New York Film Academy students were treated to a special screening of the groundbreaking, and box office record making, indie horror film Saw and participated in a Q&A with the film’s producer Oren Koules and cinematographer / NYFA instructor David Armstrong. Producer Tova Laiter moderated the discussion.
In 2003, Koules made an almost one million dollar investment with partner Mark Burg to produce Saw. By 2011 the Saw franchise had earned roughly 870 million at the box office. The movie, shot in a mere 18 days, was a very fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants experience according to Oren and David Armstrong (cinematographer of Saw I through VI). The luxuries of a studio movie were nowhere to be seen on this film set. They would often have to get a shot in one take because of time or resource restrictions. However, the run-and-gun nature of making the film, coupled with the fact that Oren was betting everything on an idea he simply believed very strongly in, was an exhilarating experience that made him feel alive.
Oren Koules’ story is one that defies Hollywood logic. At the age of thirty-one Oren decided to become a Hollywood producer and he moved to Los Angeles. He tried to get a job as an assistant, but without any industry-related experience, nobody would hire him. However, Oren let none of that deter him and decided instead to just go straight for his goal. Koules was introduced to former Los Angeles Times reporter, Dale Pollock, and the two formed Peak Productions soon after. Together, they packaged films that began getting studio attention for their undeniably good and cutting-edge taste. After landing deals they began producing films like Mrs. Winterbourne and Set It Off. The early success of Peak Productions led Koules to a job as the Senior Vice President of Production at Paramount Pictures. In 1998, Koules and Mark Burg founded management / production company Evolution Entertainment. They produced the Denzel Washington-led thriller film, John Q, which was released in 2002.
Evolution Entertainment was also responsible for the production of Two and a Half Men starting in 2003. At this time Oren forged a relationship with Charlie Sheen. Having starred in a string of B-movies, Sheen’s Hollywood value had dropped. Oren saw a new future for Charlie—as a TV star. He convinced Sheen to stop making movies for six months to neutralize his image and until his former representation contracted ended. After that, Koules signed him to Evolution Entertainment and he maneuvered Sheen onto his iconic role as Charlie Harper on Chuck Lorre’s Two and a Half Men and became an executive producer on the show. Not bad for Oren having only arrived to Hollywood a little more than a decade before!
When asked what advice Oren had for filmmakers just starting out in the entertainment industry, his message was simple: “Just believe in yourself.” This wraps up the experience of meeting Oren Koules in so many ways. The man exudes the calm, confidence of a do-er. Oren’s journey through Hollywood has been a steady, determined march as he manifests his goals. His example helps one to truly believe that the key to success is found in believing.
We sincerely thank Oren Koules and David Armstrong for speaking at the New York Film Academy and wish them continued success in their careers!