Power Ten Productions
“Here’s my idea for changing the world,” Richie Gordon says. He puts down a half-eaten tortilla chip, turns in his chair to face me and settles back. It feels like it’s around 9 p.m. and we are seated in the center of our Tuesday night staple: a Mexican place down the street that serves up $2 tacos and free chips and salsa and the best chicken enchiladas in the South Bay. My significant other has agreed to his first interview at my insistence–despite his typically abundant self-confidence, when it comes to these things he’s actually modest and maybe even shy. Once he starts talking though, my arm is put through the note-taking equivalent of a triathlon to keep up.
“A non-profit bank,” Richie continues. “I’m not sure how you’d get it to work. But think about it … no interest loans. You’d be investing in people’s dreams.”
Finance is far from my director boyfriend’s work in the entertainment industry. Dreams are not. Richie founded his company Power Ten Productions in high school with the aspiration of bringing dreams to life the way he knows best–through film.
“I wanted to do Animatronics; I wanted to build monsters,” Richie says of his childhood self. He first learned about the entertainment business when, as an inquisitive kid he “asked a lot of questions” of a family friend who previously worked for Jim Henson Studios. “My brother and I were going to build Disneyland rides. We used to create cardboard mini golf courses around our house. Then my brother sold out and decided to become a teacher, which left me with shallow Hollywood.”
The mild green tomatillo sauce on Richie’s enchiladas is scraped off to the side of his plate–too hot, he says–and while Ortega 120’s house cocktail was named the city’s best classic margarita by LA Weekly in 2009 his drink of choice is a root beer, which came in a small frosted bottle. His affinity for sugar is stronger than any taste for alcohol, a preference he claims stems from being a control freak. Precisely why he likes being a director.
“I wanted to control the world,” he said.
Richie had his “a-ha!” career moment–in a twist of irony–because his parents had a few extra glasses of wine at an annual charity event for his grammar school in San Francisco. He remembers the event set-up, in a courtyard between the three old Victorian mansions that comprised his school, which always carried a magical, if pretentious, air.
“There were three buildings, and they would always set up these baskets on the tables. And they’d say, ‘sushi basket–$100′ and it’d be everything you need to make it; a book, the ingredients … But everything was always so overpriced my parents never wanted to buy anything,” Richie said.
That changed in fifth grade, when his parents came home and announced they had a surprise for him and his brother.
“My brother and I were thinking, ‘we’re going to Disneyland–yes!’ and then they told us we were going to be extras in Chris Columbus’s movie [Bicentennial Man],” he said.
It didn’t go as planned. Richie remembers the day in detail: filling out 1099s, getting his hair and make-up done, the scene’s location at the bottom of the Golden Gate Bridge transformed into a futuristic marketplace teeming with robots, the film crew bustling with props and lights. Then the shoot was canceled.
Columbus felt bad and offered to let Richie and his brother come back the next day to complete the shoot. Richie, in awe of this impossible world built around him, asked if he could sit the in director’s tent for the rest of the day.
“I watched them shoot a scene and I would see Robin Williams come in and look at the footage with Columbus and I saw him with a Director of Photography (DP) on his right and the producers on his left, talking about the scenes and marketing strategies,” Richie said. “My brother and my mom wanted to leave and I asked if I could stay until the end of the day. That’s where I had my ‘a-ha moment.’ The next day, I got to be an extra and when it was over I was bummed I had to leave Bicentennial Man.”
When Richie’s passionate about something, he conducts the conversation as much with his hands as with his mouth. He forgets to breathe. He talks loud. He tangents (this happens a lot). Since he walked off of the set of Bicentennial Man he’s been constantly in search of those transient moments of euphoria–where the world is perfect for a few glorious beats–life throws to those fortunate enough to recognize them. For Richie, most of these moments occur on set, where he takes on the role of orchestrating them.
He’s not always successful. There was the time in eighth grade when, as student body president, Richie came up with the idea of creating comedy sketches with his peers for the weekly school-wide assembly. The trick, he said, was including the slapstick humor that would appeal to the kindergartners with the witticisms that appealed to a sophisticated–and tough-to-please–fifth, sixth and seventh grade class. And if you got the teachers rolling, that’s when you really knew you had it.
The first skit failed.
“You could hear a pin drop,” Richie said. “I even had them ‘rewind’ and re-tell the punch line and it was dead silent.”
The next few weren’t much better. Ever persistent, Richie insisted on doing a final, grand show before Christmas despite hesitation from his friends involved. In the very last scene, one friend sat on the lap of Santa Claus, who off of the stage had a habit of tipping his chair back in his seat, and when the friend sat down the chair broke–very much on accident. The crowd exploded. Richie signaled curtain call. The audience laughed the rest of the year.
It’s this type of persistence Richie brings to every project, to every aspect of his life (I told him no the first time he asked me out). It’s landed him film projects in Italy and a spot in the winning boat in the 2006 Henley Royal Regatta, where his rowing team went undefeated and captured the world championship title his junior year in high school.
Like Bicentennial Man, not every dreamlike moment is orchestrated by Richie himself, though he seems to find a way to make himself a part of many of them. He describes the Henley season as a period of surreality. His team couldn’t lose. They fought the school board to travel out-of-state, and later out-of-country, to capture the national and world titles. Richie fought a back injury to keep his position. The experience not only inspired the name of his company (‘Power Ten’ is a rowing term the coxswain calls to unite the boat), but reaffirmed his belief that impossibility is possible.
“Winning Henley was a one-in-a-million chance. Making it in Hollywood is a one-in-a-million chance. Henley showed me you can achieve your dreams,” Richie said, adding that “when you hire Power Ten Productions, you’re not just getting me. You’re getting a team of people working together to recreate dreams.”
At his core Richie believes stories stem from experiences. Each of his films, from a music video shot right after his sophomore year of college for which he invited the band to stay in his family’s house in Tahoe for three days, to the commercial campaign for La Perla he recently finished where he and his team spent the week in Italy going behind-the-scenes, are crafted from a place of personal involvement. He’s cooked breakfast after-hours at a diner, puked after a workout at a gym, and helped his DP chase down a camera thief in the Rome International Airport–all for the films he’s made.
“[Power Ten] is about telling stories, meeting people, creating dreams,” Richie said. “This job shouldn’t exist. No one should pay you for that.”
But it’s his own dream to get paid for it, to “on a shallow level” first figure out how to support himself and then to bring in his family and friends. After that, he hopes to do what any creative wants in a career–to tell the stories he wants to tell.
“My dream would be to buy any screenplay or book, to get the right actors, and to have enough clout to make it happen,” Richie said.
The stories he’s after are those aforementioned moments, like the ones he found on Bicentennial Man, in Henley, in Italy.
“I either want to take the real world and show a fantastical version of it or create a world that doesn’t exist outside of films, of dreams, of your mind,” Richie said.
He looks at me aglow with possibility.
“My obsession is to re-create that.”
Watch: “La Perla: The Pearl (Director’s Cut)”