10 Producers to Watch
By the time his first film hit theaters, Michael Roiff had already experienced more elation and tragedy than even the most hardened vets.
“Waitress,” has been, in many ways, an indie-film fairy tale. A quirky romantic comedy about a pie-baking whiz searching for a better life, the film competed at Sundance, where Searchlight snapped it up for $5 million. “Waitress” opened in May to strong reviews and box office, earning about $19 million over a four-month summer run.
But the film’s spectacular story was tempered by a horrific event. In November last year, as the filmmakers were awaiting word from Sundance, Adrienne Shelly, who wrote, directed and starred in “Waitress,” was murdered.
“It’s been incredibly hard to really enjoy everything that’s happened,” Roiff says. “Adrienne was really my one teammate from the beginning — she had become a close friend and a bit of a mentor for me.”
After graduating from Harvard in 2001, Roiff did a brief stint as a management consultant before jumping ship and moving to Los Angeles. After producing several L.A. plays, he managed to raise enough money through private equity to fully fund his own film. And all he needed was the right script. “I had read hundreds of scripts, but when I read ‘Waitress,’ I just flipped for it. Two years later, we were shooting.”
Since Sundance, Roiff has kept busy, financing and producing two more low-budget indie pics through his company, Night and Day Pictures. “American Son,” directed by Neil Abramson, stars Nick Cannon as a young Marine on leave from Iraq. “Ball Don’t Lie,” helmed by Brin Hill, tells the story of a foster kid who finds his calling through basketball. Cast includes Ludacris, Rosanna Arquette, Emilie de Ravin, Mykelti Williamson and Cannon. Both films are in post.
“In the beginning, the goal was just to make one film and see how it went,” Roiff says. “Now, I just want to keep working as much as I can, telling true, good stories and protecting the vision of the directors I work with.”
Inspired by: “Walt Disney — I have always been amazed by what he created and the kind of happiness he’s brought to so many people.”