater reward than going to the theaters to see a film like The Avengers and sitting there quietly while these audiences laugh or clap.
It’s really cool that you can be a part of the creation of that experience for someone else. Are there any genres of film that you gravitate towards?
I’ll list off a few of my favorites: Meet Joe Black, Great Expectations (the one with Gwyneth Paltrow and Ethan Hawke), Magnolia was a crazy favorite of mine, House of Sand and Fog.
Basically, I love movies that don’t need to be complicated in their plot but are just so rich and focused on a character. Like American Beauty, you’re with Annette Benning and she’s in her car and completely seething one minute and then crying the next. I love movies that are very vulnerable and real about the experiences we go through and our emotions. And by all means, movies like Iron Man 3 that I’m currently working on, these are great adventure blockbusters, but I aim to narrow my future work down to more character-driven, intimate and raw films.
I watched your reel earlier today and from what I saw, those seemed to be very heartfelt movies. How did you start working on those?
After spending five years working my way up the ladders of physical production, I had really admired the line-producers and production managers who do budget and coordinate. I got my start there, but then I eventually realized that I’m more into the themes, the style, the visions.
To be very honest with you, I no longer wanted to say, “Hi, my name is Trenton. I’m an assistant to a producer but I hope to produce.” I wanted to say, “Hi, my name is Trenton, and I’m a producer, but I currently also assist a producer.” That was really important. So, in 2011, I flew home from on-location with Thor one weekend to help my buddies who were doing a pilot TV pitch. I came in to help on set and quickly became one of the producers. That’s how I met the director/writer of my first short film, and then the film after that, and so on.
Would that be the advice you would give you someone who was trying to break into the film industry… just to go for it and actually start working on projects?
Absolutely. The best advice that I got was when someone said, “You want to be a producer? Write it on a piece of paper and stick it to the door and start making movies.” Does it require experience to make a $200 million movie? Yes it does. But you can start small. You can make a one-page, one-minute thing and that’s a movie. I think that what’s been amazing over the past ten years is if you think about it, you can take your iPhone, you can direct something, shoot it. You can upload it to iMovie and edit it, and you can put it on YouTube or Vimeo and that’s your distribution.
What’s your role on Iron Man 3 that you’re currently working on?
My prior job on The Avengers, I was assistant to the Executive Producer, but now I’m a Creative Executive.
What’s hard to explain about the Creative Exec role is that it’s so different at Marvel, in a good way, than at other studios because Marvel is so tied in with the comics, and the toys, and the merchandise, and Comicon. There’s this Marvel Universe that all the movies tie into. Part of [my job] is script revisions and keeping the script pages up-to-date. But I love it when I find myself on the phone with Creative Executives from Marvel’s other films, and we’re comparing notes about elements of our scripts — making sure they are honoring the overall Marvel Universe and timeline, keeping each other honest in that way.
How can Daily BR!NK and its readers contribute to your success?
Well, if there’s any writing you’re going to do about the kind of movies I’m looking for, and if someone has watched those movies and has a great script, by all means… I am ready to read it.