Friday, October 23, 2009

Why me?

We've reached the point where those of you who know the business are saying, "ok, this is not very exciting at all, we though producer's lives are filled with parties at the Ivy and movie stars and expense accounts and cocaine".  And those of you who are not in the business are saying the same thing. 

This is the reality of producing a movie, if you've followed me since the beginning, you know what it really is like.  Boring as hell, phone calls unanswered, email forgotten, and cheap lunches at Chili John's or Carney's. Well, Chili John's is worth any lunch at the Ivy. Welcome to the life of a producer. Granted I'm not one of the big guys but you know what?

It's the same thing for him or her. 

You're trying to sell a dream to someone who doesn't want to dream, or to finance a dream. Unless it's a brand or a sequel or something based on toys.

One of my favorite stories is told by Paul Lynch, my director friend. He recounts going onto the set of the remake version of the classic film The Lost Horizon, the one where a lost explorer happens on Shangri-la, the perfect mountain paradise where nobody gets old. Ross Hunter was the producer of the remake in the 60's. He was known for the Doris Day/Rock Hudson romcoms (romantic comedies) and I'm sure I've lost at least half of you who don't know who I'm talking about. 

Regardless, Hunter was producing Lost Horizon.  Lynch had an invitation to come on set at the studio so he did and met the director and some actors.  As he stood around, someone suddenly appeared in front of him, Hunter.  This is something that happens on any film that you might drop into, the director or producer will suddenly appear in front of you.  I had this happen on a Robert Altman film once, a somewhat relaxed set with Cissy Spacek, and having directed, I know the feeling. You know immediately when someone new is on set and you feel obliged to find out who they are.  Altman liked me and I hung around drinking beer all day.

But Lynch was surprised to see the legendary Hollywood producer introduce himself. Lynch introduced himself, they exchanged "pleasantries" and Hunter learned Lynch was from Canada and said wonderful things about the country and then snapped his fingers and said "camera!" And immediately, a photographer appeared from out of nowhere and took 2 photos of Lynch and Hunter. Then Hunter was gone. Two weeks later Lynch received an 8x10 of him and Hunter with a signed autograph. 

So what's the  big deal? Those were the big producers, bigger than life. Everything was an event, it was magic, it was Hollywood. 

Those days are gone. Now it's just business. About as exciting as watching two bankers having lunch. There's no more romaticism, no excitement. Why? Because corporations have taken over the industry. Beancounters. The biggest excitement I get is taking Shirley to lunch.  Everything else happens from my little home office with phone calls and email. Mostly email. And besides the fact that I am making no money, rather spending it, there's one thing that travels through my mind every day.

Most odds are against me.

A large portion of the Writer's Guild are against me. My own people.  Of 8000 members I have around 28 who drop by now and then to read. 


Maybe they don't like me. But 95% don't even know me. 

The one thing I know is that many writers just hate it when someone else gets a job. Hell, I even hate it. And now I'm even trying to PRODUCE a movie. That's usually left for fast-talking carpet salesmen, not writers. After all we are pure and honorable. And everyone knows producers are conmen and thieves. We are an odd lot, miscreants no doubt, dreamers and hopefuls. I only have a handful of friends who are writers, and we are very supportive of each other. And I'm sure that's the case for many others.

But producing is not a stretch for writers. If you watch series TV like the CSI franchise and the NCIS franchise and Law and Order, and sitcoms like Two and a half Men, you will notice anywhere from 5 to 15 credits for producers at the beginning of the shows. These are not producers in the larger sense, they are writers.

Why writers?

Because in TV, writers learned early that in episodic, you need a new episode every week. And while a movie script can take years to develop to filming, TV episodes gotta be there every week. So in the 70's, writers figured out to ask for producer credit. It's not like what I'm doing, trying to find money for one movie, in fact most writer-producers know very little about producing. They just write and rewrite the episodes.  

There's usually one or two real producers but all the rest of those 10 or so producer credits are basically gifts to writers. And  it comes with having a say in most matters.

But movies are different, and I will be the producer as well as the writer, but will be joined by other producers mainly due to the fact that it's not my money that I'll be using, and other producers or agents who bring in money will be getting producer credit. Or Executive Producer, or maybe co-producer. 

But the only real producers who do budgets, hire crew and actors and work constantly on the film, will be myself and most likely the Manitoba producer who is the gateway to the tax credit and a sizeable part of the financing.

So as the week-end begins, I am only too glad to see a boring week go by and I focus on next week and the emails I know are lurking, waiting to send me good things.

At least the weather is nice.

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