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."