Two Sides of the World
From New Zealand to L.A., Charlotte Larsen maintains her independence.
Charlotte Larsen is infiltrating the film and television industry from Down Under and below-the-line.
A native of New Zealand, where she already had a track record as a producer of independent films, she moved to Los Angeles in 2011 to expand her list of both producing and acting credits.
"I wanted to be an actor pretty much since I was a kid," says Larsen. Although she had originally intended to become a director-turned-actor, Larson confesses, "I found myself more on the producing side because I was trying to find the projects I wanted to do, and I kind of fell into that and acting went by the wayside."
Her career path seems natural, given Larsen's skill set. "I've always had a slightly business, slightly analytical mind," she asserts, which makes her great at producing.
"There's always something different going on, each project is different, each project has its own set of challenges and problems. So sitting in front of a computer or being on set and troubleshooting with things that are happening is putting the right side of my brain to use, and I really enjoy that."
Larsen got her start in the industry after receiving her B.A. from the Victoria University of Wellington. "I graduated from college with my film degree and I really had no idea what I was going to do with it. Being from New Zealand where the big production house made Lord of the Rings," she considers, "I could have tried to get in there but I thought, 'I want to make my own work!'"
And thus an indie producing career was born. "I had no idea what I was doing. I just thought I had a great idea and I could put it together with some friends and then we just started throwing out things we wrote and seeing what happened."
Larsen launched her own production company, Random Films, in 2005 with New Zealand-based partner Mark Westerby.
In addition to producing its own work, Random Films assists with behind-the-scenes footage. "People come to us to do all their interviews and things like that," says Larsen. "We've done a whole range of projects over the last 15-odd years, which is really exciting!"
When asked about working in her home country, Larsen notes, "Well, in New Zealand, the country's a lot smaller so obviously the industry's a lot smaller. Everyone knows everybody. So it's really great because we always help each other.
"You end up working with the same people over and over again because you've done several projects before. You kind of become a family."
But in LA? "It does happen," she concedes, "but the projects you work on can be so diverse that you work with a bunch of different people on several projects. You might get back to working with somebody later on, but it doesn't happen as soon as it would in New Zealand."
All this in consideration, the industry in her native land has shaped her career today. Before coming to Los Angeles she founded the Emerging Artists Trust (EAT) in 2007. Based in Wellington, EAT is a non-profit which assists upcoming artists in New Zealand's film, theatre, and visual arts via grants and mentorship programs.
Larsen still sits on EAT's Board of Trustees. It's a way of providing for her "family" back home.
She cites fellow New Zealand producer Barrie M. Osborne (The Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Matrix) as a great personal influence as well. Larsen says she first met Osborne while making Gloria, a Mexican pop-star biopic on which she was an executive producer. "We worked on that, we're going to work on one more project, hopefully.
"He guided me a little bit with what I've been doing on the producing side," says Larsen.
She also got to spend time with him on set during the filming of Pete's Dragon. "I got a little bit of an inside into a Disney production," she remarks. An eye-opening experience for someone who's mostly worked on independent films.
Larsen's other executive producer credits include features like indie comedy Pork Pie and Mike Newell's adaptation of Great Expectations, as well as TV New Zealand's hit series Auckward Love. "They're mostly feature films I've done before, but I'm starting to get into TV. I'm starting to get into series and that kind of thing," says Larsen.
"I have a project that I am developing which is an Italian immigrant series, a mini-series. That's in the very, very early stages but it's exciting to see where it could go." She's also co-executive producer on Legends, an Australian sitcom from creator Stan Harrington.
They're currently trying to get the Legends pilot picked up. And even though Australia is a neighbor to her home country, Larsen says she got involved with the project after meeting Harrington in Los Angeles. "It's a very interesting way to get a project in Australia, to meet an Australian in LA and then go to Australia to shoot a sitcom."
Larsen also scored a role on camera in the aforementioned pilot. Having never given up on her original dream, Larsen studied at the Stella Adler Academy of Acting after moving to Los Angeles and now courts projects both on-and off-camera with equal verve.
She says that knowing the industry from both sides has made her more adaptable in pursuing each. "I really like being able to get into a production and, if I'm producing it, being able to say 'I'm an actor as well. With reading, I'm here to help you out, as long as I'm suitable for whatever's being shot.'"
She adds, "Also, in terms of being a producer who knows how actors work, how actors think, what they need, what their needs are—it's great to be able to go, 'Ok, I understand why you're acting what you're acting or what you need to make your job happen.' Because I've been on both sides, it's easier for me to understand and to have that connection with actors."
From the acting side, she says her background as a producer gives her greater understanding and patience with all the delays and hangups that a production can involve. But her hyphenate career status can pose somewhat of a caveat at times.
"As an actor, if I'm not producing that project, I'm like 'What's going on? I wanna get involved.' You know? I want to be in control and I have to let that go, so that's a little challenging sometimes.
"And again, if I'm producing and I'm not acting I kind of go like, 'Um, can I be in this? I want to be in front of the camera!' So there's a lot of conflict internally when you're doing both sides."
Larsen now works primarily out of Los Angeles. She's accrued a few on-screen credits in the last couple of years. She's also bringing awareness to the opportunities available through her production company and her country's film and television industry.
"It's great being here because I'm on the ground making contacts and meeting with people and getting people excited about making a film in New Zealand."
In addition to heading its own projects, Random Films helps facilitate contacts to LA-based companies who may want to film in New Zealand. They also can offer industry professionals a production base while they're shooting on foreign soil.
And why should television productions consider shooting in New Zealand? Larsen mentions the beautiful scenery, the domestic talent, and the consistent breaks during the workday as some of the perks.
"We've got a great reputation," she says, "so it's pretty attractive to a filmmaker. And also who doesn't want to go on a trip to New Zealand?"
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