Small town to big screen: Amazon Studios taps Cape Elizabeth native as co-head of movies

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CAPE ELIZABETH — From Portland Head Light to the Hollywood sign, and “Little Women” to “Beautiful Boy,” Julie Rapaport has worked her way from Maine to the capitol of the film industry.

Last week, Amazon Studios announced Rapaport’s promotion to co-head of movies, reporting to studio Head Jennifer Salke. She is tasked with building a slate of big-budget, commercial films geared to wide audiences.

In a news release, Salke said Rapaport’s new role will “clear the pathway to further expand (Amazon’s) movie slate to include more widely engaging stories that audiences will connect with.

“Julie is a talented and highly respected creative executive and leader and we are thrilled to see her step into this expansive role,” Salke said.

Rapaport, in an Oct. 3 telephone interview from Los Angeles, said she is “excited about the opportunity to tell great stories that will move audiences.”

A lot has happened to the Cape Elizabeth native since she graduated from Waynflete School in Portland in 2002, but she said she still remembers finding interest in the production side of filmmaking at a young age.

“I’ve always been obsessed with stories,” Rapaport, 34, said. “I grew up loving reading, and then movies and television.”

Her favorite book, she said, was “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott. The story resonated with her so much that, after she saw the movie at age 10, she wrote letters to movie studios suggesting they produce a sequel, “Little Men.”

“I didn’t really understand the process at all, but felt it was important for that story to be told,” she said. 

Growing up in a small town across the country from Hollywood, Rapaport said she didn’t know what it meant to make a movie, but knew in her gut she wanted to be a part of that.

After receiving her degree in English from Tufts University outside of Boston – where she minored in film and did her senior project on the role of producers – Rapaport moved to New York.

“If you know you want to work in this industry … you really have to live in New York or Los Angeles,” Rapaport said when asked what advice she’d give anyone aspiring to take a similar path. “This is where the business really happens.”

After working “odd jobs” for months to make ends meet, Rapaport got her foot in the door by landing a job in the mail room at the William Morris talent agency. 

She may have been pushing mail carts, but Rapaport credits the job as her “big break.”

“That was basically the unofficial graduate school for the entertainment industry,” Rapaport said. “I learned from the business side.”

From there, she worked for a TV agent and later as a producer’s assistant on the 2009 Richard Gere film, “Brooklyn’s Finest.”

Then she got a job as an assistant to David Glasser when he became chief operating officer at The Weinstein Co., based in Hollywood, and eventually became senior vice president of production and development.

She worked for Weinstein until 2015, two years before dozens of women came forward accusing company co-founder Harvey Weinstein of rape, sexual assault and sexual abuse. The outcry precipitated a national response against sexual harassment and assault in the U.S.

“I got to see how the company and each division were run,” Rapaport said, although she declined further discussion about Weinstein. “I’m proud of the movies that I worked on while I was there. … I made the move to Amazon because I felt it was (the future of the industry).”

Between working at Weinstein and Amazon, Rapaport was credited as “executive in charge of production” on films including “The Giver,” “August: Osage County,” “Big Eyes,” “Lion” and, most recently, “Beautiful Boy,” starring Steve Carell, Timothee Chalamet and Maura Tierney, which is slated to premiere in the U.S. on Oct. 12.

Rapaport said she just focuses on her “love of movies” and doing what she has to do, versus thinking about career plans. 

“The opportunities in front of me always allowed me to learn something new or work on great projects,” she said.

She credits these opportunities to hard work and her Maine roots. Her parents, attorney Daniel Rapaport and Lisa Tripler, and grandmother, Elsebeth Tripler, still live in Cape; her sister, Carly Rapaport, lives in Portland. Her parents also operate Kamp Kohut, a summer camp in Oxford.

Without the support and encouragement of her family, Rapaport said she “wouldn’t be where she is today.”

“I appreciate having grown up outside of the industry to give me some perspective,” Rapaport said. “What I love about movies and storytelling is that it’s a universal language and are … empathy machines. We’re trying to make movies that relate to everyone, whether you live in Maine or California.”

Jocelyn Van Saun can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 183 or jvansaun@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter @JocelynVanSaun.

Amazon Studios announced last week that Cape Elizabeth native Julie Rapaport has been promoted to co-head of movies and will lead production of “large budget, high-quality” films intended to appeal to the masses.

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