Friday, February 12, 2010

Producer Talk 2

So this week at CAA, we had another Producer come in and talk. He has worked on a large slate of highly succesful films!

Here are a few of the things we touched on...

So what are the primary responsibilities of a producer working at a studio?
Well your first duty is to go out and find ideas for films, whether it be from books or spec scripts (which is rare), or simply sitting around and discussing movie topics. Once you find the idea, you need to find the right person to write it--its very much like match-making actually. You guess at a person's talent and their ability to write this idea. You are usually wrong, but hopefully you are just right enough for the studio execs to start seeing the movie and to hire another writer (instead of just tossing the project)...often you are throwing out at least 300,000 per writer, so this can be a costly procedure!

If the studio is taking care of physical production, banking, marketing, and much power do you have as Producer?
Right now, there is less money than every available to studios and everyone is fearful. It is your job to convince studios to make the movie you want to make and to convince them that it is relevant in today's market. Every movie is a power struggle. If you are doing a movie with Ridley Scott, and you are a young producer, he is going to be the one with all the power...but if you are doing a movie with a little-known Director, you are going to be the one with the power. If you have just gotten off of a successful film, you are always going to have a leg up with the studios; and likewise, if you have a flop, you are going to have less leverage with studios.

So is the producer basically the one who puts everything together? This title seems so loose, there seem to be all different kinds of producers, can you explain the difference?
Yes, well the Producer is basically the one who has a sense of what the movie should be...he/she is the one who tries to realize the dream of what the movie can be. This person is the one dealing with all the financial stuff, but there is also a ton of creative involved as well. He is the one on the project before the direct, at the time of the writer, and he is the one that is there at the end as well. The Producer is the one who gets to pick up the Academy Award for Best Picture.
The Executive Producer can be a variety of things...often times this is the manager who put it together, or could be a manager who didn't really do anything but just had the right client. Steven Spielberg is sometimes listed as an executive producer because his name helps sell a movie; he might have once upon a time found a good story and said it should be made, and then a studio might throw him a fee and in return, get to use his name. Associate Producer is much the same, usually its just someone who was given a credit as leverage. Line Producer is the one who is on set and making sure everything runs smoothly.

If you are a studio Producer, does that mean you only get to work with one studio?
No, what it means is that the studio you have a first look deal with has the right to all your projects first. If that studio doesn't want it, then you are free to take the project to another studio. When you have a first look deal at a studio, that basically means that the studio is paying the salaries of your executives and assistants and puts up the money to run your company. Often times these production companies are on the studio lots, but not always. We took Gladiator to Sony and they didn't want it, so we then took it to Dreamworks. In return, Dreamworks paid Sony a fee (since they were paying to upkeep our production facilities during the production).

What happens if a studio decides to take a project on and develops it, but then decides to drop it...can you take it to another studio?
Yes, this is called "turnaround." If Sony decides they are no longer going to continue on with a project, they will often give it back to you and allow you to take it to another studio; however, if Paramount picks up the film, they will be required to pay Sony back for whatever funds were spent developing the project. Often times, studios will make a deal to move a project from Sony to Paramount...but they can't pay back the 500,000 spent on development fees, so they will give 10% upfront, and then if the project is ever viable, Sony will get paid in full. This is a kindness among studios. Another thing to mention is that if you add an element, you are legally required to go back to the original studio and let them know before offering the project up to another studio. This basically means that if Sony drops a project, but then you get Brad Pitt to say that he wants to do the must go back to Sony and inform them of the "changed elements" and give them a chance to come back on board before taking the script to Paramount.

How do you get a first look deal with a studio?

It changes all the time. Studios are always trying to figure out how to get movies. There was a stage where they thought younger people knew something...and that's how I got lucky. In my particular case, I was working for a director and they tried to hire me as a studio executive, but I said I only wanted to be a producer, so they took us on. If a producer has a couple hits, the person's agent will usually get a studio to meet with him/her and try to set up a first look deal.

What has been your shortest time frame between pitching a movie and starting filming?
2 or 3 years.

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