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Jon Kuyper: His sensible, behind-the-scenes magic

Dylan Amirio

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Sat, December 15, 2018  /  09:42 am
Jon Kuyper: His sensible, behind-the-scenes magic

Jon Kuyper (JP/Umair Rizaludin)

Hollywood producer Jon Kuyper is the man responsible for keeping things together so that many of your favorite stories are able to be enjoyed on screen.

Currently based in Australia, Jon Kuyper’s production portfolio is impressive, being the production executive of several big-name Hollywood films of late, such as The Great Gatsby, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay and The Hobbit, to smaller fares such as Bring It On: All or Nothing and even animated TV films like Scooby Doo! The Mystery Begins. 

In his decades-long tenure, he has filled the roles of executive producer, line producer and mostly production executive for more than 50 films, with both big and small budgets. He began working as a production manager under American director and producer Roger Corman and has worked at Warner Bros. Studios and Lionsgate Films. 

Kuyper was briefly in Jakarta for the Indonesian Contemporary Art and Design (ICAD) exhibition at the Grand Kemang Hotel in South Jakarta, where he participated in a session about the translation of stories into films, as per the theme of the event, along with Indonesian director Mira Lesmana. 

As a realizer of stories, Kuyper highlighted the reality that lies behind the wonderful stories on screen: There are hours and hours of painstaking work and anxiety that those behind the film tend to go through before effectively telling the story on the big screen. It is effectively the efforts of those behind the scenes that make the films how they are. 

As an executive producer for both big and small productions, the Santa Monica, California, native claims that his job is “90 percent preparation, 10 percent troubleshooting”, which inevitably keeps him up at night with anxiety following shooting days. 

Since he is the production executive for many films, he must embody a kind of omnipresent role overseeing each and every little detail that goes into a film in production.

The Great Gatsby ( 2013 ) (Courtesy of Warner Bros.) The Great Gatsby ( 2013 ) (Courtesy of Warner Bros.) 

For one, Kuyper stresses the importance of making the decisions of everyone on set matter. Safety on set, for the man, is the number one priority and it is vital for the opinions of everyone on set from the biggest of stars to the smallest of crew members to have their say on whether conditions are safe enough for filming. 

It was this same environment that Kuyper practiced when he was overseeing the filming of Mad Max: Fury Road, a film with so many hair-raising technical stunts. 

In the end, the shoot went by with what Kuyper described as only “light” injuries, but in a high-octane film environment with more than 200 people involved, it is the best results that one can expect. 

“Safety is something I go overboard on with my crew, with my actors, etc. I cannot stress the importance of any one of them saying something if they feel a condition is unsafe to work in. With Mad Max I’m happy to say that everyone was well prepared and people who voiced concerns were thoroughly listened to,” he recalled.

Mad Max ( 2015 )Mad Max ( 2015 )

Kuyper mostly works as a “physical production” producer. He prepares the film and oversees the shooting. Part of being an effective production executive for a film is to realize the difficulties experienced by every single small player, from the costume designers, to the effects team and to the people who wash all the costumes and wigs at the end of the day. 

Kuyper has tasted almost all of those positions, voluntarily during his time when he was working as a production assistant on Rocky V in 1990, which also led him to become the personal writing assistant to Sylvester Stallone.

“Few could decipher Stallone’s handwriting,” he claims. 

“While I was his assistant, I had blocks of time during the day. So I refused to do nothing about it and instead dedicated myself to a different department every week just to see how different sections work,” Kuyper explains. 

In the first week, he said he was with the SFX guys. He sat on their truck and watched them come in, go out, watching what they do, etc. 

“The next week I hung out at the costume department. I’d spend time with them and learn about the importance of continuity, how doubles work, how stunt guys work, etc. and move to another one next week and so on,” he says. 

“As a result, I felt like I had a higher appreciation for their jobs. They have some of the longest hours because they prepare long before the shoot starts and way after the shoot ends. How tough is that? Having this kind of exposure affected the way I work now as a producer.” 

Kuyper sees his role also as an exercise in sensitivity and adaptability, as people would run into situations they would not expect or prepare for.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 ( 2014 ).The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 ( 2014 ).

As a supervisor overseeing an entire production, Kuyper stands by a reminder that everyone on set is looking up to him when things go wrong, from the props people to the actors themselves. That pushes him to stay as calm and collected as he can so that others can see that “things are going to be OK”.

“It’s about staying fresh. I can’t function if I don’t relax and not stress about things visibly. Whether it’s getting enough sleep, exercising, meditating, you know, whatever it takes to keep yourself together because if you’re not together, then no one is,” he says. “But it has to look real, though. You got to walk that talk.” 

Despite his job’s difficulties, he is resigned to the fact there is only one more job on a film set that is far harder than his. 

“Directors, though, they have the absolute hardest job on set because they’re responsible for these things I am, but in a way that it translates well on screen. I don’t have any aspirations to direct, though,” he laughs.