Magness Lake, in Heber Springs, is a magnet for swans
A Little Rock woman is proving that you're never too far away to make things happen in Hollywood.
Film producer Courtney Pledger has several deals in the works, most notably a project with esteemed British actor and comedian Ricky Gervais. Working with Universal and Illumination Films, she's producing a feature adaptation of Gervais' children's book, “Flanimals.” If Gervais' track record persists, his tales about hilarious, imaginary beasts will be a huge hit on screen.
Little Rock seems a long way off from the Sunset Strip, but it's a lot closer than the London offices where Pledger did business before moving back home in 2004. After producing for television and film for nearly 20 years in Los Angeles, she'd crossed the pond with her husband, the British actor Stuart Wilson, and three children in 1999, tired of the business and ready to settle down.
That's when her career really took off. “I thought I was going to run a little bookstore, but I ended up hog-tied back into the business,” she explained in a recent telephone interview.
In London, Pledger ran into British producer Sarah Radclyffe of Working Title Productions at a party, and Radclyffe coaxed her into working together to mine the rich literary properties available in the UK, especially those within children's literature. Together they developed a slate of eight titles, many of which are just now reaching fruition. Most notably, the pair talked director Mike Newell (“Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire”) into adapting his favorite children's book, John Masefield's classic fantasy novel, “The Box of Delights,” into a TV series. As seems to be a trend with Pledger, the deal was struck thanks to her particular brand of kismet: She ran into her friend Newell at a barbecue.
Despite her success in London, Pledger moved to Little Rock, where she has family, with her three children in 2004, looking for stability.
“I wanted the kids to know what it was like to have that sense of community and to be able to do things at the spur of the moment,” Pledger said.
Her teen-aged twins, Liam and India, attend Pulaski Academy, and her eldest daughter, Miranda, is a student at Oklahoma City University. Miranda is majoring in acting, a career path that recalls that of her enterprising mother.
Pledger was born in Little Rock, grew up in Jackson, Miss., and attended Millsaps College, where she first studied music and then theater arts. After graduation, she set out to become an actress and spent time in L.A. and New York before landing a role on the “Walking Tall” television series. It wasn't exactly what she had in mind.
“By the time I got that part, I was thinking that if this is all that is going to happen, then it's not really what I want to do with my life,” she said.
She became involved with political movements in L.A. and ended up playing resident photographer on a speaking tour through the Northeast with Jane Fonda. While traveling through upstate New York, she heard the story of activist Lois Gibbs and thought it would make a great movie. She produced “Lois Gibbs and the Love Canal” for television in 1982, but it didn't truly prepare her for what life had in store.
“I thought producing was easy,” she reflected, “but I later found it was a lot harder than that.”
There are many kinds of producers, but Pledger is one who is hands-on at every step in the process of development. She considers herself a creative producer, someone who finds an idea for a movie, secures rights to intellectual properties, develops a script and even attaches talent — all before really seeing a dime for her work. Everything depends on getting the film made.
“It's a bit like pushing a boulder up a hill,” she said. “A creative producer really needs to love each project deeply — and have the passion to spend the time necessary, often years, to shove it through.”
Though she's busier than ever, Pledger has no plans to change her living situation. She fantasizes about working with the Clinton School of Public Service and making a small film in Arkansas. She might spend a lot of time in L.A., but Little Rock is her home. Besides, it's a lot closer to where things are happening than London.
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