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The Producer

The ProducerTufts graduate Albert Berger, one of the names behind the critically acclaimed and Oscar-nominated film “Little Miss Sunshine,” is just a film lover at heart.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [02.20.07] As an undergraduate at Tufts, Albert Berger lived and breathed films. Today, as a hit producer for Academy Award-nominated films "Little Miss Sunshine" and "Little Children," Berger has parlayed that passion into a career devoted to bringing great stories to the big screen.

"We loved the script [for 'Little Miss Sunshine'] but never in our wildest dreams did we think it would succeed in a way it has," said Berger, who professes to be "stunned" in particular by the success of the ensemble comedy.

That success has come in the form of several awards, including Best Original Screenplay from Writers Guild of America, a Screen Actors Guild award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture and Best Feature Film from the Producers Guild of America. The film also received several nominations at the Independent Spirit Awards, the Golden Globes and more.

But the best may be yet to come. "Little Miss Sunshine" is nominated for four Oscars, including Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Original Screenplay and the highly coveted Best Picture. "Little Children," starring Kate Winslet, is nominated for Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor and Best Adapted Screenplay.

Berger, who graduated from Tufts in 1979, cultivated his film interest as an undergraduate by launching the Tufts Alternative Film Series and eventually heading Tufts Film Series. He also penned movie reviews for the Tufts Observer and took numerous film classes in the Experimental College.

"It was a minor of sorts," he recalls. "I knew when I left Tufts that that's what I wanted to do."

After graduation, he headed to Chicago where he launched a popular revival movie theatre with a friend, then attended film school at New York's Columbia University where he studied directing and screenwriting. He eventually landed in Los Angeles, where he got his start as a screenwriter.

It was in that capacity where Berger met his current partner at Bona Fide Productions, Ron Yerxa, a former studio executive. The pair got their start in the early 1990s when they produced "King of the Hill"-a film directed by Steven Soderbergh.

Berger and Yerxa first met Soderbergh in 1989 at a Sundance Film Festival screening of his hit "sex, lies, and videotape" (which starred 1977 Tufts graduate Peter Gallagher). It was there that they decided to join forces to develop "King of the Hill," an adaptation of the book by A.E. Hotchner.

"All the sudden, we had a legitimate project with a very sought-after director," recalled Berger. Their later projects also included hits like "Cold Mountain,""Bee Season,""Election" and "The Ice Harvest" (which featured 1983 Tufts graduate Oliver Platt).

An English major at Tufts, Berger is an avid reader with a strong connection to books. That affinity has extended to his work.

"A lot of our film projects are adaptations," says Berger. "We find a book and we connect it with the screenwriter and director we believe in and we develop it from there. That's always a very satisfying and productive path for us."

LittleMissSunshineCastStill, notes Berger, "there's nothing like finding a great script. It's just so rare you read something like 'Little Miss Sunshine' that is there on the page and ready to go."

As his background indicates, filmmaking is more than just a money-making endeavor for Berger; it is a process with which he feels a close connection.

"You've got to earn a living, and we've been fortunate in that some of our unusual films like 'Little Miss Sunshine' have broken through in one way or another," says Berger. "But really, what it's about is making a movie that connects with us and with people out there."

On Sunday, Feb. 25, at the 79 th Annual Academy Awards telecast in Los Angeles, Berger hopes those connections will pay dividends. He will be there with the rest of the "Little Miss Sunshine" ensemble, hoping to hear their names after the words "And the winner is..."

But win or lose, it's been a great ride for Berger and his colleagues. He knows that in Hollywood, you have to take happy endings where you can find them.

"They don't always happen like this," he noted.

Profile by Georgiana Cohen, Tufts Web Communications

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