Nobody is Untouchable
A spotlight on AEMM Faculty member Jeff Steele. Written by Renee Rock
Jeff Steele is a film financier turned social entrepreneur who holds a plethora of information collected from years of a fascinating journey. And what better person to put their experience into education than someone who is eager and willing to share it with others? Beginning with aspirations of being a screenwriter, he interned with the producers of such films as Sleepless in Seattle, The Fisher King, Contact, and Flashdance. That experience led him into the producing world, because he discovered the convergence of the creative and the business involved with making movies. After landing a job as the Executive Assistant to Mike Medavoy (Phoenix Pictures) he learned a valuable lesson:
Nobody is untouchable. A-listers, dignitaries, corporate CEO’s and heads of state are all just people who answer their phones and read their email, like everybody else. Just pick up the phone and call.
After leaving Phoenix Pictures, he joined the SyFy Channel to make creature features, where he created a film called Mammoth, raising the entire $2 million dollar financing. This led to a 5-picture deal with SyFy Channel, contracting him to do five more films. At the same time, he produced the documentary Who Killed the Electric Car? which premiered at Sundance, and has landed as #53 on PBS’s 100 Greatest Documentaries.
This opened the door for him to join a $300 million dollar film fund as the Director of US Film Finance, where they financed 17 films in the US with budgets ranging from $4 million to $40 million dollars. Then Jeff took a year off to spend with his newborn daughter. Why is this important, you ask? Because even the most successful and driven people understand the need and value of balance. And as Jeff says, it was the “best year ever!” Never underestimate the importance of family and taking the time to invest in that. After his year off he was invited to join a $30 million dollar equity film fund as the CFO, which made way for the creation of his own film finance constituency, Film Closings. Through this company, he was introduced to Columbia through the Semester in LA program. After deciding to move to Chicago, he also decided to join the Columbia family. Jeff draws inspiration from disrupting the status quo, which is probably why he loves startups so much. They are “inspiring, infectious, and attainable.” His best words of wisdom:
“It’s okay to fail; but fail quickly and fail openly, so others don’t repeat your mistakes. The corollary to which is: Know what you don’t know; sometimes the most mature decision you can make is the decision to step aside.”