You don’t often hear about film producers from Vermont.
But at a coffee shop in his hometown of Ludlow last week, Jeremy Rosen, 40, recounted how he went from being a kid skiing Okemo, who loved movies and hip-hop, idolizing people like Russell Simmons, to actually working for Simmons and later producing films.
Rosen’s “Charlie Says,” about the girls surrounding Charles Manson, will have its Vermont premiere at 7 p.m. Friday, May 10, at Village Picture Shows in Manchester, followed by a Q&A and reception at stART Space Art Gallery.
“No matter where I’ve been, Vermont is the only place I’ve considered home since I was a kid,” Rosen said.
He moved to Ludlow at 13 with his parents and older brother, Josh, where his father was a medical doctor, and his mother owned the boutique, Tina’s Fun Stuff to Wear.
“I had this passion for all things entertainment,” Rosen recalled.
He got a job as a production assistant after college — an entry-level job that entailed anything from getting coffee to chaperoning talent. It can be a lot of grunt work, and Rosen said, “One of the things I realized was that I didn’t want to be a PA.
“I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything,” he added. “It’s ultimately what led me to my career.”
One night he worked a black-tie event, where none other than American entrepreneur, record executive, writer and film producer Russell Simmons was in attendance.
“I lobbied hard, and after a lot of nagging, they assigned me to Russell,” Rosen recalled. He was 22 at the time. “This was my big opportunity to meet a guy I idolized.”
At the end of the night, “I poured my heart out,” Rosen said. “I told him I wanted to go to law school, but I didn’t know what kind of career path I could charter.” Simmons gave him a business card and told Rosen to call.
When Rosen couldn’t get him on the phone, (“surprise, surprise”) he started showing up at Simmons’ Seventh Avenue office. It worked. Simmons spotted Rosen in the lobby, remembered his name and agreed to a meeting.
“I said, I don’t want any payment, I just want to be here,” Rosen said. “I want your mentorship.”
That worked, too, and Rosen spent all three years of law school not clerking for attorneys or judges, but working in that Seventh Avenue building.
“I knew it was a unique situation,” Rosen said. “It was basically a free safety, to use a football analogy. Wherever they needed me I went.”
When Rosen finished law school, Simmons made a call to a Park Avenue law firm, and suddenly Rosen went from hip-hop hustler to buttoned-up Ivy League attorney.
“Just as with my PA experience, I realized quickly that I didn’t want to be a lawyer,” he said. “I was making a great salary, but I had no passion for it. I wanted to be back in the entertainment world.”
He found a job with a smaller firm as an of-counsel (informal counsel), which paid less but gave him the freedom to sign his own clients. Many were based in Los Angeles, and so Rosen eventually made the move there himself.
“I was functioning more as an artist manager than a music lawyer,” Rosen said. “It’s dodgy to do both.” So he set up Roxwell Management, named for his childhood dog, and continued to cobble together the career that called to him.
“Most notably, we signed the artist Frank Ocean, who at the time went by his legal name,” Rosen said. “But the business is inherently fickle. Contracts are not worth the paper they’re printed on.
“I decided I can’t have someone show up at my office one day and say, ‘You know what, the vibe’s not right.’ After we put in so much blood, sweat and tears, for years,” Rosen said. That’s when he turned to filmmaking.
“I always loved movies,” he said. “But I had no idea went into the process of making them.”
“Indie films are often unsung heroes,” he said. “To me that’s the purest form of this medium,” and that was the direction he wanted to go. He realized many scripts were adapted from books, and since he knew about optioning literary rights, “I started soliciting screenwriters and authors.”
His first was a book called “Dog Eat Dog,” by Edward Bunker, who served time for armed robbery. Willem Dafoe and Nicolas Cage were cast, and the film was released in 2016.
“It took about two years to get the rights to that book,” Rosen recalled. “It was my first bona fide film producer credit.”
At the same time, he was developing another project called “The Family,” based on the 1971 bestseller by Ed Sanders, about mass murderer Charles Manson. Rosen optioned the rights and it became his most recently released film, “Charlie Says.” But Charles Manson is not the lead character in this film.
“We specifically wanted it to be about the women,” Rosen said. “And the underlying psychology. We weren’t interested in the gratuitous violence, which is what most Manson projects focus on.”
He optioned a second book, “The Long Prison Journey of Leslie van Houten,” by Karlene Faith, a prison-appointed graduate student and social worker who deprogrammed the women.
“Both books informed the script and gave a perspective that no one really knew about,” Rosen said.
Directed by Mary Harron, the movie is set in 1969 and the couple of years that follow. It tells the story of Manson girls Leslie van Houten, Patricia Krenwinkel and Susan Atkins. Guinevere Turner’s script walks a fine line between not being sympathetic towards the women and showing a different perspective.
“We felt the real untold story here was Leslie, Susan and Pat,” Rosen said. “How do these seemingly normal middle-class California young women fall into that life?”
Turner herself grew up in a cult, and knew how to tell the story. And Harron was adamant about the film’s authenticity, casting the actors best suited for the roles rather than compromising for star names. By eerie coincidence, the film is being released this year, on the 50th anniversary of Manson’s crimes in the Hollywood Hills.
“We open in theaters May 10,” Rosen said. “I wanted to do a Vermont premiere, and I hope it will be the first of many. Whatever I can do to drive traffic and arts-driven endeavors to Vermont, or play a part in reestablishing a film commission, and all of the trickle-down business effect that would have.
“I think people I work with would be surprised that I’m super low-key and private,” Rosen concluded. “Which lends itself to the Vermont lifestyle. It’s not a valet-parking town, and that’s what I prefer.”