Alumni Profiles

The Producer
Joe Morley '79 is the driving force behind indie films like "Super Size Me"

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Joe Morley '79 likes to be the go-to guy, the decider. It's something he's known about himself since the days when he was designing the lighting for UNH theater productions.

On one show, Morley disagreed with the director. "I realized I wanted to be the director," he says. "I wanted ultimate control over the artistic vision." Today he's an executive producer and a partner in a company, Studio-on-Hudson, that he owns with his filmmaking wife, Heather Winters, in Nyack, N.Y.

Their credits include "Super Size Me," the hilarious 2004 Academy Award-nominee documentary on the impact of fast foods; the award-winning "Class Act," a look at the neglect of arts education in U.S. public schools; and "Anywhere U.S.A.," a funny, quirky movie that earned a special jury prize at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival.

Most people think of a movie's executive producer as the person who writes the checks. "That's part of it," says Morley, "but in the independent film world, we typically are more involved, shepherding a project through, doing production supervision, helping shape the film creatively, marketing, bringing in a distribution deal."

Although he was an English major, Morley spent almost all his spare time at UNH in the Paul Creative Arts Center. After earning a master's degree in directing at the University of Maryland, he worked as a resident lighting designer for the Baltimore Ballet and two opera companies, and later as the head of lighting production for two long-running Broadway plays.

He began to feel pigeonholed. "Broadway is such a small world that it's hard to move out of a niche you've created for yourself," Morley notes. So he began to produce big industrial shows, including one for Cadillac that required carting 25 trucks to 11 different cities. "It was the equivalent of touring the Rolling Stones," says Morley.

Eventually, he established Creative Business Communications, which continues to help him raise the capital to produce films. Morley says times are tough these days for independent films; it's becoming more difficult to interest distributors in even the prize-winning ones. But he's not too worried. He has a range of projects in the works, including "Borderline," an unusual look at the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

What Morley would like to do next is get back to his roots in live theater, this time as a producer. "I have the 'vocabulary' and experience to work with directors, designers, writers--to hold the big picture," he says. "I've also unloaded a truck in the rain."

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