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Meet Greg Vie of SAY LA VIE PRODUCTIONS in West Los Angeles

Today we’d like to introduce you to Greg Vie.

Greg, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
When I graduated from college, my cousins gave me a director’s chair. The fabric on the backing said my name on one side and PRODUCER on the other. They knew I loved the movies and intended moving to LA. I really wanted to be an actor, not a producer. Funny how things work out.

I see my adult life in three acts. Act one: I moved to Los Angeles when I was 22 and I found work at the long gone Century City Shubert Theater.

While working at the theater, I had my first headshots taken by a guy named Ed Krieger. Ed will come back later in this story. I got a commercial agent too.

Through Bonni Lee, a friend and future film executive, I landed a job in the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studio’s mailroom. When I left years later, I was the Feature Story Editor for United Artists. During those years, I still found time for commercials auditions.

Aside from the acting, I’d always been into photography and on weekends, I began taking pictures of celebrities. One up and coming actor I photographed was Christian Slater. I began giving the pictures to his mother, Mary Jo Slater, an MGM casting director. One day, she asked if I would photograph Christian’s 20th birthday party. I jumped at the chance. After giving her the photos, I mentioned I thought I could sell them. With her permission, I spoke with studio publicist, Kim Reed. Kim advised me to contact Richard DeNuet at the Globe Photo’s Agency.

That introduction to DeNuet leads me to cover weekend celebrity events over the next decade. I took my last press photos in 2011 of Peter O’Toole when he placed his hands and feet in cement at the Chinese Theater. I wasn’t with Globe anymore by that time, but he was my favorite actor and I talked my way into the press area. My camera got me into places and near famous people, I otherwise would never have been. I plan to do a book with the photos I kept.

During that time, I also took master classes in lighting and photography and started shooting portraits and some weddings. All the while, I was still at MGM, until I wasn’t. In 1999, my job was dissolved.

By this time, I no longer wanted to work in the industry, but photography wasn’t paying all the bills.

Act two: In 2001, I became a substitute teacher for LA Unified and went back to school to get a Masters in Clinical Psychology. During this time, my creative juices subsided. Besides, graduate papers, I was doing little writing. I stopped going on commercial auditions and wasn’t doing much photography either. I can’t say this was a terrible time in my life. Just different and rewarding in other ways.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Act three: You get to a certain age when you wonder, what does life mean? What is my purpose? What am I going to leave behind?

In 2019, I stopped substituting and ventured back into a more creative life. I was taking acting classes again and working on a lifelong dream.

Throughout the decades, starting with a first draft in my early twenties, I had been writing and rewriting a play based on a six month period during my first year in LA. I had moved into a rented house on Martel Avenue in West Hollywood with two guys I knew from college. It was a fun but turbulent and short time. We were evicted after six months because the house was been sold. In the end, my roommates were barely talking to each other and I was scared shitless about the future.

There was real grief in losing this living situation and I turned to writing. In 1982, I finished the first draft of a three character play based on my roommates and myself. I said it was a male version of the play VANITIES, The play was called Open House and it took place in 1979, the year we lived together. Over the decades, I would do countless rewrites. While some characters were added, the basic story never changed; three friends who would come to symbolize family searching for identity and acceptance in the face of isolating denial.

Being an introvert, I’ve always felt I’ve been more an observer to life than a participant. For me, it’s been a defense mechanism; a way of surviving. This was in part due to my own struggles with my sexuality and my inability to reconcile that I was gay. While I could write the two other characters with some insight and honestly, my character went through the playmaking wisecracks. The truth was I couldn’t be honest and that was reflected in the character. The story focused on the other two, but in the end, after years of therapy, it became clear that this was my story and the central character had to be me.

By 2018, I felt it was now or never and I decided to produce the play myself. Through my acting teacher, Allen Levin, I had found a director. But unfortunately, he wasn’t about to help me with all the other pieces I needed to put the play together so I was in limbo. Then one day the director told me about Theatre Planners, an LA company that produces independent theater. But he warned they usually only did bigger budgeted productions, more than I might want to spend.

I submitted the play to Theatre Planners, we met and agreed to work together. The director was right. They liked the play well enough but wanted assurances that I could commit to a bigger budget than I had in mind.

My financial advisor suggested I cash in my life insurance policies to pay for the production. This made sense since I had no family. But even in the insurance wasn’t enough to cover all the costs.

To protect my personal finances, I formed SAY LA VIE PRODUCTIONS. I had had my own photography business many years prior, but setting this up was a little more complicated. Fortunately, I had a lot of help from my accountant.

In early late 2018, Theatre Planners took over the role as producers, with me, or SAY LA VIE, as the executive producer. In normal times, Theater Planners produces around 10-14 plays a year in Los Angeles and New York and they hired everyone from the casting director to the box office personnel.

I put the production in their hands and they were true professionals. That’s not to say there weren’t bumps along the way. Early on, I learned the production would have to be pushed to summer rather than winter of 2019 because my director had been cast in a play. For reasons I won’t go into, we parted ways. Needless to say, this wasn’t pleasant for anyone concerned. For me, it was part of being the boss I didn’t like.

Theatre Planners sent the playout to other directors and we quickly found a replacement, Kiff Scholl. I felt Kiff had an understanding of the story that suited me. He also became my dramaturg. For four months, I reworked the play as he scoured each and every line. Kiff gave me a good lesson in dramatic writing and we had a terrific working relationship.

After going to auditions as an actor, being on the other side of the table was just plain exciting. Raul Staggs, our casting director, brought in many polished, theatrical actors. The interesting part for me was that the role I thought would be most difficult to cast turned out to be the easiest, while what seemed like the easier ones seemed the hardest.

Theatre Planners had shown me three or four theaters which I could rent and I picked The Let Live Theater, which is part of the Actor’s Company on North Formosa in West Hollywood. Since the story took play in 1979 West Hollywood, I wanted the premiere production to be in the same city. The theater had 62 or 63 seats, but I was assured that only 50 tickets per performance would be sold so we would not in effect become a 99 seat theater and under Actor’s Equity Rules.

Unfortunately, once rehearsals had begun and the set was being designed, I was notified by Theatre Planners that Equity considered the house to be a 99 seat theater, whether or not we only sold 50 tickets. This came as an unforeseen shock to everyone concerned. Originally, the actors and stage manager were to be paid a set amount. Actor’s Equity rules stipulated that in a 99 seat theater four of the five actors had to be paid an hourly rate. I had no discussions with AEA, but according to the owner of The Let Live Theater and Theater Planners they would not budge. The one concession made was that I would only have to pay 3, not four actors Equity rates. Even after the owner of The Let Live Theater gave me some financial concessions, the budget was still increased by $10,000 because of Equity. At the time, I was felt frustrated, but thankful I could afford the additional cost.

I always thought this would also make interesting copy, “First Time Producer Dealt Blow by Uncompromising Actor’s Equity,” The truth is Actor’s Equity has made it cost-prohibitive to produce small theater in Los Angeles. With fewer productions, there is less opportunities for actors to be seen and work. I think actors should get a living wage just like anybody else, but when it came to a vote on the matter, the majority of LA Equity members opposed the new payment rules and Equity ignored them.

During rehearsals preliminary cast photos were taken. While the photographer was waiting for the cast, I introduced myself. “Hi,” he replied. “Ed Krieger.” I almost lost it. As I mentioned early, Ed had taken my first headshots forty years earlier. I reminded him of the fact. He actually knew a couple of the people on which the play was based. Such a small world. Later, once in the theater, Ed would take more publicity shoots. The set called for headshots of the three actors to be displayed as their 70’s characters. After I showed Ed my old headshot, he copied it with the young actor, Jacob Barnes who was playing me.

The Direction Home, a comedy in six months, opened on July 20, 2019 for a five-weekend run. I was more than pleased with all the elements of the production. Opening night was the fruition of a lot of work. Then came the reviews, some good, some mixed, some ridiculous. I don’t have a thick skin so each one dug at me whether positive or negative. In the end, it didn’t matter what anyone said. I was very proud of the show.

During the run, I was hoping to get industry people in and by that, I mean I wanted people to see the show who could take it beyond it’s run and give it some sort of extended life. But this did not happen. If The Direction Home is to have a life, I am the one who is going to have to pursue that. At the moment, I haven’t figured out what to do next.

The closing performance was bittersweet. Unlike my never becoming a therapist or a full-time teacher, I persevered and saw this dream of almost 40 years through to the end. But as I stood on the stage one final time before it was struck, I wondered “What now?

SAY LA VIE PRODUCTIONS – what should we know? What do you do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
For the time being, SAY LA VIE PRODUCTIONS, will continue to exist. The company produced a web series pilot which I wrote and acted in called IN THE PHISHBOWL. There will be other projects. But the one I carried with me for these many years will always be there wanting to be seen by a larger audience. In this new age of the coronavirus where all theater is shut down, I don’t know what will happen. But I have hope.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Personal photo, Photo credit: Ed Krieger (L-R) Chris Ciccarelli, Misha Riley, Jacob Barnes, Racquel Lehrman, Emilie Martrz, Kiff Scholl, Vaughan Eells, Amir Levi, Greg Vie, Seira Murankami, Claire Glassford, Photos, Headshot – Bader Howar photo credit, Julie Andrews/Greg Vie -photo credit Pat Shaw, Lucille Ball, Audrey Hepburn, Peter O’Toole- photo credit Greg Vie, Remaining photos- Ed Krieger photo credit. By poster: L-R Kiff Scholl, Greg Vie, headshots Jacob Barnes/Greg Vie, Direction Home cast – L-R Chris Ciccarelli, Jacob Barnes, Emilie Martz, Vaughan Eells, Amir Levi, Claire Glassford

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