Luke's Fading Twink Appeal
I'm wondering if I should pose as a homosexual to help my career in Hollywood (as I'm already banned from most upright and decent synagogues).
Chaim Amalek writes: The assumption when people meet you is that you are queer. Sorry, but you do have that aging, pretty-boy look of the socially busy homosexual.
Khunrum writes: Chaim I believe Luke is rather "long in the tooth" (i.e. old) to be some Hollywood Jewish Media Boss' Boy Toy. Although I must admit I thought things looked promising when a producer offered to show our boy his "gun." By and large though, those guys are looking for the chicklets not the old roosters. At best I think he might latch on to some faded Tinsel Town Norma Desmond type. I bet Luke for be a great 8th or 9th husband for Zsa Zsa Gabor. What do you think darling.......?
Rob writes: Sadly Rumdar is right. Luke's "Twink Appeal" is less than zero. In Hollywood the currency is youth and lets face it Luke is nearing bankruptcy.
Producer Lloyd A. Silverman
After six years at Universal Pictures assisting Rafaella DeLaurentiis, and 10 years as an on- and off-Broadway producer, Lloyd A. Silverman established The Artists' Colony to make independent movies.
Lloyd served as executive producer of Snow Falling on Cedars (1999) and produced 1998's Shattered Image. He's a visiting lecturer at the Department of Film and Media Studies at Washington University in St. Louis. We spoke by phone February 5, 2002. Lloyd speaks powerfully and clearly, like a professor should.
Luke: "How did you get into producing movies?"
Lloyd: "Good question. Probably as a function of not being able to do anything else. I've been intrigued by the arts for as long as I can remember. It began many years ago when I realized that I wasn't the greatest rockn'roll singer. I've always felt an attraction to talented people and wanted to move their careers forward. This was the logical course.
"Rafaella was my godmother. I was involved in theater in New York and London. I could indulge my passion for theater through my moderate success in the New York real estate business. Those were the old days when if you had a phone, a mouth and a rolodex, you couldn't help but make money. The rockn'roll '80s was a good time to be in business. I made my money in the day and I lost it at night.
"When the New York real estate bubble burst around 1990, I was single and comfortable and able to move to Los Angeles to pursue my dream. Rafaella was the first person who embraced what I thought I had to offer - relationships with writers and talent coming out of theater. This was a time before Slingblade and the independent movie movement was as generic to the industry as it is now.
"Working for Rafaella, as she was off slaying dragons, I sought material that I thought compelling. And sitting on the lot at Universal, I realized that that material wasn't what they were looking to buy. What I wanted to sell was not a commodity that anybody in Hollywood was interested in buying. Universal eventually gave me my own producing deal.
"Around 1992, I was given an unpublished manuscript by first-time novelist David Guterson. In Hollywood, it is hard to get executives to read scripts by writers they're not familiar with, let alone a 400-odd page unpublished novel by a first-time writer about the Second World War. I thought the novel would make a wonderful film and I presented it to every studio and was passed on. After David found a publisher, the book was presented again to every studio and passed on again. Then the book found its way on to the best seller list and was passed on again. Then it hit number one on the best seller list and was passed on again. Then it was number one for 72 weeks and still everyone was passing on the bok.
"It wasn't until [screenwriter] Ron Bass and [director] Scott Hicks [of Shine fame] that the film attracted attention. Studios don't make movies because they want to. They make movies because they have to.
"Scott Hicks brought in producers Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshal, perhaps the best producing team in the world. And the film mushroomed into something considerably more than the studio had agreed to in the beginning. What had started as a small film had grown into an epic. Universal was gracious to allow Scott Hicks to make the movie he envisioned.
"I was overwhelmed with how well the movie turned out."
Luke: "You didn't resent the project escaping out of your hands?"
Lloyd: "Filmmaking is a collaborative process. The word 'resent' is a bit strong. We're not always very happy with certain decisions made. This was a complex movie that required skills and experience that at that time I did not have."
Luke: "What attracted you to this material?"
Lloyd: "It's not often that you read a script that has the kind of emotional impact that means something beyond a good story, that reflects a society's perspective and good and bad and points out the weaknesses in the social fabric.
"This was probably the darkest time in United States history. We as a people were doing to our citizens [interning Japanese Americans] what we were complaining was being done to us. It's hard to look in the mirror sometimes and see what it is that we're doing wrong. And as Max Von Sydow [who plays a defense attorney] says in the film, people like you and me are called upon to give the report card of the human race. It's a powerful line in a powerful movie. And as he says, we hate each other. This has been going on for generations. It makes the movie more relevant today than when it was released."
Luke: "Why so?"
Lloyd: "After September 11th, there was a lot of talk about how we as a culture behave towards Arab-Americans. Are we profiling? Do we segregate ourselves by color? Because someone looks different does that make them guilty of a crime? The subject we address in Snow Falling on Cedars is the same subject being addressed in the world today. Do we crucify a race of people because of the actions of a few?"
Luke: "Do you believe that interning Japanese-Americans during WWII was clearly wrong?"
Lloyd without hesitation: "Yes."
Luke: "Do you believe that racially profiling Arab-Americans on, say, airplane flights, is clearly wrong?"
Lloyd: "We would be foolish not to explore potential threats. To generically crucify a race is wrong. What tools are available today that weren't available then to address the types of threats that may exist?"
Luke: "Do you think that diverse peoples can live together in peace?"
Lloyd: "I hope there's a way for us to figure this all out because we must learn to live together. The world is no longer insulated by geographical territory, nationality and races. We depend on each other. This is a large jigsaw puzzle and each of those pieces contributes to the functionality of the whole. We have hated each other and we do hate each other and we need to break that cycle. Without oil from the Middle East or grain from the United States, we as a planet cannot survive. We all need from all the others to survive. So how do you take away centuries of disdain? I don't know. But educating our children into believing that we are all the same, no matter how we look or speak, is a beginning. My wife and I have taken conscious strides to make certain that our children are culturally diverse with an education that is culturally diverse with children who are culturally diverse. I'm proud that my children are color blind. They don't understand there's a difference and perhaps there isn't a difference if we can educate our children that way."
Luke: "And your reaction to the reaction to Snow Falling on Cedars?"
Lloyd: "This was a film that was so multi-layered. It travelled through four stories. To some people, it was fascinating and brilliantly crafted, which is what I believed. Other people found it disorienting trying to track these four stories through a two-hour plus movie."
Luke: "Tell me about Shattered Image."
Lloyd: "It was the first script I got involved with when I came to Los Angeles. Shattered Image was originally called Snake Eyes. When we got ready to make it, we realized there were three other movies (including Brian De Palma, Madonna) named Snake Eyes.
"Original director Barbet Schroeder was too busy with Before and After  and suggested a dear friend, Raoul Ruiz, a brilliant European filmmaker who lives in Paris by way of Chile. We met with Raoul who loved the film, eventually made for just less than $10 million. It was distributed by Lions Gate.
"This was Raoul's first big budget movie (out of more than 80). It was his first American, English-speaking film. I don't think he'd made anything for more than $2 million. It was a cumbersome project for him, and as it moved forward, the executive producer's eye required a more commercial slant than Raoul wanted. Raoul is an esoteric visionary often compared to directors like Fellini and Grunet, wonderful masters of the European genre who are more amorphous in the way they choose to tell a story."
Luke: "What are some specific examples of making a film more commercial?"
Lloyd: "It's difficult asking a director whose sensibilities sway against more skin and more sex and more of the obvious agreements that commercial distribution often demands. It was interesting to see how an international director manipulated the needs and desires of the people financing the movie and interesting to watch the ways the distributors and financiers tried to manipulate the creative team. We as producers are sometimes required to neutralize both sides towards the end of delivering a product that will attract an audience.
"When people from the business side tend to film comfortable making creative decisions, then they've chosen the wrong people to make the movie. I think it would've been nice to either have a Raoul Ruiz movie or not hire Raoul Ruiz. You don't hire a wonderful artist to paint a picture and tell him what to paint. If you want someone to mimic your creative thoughts, then you should hire someone who is a forger.
"Raoul is not known as a commercial director and he can't be expected to deliver a commercial movie. If you hire Tom Shady or Michael Bay to direct, you're likely to get a commercial movie. That's how they think.
"The movie didn't do well at the box office. Lions Gate didn't do much to promote the movie. Raoul has a significant following in the United States but it is an ethereal heady group primarily in the cities."
Luke: "Some people had trouble keeping track of the movie. Actor William Baldwin at the Toronto Film Festival said that he could not describe what the film was about."
Lloyd: "It is a troubling cerebral movie. I understand how the way Raoul approaches the film can be disorienting."
Luke: "Tell me about A Girl, Three Guys and a Gun ."
Lloyd: "Originally I made a movie called Solid Ones. It's one of the first features to be made in high-definition video. It was a project brought to me by a film professor at USC who introduced me to a young man in his class [Brent Florence] who showed me a short he'd done called Solid Ones. I found it interesting. And as I said several hundred times before, if they came back to me with a feature length script, I would be happy to work on it with them. Nobody followed through until Brent Florence a year or so later. We raised $200,000 and made the movie and sold it to Roger Corman's company, Concorde/New Horizons. They left the movie completely intact and just changed the title to A Girl, Three Guys and a Gun, when in fact it was a girl, four guys and a gun."
Luke: "You've got some internet ventures such as e-Kidfilms.com and e-Moviehouse.com."
Lloyd: "Since becoming a father, I've worked diligently to create a platform for young people to express themselves internationally through a network of interrelated points. The network seemed to be the most logical network of distribution. E-kidfilms.com tries to encourage young people to be more progressive with their filmmaking skills realizing that children around the world experience similar things. And wouldn't it be nice if they had their own forum for and by kids, without parental controls? I think kids can be intelligent, controlled and able to communicate on a level all their own.
"An awful lot of internet ventures have failed in trying to create the new method of distributing films on-demand. People much smarter than myself have gone bankrupt trying to pursue that vision. I don't think the technology has caught up to the vision."
Luke: "How has being a father changed you?"
Lloyd: "I've become more sensetized to the type of story that would be acceptable fare for your children. I haven't been involved with a film that I wouldn't be proud to show my children [aged four and two] right now. I've worked hard against all odds to be true to my creative vision and maintain my integrity as a producer. I would probably be much more successful if I used the barometer that they used in Hollywood. If I chose to make big broad high-concept commercial comedies that are entertaining but forgotten five seconds after you leave the theater. That's not what moves me and consequently the journey has been more difficult for me. I hope that Snow Falling on Cedars will stand the test of time."
Lloyd's interrupted by his little girl. He says goodbye to her.
"Six years ago, before I married, was a different world. I didn't marry until I was 40. I did as much for as long as I possibly could and had a great time doing it. But had I not rescued myself [from bachelorhood], we would not be talking today.
"I've been lecturing on digital filmmaking for three years which led to my teaching position at Washington University, when my wife Victoria Silverman took the position of Vice-president of External Affairs for the St. Louis symphony. She was the Director of Development at the American Film Institute. I still spend two weeks of the month on Los Angeles."
Luke: "Isn't the marketplace for independent films getting squeezed more every year?"
Lloyd: "Yes. Independent movies have the same requirements as a studio movie. You still need a movie star, a recognizable director and production values that are saleable though the budget may be lower and the movie may be more character-driven."
Luke: "I find independent films require more work from me as a viewer."
Lloyd: "I think that's right. I think independent filmmakers are independent thinkers that demand more thought and participation [from the viewer]. Studios have gone from making movies to stocking movies. Universal, 20th Century Fox, Disney, etc have been the Targets, the Wallmarts, of our communities. They're retailers who every week fill their shelves with product. If the product sells, they keep it on the shelf. If it doesn't, they replace it. The film industry is probably the only industry that spends 90% of its advertising budget before it can be purchased. The barometer for a film is the first weekend. If people don't show, the studio will say, 'Forget it. We're not spending more money marketing it. It's done. It's time to move on to the next movie.'
"My hat's off to the Bob and Harvey Weinsteins [of Miramax], who, in the more traditional marketing way, release a product, get behind it, promote it, and hope that through word of mouth, it catches on. David Picker, while president of Paramount, said that if he'd made all the movies he passed on, and passed on all the movies he made, the results would be the same.
"Distributors want a consistent supply of product like Danny DeVito's New Jersey Films or Brian Grazer's Imagine Entertainment. They're not attracted to one-off productions. They want to buy from a company who will be sending them product every month."
Luke: "Has living in St. Louis changed you?"
Lloyd: "I've always said, 'Between L.A. and New York is America.' I grew up in New York and spent twelve years in Los Angeles. And living on the coasts is a completely different experience from living in the center of the country. It is much more provincial. People are less driven. They are more content with their lives. They don't need to be the greatest or the best. They're not measured by the same barometer that is used in Hollywood and New York. If you're one of those people who lives there and is driven to be the best, you and I know that you're never happy because you're always being scored. You're only as good as your next project. It's a debilhitating mentality to live with. It drives me and it is important to me that I have that kind of challenge and competitive environment. But it's interesting to observe those kind of communities where that doesn't exist. And it doesn't exist here."
Luke: "I'd also expect that people in flyover territory would have more conservative values."
Lloyd: "Much more. On everything. When people ask what St. Louis is like, I say, 'When people were heading west, these were the people who stopped.' And they haven't taken a step forward since. They have not made a move in 150 years. They're stuck and they don't care. They're happy being a third-class city. They're not looking to compete with L.A., New York, London, Paris. They look at New Yorkers and Californians as obsessed overactive freaks. They're happy with their little jobs and their little lives and their little worlds. And just to frighten you more, 75% of St. Louisans still live in St. Louis. They don't leave. They're comfortable with that little Mid-West lifestyle. You were talking before about homogenized communities. This is one of them. It's highly segregated. Blacks, women, Jews, fall into the same category they fell into in the 1800s. There's not a high price paid here for progress. There are potholes on the street here from the 1800s that they still haven't figured out to fill. Nor do they care. I've never been in a place where people are so content with the way things are."
I talked about my past writing on crime and entertainment.
Lloyd: "You should write about crime in entertainment because this is one of the most criminal industries in the world. The business model is unbelievable. It's the only place in the world where businesses can file bankruptcy to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars and the next day open up with another billion dollars in financing. And do this consistently for 30 years. It's amazing how people can go down with hundreds of million of dollars of debt, walk away, start a new company, and be financed the next day."
Luke: "Mores that would be considered illicit or illegal in other businesses are considered the thing to do in entertainment."
Lloyd: "Exactly. They are embraced and rewarded. I'd love to know how I could go south with every single movie and people keep giving me money."
Luke: "Part of the answer is that people are desperate to have any connection to entertainment."
I talked and laughed with two spirited TV movie producers (Marian Brayton and Anne Carlucci) February 5, 2002, at Heart Entertainment in West Los Angeles.
Anne, from a poor Roman Catholic background, speaks with a gravelly voice, the result of years of smoking. She's just quit cigarettes and sucks on lollipops during our 80 minutes together. Anne's the most talkative and flamboyant of the two. Marian's more cerebral and understated. Both are highly successful and their many credits enable them to speak freely, without the hesitation and fear of causing offence that I sense in most of my Hollywood interviews.
Anne and Marian, each around 50 years of age, inspired me to ask several new questions including:
* How could a producer make more money by throwing ethics to the wind?
* If your life was a movie, what would be your character arc?
* Which movies best explain your job?
Anne: "I almost got the chance to shoot a movie in Australia last year. It's a good thing I didn't do it because it will never air. It's about a serial killer in a 747 - not a popular type of movie anymore."
Luke: "I'm writing a book on producers."
Marian: "Are you finding we're all interchangeable?"
Luke: "Maybe, but producers take very different approaches to their work. I've interviewed many male movie producers who take great pride in not putting messages or morals into their films while other producers, particularly TV movie producers, take great pride in putting messages into their movies."
Marian: "We love to send messages. The first movie we did together [1989's The Littlest Victims] was about a doctor who discovered AIDS in children."
Anne: "I can't tell you how unpopular the subject matter was in 1983."
Marian: "The advertising community did not look on this favorably."
Anne: "AIDS wasn't even a word yet. It was called GRIDS - Gay Related Immune Deficiency Syndrome. It's the story of Dr. Jim Oleski from Newark, New Jersey, who was a pediatric immunologist. He went into pediatrics because he wanted to be in the life business, and the clean end of medicine, only to discover that his children were dying. He started keeping records and running tests and he soon discovered the kids were getting AIDS from their birth mothers. This little doctor had to take on the AMA and the US government. Nobody wanted to hear this story.
"Marian was a senior Vice-President of CBS Dramatic Specials. This was where we brought all the projects nobody would buy because they were about something. Or controversial. Marian wanted the project because it was a story of an ordinary person who finds himself in extraordinary circumstances. Marian fought like crazy to get the movie made.
"I got a call one day saying the movie is dead. I went into such a deep depression. I'd just had a wisdom tooth pulled. And my dentist had said to me, 'Whatever you do, don't get yourself all worked up because you need the blood to clot. Don't get your adrenaline going.' So the minute she said the movie was dead, my mouth started to bleed. Then 15 minutes later she called to say we had a reprieve.
"The movie airs. In Paris is Countess Alvina DuBoisrouvray from Belgium. Her 23-year old son had died that year. He was a search-and-rescue helicopter pilot. His helicopter went down on a mission and he was killed. She was looking for a children's charity to endow in his name, Severan.
"Countess DuBoisrouvray is so moved by the film that she sets up an appointment with Dr. Oleski. Now Jim Oleski is like Captain Kangaroo in a lab coat. He's not good with business. He practiced in Newark, New Jersey, in the ghetto. The Countess meets with him and says that she'd like to donate to his clinic. And he's delighted but he has no idea to what extent. She says, 'Tell me what you need?' And he says, 'There's a big AIDS conference and I can't afford to go. It would cost about $15,000.' She says, 'Well, that's not a problem. I'm talking about a wish list, if you could have anything you wanted for your work. He was clueless. She ended up giving him $5 million to open his own clinic and help these children. She sold the family jewels because she decided that there was so much work to be done. Now there's a charity and building endowed in her son's name. And there are all these children whose lives have been saved."
Marian: "We did Unforgiveable  about a batterer (played by John Ritter) who redeems himself, gets in touch with his behavior, and started a program to help batterers. And we got 5000 phone calls in 48 hours. We shut down the CBS switchboard with the number of calls."
Anne: "These calls are impulse calls. If you're beating your wife, and you see John Ritter, and you see yourself in John Ritter's behavior, and you want to change but you don't know how to do it, well, this guy did it. And at the end of the movie, there's an 800 number, you might reach for the phone and dial. If you are not put in touch immediately with someone who's going to take control of you and give you the help you need. The first question they asked was what city did you live in. Then they patched you through immediately to a domestic violence program in your neighborhood. That's the power of television. A movie that hauls you emotionally and informs you and entertains you with John Ritter. That was casting against type."
Marian: "We developed The Burning Bed, the 1984 breakthrough movie starring Farrah Fawcett."
The Burning Bed is based on the true story of Francine Hughes a battered Texas housewife who was prosecuted in 1977 for dousing her abusive husband with gasoline and setting him on fire as he slept.
Tammy writes on IMDB.com: "This TV movie received a lot of acclaim and Emmy nominations. Why don't I know why? Because it isn't any different than any other Lifetime-esque woman-in-jeopardy movie I've seen. I suppose since it was made in 1984, it could have been the paveway for those stereotypical, cliched Lifetime films and was original for its time or something. Farrah Fawcett plays an abused wife who, one day, decides she has had enough and sets her husband's (Paul Le Mat) bed on fire-- with him in it. I can't help hating when movies use abuse as an excuse for murder. Fawcett is sort of grating in her role. She earned her part in "The Apostle", FAR the better film, because Robert Duvall saw "The Burning Bed" and was for some reason all impressed by her."
Anne: "I started developing that movie in 1978. I was working for Norman Lear. I bought the book. I sold it to CBS but when we submitted the script, there was no way CBS was going to do it. The white boys at the network at that time were horrified by it. It was not for the Tiffany network. Farrah Fawcett had just come out of Charlie's Angels and had a deal with NBC. So we put Farrah in the movie and took it to NBC. It was passed on because one of the executives said, 'I don't really believe that men do these kind of things.' Not an evolved period. The project languished. Farrah held on to it. And five years later it got made."
Marian: "I did a movie [1980's Rape and Marriage] about the first case a woman sued her husband on trial for rape. Another time I developed a movie about a woman who tried desperately to get police protection because her husband was threatening her. And the police were literally standing outside on the lawn while he beat her to a pulp and injured her permanently. The more we can bring attention to these things by trying to show ways to break these patterns, it helps.
"I remember when I was at CBS, I'd just read a book about a strange new illness, Alzheimers. A script came across my desk on it and the movie Do You Remember Love?  won numerous awards."
Marian and Anne agree that women have long been the majority of viewers of television movies. Male driven movies appear largely on USA, UPN, TNT, and TBS cable channels. "But if they changed that to female-driven material," says Anne, "they'd get a bigger audience. Because women are the movie watchers on television."
Anne: "Of all the businesses, television is most open to women."
Marian: "There's been an extraordinary growth of women in power positions in the industry. When I first went to CBS, I was one of the first women in the MOW [Movie of the Week] field. Guys would come in and they had never had to relate to women who had the perception of power. I was one of the first women Vice-Presidents at CBS. Now we have women heading up everything."
Luke: "How would TV movies be different if men were still in positions of power like 1975?"
Marian: "They wouldn't be. They would still have to be driven by the numbers and it is a fact that women watch more. I don't think it matters if women produce these movies or men."
Anne: "Women speak a special language and often it is not even necessary to finish the thought. Women get it. And men never get it the way a woman gets it unless it is Edward Albee (playwright who wrote Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf?) who totally gets it."
According to Imdb.com, Albee "was arrested [in January, 1992] on a Key Biscayne beach in Florida for indecent exposure. Charges were dropped when it was determined that he had removed his swimming trunks only to rinse out the sand that was in them, and had not done anything vulgar or immoral."
Anne: "The film that I had the most fun making was The Soul Collector  and Out of Sync . It was so much fun to make a movie like Out of Sync that had no bearing on reality and didn't have a message in it except follow your dream. It had a lot of music. The cast jelled and liked each other. We enjoyed making it and we went into a major depression when it was over.
"You need enormous stamina to make a movie. For certain executive producers, it is more a question of deal-making rather than movie-making. That's why Marian and I are not rich. We're more about film-making than money-making. That means that I am on set from crew-call to crew-wrap.
"Marian and I spend months and years developing a movie. I will be fucked if I let a director throw me off my movie. TV movies are producer-driven, not director-driven. I lay it right out. When we're interested in a director, he comes in and we have a meeting. And I say it, because I'm the one who's going to be on the street corner with him at 2AM. I say, 'Look, I'm there. I won't get in your way but it's my vision. If you're not there to make the same movie that I'm going to make, we're going to have problems. Because at the end of the day, I'm going to win that war. It's my movie. And I'm not going to let anyone cut me off from the process.'
"When we go into the editing room, I'm in the editing room with the director. I'm in the mix. I'm in the looping. I'm in everything. I have never worked with a director who resented me. They're not accustomed to being supported that way. It's a producer's job to support the director and protect their stars. If they see you're not just a role-player, that you're not just dropping in between shopping trips, or dropping by for lunch to schmooze your star, but that you work and you care. They respect you and they respond to you."
In addition to doctoring others, Marian writes her own scripts under a pseudonym she won't reveal. "Comedy. But nobody wants to make a comedy movie on television."
Anne: "The network executives don't believe that people are capable of laughing on their own. That they need a laugh track. I wouldn't do a slapstick comedy like Space Balls for television but I would do a romantic comedy like Sleepless in Seattle."
Marian: "Years ago when I was first at CBS, they said they didn't want to do any romantic comedies. I loved comedies. I found a script and convinced them to make a romantic comedy set in a bird watching camp. It was a big hit and for a while everybody wanted to make romantic comedies. I even made a black comedy about a [black] family who moved in to what they thought was a lovely rural area, and they were in the middle of a survivalist community."
Luke: "Putting ethics aside, how could you have made more money?"
Anne: "You could make backdoor deals with publishing companies and give them an undeclared cash bonus for every book they bring you that you get set up and made. Thievery always works."
Luke: "Like cooking the books?"
Anne: "Creative book-keeping, without exception, is the rule. The Hearst Corporation is a scrupulously honest company. There are certain things you can do to get a movie greenlit. You've got a script close but you're out of steps. You don't want to go back to the writer who's doing a crappy job. But you have a friend who works for a series who will do you a favor if you slip him $10,000 in cash. We can't do that sort of thing here. If I were an independent producer, I could do that. Get in tight with network executives and give them expensive presents. 'Oh, let's shoot this movie in [exotic locale] and we'll all go there and you can bring you family.'"
Luke: "Have you guys been offered bribes?"
They say no.
Marian: "I got some awfully nice Christmas presents. When major feature players came in and tried to sell me something, and if I didn't like it, I didn't buy it. I should've bought everything, gotten to know them, and gone back into features. I was always too concerned with the story."
Anne: "Same thing with agents. You feather your nest. If you own your own movie, it's a cost of doing business. So you buy the hot agent who can help you a fabulous gift at Christmas. And he knows that if he gives you his star, there will be more of those little gifts coming down the road. It's only unethical if it is something the agent would be embarrassed to talk about it. That makes it unethical."
Luke: "Is there a movie that describes your job?"
Marian: "Network . When I was invited to go to work for CBS, I had no idea what a woman wore. So I saw the movie a second time so I could look again at Faye Dunaway's outfit so that I could find something to wear."
Anne: "She was fashioned after a real network executive. The rumor has it, it was Lynn Bowlin, married to director Paul Wendkos. She was one of the pioneers and because she didn't just turn the other cheek and do what the man wanted her to, and behave the way women are supposed to behave, she was labeled a bitch, and a killer, and a barracuda and all those names that are applied to women who don't conform to the male world of doing business. Because men don't get emotional."
Luke: "Men usually say about attractive women who get ahead - they slept their way to the top."
"It's the famous story of Sherry Lansing. How else could she do it? She was too pretty to have a functioning brain cell. It's absurd. Sherry Lansing started as a secretary, assistant, story editor. She happened to work for a bunch of guys over the years who were impressed by her. I met her socially a number of times. She was always a nice woman. Then I had a business meeting with her. And here is her specialness. When you have a meeting with Sherry Lansing, the door is closed and the phone is off and no one interrupts and you become the most important person in her life. That's an art."
Marian: "And she always returned phone calls."
Luke: "If there was a movie made about your life, what would the character arc be?"
Annie: "Oh God. My life story? Marian, dare I bore him to death?"
Marian: "Go ahead. I may have to go out."
Annie: "I'll just give you the character arc. Poor working class Italian Catholic girl, first to graduate high school in her family. Born in Jersey City, New Jersey is now a producer who's name is now on national television through hard work."
Luke: "Your parents must be kvelling."
Anne: "My father died when I was six. My mother died this past November, still not understanding what it was that I did for a living. The moral of that story is never look to your family for approval."
Marian: "I grew up isolated on a farm in Nebraska. Went to New York to be a musical comedy star. Ended up a book reviewer at Kirkus Reviews. Happy but poor. Came to Los Angeles in 1972 to see if I could make some money."
Luke: "What name did you review under?"
Marian: "It was anonymous."
Anne: "So that writers couldn't find you and kill you."
Luke: "When we started, you said that producers are so interchangeable. Is there anything in your movies that you can point to and say, 'Nobody else could've done that'?"
Marian: "I don't think so. Though we can usually do our movies better than anyone else."
Anne: "We each bring something different to it. I love every single movie that we've done. And I love every single actor we've worked with except one. And that actor doesn't know how I feel.
"When you get a greenlight on a movie, and you want Stockard Channing or Anjelica Houston or Susan Sarandon and you wind up with someone less stellar. You have a choice here. You can rant and rave, resent, get angry and spit. Or you can take that less stellar actress and embrace her because that is your actress. And if you don't love that actress, she's dead. You embrace what you've got. And you make the best movie you can.
"Actors bring the magic to the film. They breathe life into the character. Would you like to deal with rejection every day? And your product is yourself. That's hard to live with on a daily basis. So is it any wonder that actors can be on edge in new situations? It's new people they've never met before. Are they going to be safe? Are they going to be secure? They've been screwed over a thousand times on other movies they've done, why should this be any different? My experience is that you embrace that actor and that you create a safe and comfortable zone for that actor. And that actor will kill for you. You give the actor what the actor needs so that he can get out there every day and hang out on a limb for you."
Luke: "Where do you find your material?"
Anne: "Everywhere. Newspapers, magazines. The feature people get first crack at everything. They've got people in New York publishing. They've got their hands on the first 30 pages of a major writer's manuscript. You don't get near stuff like that with television. Because you can't spend that kind of money. There are so many wonderful books out there that if nobody ever wrote another book, you'd never run out of material.
"Today the emphasis [in TV movies] is on branding. Pre-sold titles. Events. Something immediately recognizable. You know what you're getting. You don't have to sell it."
Luke: "What makes you interested in a project? Primarily material being?"
Anne: "Do I find it compelling? The Soul Collector was a romance novel. I didn't show the novel to the network because they would not have bought it. Because they're not in the romance novel business. We sold them a story based on a synopsis. And they loved it. And only after they bought it and they were making a deal, did I get a call from my network executive who says, 'My business affairs people are telling me we have to buy this book?' I say, 'Yeah, you have to buy this book. Didn't I tell you it is based on a book?' 'No.' 'Yeah, it's based on a book. But it's not necessary to read the book because we've changed so much in the book.'
"It was the second highest rated two-hour movie for CBS that year."
Luke: "What are the other typical blind spots you deal with?"
Marian: "First time writers. We had a perfect mini-series but the network wouldn't buy it because the writer wasn't well known enough. And now that writer is an enormous best selling author. The network has acquired several of the author's books, maybe the entire line. The quote from the network was, 'This is not the type of writer that we want to get into business with. It's not a Tiffany network kind of writer.' And this is not a porn writer."
Luke: "I'm loving this."
Anne: "We can just tell it like it is. We're not political. That's what happens when you reach a certain age. You don't give a damn anymore. We work hard. We make terrific movies. Our movies have always done well. We've always pulled a good number. We're well respected.
"We had a deal come through our door 18 months ago. A script came in. Marian read it and gave it to me. I read it and said, 'That's a nice story. It's very soft. There's only one place for this. Let's option it.' These two baby producers, two young men who had never produced anything in their lives.. We put the paperwork through and business affairs starts the dealmaking process. And one afternoon I get a call from our business affairs people that so-and-so want $150,000 and executive producing credit. Well, Marian and I are executive producers. It takes a lot of years to work up to executive producers.
"I said no. Who are these guys? They can have the money but they can't have the executive producer title. I'll make them a co-executive producer. But if they need that executive producer title, then blow the deal. Those two writers would not take a CO-executive producing credit and they wound up setting the script up on their own at the network where I knew they had a chance. And I didn't care.
"Who are these people? What is that about? What are your credentials? Who are you to tell me that I can't have my credit because you're taking my credit? When you're not even going to be there to make the movie? I resent it and I didn't cave and I didn't make the deal and I lost a network movie. And I still don't care. I would do that all over again. You have to draw a line somewhere.
"Nobody ever gave me anything for nothing. Today nobody wants to start their business life as anything less than a VP. I don't have to feed that. I have no patience for that."
Marian: "Everything is so segmented now. There's little innovation. If you come in with something fresh and never been done before, which they claim they want, then they get insecure. They don't want to make a decision. The project sits for weeks while all the enthusiasm which could carry it forward, dies. People don't make decisions quickly anymore. They don't rely on their gut instincts. Everyone's running so scared at the networks that it's slowed the process down and made it difficult to make interesting project."
Anne: "You'll lose a project because when they buy it, it's timely, and then it sits, and they'll pass on it. It was timely two years ago. You had it for two years, why didn't you just fucking order it? What gets both of us crazy is hearing, 'We're looking for different. We're looking for new.' And then they do the Bible again. We had an incredible pitch about this true spousal abuse story, Exiled In Paradise, about a woman, a professional writer, who must run away with her kids from her insane abusive husband. She winds up on an island in some paradise, weaving together shells to make a living. For her ex-husband not to find her, she can't have a social security card, a driver's license, because all that stuff is on computer and you can be found.
"We came up with a different approach to tell the story. In the opening of the movie, the woman has a meeting with a bunch of security people. They have a file in front of them and they know why she's there. And they can't help her. They can't keep her safe from her crazy ex-husband."
Marian: "They gave her two choices: Either you disappear or you have him killed."
Anne: "At that moment, we go into Sliding Door [1998 movie]. In one scenario, she's plotting his murder. In the other scenario, she's plotting her disappearance. And at the end, it could be interactive. The network told me the material was too derivative. And then there's a shift at the network and people lose their jobs. So you bring the story back in. And you hear that they now have several projects using the Sliding Door approach. Now, I ask you, how many people are coming up with the Sliding Door approach all of a sudden?
"So they don't buy your project, but they take your approach. That's the problem with a novel and innovative approach. I pitched that idea over lunch to another network executive. And this was obviously the first time she'd heard of it. She loved it. So when it fell out at the first network, so I call and I hear they have a number of Sliding Door projects. How could that be? They glommed on to the approach and applied it to a different story."
Luke: "Where do you do most of your pitches?"
Anne: "You don't do them over lunch. If you ever want to have lunch with a network executive, don't pitch them. You make an appointment, you go to their office, and you make a professional presentation. You do whatever you have to do to sell your project."
Marian: "I got a call from an agent at a prestigious agency. They wanted to come in and pitch this fabulous idea. It's unusual that these agents would do this. So they came in and the basic idea of the pitch was, 'Adam and Eve - The True Story.' And they'd say things like, 'Don't be afraid of nudity, because we'll be careful how we shoot it. Through the leaves, the trees, etc...' Finally, I asked, 'How are you planning to deal with the notion of God in this picture?' And they looked at each other and they didn't know how to answer the question. They said, 'Here's what we're not going to do. We're not going to have any arm come down and point a finger at them.' They finally left and my assistant and I were on the floor, cracking up.
"I had one pitch meeting where someone came and took off their leg. One morning, I had barely had my coffee, I had a guy, with gusto, tell me how he had murdered somebody. And he was sitting there talking with the priest about how he'd been rehabilitated. From the gleam in his eye, I wasn't so sure."
Anne: "We had two guys come in to pitch a story. And they came in with flow charts and color coordinated charts that covered the whole sofa. Each character was color coded. It was like an advertising meeting. We'd never had that before.
"Marian would get these pitches all the time at the network. They'd come in and pitch a book. 'And you've got to move on it right away Marian because other people will lap it up. Marian, who diligently did her job, would go home on her weekend and plough through 1200 pages of this turgid book."
Marian: "I'd find some real problems in the book. And I'd call up the producer and ask, 'How are you planning to address these problems?' And they would go, 'We didn't read the book. We read the coverage.'"
Anne: "That's common."
Ask The Hollywood Gedolim
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Here's Phil Gurin's corporate press release:
Established in 1997, The Gurin Company, Phil Gurin's young production company, has become a major player in all forms of light entertainment, including reality shows, game shows, variety shows, holiday specials, magazine and documentary programming and live entertainment.
Gurin is currently executive producer of the new NBC game show, "Weakest Link," which has been a huge BBC hit in England. He is also the executive producer of FOX's new hidden camera show, "Only Joking," which will debut its first six episodes this year, as well as creator and executive producer of both a comedy reality series called "Hotel Hell" for Comedy Central and a game show pilot for USA Network called "Search & Destroy." Gurin is executive producing two syndicated series - the talk show "Mark & Mark" with Mark DeCarlo and Mark Walberg and the consumer reality series "Crowbar." He just completed executive producing "Voice of a Child," a live music variety special for Canada's Global Television network and the hit relationship series "All New 3' A Crowd," which just finished taping its second season for the Game Show Network. He was executive producer of the prime time quiz show "Twenty-One," which aired on NBC this past year. The revival of this notorious classic program that originally ran from 1956 to 1958 also aired on PAX TV. Most recently, Gurin completed his fourth season as producer of CBS' "Candid Camera" and has just produced a game show pilot "Videoactive" for MTV.
The Gurin Company had at least five new projects air this past year on FOX alone. During the summer, "Now or Never: Face Your Fear," a reality stunt special and series pilot hosted by Jerry Springer and "The World's Most Incredible Animal Rescues III, the third installment of Gurin's original reality special premiered on FOX. The hit reality special, "When Cameras Cross the Line," aired this past fall. For the holidays, FOX aired "The Greatest Christmas Moments of All Time II." This spring will bring the premiere of another reality special on the network, with the airing of "On This Ice 2: The Dark Side of Skating."
Additionally, the Gurin Company recently completed production on the game show pilot "The Jack Cash Show (aka Smartass") for FX and a reality comedy pilot called "stop Making Sense" for FOX. Development is underway for a series exploring the msyterious and unexplained called "Unlocking the Mysteries of…" as well as production on a comedy film short entitled "A-List," which is set to tour the festival circuit. (See complete production slate.)
Gurin credits his success, in part, to good story telling. "I'd spent almost 10 years as a story analyst and television writer. I also wrote two books. For me everything - a reality show, variety show, even a game show - needs a beginning, middle and an end. You have to identify good characters - television is all about people - and how those characters are shown to America make al the difference. Viewers must be able to take away something from each 'act' regardless of the format. And that's what I love to do. Conflict and resolution is part of every good show."
The other element of his success has been establishing good production relationships. Gurin was recently partnered with television legend Fred Silverman on "Twenty-One," with whom he is also developing a new music/variety series. He is working with actor Wesley Snipes on a "stunt"-oriented event special and is partnered with actor John Ratzenberger on "The World's Mot Amazing Animal Rescues." In addition, he recently launched a new relationship with Hollywood legend Keith Addis of Industry Entertainment on their new series "Only Joking." But he says his most unique working relationship is with English royalty. Gurin was recently partnered with Edward, the Earl of Wessex and the youngest son of Queen Elizabeth II. The Gurin Company and the Earl's Ardent Productions, Ltd., joined forces for the reality special "When Camera's Cross the Line."
Of course, experience counts too. "Part of my success is due to the fact that I have worked in television for a long time. I've worked for a 'zillion' people - some who are my competitors today - moving up through the ranks. I'm still just a working stiff myself. And when I hire a staff for one of my shows, I know exactly what to look for because chances are, I've already done their job at some point in my career."
I talked by phone Feburary 6, 2002, with Philip Gurin.
Luke: "How did you get into producing TV shows?"
Philip: "I started as a writer. For me, everything in television is about writing. I went to graduate school at NYU and got a degree in dramatic writing. I wrote a novel (Adventures With Dangerous Women) and a book of James Bond trivia. I worked in the development business in New York creating series and movies. And from my writing and development background, you come to the appreciation that everything is storytelling. Every genre is story telling, whether it is a reality show, an alternative show, a variety show, a re-enactment of stunts, it is still storytelling."
Luke: "How did you get your niche in game shows?"
Philip: "I don't know. I came to California to write movies. I went to grad school to write movies. At one point in New York, I needed a job. And I was asked to write for a gameshow for MTV, Remote Control. Then I came to California and while I was casting about looking for a job in the movie business, I got a call from Nicklelodeon. 'Do you want to work on a gameshow?' So they gave me a job as the head writer on the syndicated version of their hit show Super Sloppy Double Dare. Three months after coming to California, I found myself in Philadelphia and Orlando making gameshows and it snowballed into stunt shows, comedy shows, more gameshows, reality shows, quiz shows.
"I moved from writer to field director to segment director to show producer to supervising producer to ultimately I sold my shows and here I am."
Luke: "Out of all the things you've done, which have had the most meaning for you?"
Philip: "I always like to say that the one I'm working on at the moment has the most meaning because it is the child that I love at that time. And the other glib answer is that I am always most interested in my next show. I love a challenge. What I love about what I do is that it is always different. As an early struggling writer, my agents at the William Morris agency didn't know how to sell me because I liked to do everything. I did so many different genres. Now I think it is exciting that I had that cool fun background.
"I love Weakest Link obviously because it is my most successful show. When we're backstage, after each round, we're creating and producing live comedy. We're reacting to what happened in the previous three minutes and we're going to produce three minutes of jokes based on that. That's as close to live TV as I have ever come."
Luke: "What do you think it says about you that you are the producer of The Weakest Link?"
Phil: "I didn't create this show. I don't know that I am so responsible... I do think I get what we're trying to do here. We've evolved into a smart comedy game."
Luke: "How much does the show reflect your sense of humor?"
Phil: "A lot of it. Edgy, acerbic, confrontational, dangerous. That reflects my sense of humor and my attitude."
Luke: "Some think the show is cruel."
Phil: "They're not really watching. It's mean with a wink. If you have the hubris to think that you are so smart that you're going to come on our show and win the money, we're going to take you down a peg. It's saying to people on camera what people say at home when they're sitting on the sofa watching the show. That's why we getter younger demographics, because of its honesty."
Luke: "The show is emblematic of a change in television."
Phil: "We're catching the zeitgeist."
Luke: "Have any of your shows gotten away from you?"
Phil: "There was a show I'd loved but we had to take it in a direction that didn't come out as successfully as it could've. That was Now or Never, Face Your Fears. I did this two years before NBC did Fear Factor."
Imdb.com says: "An hour long special on Fox hosted by Jerry Springer and Kris McGaha. Regular people face their deepest fears for money. Fear of heights? A woman scales a 10 story building. Fear of fire? A woman is surrounded by a wall of flames."
Phil: "It was fun because we were challenging people to face their personal fears. We had too many cooks, too many people giving input. At the end of the day, a good creative vision will make a show stronger. If you've got nine points of view, that's a recipe for disaster."
Luke: "Has the zeitgeist changed since September 11th for the material you produce?"
Phil: "No. I produce light entertainment."
Luke: "What do you think of The Truman Show?"
Phil: "We live that. I see that happening all the time. The most prophetic movie was 1976's Network. That's what we do now. Network is here, except that we don't kill people when they get low ratings. Writer Paddy Chayefsky was a genius and he saw it all and we live it now.
"But people choose to be on TV. You can make a whole argument that all of these reality shows are nothing more than shows for wanna be actors who couldn't get a job on a series. For the most part, they are actors. It's cost-cutting. You don't have to pay them a big contract. You can put them in a reality show for just the prize. They get their two minutes of fame and tape on their reel to get a real acting job. I don't know how real it is when you've got actors playing real people in contrived situations."
Luke: "As you stay in touch with the other reality shows, do you ever see people going too low?"
Phil: "Not yet."