These days, UCLA alumnus Brian Etting can safely call himself a film producer.
He has his own production company ““ Garlin Pictures ““ and has a strong collection of films to his name, including his latest work, “Broken,” screening at the James Bridges Theater tonight as part of Melnitz Movies.
For Etting, “Broken” marks a stylistic departure from earlier work such as “Relative Strangers” and “Tough Luck.”
“This project was sort of unconventional for me. Before, I was doing mostly comedies or thrillers, and this was an art-house drama with great characters,” Etting said. “(It is) this fantastic drama about a girl that came to L.A. with great hopes of becoming a rock star, but who found herself at a dead-end job, with a boyfriend that sort of took her down a spiral of heroin addiction. But she never sort of gave up on that dream of becoming a great rock star. I really connected with (the) pitch.”
While he may seem to have everything worked out these days, Etting’s career didn’t start on the right foot. Or, at least, it didn’t seem to at the time.
“I came into UCLA hoping to get into the undergraduate film program and I didn’t get in,” he said.
“The day I got my film school application back, I was so excited, because when I was a kid growing up, I always wanted to become a filmmaker. I thought, “˜All right, this is the next step, you go to film school.’ But I got my application back and I remember it had a stamp on it. I think it said “˜Denied’ or something.”
With his original college plans all but derailed by the rejection, Etting looked to other educational avenues.
“I ended up doing the next best thing, which was English literature. I started writing and reading great books and great authors.”
Ironically, this move away from film ended up helping Etting later on his film-related endeavors.
“(The) most interesting filmmakers are the people that are really well-rounded, that have an education outside of the editing room, outside of the film classes and really study great writing and great authors and great stories,” Etting said.
“English, in retrospect, is the best thing I could have done.”
Etting’s actual producing career would begin later. After graduating from UCLA with his English degree, Etting began working full-time at American World Pictures, an independent company ran by Mark Lester, the director of “Commando” and “Firestarter.”
As chance would have it, Lester was in dire need of a producer, and Etting quickly moved up the ranks to fill in the spot. He was 24.
“I … produced something like six or seven films for them,” Etting said.
This early experience was instrumental in honing his abilities.
“I developed great skills as a producer, was able to identify great material and then put all the elements together, which is the financing, and the director, and the talent, and understanding the foreign market well enough to mitigate risk and not lose your investments.”
Eventually, Etting garnered enough experience to form Garlin Pictures, the production company he currently runs with his brother Joshua.
“Broken” represents an ironic turn-around for Etting. Back in his student days, he used to work for the film department at campus events, choosing which features would be screened, and which would not. Now it is his film that has been chosen.
“It’s so exciting. I have now made something like 12 movies, and I would have loved to show all of them at UCLA,” Etting said.
“Perhaps (“Broken”) is the best one to start off with, because it really taps into what a lot of people at the film school are probably going to wrestle with, and that is: How do I get to a place where I can show the world how good I am?”
It would seem Etting is close to getting to that place himself.