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Marian Rees Eats Luke For Breakfast

So I drove 40 minutes to Studio City Friday morning, July 26, 2002, for breakfast at Al's Deli (a big showbiz hangout) at 12224 Ventura Blvd.

I walked up at 8:10AM. I saw a familiar face in a Mercedes coup. It was Jeffrey Katzenberg talking on the phone. He's got an essentially shaved head. He moves quickly. He seems fit and busy and as driven as ever.

I get a table for two at Al's. Jeffrey takes the table next to me. After five minutes, a waitress tells him he's got a call. He walks over to the restaurant phone and talks for a few minutes.

My appointment is for 8:30AM. At 8:38AM, I see a woman who might be Marian Rees chatting amiably with two female waitresses. I introduce myself. We shake hands. Marian says she'll be with me in a minute.

She's wearing peach-colored pantsuit. She has short hair and glasses.

I get the feeling she hates me from the moment she set eyes on me. Is it that I haven't shaved in two days? My jazzy dark blue shirt is out of fashion? My hair needs cutting? My bad breath?

Marian sits down. She quickly moves past the pleasantries and gets to the point. For the next 40 minutes, I felt like a bulldog had jumped on me, sunk in its teeth, and wouldn't let go.

Marian: "What's your motive for writing this book? What is the personal profit to you? What's point? Your last book was obviously exploitive. I didn't read it. Just from the title [A History of X: 100 Years of Sex in Film]. I don't understand why you are writing this one."

I immediately feel on the defensive. Marian's aggressively hostile. I haven't encountered this before from a producer. Almost all of the ones I've spoken to are friendly. Marian is grilling me. Many producers have asked me why I am writing the book and what my longterm goals are but there's an entirely new edge to Marian's inquiry.

My stomach knots up and doesn't relax until hours later. This is one tough chick I'm dealing with.

As I start to answer her questions, she cuts me off, telling me why my answers are inadequate, inaccurate, untruthful, unnecessary and ill formed.

She apologizes for coming across hostile.

Luke: "I suppose my journey to this book began eight years ago when I came to Los Angeles and pursued acting. I eventually abandoned that because I found it too collaborative."

Marian: "Stop right there. What do you mean 'too collaborative?' Working with other people is the essence of this business. I can tell we are not going to get along. I'm not going to give you an interview."

Luke: "I guess I prefer to work alone on projects I can control."

Marian eats a bowl of oatmeal with fruit. I eat two hardboiled eggs with fruit. The check comes. I take it.

Marian: "You better give me that."

I hand it over to her.

Marian: "I'm not going to give you an interview so I might as well pay for breakfast."

Marian wants to know what I think of producers. She's on the board of the Producers Guild. Like many established and hard working producers, she's concerned about the proliferation of credits. Now 12 people may get credit as some type of a producer on a movie. This has rendered the producer credit less meaningful for true producers.

Luke: "I found fewer cowboys than I expected. I thought I'd encounter more sleazy types. People who'd trash their peers and would just be in the business to chase girls. Instead, every producer I've interviewed has been intelligent, well mannered, professional and willing to submerge his ego for the sake of the production."

Marian seems gratified by my sentiments. She's working with the Guild to diminish the public's view of producers as sleazy.

We talk about critics. I say there are no critics I make a point to read. None of them mean anything much to me. There are no writers on showbusiness I feel compelled to read.

Marian reads Howard Rosenberg, the LA Times TV critic, regularly because he's such a good writer.

JMT writes: "This would have been a better story if Katzenberg had leaned over as you were finishing your eggs and said, "I'm not going to give you an interview either. Stop calling.""

Marian says she's shy and rarely talks to reporters. She thoroughly checks them out first before she does. She's wary of being misquoted though she's never yet been burned in the press.

She relates an in-depth three-hours-a-day three days in a row interview she did with a black male journalist for Emmy magazine. She admitted she wasn't happy with her work. She found it shallow. She wanted to be a sociologist. The journalist told her that her work had great meaning and because she tackled serious issues like racism, she was a sociologist. That made her feel good and gave her renewed pride in her work.

Marian evinces no sense of humor. She came to the breakfast this morning to convict me. She's marshaled the evidence and I am found guilty.

Friday afternoon she sends me this fax: "Luke Ford - As uneasy as I was before the meeting with you, I left more uneasy. I'm sure you will realize your expectations (whatever they may be) for your book. However, I am not comfortable participating in the research, and ask you to withdraw my name. Marian Rees."

I've done some research on Rees on the web:

This from Museum.tv: In 1972, however, she was told by Tandem [Productions] that she would be happier elsewhere and given two weeks notice. It was a stunning blow but as she told an interviewer in 1986, she used the firing to grow.

In order to fund her first independent productions, Rees initially mortgaged her home and car, facing demands for financial qualification far more extensive than would have been required for a man. She pressed for months to gain network approval for her first production, Miss All American Beauty, but resistance continued and she finally learned that the male executive she had to convince simply didn't want to trust a woman. Finally, with funds running extremely low, approval for the project came from CBS. Rees completed the project under budget and her company found itself on solid footing.

A champion for women's rights in the U.S. television industry throughout her career, Marian Rees served two terms as President of Women in Film. Her service to her profession also includes Board membership at the American Film Institute and the Producer's Guild of America, where she now serves as vice president.

From Benton.org: Marian Rees, Founder and CEO of Marian Rees Associates, Inc., discussed the perspective of the "entrepreneurial independent producer." Ms. Rees said that the producer is an integral part of an industry whose core product is crafted out of ideas: ideas that lie dormant until an impassioned producer breathes life into them. The producer gathers and protects all the resources needed to deliver those ideas for broadcast. Remaining independent gives some producers the freedom to find the right home for their projects.

Ms. Rees said that she fears the concentration of ownership in television will be passed on in the digital era. She asked the Committee to address the value and the needs of the independent production community. She suggested establishment of "some content-neutral regulatory mechanism" that would allow this community access to television's primetime. Independent producers will only flourish in the digital age if 1) they are secured the opportunity to provide more programming, and 2) we assure the creative community we want substantial ideas that help people understand what's happening in their lives and that those ideas will have access to audiences.

Ms. Rees quoted Vice President Gore: "Beyond free enterprise, we must also recognize that broadcasting is not a right, but a privilege -- one that confers great responsibilities." She asked the Committee to "formulate First Amendment-sensitive government policies that will balance the explosion of opportunities for the by a significant commitment to the public interest."