You ought to be in pictures

Published 12:00 am Monday, September 4, 2000

Luck, hard work and &uot;knowing the right people&uot; put Natchez native Jennifer Ogden on an airplane bound for Los Angeles today.

What many Natchezians may not realize is that after 27 years in the feature film business, Ogden is one of the &uot;right&uot; people herself. Ogden’s television producing debut &uot;Oprah Winfrey Presents: Tuesdays with Morrie&uot; is nominated for multiple Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Emmy awards, including Outstanding Made for Television Movie, and Outstanding Lead Actor (Jack Lemmon) and Supporting Actor (Hank Azaria) in the same category.

&uot;(The nominations) are just icing on a cake that didn’t need icing in the first place,&uot; Ogden said. &uot;It’s just a really good cake.&uot;

Email newsletter signup

In fact, it was Ogden’s love of the movie’s storyline, derived from the book by Mitch Albom, that drew her to the project.

&uot;I knew about the book originally before I got the call from Harpo,&uot; Ogden said, referring to Oprah Winfrey’s production company. &uot;I had loved it on a personal level.&uot;

Despite the time and budget restrictions that come with television productions, Ogden said she decided to help produce the drama, which originally aired on ABC in December.

Ogden’s career in the film industry began in 1973 before her sophomore year at Millsaps College.

Home for the summer, Ogden heard United Artists would be filming &uot;The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn&uot; in Natchez.

&uot;I&160;wanted to work on that movie in the worst way,&uot; she said.

Although Ogden had been studying acting, she was offered a position in the production department which she gratefully accepted.

Through her work on the movie, Ogden said she made many valuable connections with industry figures — some of which she maintains to this day.

Two of those contacts were in New York City where Ogden was soon accepted to the Neighborhood Playhouse.

Between semesters and acting jobs, Ogden helped out with movies being filmed in the city.

It wasn’t long before Ogden’s credit list began to grow, working with directors like Woody Allen on &uot;Annie Hall.&uot;

But it was the 1977 film version of the hit musical &uot;Hair&uot; that turned Ogden’s focus toward producing.

&uot;I didn’t go back to acting after that,&uot; she said.

Continuing to work her way up the production ladder, Ogden’s first film with total production control was 1985’s &uot;The Manhattan Project.&uot;

Following the success of &uot;Prelude to a Kiss,&uot; starring Meg Ryan and Alec Baldwin, Ogden was offered the position of vice president of feature film direction for Fox Studios in Los Angeles.

After a few years in administration, Ogden felt the need to return to more &uot;hands-on&uot; work and accepted production of &uot;How Stella Got her Groove Back.&uot;

Somewhere along the road from Natchez to Hollywood, Ogden said she began to be affected by the &uot;cut-throat&uot; world of Hollywood and lost touch with her spirit.

&uot;I realized this is getting to the life’s-too-short thing,&uot; Ogden said.

Taking what Ogden calls a &uot;sabbatical&uot; from producing films, she moved to Colorado to reorganize her priorities.

But, it was the &uot;Tuesdays with Morrie&uot; script that not only called Ogden back to producing, it revitalized her outlook on life and work as well.

&uot;I thought: this is a reason to leave Colorado,&uot; Ogden said.

In addition to a meaningful script, the project carried the added bonus of working with Harpo and Oprah herself, Ogden said.

The lessons learned in Colorado were still with Ogden, and she felt the movie and all people involved held a shared sense of values.

&uot;I think even if it hadn’t paid off in nominations and public attention, we all felt what we were doing had a meaning,&uot; she said.

Even with the limited budget, the story itself drew top-industry names to the project.

One man, a sought-after special effects makeup artist, offered to do the movie for well below his usual salary just to be involved with such a meaningful project, Ogden said.

&uot;Doing ‘Tuesdays with Morrie’ restored his faith in movies and made him excited again,&uot; she said, emotion rising in her voice.

Ogden admits making the movie had the same effect on her, and now only looks for scripts with &uot;heart, soul, spirit and meaning.&uot;

In fact, Ogden said she is reviewing two scripts right now which she would like to film in Natchez.

&uot;It’s been my dream forever to shoot a movie here,&uot; she said.

While she still calls Natchez home, Ogden’s residence here is only temporary. Depending on filming, she splits her time between several cities.

Following the Emmys, which air at 7 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 10, on ABC, Ogden said she plans to return to her hometown until the next award-winning script calls her away.