No one could ever accuse Molly Smith of not working hard for her keep. While the statuesque 28-year-old producer admits she got her first break “by default” — her father, Frederick W. Smith, is the founder and chief executive officer of FedEx and the backer of ministudio Alcon Entertainment, where Smith had her first production job — she’s proven her mettle with a keen eye, the organizational skills of a military strategist and an effervescent enthusiasm for Hollywood storytelling.
The biggest testament to her talent is “The Blind Side,” which became the first movie featuring a female lead to gross more than $200 million (it has raked in more than $248 million domestically). Not to mention the film is among the nominees for Best Picture at the Academy Awards on Sunday while its star, Sandra Bullock, has won a Golden Globe, a Screen Actors Guild Award, Critics’ Choice Award, People’s Choice Award and Broadcast Film Critics Association Award and is a Best Actress Oscar nominee for her performance as no-nonsense football mom Leigh Anne Tuohy.
Smith grew up with the Tuohy family in Tennessee, and when she read the script, based on the book of the same name, she fell in love with it.
“I love books for movies because you have so much material to work with,” explains Smith, who was the movie’s executive producer. “You look for the parts of the story that make the best movie, and you find actresses to represent these characters you’ve had in your head for years.”
Smith seems to have an affinity for mining literary works for film. One of her earliest producing projects at Alcon was the Hilary Swank vehicle “P.S. I Love You,” which was based on a book about a young widower.
“That was the first time I remember getting the creative itch. I wanted to tell this story,” recalls Smith, who pulled together a cast, including Swank, and a director in just a few months. “It was overwhelming, but it catapulted me into producing at a young age. I was only 25.”
It also jump-started a friendship with Swank that led to their joint banner 2S Films two-and-a-half years ago. Through the nonexclusive deal, Swank and Smith can work on separate projects, while also collaborating. As of now, they’re developing Mireille Guiliano’s “French Women Don’t Get Fat”; “Falling Out of Fashion,” based on the book by Jane Pratt’s former assistant Karen Yampolsky, which Smith calls the “anti-‘Devil Wears Prada,’” and “You’re Not You,” based on the book by Michelle Wildgen in which Swank will play a woman diagnosed with ALS.
The prolific lineup hasn’t just fallen at Smith’s feet. The middle of 10 children, she was in high school when her father decided to back Alcon Entertainment, which is aligned with Warner Bros. for distribution of films like “My Dog Skip,” “Chasing Liberty” and “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.” She took quick advantage, spending her summer breaks from the Tisch School of the Arts “getting coffee and watching and learning” on the Prague set of “The Affair of the Necklace,” as a production assistant on the set of “Insomnia,” and as a director’s assistant on “Love Don’t Cost a Thing.”
“I realized after three weeks at NYU that I didn’t want to write or direct. I’m not that creative, but I love movies, so what could I do?” says Smith in one quick breath, her deep, clear voice softened by her Southern accent. “I told my adviser, ‘I’m one of 10 kids and I’m a little bossy. I really like to organize things for my family.’ And she said, ‘You should definitely look into producing.’”
After graduation, she became a production executive at the Santa Monica, Calif.-based Alcon, acting as a liaison between the studio and the production office and working on six films in 18 months. She then decided to leave the nest to work for executive producer John H. Starke on the Disney and Summit film “Step Up.”
Her hefty experience has clearly prepared her for the juggling act of Alcon Entertainment and 2S Films projects. Though she popped Champagne with Bullock at a Golden Globes party, Smith was back in the office the next day and in New York two days later casting her latest endeavor (which Swank is coproducing with her, though not acting in): a film adaptation of Emily Griffin’s novel “Something Borrowed,” about a thirtysomething lawyer who is in love with her best friend’s fiancé.
“The pressure is on now,” says Smith.