The Oxford English Dictionary defines produce: "To lead or bring forward, bring forth into view or notice; to offer for inspection, consideration, exhibit."
Producer Judd Bernard suggested I call my book on producers "Profiles in Discouragement."
Humorist Fred Allen described the typical Hollywood producer as "an ulcer with authority." He defined an "associate producer" as "about the only guy in Hollywood who will associate with a producer."
During the 1960s and 1970s, moviemaking was primarily about directors doing their thing. But in the late 1970s, Barry Diller and Michael Eisner, coming from a television background, tired of inefficient and money-losing auteur directors. Diller and Eisner decided to follow the television model where the producer is the real creative power and directors are hired technicians.
In TV, executive producers have the most power of any producers and in features, producers have the most power of any type of producer. With but a handful of exceptions (Jerry Bruckheimer, Scott Rudin, Brian Grazer), feature directors have more pull with studios and financiers than producers.
The average producers' fee on a studio feature ranges from $25,000 to $2 million. The average director's fee is $2 million.
Producers' power in Hollywood has declined since the 1950s for the following reasons:
* Studios have cut back on production deals.
* Studios give more power to high-priced acting and directing talent than to producers. Studio executives tend to "ignore the producer and deal only with the director on important issues." (Peter Bart, GQ, 10/97)
* The producer credit has been cheapened to the point where ten or more people may receive some type of producer credit on a film.
* The media hyped directors as the true authors of a film. "Cahiers du Cinema (the French magazine that introduced the auteur theory, stating that a director was solely responsible for a film) was responsible for [decline in the status of the producer]. Producers were the creative force in movies: They picked the scripts, they hired the directors. After shooting was over, the producer would supervise the editing of the picture. It was a completely different system. In the late 1950s and early '60s, what happened was that the auteur theory - one of the most horrible in the history of films - (made the director) the end-all, be-all." (Mark Gordon told to THR, 2/28/02)
Producers of the past, such as Samuel Goldwyn, David O. Selznick, Mike Todd and Hall Wallis, wielded enormous power. Many of them bankrolled their own productions. Directors were hired hands. Producers oversaw editing, sound mixing and marketing.
Few producers have such power today - perhaps only Brian Grazer, Jerry Bruckheimer, Scott Rudin, and Joel Silver.
In his October 1997 article for GQ, Variety editor Peter Bart attributes to Michael Ovitz and CAA the primary cause of the power shift from producers to directors. CAA pushed directors' salaries from less than $1 million to as much as $10 million per picture along with all sorts of perks - "control over cast and material, approval of producers, and even of the final cut of the movie."
CAA packaged its star clients with its directors and took control of filmmaking away from producers, who CAA declined to represent.
Bart lists several different types of producers:
The Producer As Pitchman - Robert Kosberg
The Star Toady - manager Jonathan Krane who likes to snag executive producer credits
The Bulldozer - Scott Rudin
The Scrivener - Ron Bass
The Negotiator - Arnold Kopelson
The Diplomat - Arnon Milchan
The Rock - Jerry Bruckheimer
On June 20-22, 1975, the movie business was changed in a weekend by the success of Jaws. The blockbuster mentality took over. Movies were no longer released in certain cities and allowed to find their audience. Now big movies would be released on over a thousand screens at once across the country, supported by massive TV advertising.
Charles Fleming's 1997 biography of Don Simpson is an interesting introduction to the world of producing movies.
By the mid nineties, writes Fleming, hands-on producers like Simpson were becoming powerless.
At a wake at Mortons for Don Simpson in 1996: "There was the film producer whose idea of a good time was taking hooker shopping on Rodeo Drive for lingerie - and then wearing it himself while having sex with her. There was the film producer who paid young women substantial sums of money to defecate on him. There was the former studio executive so paranoid and so covetous of his good name that he would only meet hookers at the seediest of motels. There was the husband-and-wife movie producer couple who were among the industry's biggest cocaine users... And there around them were there managers, lawyers and colleagues - the executive enablers - who knew all of this...and were paid handsomely to keep it to themselves." (High Concept, pg. 8)
In her book Killer Instinct, about producing Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killer, Jane Hamser writes: "...[E]veryone... comes to Hollywood...to get laid by a better class of people..]
"...Hollywood belonged not to the deep, penetrating, provocative thinkers; it belonged to the cantankerous sons of bitches who were willing to risk any humiliation, broach any authority, get on the phone and scream until they got what they wanted. ...[L]ine up the top producers in Hollywood, one next to the other, and you will find each more aggravating, more exasperating, more stubborn and willful than the one before." (pg. 11)
"Don [Murphy] and I had concentrated on establishing ourselves as "creative producers," the people who find the books and scripts and writers and directors, and are responsible for the deal making, the development, and the creative supervision of a movie. These are ultimately the real power brokers of the business; the Joel Silvers, the Jerry Bruckheimers, the Scott Rudins. They have the contacts with the studio execs, the agents, the writers and directors, and stars that can bring a picture together... However, once you're ready to shoot, creative producers rarely want to look after the nuts-and-bolts stuff. Thus, they rely on line producers to take car of all th grunt work." (Killer Instinct, pg. 129-130)
Rick Lyman writes in the 5/29/01 NY Times about producer credit inflation:
Todd Jones writes on alt.video.dvd: "The perfect example of why the Producer is NOT a creative force: Gale Anne Hurd. She was the Producer of The Terminator, Aliens, and The Abyss. Wow, sounds impressive, right? Wrong, she was JUST the Producer. After she had a falling out with James Cameron, the director of the Terminator, Aliens, and Abyss, Cameron went on to direct T2: Judgment Day, True Lies, and Titanic. Gale Anne Hurd went on to produce such classics of modern cinema as Switchback and The Relic. Watch any making-of documentary or listen to any commentary track with a Producer on it to realize that Producers are just shmoozing phone jockeys who don't have an ounce of talent in them, except maybe for finding money. A recent favorite is the Lost Moon documentary, in which Producer Brian Grazer basically says that he didn't [know] that there was an Apollo program, and says, "I don't read much. I'm very intuitive.""
David Poland writes 6/27/00: "[Peter Bart's] current rant about the woes of producers strikes me as absolute crap. Essentially, he is pitching woe for studios getting out of the business of doing housekeeping deals with producers, no longer paying for expensive offices, staff and crates of Veuve Cliquot. And while he mentions the international financing deals that are now so much a part of the business, he fails to point out that the upside for producers that are working is greater than ever. It is indeed the Kopelsons and their ilk, who did major housekeeping deals and then proceeded to virtually stop making movies, that studios cannot afford to keep floating on an ocean of studio cash. Guys like Joe Roth, who will make a lot of movies, aren't doing international financing deals because no studio will pay their overhead, but because that's the way to make the most money and assert the most control. I assert that there has never, ever been a better time to be a producer in the history of movies. The amount of cash floating around out there to build empires with is astounding. The freedom that non-studio money brings is unprecedented. Producers who can deliver are thriving and surviving. Producers who can not are falling by the wayside. It's called evolution. And in a business that often doesn't seem to make sense."
From John H. Richardson's novel about Joel Silver, The Viper's Club: "[A]ll producers were lunatics - or at least all the big ones were, the ones who worked with big stars and huge budgets. Even the most successful of them were always on the battlefield, always juggling razors, always one flop short of nonexistence. Neither artists nor businessmen, but some unholy combination of the two, they were the essence of Hollywood, all its astonishing vitality and soul-destroying hunger distilled into a few strong draughts." (pg. 12-13)
Ross Johnson wrote an article headlined "Grumpy Old Producers" for the May 1996 issue of Buzz magazine. CAA agent Robert Bookman, then 49 years old, told Johnson: "Historically, producers have been the creative people in Hollywood most successful at negotiating the shoals of age. A lot of what they do is business related, and business skills often refine, not deteriorate, with age."
A middle-aged studio VP told Ross: "Producers don't create a property; they put together the people who do. These old producers can surround themselves with young people who do all the work, while they take the credit and the money. That's because this is a handshake business, and these old men have handshake relationships with the studio bosses - the real ones who are largely over the age of 50 - that go back to when the bosses were in the mail room and couldn't even get laid."