Judy Hofflund: Leaning Into Producing
“I was very happily not working,” notes Judy Hofflund, who had retired after 30 years in the business as an agent and manager, “but I had to say, ‘Yes,’” when former client, Kenneth Branagh asked her to be a producer on his latest film, Murder on the Orient Express. “I asked Ken, “This movie is huge, are you sure?’ He was completely confident, saying, ‘I know you will find your way.’ He was right. I got busy immediately. Being a manager is about problem solving. What is the strategy to make it all happen? I am a really practical, organized person. My philosophy is, let's take the drama out of it and solve the problem.”
She jumped right in, working stateside prior to flying to London ten days before filming began. The film has 16 of the industry’s biggest stars coming on board, including Johnny Depp, Dame Judy Dench, Michelle Pfeiffer, Penelope Cruz, Daisy Ridley and this year’s Golden Globe winner, Olivia Colman, to name just a few. The logistics of getting them all on the set was not an easy task given the multiple projects that each is involved in. “It may sound clichéd,” smiles Judy, “but there is a collaborative nature that comes to women naturally. I’m very comfortable saying, ‘What do you think? Let's put our brains together.’”
Nobody is surprised at the great job she did considering that she was the first woman to work in CAA’s mailroom. While studying psychology at UCLA, Judy would sneak away to indulge her first passion – film. She loved the escape of the big screen and would watch whatever she could, but never considered the industry as a career until she read an article on Sherry Lansing, who had been head of Fox Studios. She laughs at the memory of the discovery, “I went, ‘Oh, there is a business to this? That is pretty fantastic.’ It was really exciting for me that here was a woman, and a president of a company. I thought: wow!”
Hofflund put the thought into action. “I had been reading the trades and saw these big ads of Robert Redford and Paul Newman, all these huge stars that CAA was signing. I knew that’s where I needed to be. I managed to get an interview and thought I had aced it, but I didn’t hear back initially. I didn't realize that they were prevaricating over hiring a woman. It had never been done in that capacity before. The mailroom job entailed carrying heavy film cans, moving heavy typewriters around, and delivering packages throughout the city and Valley. They were nervous about a woman doing those things.” After a chance run-in with legendary agent Mike Ovitz, Judy pushed him on CAA’s silence, and she was hired the next day.
There followed a career most dream of. Five years as an agent at CAA, which she finally left to start her own agency, Intertalent. When her partner decided to return to ICM she came in as a full partner to UTA, and developed what was mainly a literary agency into a full-blown agency that also represented actors. During her tenure, she had a nursery for her daughters that included a climbing structure and desks, so that they could play and do their homework after Judy had picked them up from school.
How did she handle being one of the most influential people in the industry while also attending her children’s events? “I’m very direct,” she notes. While everyone else is schmoozing, it's in my nature to get in there and get straight to the point. I would get to the office and say to my assistant, ‘Hi, let's go, who called?’ That was because I wanted to get as much work done as quickly as possible before 3 o'clock when I picked up my children from school. That meant that all that remained to do after 3 o’clock, was respond. Prior to that I had initiated all the work that needed to be done.” “When young girls ask me for advice I tell them, choose a field you love and then acknowledge that work is work. That is the reason it's called work and not called play.”
Judy clearly understands the difference. “I didn't know what my contribution would be when I was brought on this film, but I knew I would earn my keep, and I know I contributed a lot. I am never along just for the ride,” and she’s looking forward to repeating the process. “Look,” she says, “I was never bored for one moment while I wasn't working, but how could I say, ‘no,’ to Kenneth Branagh? He is an inspirational director, fun to be around, and a force of will that makes good things happen. I love that energy. He has taken a classic Agatha Christie, and combined an intelligent story with a stellar cast, that includes himself, not only as director, but also as the famous Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. It’s kind of like a period piece whodunit, like a George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Oceans 11.” She chuckles delightedly at the analogy. “When I look back at my career I feel lucky, but I also think it's how you look at things. Someone else could look at what I did and say, ‘It was so hard.’ I feel like I am a ‘glass-half-full’person.”