The Sunday Profile: Seth Baron, Film Producer
The blackness above Yogyakarta is so deep and vacant that it seems a direct rejection of the kliegs that lit its expanse hours ago. It’s nearing the early hours of tomorrow, which brings another 16-hour day of shooting, and Seth Baron just wants to go to sleep. Instead he stands on a corner, waiting for a late-night delivery requested by the film’s Hollywood star. Seth is the producer, Seth recognizes the power of celebrity clout, and so Seth has said “yes” to the request.
In the film industry, no word is more common than “no.” But among the detritus of rejected actors, shredded scripts and unfunded projects, Baron has forged his path to success with “yes” as his scythe. “Yes” to far-flung and random opportunities, “yes” to demanding agents, “yes” to an array of projects diverse enough to make up the resumes of four different people. “Yes” has served him well.
Taking the Long Road
Indeed, there’s no other explanation for the journey that brought the Texas-born, half-French, Jewish-raised Baron from Dallas to Boston to Los Angeles and finally to Jakarta. He made his way working on diverse projects ranging from politics to athletics to music videos to his current role as vice president of Margate House Films.
Baron’s first production experience came in 2004 as an intern for Fox News covering the Democratic National Convention in Boston.
“I liked the pace of it, how quickly it moved, that I wasn’t in an office,” Baron says.
But a difficult job market after graduation led to a sequence of sundry endeavors: temping at a Boston insurance agency, coaching a college swim team in Southern California, working for MTV on videos for Muse and Christina Aguilera, scriptwriting with a TV producer, then becoming a political assistant when the producer launched a congressional campaign and finally, applying for and being accepted into business school.
Some Travel May Be Required
Needing to fill the months before classes began, Baron replied to a cryptic online job listing — “Busy ad exec needs assistance. Some travel may be required.” — and got the gig assisting Rob Allyn, Margate House’s founder, who was then living and working in Jakarta. Baron worked remotely from Dallas, and only met Allyn face-to-face several months later when Allyn visited Texas.
Over lunch, Allyn said, “Hey, I need you to come to Indonesia with me. You OK with that?” Without missing a beat, Baron replied: “When do we go?”
Baron’s two-month trial stint in Jakarta stretched to five months, at which point he returned to Dallas, emptied out his apartment and came straight to Indonesia. Four years later, he’s still here.
“No two days are alike. There’s no monotony,” he says of his job. “One day I’m on a shoot directing an ad, and the next I’m in a studio going over audio with Mickey Rourke.”
Indeed, the diversity of Baron’s tasks — from keeping budgets to editing video, analyzing market data and securing sponsorships — ensures that he’s familiar with all aspects of production, despite having no formal film education.
“I’m a jack of all trades,” he says. “I find the best people and I make sure they perform. I put out the fires and tie up the loose ends.”
Baron has found that making films in Indonesia has unique advantages. For one thing, the price is right. Everything from labor to hotels, studio space and equipment is exponentially cheaper here than in the United States, and yet the film infrastructure is robust enough to maintain quality.
“‘Java Heat’ looks like a $35-million picture, but we made it for $15 million,” Baron offers. “It’s Hollywood quality at Asian prices.”
Of course, shooting here presents its problems: Traffic in Jakarta makes adhering to Screen Actors Guild labor laws very difficult, and the bureaucracy around procuring visas and permits can be maddening.
Baron tells of one shoot in Borobudur, for which they acquired a permit months in advance and held meetings with city officials, the Buddhist council and the cultural ministries, only to have one local minister cancel it the day before shooting was to begin.
A Personal Standard
Hurdles aside, Margate has not been wanting for success, producing content that meets its high standards for quality and turning some unexpected profits, notably with 2009’s historical drama “Merah Putih.”
Higher profits led to larger budgets and bigger stars, culminating this year in “Java Heat,” a heist movie starring heartthrob Kellan Lutz and
Hollywood heavyweight Rourke, set against the stunning backdrop of Yogyakarta. It’s Baron’s favorite Margate film so far — “It has the most interesting characters” — though he allows that working with a major star carries particular challenges.
“Big personalities take up a lot of space,” he says diplomatically.
As for what’s next, Baron has no constraints.
“My office is wherever my laptop is,” he says. “You have a cell phone and an Internet connection, you’re good to go.”
Go where, then? With new opportunities and a wide network of contacts in Indonesia, he can envision staying long-term, but is open to the right opportunity elsewhere.
Ultimately, he’d like to make his own movies, “to own the process instead of just being one part of it.” But he’s in no rush to go solo, as long as Margate keeps pace with his constant curiosity.
“I’m always learning with my job,” he says. “I like learning. As soon as I’m not learning anything, I know it’s time to leave.”
With six scripts in the pipeline, it’s unlikely Baron will stop learning at Margate anytime soon. But when he does, it will be well worth the ticket price to see what emerges from Baron House Films.