What does a producer do?

What does a producer do?

Jersey native Mark Kamine talks about ‘White Lotus,’ location scouting, and the ‘Sopranos’

Mr. Kamine with Christian Bale in a scene from “The Fighter.”
Mr. Kamine with Christian Bale in a scene from “The Fighter.”

There were two questions I wanted to ask Mark Kamine, executive producer of the hit HBO series “The White Lotus.” Obviously, the most pressing was whether Jennifer Coolidge somehow will be resurrected for Season Three.

Fans know that Ms. Coolidge starred in the first two seasons, set in luxury hotels in Hawaii and then in Italy. Sadly, her character met an unfortunate and untimely end, but fans were hoping for a miracle resurrection.

Mr. Kamine is Zooming from Los Angeles where he is ensconced in his son’s home. He’s just back from Thailand, where he’d been prepping Season Three.

And, no, Jennifer will not return.

No time to mourn. On to the real subject of our conversation: “On Locations: Lessons Learned from My Life on Set with The Sopranos and in the Film Industry.”

Mark Kamine

As the title of his book suggests, Mr. Kamine earned his bones finding locations where Tony Soprano and friends could take care of business. Fittingly, much of that business was conducted in areas familiar to Mr. Kamine, who grew up in Wayne.

His largely secular family belonged to Beth Tikvah, where Mark attended Hebrew school and had his bar mitzvah. Early on, he lived a largely conventional life: earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English, married Tana, had a child — that’s Jack, who’s now married, has a child, and lives in the house Mr. Kamine is Zooming from — and moved to Montclair. He taught at a community college, did some freelance writing, but seemed professionally unfulfilled.

So he enrolled in film school, where he learned that “film was a multifaceted industry,” he said. “It acquainted me with all the different aspects of lighting, camera equipment, and casting. You know, you just learn what goes into the making of a film.

“I think my goal at the time was that maybe I would write for TV or something, because I was writing at the time. Publishing some book reviews and short stories. But I think pretty soon after I started, I realized that they were totally different media.”

Mr. Kamine also discovered that he was good at organizing fellow students’ film shoots. Unfortunately, film school is different from, say, learning how to drive an 18-wheeler. Graduates who have mastered the art of driving those behemoths are guaranteed a job on graduation.

Many indoor scenes for “The Sopranos” were filmed in Silvercup Studios in Long Island City.

But Mr. Kamine was left with $30,000 in student loan debt and little else to show for it. Through a friend he got hired at “this really small budget movie,” he said. But despite his education, “I didn’t really know what I was doing and got fired.

“Then two days after I got fired, the producer called me back and said, ‘Well, the guy we hired is even worse than you were.’ I slowly learned, from what I was doing wrong, the things that I should do.”

Eventually, he landed a position with a producer. That position did not pay him a salary, but it offered the promise of a job if any of the producer’s film projects came to fruition. One did. Mr. Kamine got a job on a Robert Redford film, “Quiz Show,” as an assistant in the location department.

“They’re the lowest person in the department,” he said. “So I would unfold and set up catering tables and chairs. I would set up mirrors and clip lights for extra hair and makeup stations. I would be in charge of cleaning areas not in the set, because unions dictate very strictly. And I also might be running errands.”

In one of several funny anecdotes, he writes about a time he was standing next to a portable air conditioner that was making too much noise. Someone yelled “shut it off,” so he moved a toggle switch and was quickly yelled at and threatened with being thrown off the set. He’d inadvertently done a union job.

Mr. Kamine’s father played softball for Eastside in Paterson.

That violation aside, Mr. Kamine apparently was good at his gofer duties. Also (based entirely on the book and our brief conversation) he seems likable. People remembered him. And that, if his book is to be believed, may be a relatively rare commodity in certain sections of the industry. Two unnamed producers used film funds and crew to build a liquor store they went on to own.

Another, on “The Sopranos,” was so nasty that star Edie Falco refused to work when he was on the set.

A producer Mr. Kamins had worked with before brought him in to interview with David Chase, the creator and driving force of “The Sopranos.” He was hired as a scout, the person who goes out in a car, with camera in hand (this being pre-iPhone days) to take photos of potential locations that fit a script’s needs. Based on those pictures the designers and powers decide which location to pursue further.

Depending upon who you ask, “The Sopranos” ran either six or seven seasons. For some reason Mr. Kamine doesn’t understand, what normally would have been Season Seven was called Season Six Part Two. In any event, during that time Mr. Kamine was promoted to “assistant locations manager, which is kind of the next step up and paid a little better, and then location manager, which meant this was actually a career.

“You’re in the Directors’ Guild in New York, you make decent money, you get a pension and health insurance.”

Mr. Kamine got a memorial Sopranos belt buckle when the series ended.

During that period, he made his first appearance as an actor. He played the dean of admissions at the college where Meadow Soprano (Jamie-Lynn Sigler) applied. This was less a function of Mr. Kamine’s skills as an actor as it was of Mr. Chase getting tired of interviewing actors.

Mr. Kamine also tried his hand at writing a script. That proved to be less successful than his acting career, which continued with a brief first-season appearance with his wife (who had more lines than he did ) as an intrusive couple at the Hawaiian airport. Again, it was less skill that earned him the part than the economics of the covid lockdown, which required that any actors brought in had to spend at least seven very expensive days on the hotel grounds.

Fortunately, none of these diversions halted Mr. Kamine’s steady career progress, not only in television but in films as well. He went on to play key roles and produce such popular and significant films as “The Fighter,” Teds 1 and 2, “Silver Linings Playbook,” and “American Hustle.”

Producers’ duties vary. Some are creative, though a lot of it is financial stuff. Part of his popularity with creatives, though, may be that in disputes with the studio, Mr. Kamine tends to support the artists.

All that remained was the second question I needed to ask and had saved for last: Can you explain the ending of “The Sopranos”?

“Wow,” he said, with a chuckle. “No. Because even though I read the script, by the time it aired, I must have forgotten. I was watching it with my wife like everyone else, and when the screen went to black, we both wondered did the cable just go.

“I read some of the follow-up. There were all these theories but, no, I can’t explain it.”

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