×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Lori McCreary Learned How to Pivot Early. Then She Met Morgan Freeman

Four years ago, Revelations Entertainment CEO Lori McCreary saw the writing on the wall: the funding for the meaningful mid-budget films she and company co-founder Morgan Freeman favored was drying up. Friend and fellow producer Mark Gordon suggested she consider television, so she set up a lunch meeting with then-CBS Entertainment president Nina Tassler. She had no projects to pitch, only questions about what to do. Tassler told her to find a person or place that viewers could spend 100 hours with, then get back to her.

Initially, McCreary was at a loss. It was hard enough to find a character sufficiently interesting to warrant a 90-minute film. Then she saw Hillary Clinton’s forceful reaction to the controversy surrounding the terrorist attack on the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi, Libya, and she had her answer. It would be a series loosely inspired by Clinton and the two other women who’ve served as U.S. Secretary of State (Madeleine Albright and Condoleezza Rice). The result was “Madam Secretary,” created by Barbara Hall and starring Tea Leoni, now in its fourth season on CBS.

Like McCreary’s other Revelations projects, “Madam Secretary” strives — and succeeds — to be a popular entertainment that explores challenging, socially relevant issues. And the path McCreary took to bring it to the screen is consistent with her history of jumping in head first, asking tough questions and seeking out new solutions.

It started with her first film, the 1993 adaptation of the Percy Mtwa play “Bopha!” She had been struggling to bring the anti-apartheid drama to the big screen since 1986. After six years, it was finally set to go at Paramount with Freeman directing and Danny Glover in the lead. But, at the time, McCreary was a computer programmer who had never made a film, and they were going to be shooting in Zimbabwe, working with as many as 500 extras.

“I was told by all these producers that Paramount was never going to send me to Africa to make a movie,” recalls McCreary. “They’re going to put a real producer on it.”

But when McCreary was called into a meeting with a Paramount exec, she came armed with her Compaq portable computer, equipped with an early DOS version of Movie Magic budgeting and scheduling software.

“He said, ‘You have too many grips, cut it down by seven’ and, not knowing what a grip was, I did control-search-grip, changed it to the number he was asking, and said, ‘we’ll save this much money,’’’ recalls McCreary. “Because I knew the computer, I could tell him all these things, so they just gave me the benefit of the doubt that I would know what to do on set, which was very generous.”

Her nimble response wasn’t a fluke. It was the product of years of technological-creative cross-training.

Growing up in Antioch, Calif., 45 miles northeast of San Francisco, McCreary dreamed of one day opening her own theater. She began working in local stage productions at the Storyland Theater at the age of 8, and by the time she entered Antioch High School, she was a veritable stage vet, tasked with running the cutting-edge computerized lighting board in its new state-of-the-art theater.

“The first show I designed with it, the computer didn’t turn on on opening night, and I was like, ‘I have to learn this thing called computers,’” says McCreary.

McCreary wanted to double major in computer science and theater at UCLA, but, forced to choose one or the other, she picked the former, figuring she already had a wealth of stage experience. While at UCLA, she co-founded the software company CompuLaw. It was a success, but, a few years out of college, she decided she didn’t want to spend her whole life helping lawyers bill more effectively.

After seeing “Bopha!” at the National Theater in London, she and a partner took out an option on the play, and McCreary’s Hollywood journey began.

In the years since, McCreary has kept up with the cutting edge of entertainment technology, often dragging her peers along with her. In 2005, Revelations partnered with chip maker Intel on its Digital Home initiative, designed to educate the industry about the coming wave of tech and the potential for secure streaming content distribution. In 2006, she and Freeman put those theories into practice, co-founding the internet movie distribution company ClickStar, which was the first to offer legal streaming of a movie (the Freeman-starrer “10 Items or Less”) while it was still in theaters.

In 2009, she had Revelations fund a side-by-side comparison test of seven digital cameras to educate the industry on the capabilities of each system. And as president of the Producers Guild of America with Gary Lucchesi since 2014, she’s been active in anti-piracy efforts.

“Lori has been way ahead of the curve on everything,” marvels Gordon. “She has her finger on the pulse.”

More Film

  • The Wolf Hour

    Shanghai Film Review: 'The Wolf Hour'

    Run a finger along any of the surfaces in Alistair Banks Griffin’s sophomore feature “The Wolf Hour,” and it will come up slicked with sweat, grime and the residual soot of the city. It is the summer of 1977,  and it’s hotter than hell. June Leigh (Naomi Watts) perches on the window sill of the [...]

  • The Christmas Gift

    'The Christmas Gift,' 'Guaxuma,' 'King Wah' Win Top Awards at Palm Springs ShortFest

    The Palm Springs International ShortFest wrapped Sunday with top prizes going to “The Christmas Gift,” directed by Bogdan Muresanu, for best of the festival, Nara Normande’s “Guaxuma” for best international short and Horatio Baltz’s “King Wah (I Think I Love You)” for best North American short. The festival is the largest shorts-focused event in North [...]

  • Vortex

    Shanghai Film Review: 'Vortex'

    Official statistics imply that violent crime is close to an all-time low across China today, but you would hardly guess as much from the glut of commercial-leaning crime and gangster movies that the Middle Kingdom is producing and, as often as not, given the accessibility of the genre and the historical pedigree of Asian action [...]

  • Box Office: Toy Story 4 Opens

    Box Office: 'Toy Story 4' Launches Overseas With $120 Million, 'Aladdin' Clears $800 Million

    Disney’s summer box office slate continues to dominate over other studios as “Toy Story 4” launches overseas with a solid $120 million and “Aladdin” crosses $800 million in ticket sales. Disney and Pixar’s latest “Toy Story” entry led international box office charts when it debuted in 37 foreign territories. It also dwarfed the competition in [...]

  • Toy Story 4 Box Office: Pixar

    Box Office: 'Toy Story 4' Dominates With $118 Million Debut

    Disney’s domination over the box office only seemed to strengthen this weekend as “Toy Story 4” easily topped box office charts. The fourth entry in Pixar’s animated series collected $118 million in ticket sales when it debuted in 4,575 North American theaters. While that haul is significantly below expectations – early estimates initially anticipated a [...]

  • Shanghai international Film Festival closing ceremony

    Iran's 'Castle of Dreams' Sweeps Shanghai Golden Goblet Award Ceremony

    China’s top film festival showered its highest three honors on the Iranian film “Castle of Dreams,” hours after U.S. President Donald Trump said his administration would on Monday impose “major additional sanctions” on Tehran. “Castle of Dreams,” a drama about family, separation and keeping one’s promises collected a trio of prizes on Sunday night at [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content