Join SBIFF for an in-depth discussion in this video A matter of taste, part of 2011 SBIFF Producers' Panel: Movers and Shakers.
Patrick Goldstein: Mike, let me ask you one other thing though, because I was thinking of Boogie Nights and also American History X, which you made at New Line, which dealt with a lot of the social currents in our culture. Boogie Nights, a huge influential hit; American History X, not so much. Again, after Mike, I would love to open this up to everyone. As a producer, when you are at the studio, how do you know if something that fascinates you is going to fascinate anyone else? Mike De Luca: You don't. That's why it's terrifying.
This is going to sound trite, but you have to just go with your gut, because if you start hedging your bet about, oh, they're going to like this or this might work for them, although I might not see that movie personally, you're lost. It becomes gambling at that point, and at least when you stick to your gut instinct that you find something compelling, if it fails, you can go, well, I was honest in my motivation to try to either green light as an executive or be patron of the arts as a producer or be an author of it as a producer.
You just feel better even in failure when you've been honest about your motivation to do something. The trick when you're an executive is you can't feel that way about 25 movies a year. It's impossible. So you start making deals with yourself about the programmers that have to go on behind the ones that you really, really love as a head of production or a studio executive. Todd: Yeah, as a producer, I mean, you have to really--once you start thinking "what do they want?" then it's done. I mean, the only thing you have is your own taste. I remember--this is anecdotal, too--I wish Emma Thomas were here, too, because there is a great story I wanted to tell her-- I started in the independent world at a company called Summit, which was then an independent film sales and distribution company.
When I first got there, they gave me a load of scripts, and they said, "Here's our list of people who can write coverage for you. There is a guy who writes pretty good coverage. His name is Chris Nolan. You should call him and give him some of these scripts." So I called Chris and I said, "Hey, look, man, I am Todd Lieberman. I am new here. We've got a bunch of scripts here. We will give you 50 bucks a script. You can cover these." He said, "Well, I am kind of probably phasing out a coverage because I just got this writing job I am going to do." I said, "Well, how about $60? That's $10 more.
We are going to give 10 bucks more to write coverage." He said, "No, I think I'm done with my coverage career." A mutual friend of ours had given me a script of his called Memento. Wow! I read that and I am like, well, this is &^@%#$ awesome. I mean his coverage is good, but this is a good script. That was the very first script that I'd read that I said, "Well, I am absolutely 100% in love with this script." Between Summit and Newmark, we got it made. But you know you kind of figure out what your taste is, and then you just go with that. Jamie Patricof: Well, one thing I want to say though is I think one of the things that separates, in at least my opinion, sort of independent world is we don't have a studio that is sort of behind the curtain saying-- It's nice to have a gut feeling, but my understanding, although I have never made a studio film, is that it doesn't always just come down to gut when it comes to the whole big picture.
The studio is saying, okay, who is the audience for this film, and how we are going to get to them? Mike: Although it's interesting watching Amy Pascal operate. To navigate the different departments, to muscle something through marketing and distribution, you do need someone in charge with a gut feeling saying, we are making this no matter what. Sometimes if you're lucky, you will get that performance from a studio head. Jamie: But you, you've been on both sides in a sense. When you were running the studio, you got to make the decision, but you couldn't just make them truly with your gut. But now you get to sort of go with your gut, I guess. Mike: It's pure. Jamie: Yeah, that's what you're doing in the start.
Todd: As a producer, you push it forward. As a studio head, I imagine it's completely different. Jamie: And then you also get the benefit of a track record. That's when Mike De Luca come to you with the movie, if they're saying no, they better have a damn good reason why they are saying no or Mike: Yeah! Jamie: he is going to leave that studio. Jamie: I mean, that where you get that benefit of--I've made a handful of films, but I haven't made films that have grossed hundreds of millions of dollars. Ultimately, that gut instinct is what defines a producer and sort what a-- Mike: Although every couple of years there is whole new batch of Mike: studio executives that-- Jamie: Amy Pascal.
Mike: or don't even know, except Amy Pascal, who don't even know you. You have to like justify your existence every six months, which is fine. It's still a good job. Todd: It's so hard to get a movie made, obviously, so the only thing to push it forward is your own passion, and if you don't fully believe in it, then why is someone else is going to believe in it? I remember, last year I produced a movie called The Proposal, and when I sold that movie to Nina Jacobs who was the head of the studio at that time, I pitched it to her as kind of my own story. I had dated a woman for many, many years who was quite older than me who also happened to be my boss.
I gave her a lot of information about what that relationship was, and I said, "I bet I could add a lot to the story." She said, "Well, God, Todd. I have to buy that for you because if it's that personal to you, we've got to buy that and develop that movie." Yeah, it was. It was really personal, and it turned into something completely different, but at least there were parts of it that were me in that movie. Then I called my ex-girlfriend. I said, Sandra Bullock is going to play you, and Ryan Reynolds is going to play me. That's kinda cool.
Moderated by Patrick Goldstein from the Los Angeles Times, these six producers cover many topics not often discussed in the entertainment press. The struggle to get a picture funded, ratings battles with Motion Picture Association of America, where the lines are drawn making a dramatic film based on a real life event, and working with a difficult director. They offer amazing stories of perseverance and triumph.
This panel includes Darla K. Anderson (Toy Story 3), Iain Canning (The King’s Speech), Alix Madigan (Winter’s Bone), Todd Lieberman (The Fighter), Mike Deluca (The Social Network), and Jamie Patricof (Blue Valentine).