Co-founder of Chockstone Pictures Takes on the Malibu Playhouse

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Steve and Paula Mae Schwartz, co-founders of Chockstone Pictures, moved to Malibu in 2008 to pursue their dream of making movies. Since 2004, they’ve produced half a dozen films with people like Cormac McCarthy, Ridley Scott and Brad Pitt, including the Oscar-nominated “Tree of Life,” which they co-executive produced. Paula Mae is also the new co-chair and executive producer of the Malibu Playhouse, which premiered “Life Expectancy: A Comedy in Three Trimesters” last weekend.

After building an extraordinarily successful marketing firm just outside of Boston, Steve and Paula Mae Schwartz moved to Malibu in 2008 to pursue their dream of making movies. Their Chockstone Pictures has, since 2004, produced half a dozen films with people like Cormac McCarthy, Ridley Scott and Brad Pitt, including the Oscar-nominated “Tree of Life,” which they co-executive produced. More films are currently in development with impressive A-list talent.

The female half of the Chockstone team has recently taken on the role of producing events for the Malibu Playhouse, including last month’s comedy show and last weekend’s world premiere of the play, “Life Expectancy: A Comedy in Three Trimesters,” written by Catherine Butterfield and directed by Ron West.

The Schwartzes are no strangers to the world of live theater production. Chockstone Pictures was a producer of Deaf West Theatre’s musical revival of “Spring Awakening” at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts and then on Broadway. It was nominated for a 2016 Tony Award for best revival of a musical and a Drama Desk Award. 

“That project was a rekindling of our love for the theater, and we decided to plunge back into it,” Paula Mae said.

In a previous stint as board chair of the Gloucester Stage Co. in Massachusetts, she took a struggling regional theater in a blue-collar town 50 miles outside of Boston and turned it around.

“It was a life-changing experience, taking it from the red to the black — we even attracted theater-goers from Boston,” she said. 

“I see a range of opportunities for programs here — Neil Simon actually wrote many of his plays in Malibu, and I see opera. People like variety,” Paula Mae said. “The Malibu Playhouse is the most beautiful 99-seat theater in LA and could be a venue for all kinds of productions.”

“’Life Expectancy’ is a really clever, well-done comedy about a 40-something couple having their first baby and it’s done with a completely fresh take,” Paula Mae said. “I’d like to see it on Broadway.” 

Meanwhile, husband Steve says the playhouse is technically his wife’s thing, but he’s still involved; the couple has been business partners for years. 

“I still work 60 hours a week, but I have fun every day,” Steve said. “The movies Chockstone has in the pipeline are all extremely exciting, including ‘The Truth and Other Lies’ with Brian de Palma attached as director, ‘All the Old Knives,’ ‘Moving Day,’ ‘Last of the Tribe’ with Malibu screenwriter Mark Bailey and ‘The Kind Worth Killing’ with Agnieszka Holland as director. 

“There’s not a lot of intellectual property we like — we’re very selective,” Steve said. “We’re frequently competing with studios, and we usually win because we have a terrific track record with a higher hit rate than the studios.”

When Steve and Paula Mae started their film company in 2004, he said, “What it took was hutzpah — you don’t get run over by the welcome wagon.” 

“I think we have very good taste and the projects we pick are arty, not obvious mainstream projects,” Steve recalled. “But we put our money where our heart is and support movies we believe in, both intellectually and creatively.”

Paula Mae is officially the new “co-chair” and executive producer of the Malibu Playhouse along with co-chair and producer Cody Lassen. She’s actively seeking additional board members from the Malibu community.

“We hope people will say, ‘This is exciting, I want to be part of it,’” she said. In addition, she hopes more people will come forward as volunteers.

Two acting programs for young people are offered at the Playhouse.

“Julia Holland is the managing director of the playhouse and my right hand. She, along with public school teacher DeeDee Davidson-Porter run the Once Upon a Time Children’s Theater,” Paula Mae said. In addition, Shoshana Kuttner is still the executive director of the nonprofit Young Actors Project. The playhouse also just started an internship program for college students. 

 

“Life Expectancy” will be performed on Oct. 14, 15, 21 and 22 at 8 p.m., as well as Oct. 16, 22 and 23 at 3 p.m. Tickets are available through malibuplayhouse.org. Malibu Playhouse is located at 29243 PCH, Malibu.