Take more risks. I wish I had written more, especially starting a book when I was younger. Try what you can in your twenties. Each decade brings a new perspective.
As a part of our series about “Filmmakers Making A Social Impact” I had the pleasure of interviewing Suzanne Ordas Curry.
With a background in Public Relations and the non-profit world, Suzanne Ordas Curry found herself in the entertainment business rather by happenstance but also by taking the time to talk to people. She is now a filmmaker and producer who strives to make films with meaning and impact. With several films in theaters this year and streaming soon, she hopes they will connect with the viewers and make a difference in their lives.
Thank you so much for doing this interview with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit. Can you share your “backstory” that brought you to this career?
I am a believer that things happen for a reason. I also believe that the universe — or whatever force you believe in — brings people and opportunities into your life. And it’s up to you if you let them in.
My dream in college as a Communication/Arts Major at Rutgers was to work at a Madison Avenue advertising agency when I graduated. I liked what Darren Stevens (from Bewitched) did! I remember finding a map of NYC, taking it with me and pounding the pavement until I found a job. I did. I then worked at a prominent global PR firm in the city and after crossed the Hudson to New Jersey where I started up the PR division of an advertising agency. Soon after, I decided to open my own business. This was the 80’s. There were not many females starting their own businesses. Looking back it was pretty gutsy of me to do. When I told my parents I had a big announcement, I think they thought I was announcing I was having a baby — but no, I was going on the road to entrepreneurship.
I still own the same business, it’s what lead me to showbiz! Word was out in my circles of what I did. I remember, I was at a political event, and the chair introduced me to a woman. She told me her son had just won the top prize on a show called Beauty and the Geek and wanted to make something of his 15 minutes of fame. I said, “Well, I’ve never promoted a person in entertainment, but I’ll give it a shot.” I did my research and applied all the marketing and PR principals I knew to the reality star. I realized it wasn’t all that different from marketing a doctor or lawyer, which was my specialty. I worked with this “geek” for a period of time. Then a friend of mine’s daughter got on another reality show, VH1’s You’re Cut Off. I said, “Oh, I think I can get her some publicity.” I worked with the woman and her dad, who was a powerhouse CEO of a major company. He had all the right contacts and we had a great ride together. She was a singer and she made it on some Billboard charts.
Through them, I met an Emmy-award winning actress who was acting as the young women’s manager. I remember the first time I had a conference call with the actress. I was quite intimidated because I had just started in this industry and she had been in it for decades. I had never even spoken to an award-winning actress before. I remember thinking, “That was one tough call, I don’t know if I’m cut out for this.” I just did my work and promoted the heck out of the girl.
A few months the same actress called me up and asked me to do some publicity for her, so I must have done a good job! The rest is history. I ended up becoming a producer on a pilot she was doing. I flew out to LA and we filmed in a studio on Sunset Boulevard with a view of the Hollywood sign. That’s all it took for me to realize that this is what I want to do.
Then another door opened in the most unusual place at about the same time. I was at an educational conference, as I was on an elected member to my local Board of Education at the time. One of the speakers was talking about how her second career was entertainment. I remember waiting on the line to speak to her after the presentation. I got her card and I followed up. She is one of my best friends and we have since worked on several movies together. It’s all about the follow up.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your filmmaking career?
Hollywood.. ah Hollywood. I have lots of stories. I always say that I am a “behind the scenes” gal. I don’t have to look good all the time for a camera and check my weight everyday like actors do. I don’t know how they do it, it’s just so much pressure. One time I was in LA for an awards ceremony. I was staying at the hotel with a fellow producer, we’re both East Coast people. I put on my best black outfit because that’s what we wear here in NYC. We were going to a very exclusive restaurant on Rodeo Drive, meeting an actress I work with and an agent from a top Hollywood sales agency. When we got there and were escorted to a special room in the back, I noticed I was the only one in black.
I was starving. So was my producer friend. Well, I didn’t know that when people from LA go out to eat that they don’t really eat. Everything was small plates and low calorie. The only thing I could recognize all the ingredients for on the menu that I might like was a salad. I remember, it was a warm kale salad with cranberries and a walnut vinaigrette. I asked the waitress if she could put some chicken in it. I think the table was aghast, as was the waitress. She just said to me “Oh, I do not think the chef is going to put chicken on HIS salad.” He did not. Needless to say, I ordered room service when I got back to the hotel.
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
For anyone who has the courage to dream I can’t say enough that dreams do come true. And sometimes you get things you don’t know you even want, or know you want. To digress, I could not believe how much I loved my first-born child the first time I held him in my arms. It was a gift given to me that I never imagined how much I would appreciate. I was very career-oriented as a young woman.
Regarding meeting interesting people through my career, I have met people I never dreamed I would. I call them “pinch me” moments. I have met, or work with actors that I have watched my whole life on the screen and some of them are now I truly call friends. I also find myself in rooms with famous and accomplished people and wonder how I got there. I still get nervous approaching some people.
The most interesting person that I met was Gloria Steinem. When I was growing up as a teenager, she was the first woman I admired. My mother was an avid reader and instilled that in me. I started with magazines as a child — still enjoy that medium today. I remember reading Young Miss magazine as a tween. After that my mother said Ms. Magazine was the next step. Two years ago, I got to meet her at an event at my alma matter Rutgers. Rutgers had just accomplished instituting a Gloria Steinem Chair and I was invited to the reception.
I remember being quite nervous to go up to Gloria but I did. As I love magazines, I actually had saved copies of Ms. Magazine in the 80’s and brought one with me. I got the courage to talk to her, and yes, she signed my copy. I have quite the collectible now! I was such a fangirl I actually teared up when I spoke to her, but I remember what she said during our conversation. It was simple. Amid a few tales, she asked me, “What are you doing to pass it on? That is what it is all about. Help others. Rise up other women. Though I had always made a point to help young women when I could, I take extra time now to mentor young women. We need to rise each other up every day. I did not have anyone in business to do that for me when I first started.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I am very excited to be a producer on the film Lost Girls: Angie’s Story. The narrative is about a young suburban girl who gets trafficked. I could not put the script down. It was every mother’s nightmare. The film is made by the non-profit group called Artists for Change founded by Julia Verdin, who also wrote the script. I am very proud to be on the Advisory Board in the company of some amazing people. We create films to inspire social change. I’ve already started helping with the marketing, because we have a tremendous message to get out with this film and we want it to be seen and heard by those who could most be helped by it.
Second, I was recently asked to be a producer on a documentary about a women’s issue that is in the headlines these days. I was very honored to be asked to work on this as it is a sensitive subject and they wanted my expertise. There are gray areas to every controversy. I hope that the film will spark real conversation, which is the filmmaker’s goal.
I am also a big advocate for children in foster care, having volunteered for CASA for Children for over a decade. As such, I am in the development phase of a documentary on children in foster care. I also have a four-year plan (delayed due to the pandemic) to get a romantic comedy filmed. It is being written in the same vein as my all-time favorite romantic comedy Love Actually. There is a storyline in it about CASA as well as adoption. That’s the power of film, you can get the message out and entertain at the same time.
Which people in history inspire you the most? Why?
There are countless people that inspire me but I want to focus on the women. As I mentioned I have always admired Gloria Steinem. I also greatly admire Christa McAuliffe as an educator, astronaut and fearless woman. There should be more schools named after her. She once said, “Ordinary people make history.” Look at Rosa Parks. That’s the thing. You think they are ordinary and then realize they are not. We all have that ability in us.
There are so many women that have not received the recognition they deserve or have not heard about them because they are not in mainstream history books. This is where movies can really have an impact. When Hidden Figures came out, I was in awe of those women. In A Call to Spy, the story is about three female spies from Virginia Hall, Vera Atkins and Noor Inayat Khan. They are amazing women. Another woman at the top of my list, whom I am glad that filmmakers have documented is the notorious Ruth Bader Ginsberg. There aren’t enough words to describe what she has done for women — for equality — for all of mankind.
So many stories are yet to be to be told, so many women in history have done extraordinary things. And women are making history now; I will be fascinated to watch the progress of Greta Thunberg. I am also sure there are women in treatment making breakthroughs during this pandemic. All the young girls growing up today need to be more aware, films let them know of the possibilities for their own lives.
Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview, how are you using your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share with us the meaningful or exciting social impact causes you are working on right now?
I would like to start by saying that everyone has their causes they believe in, and one can’t address every need because there are so many of them — especially now — in this world. Mine have always been helping women and children, so that is what I gravitate towards. If we all help in our own lane, all the lanes will be filled with helpers.
The first movie I got involved in was a film called Equity. It’s streaming now and was on a major pay-network this summer. Producers such as myself, who are not the “production” producers invest talent or treasure or both to the movies they take on. I was drawn to Equity because it was presented to me as the first film about Wall Street that had a female lead. My mother used to invest in the stock market. She was a business major at college — and I may add one of just a few women with that major in the late 50’s. As a suburban mom, she invested to supplement our middle-class income. So, growing up in that environment, and seeing how it helped my life, I was intrigued with the concept.
I got to meet a lot of accomplished female funding bankers through this venture. I heard how proud they are that they can help people grow their funding. I also heard work stories from some of the women. There is a story line in the movie about how women would hide their pregnancies — especially when it was near bonus time. It is really incredible yet not at all surprising to hear how women felt persecuted for having a child in that industry.
I also learned how there were very few women in the industry. You have to realize, the women I came to meet, some of which I call my friends now started working in the 60’s and 70’s. Were there STEM programs for little girls back then? No there were not. These woman were trailblazers and women in these industries are multiplying but still in the minority.
We held screenings of the movie with special industry panels — film and banking. We invited women and men from financial organizations. What struck me the most, what gave me the most joy (aside from the fact that the movie was sold to Sony Pictures Classic) was seeing the young women, tired, in their banker suits showing up at the screenings after work. That was incredible, to see the young women watching role models for themselves right on screen.
After that success, which was my first foray into a narrative feature, I took on different types of producing and marketing roles in several different projects. It was fun, and I met so many people. I started getting lots of pitches and scripts. It was that point when I realized that not every movie has a real message, and that I should be taking on projects that have meaning. I became more selective. Entertainment unto itself has tremendous value — just look at we turn to in this pandemic for happiness and escape — but I started to realize entertainment with a purpose checks off even more boxes.
I work with Sarah Megan Thomas, who wrote an incredible script called A Call to Spy. She did an immense amount of research to write it. As I mentioned earlier it is inspired by the true stories of three females spies who made incredible sacrifices including their lives to relay messages back to the British. I had to get involved in this one. Not only is it about heroic females who have not gotten the recognition let alone credit that they deserve, but my dad was a veteran of WWII and fought in Europe. I wish he was alive to see it.
I am Executive Producer on Killian and The Comeback Kids, written by a young filmmaker, Taylor A. Purdee. I liked the script because of its music, location, and hopeful ending. It’s funny — sometimes one does not go into a project thinking that it will have social impact, and then it has the opportunity to do so. I don’t want to give away any spoilers — as it has just been released, but with all of the issues we have faced in 2020 in this country it seems the film has greater meaning now, especially since the filmmaker is mixed race. There is another movie I am co-producing called A Case of Blue. When it was first written, it was not a feminist movie, but since the script changed during production I think it makes a strong statement. Scott Rosenfelt (EP of Home Alone) is our EP on this one.
Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and take action for this cause? What was that final trigger?
I don’t know whether it’s nurture or nature, but there are the volunteers in this world. You can see it in a young child, there are the ones that instinctively raise their hands to volunteer for something when the teachers asks. I was one of those that always raised my hand. I am not sure where it came from, but I always felt a need to help. I know that there are many people out there like me. Now that I am older I feel a tremendous need to give back for all the blessings I’ve received in my life, and since I have good health, I’ve been able to help.
As you go through life, the things that you “raise your hand for” become increasingly difficult. I might have raised my hand to be a hall monitor in grade school and to run the yearbook in HS, but in college the opportunities became real world. I volunteered for some non-profits but it wasn’t that popular back then. Service is an integral part of most college’s curriculum now.
I became more active when I had kids. Children needed things. I joined the PTA, then ran for the Board of Education. I was asked to help out on a town activist group. I was asked to help start a charity for a young girl with muscular dystrophy. I then lead a few non-profit groups. You know, it’s difficult to talk about oneself. But the point is, the more you volunteer or do something for a cause, the more you realize what you can do for it. Sometimes you realize you can move mountains, and other times you see the limitations and have to manage expectations.
When you choose a cause, or choose a cause for a film, you take a risk. Not everyone will agree with your views. But if you go through life with no one disagreeing with what you do, then I feel you have not given the world enough of yourself. I once read, “If no one disagrees with what you are doing then you must not be doing anything worthwhile.” I now take disagreement as a compliment. The world changes, evolves and gets better from people who try new things.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
I hope that by making movies that entertain and also inform that I can inspire or change someone’s life or trajectory. I frequently get notes and calls from people who have told me how the movie has affected them. If you go into a project — any project — with the goal of significantly helping even one person and you do this, then to me that is a success. Think of how great the world would be if every person was able to positively impact the life on just one other person.
Are there three things that individuals, society or the government can do to support you in this effort?
For any cause that anyone believes in, it only takes one person to start a movement. I would encourage anyone and everyone to use some of your time to make the world a better place. It could be as simple as volunteering at your child’s school, or as complicated as trying to build an organization to serve a group of people in need. Everything starts with one person but then takes teamwork. And of course, money. Money is needed for everything.
If I were to speak exclusively about child trafficking, the first step would be to learn about the subject and then contact an organization related to it is the first step. It could be as simple as telling your friends about it or asking a speaker to come to your local organization. In this case, awareness is crucial because people don’t realize it could happen anywhere — in the best of neighborhoods.
The second step would be to consider volunteering. You could be so brave as to handing out bars of soap with helpline numbers at it at local hotels. Another step would be to write a check. It is never “just writing” a check. A check always helps more than you realize.
As far as the government goes, not many people realize how many non-profits the government funds. Funding these organizations is the cornerstone of keeping our country functioning. I am a proponent of funding for women’s and children’s programs. Money helps, as do laws. It is beyond the scope of this interview but new legislation is always needed to keep current with the issues of women and children.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1. Take more risks. I wish I had written more, especially starting a book when I was younger. Try what you can in your twenties. Each decade brings a new perspective.
2. Really think about what you want to do in life. Think about what you thought you wanted to be when someone asked you in grade school, “‘What do you want to be when you grow up?” I bet it’s the same. Life will pull you in certain directions, and then if you realize you did not pursue that path, you will see you have wasted precious time.
3. Don’t volunteer TOO much. It has to be a balance with the other things in your life and your family.
4. Use technology. I was of the generation that had to learn it all because it was not around when I was a kid. Take time to organize and use less paper — or you’ll end up with file cabinets full of paper that will stifle your creativity in years to come.
5. You can learn anything. Just because you didn’t study a particular career in school doesn’t mean you can’t learn a new skill or career by doing, reading, taking classes, talking to people and immersing yourself in it.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
It is easiest to say, “Someone else will do it,” But if you look around and understand what is going on in our society and the planet, you will realize that someone else or not enough people are doing something, that it is up to you and to your generation. I believe we are at a pivotal moment in our planetary history. Every person is needed to make this world a better place. But the caveat is, and I have seen this, health does play a part. You can only do what is possible with any health restrictions you may have. Some people can do more than others. But for example, if you can’t march, do something online. Find something you can do, because every little step, ever little action builds the momentum for change. The kind of change we need now needs the collective actions of thousands of people, if not more.
We are very blessed that many other Social Impact Heroes read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would like to collaborate with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂
That would be Oprah Winfrey. I have always looked up to her. There’s so much I can say about her but in a nutshell she overcame adversity, is very philanthropic and understands the power of film and storytelling. If I had a dream person to collaborate with on my documentary about the lost and forgotten children in foster care, it would be Ms. Winfrey.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Now that is the easiest question. My dad always said, “It only takes one.” And that’s it. One person can make a difference. One person can start a movement. One person can change the world. When I came across things I didn’t think were right as I went through life, my dad would say, “Well do something about it.” That’s it. It only takes one.
How can our readers follow you online?
My entertainment site: www.suzeebehindthescenes.com
This was great, thank you so much for sharing your story and doing this with us. We wish you continued success!