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Local film producer Denise Di Novi has proven adaptive to what life, career throws her way

Film director and producer Denise Di Novi speaks during a Laguna Beach Business Club meeting at Seven-Degrees on Thursday.
Film director and producer Denise Di Novi speaks during a Laguna Beach Business Club meeting at Seven-Degrees on Thursday.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Count Denise Di Novi among those who subscribe to the belief that the future is unwritten.

The daughter of a jazz musician and a former journalist, Di Novi wound up in the film industry, and her career path continues to throw curveballs.

Once seen exclusively in theaters, movies now appear on television and on streaming services. The film business is changing — and rapidly.

In an ever-changing world, the local film and television producer knew the change she wanted to see in the industry. It became her passion to bring more female lead characters to the screen.

“I think when I was a journalist and I started doing stories on movies, I really loved the impact that I saw movies have on people — the emotional impact — and the inspiration they got from them, but I did not see a lot of female-driven stories that inspired me or that I could relate to,” Di Novi said. “I read a lot of books, like reading ‘Little Women,’ but I did not see a lot of movies, and I thought, ‘There’s a lot of women out there who are half the audience, and we should have movies for women too.’”

“It kind of became a little bit of a calling for me, and it was really that I felt like I understand women’s stories. I relate to them. I connect to them, and I may be able to do a better job on making those kinds of movies than movies about stories that are not close to me.”

A longtime Laguna Beach resident, Di Novi grabbed the attention of those gathered at the Laguna Beach Business Club meeting Thursday morning as she shared the story of an unpredictable career. From her time as a reporter to a stint working with Tim Burton, the twists and turns have led to her latest endeavor with PatMa Productions.

Di Novi teamed up with Nina Tassler, the former chairwoman of CBS Entertainment, to form PatMa Productions. The name is derived from their mothers’ names, and the production company states that it is “committed to telling stories from diverse voices that further social justice.”

Laguna Art Museum and Laguna Beach Pride 365 are collaborating for an event hosted by the museum on Saturday celebrating the history of the LGBTQ community in town.

In looking back on how she got involved in the movie business, Di Novi chalked it up as a “fluke” occurrence, noting that the industry lacks a traditional path of going to school and then interviewing for the job you want.

During her guest speaker appearance, Di Novi told the crowd that when she broke in, she worked increasingly hard to ensure those she worked with did not discover she did not know what she was doing.

“She laid it down in this self-deprecating way, basically claiming luck, happenstance, and other things, but at the same time, there were some clues in there about working until 3 o’clock in the morning,” said Peter Blake, a member of the Laguna Beach City Council and a local art gallery owner who attended the meeting. “… This woman has worked really hard. What’s that expression, ‘The harder I work, the luckier I get.’ It could be a combination of that.”

For a producer, asking them to name their favorite film that they have worked on can borderline on unfair. Di Novi, who expressed those thoughts, entertained the question anyway.

“‘Little Women’ is special to me because that was the first film I made with my company — Di Novi Pictures — and then the remake recently that Greta Gerwig directed is very special to me. I thought it was really great. It’s like asking who’s your favorite child. I mean, I love all my movies, but those are special for that reason.

“I had a really great time, a fun time on ‘Crazy, Stupid, Love,’ with the directors and the stars of that movie — Ryan Gosling, Steve Carell and Julianne Moore and Emma Stone. It was kind of just one of those special experiences where everything fell into place and was a lot of fun. Every [movie] is special in its own way, even if they’re very difficult.”

Di Novi worked hard to prove herself when she got her start in the film industry, and she said she does not pretend to be an expert now. Two of the principles she said she tries to follow are welcoming new ideas and pursuing projects she loves, because those are the ones on which she believes a person’s work will shine.

Having grown up in and gone to high school in Laguna Beach, Di Novi said the community had and continues to have traits that help individuals discover their creative side.

“There’s something in the DNA of Laguna that values and respects artists and art and creativity, so I’ve always felt that my creative spirit was really fed and supported by being in Laguna Beach,” Di Novi said. “There’s just a feeling here, a love of art and creativity, that has kind of inspired me and supported me and my creative work.”

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