I had a lengthy conversation yesterday with a Hollywood movie producer. Always interesting to see how their minds operate. I often talk about how we, as writers, should be able to put on our ‘producer’s hat’ in order to see our stories through their eyes. But what does that actually mean? How to think like a producer if you don’t work with them on a regular basis?
One thing you can do is read up on them. A number of movie producers have written books. Among the more notable:
* “The Kid Stays in the Picture,” Robert Evans
* “Tell to Win: Connect, Persuade and Triumph with the Hidden Power of Story,” Peter Guber
* “A Pound of Flesh: Perilous Tales of How to Produce Movies in Hollywood,” Art Linson
* “Hello, He Lied — and Other Tales from the Hollywood Trenches,” Lynda Obst
Then you can look for articles like this one: “Ten Career Lessons From An Oscar-Winning Producer”. That would be Jeremy Thomas, producer of such movies as The Last Emperor and Sexy Beast.
Here are a few of Thomas’ lessons:
Follow your heart.
“I’m a filmmaker, a film lover, historian, archivist. All those years of filmmaking, it was the same thing going on every time: ‘This could be something, I like it.’ People find this fact amazing. ‘But what about the market?’ Couldn’t give a shit. The market will be there next year. I want my films to be successful but it’s not in the hard drive in selecting what I’m doing. It’s one of the components of the process, but it’s all based on your taste. I can’t think of another way of judging what project to do. When you decide to make a film with somebody, you want to make it with that person. Support it 1000 per cent in that vision. That’s how you make a film.”
Ignore the critics.
“When I heard Crash had been banned in Westminster, I almost cut myself shaving. As a producer, you’re confused and amazed when that happens and you’re quickly protecting yourself, your film, your colleagues and your ideology. 80 per cent of my films are badly received when they first open, but that applies to many of my favourite films by Kubrick, Nic Roeg, Peckinpah, Orson Welles. Most of your favourite films are excoriated on opening by the critics but slowly [become recognised] over the decades. I’ve had a drubbing of my recent films. Don Hemingway wasn’t appreciated here, but it will be back. How can you not appreciate Jude Law’s performance? But you should read the reviews for Bad Timing, Naked Lunch and Crash. (Evening Standard’s) Alexander Walker described Crash as ‘a movie beyond the bounds of depravity.’”
“I loved the story of the Kon-Tiki expedition as a boy growing up in the ‘50s – it was a big story of six men on a raft across the Pacific – and I’d wanted to make it but (expedition leader) Thor Heyerdahl didn’t want to do it. A lot of people had tried to make it and he didn’t want to, even though his wife was keen. I made four trips to Tenerife to try to persuade him to give us the rights. It was a long courtship. I played The Last Emperor card – showing him that and other films [I’d made] – and finally he submitted. Maybe it was a certain time of his life and he was reflecting. Unfortunately, he died before it came out. Are there are other passion projects I’d like to do? There are lots of things, but I’m not going to tell you what they are. I haven’t tried South America as a continent and I’d like to make a film there.”
Come to think of it, those are solid lessons for writers, too.
Good producers are gold. If they get your material and get you, they can be your champion, fighting on your behalf. This producer I spoke with yesterday is doing precisely that with an interesting, but challenging project. Why? Because he is passionate about it and respects what the writer has done with the story. He can also see a “back of the napkin strategy” for getting it made.
Next time you sit down to assess a story idea to see if it’s worth writing, take some time to put on your producer’s hat. Look at it through their eyes. Does what you see in the story feel like it would fly with what they might see? If so, you very well may have a winning combination.
For the rest of the article with Jeremy Thomas, go here.
Go here to read my interview with movie producer Ted Hope.
Go here to read my interview with movie producer Mynette Louie.
If any of you have other resources featuring interviews with movie producers, please click Reply and post in comments. Thanks!