Roundtable: 6 Top Producers on 'Entourage' Salaries, 'Fifty Shades' Backlash and Appeasing Directors
ROVEN: That was amazing, all the different cameras and monitors that you had.
HEYMAN: Yeah, we were traveling to San Francisco to look at robots and how they'd work with the computers. It was a real odyssey. Fortunately, I was working with incredibly smart people -- Alfonso, Emmanuel Lubezki and Tim Webber -- trying to figure out solutions, but none of them had done this before. I'd worked on a few visual effects [films], but I'd never done anything like this. So, going back to what a producer does, the misconception is we're sinful people who put up the money, and …
WAHLBERG: Some get a credit for just cutting a check.
PAM WILLIAMS: Well, on The Butler, that certainly is the case. For us, our biggest problem was getting the movie set up. We had originally set up at Sony, but when it came to making the movie, they opted not to move forward. [The late] Laura Ziskin, my producing partner, and I had never produced an independent film before, and we thought, "Oh, no problem, we can raise $25 million in equity. …"
MICHAEL DE LUCA: At least you weren't daunted.
WILLIAMS: Well, that was Laura. She never took no for an answer, and so we do have [dozens of] producers credited on the movie. And most were first-time financiers. They had never put money in a movie before. They were very deferential, but at the same time, they did have a say at certain really critical junctures -- like, we needed distribution, and they said no to the first Weinstein offer.
DE LUCA: 'Cause it was zero? (Laughter.)
WILLIAMS: No, it actually was a really good offer. You know, [they didn't] totally understand what was being offered and why it was being offered, and they wanted to look at all the models. I was in the middle of production at the time and needed additional funds to finish it, so I very much needed a studio deal to close. The bond company was saying, "By Friday, you'll tell us what days you are cutting in order to finish the movie without that." We went down to New Orleans with $20 million saying, "If we have to make this movie for $20 million, we'll make it. There is no other option." We discovered that wasn't enough, for the ambition and the scope: We could have told Cecil [Gaines'] story in the White House, or we could have told his son's story; but without $25 million, we couldn't tell both.
WAHLBERG: We closed on bond, I think, two days before we wrapped production [on Lone Survivor]. It was set up at Universal for quite some time, and then for whatever reason, they were getting cold feet. I had a friend [Randall Emmett] who used to work for me who had financed two other films for me, and he said he could get the money. He used to be my assistant. I used to bark orders [at him], and he came up with the money. And we were pretty much left alone. Now, mind you, we didn't have the money we would normally have. It had been at the studio, but I think that was the way we needed to make the movie. We were up at 14,000 feet [shooting in New Mexico], so we were able to keep most people away by being at the top of a mountain.
DEDE GARDNER: One of the illusions is that it's easy. An illusion is that it's fun. An illusion is that producers are made of Teflon and don't take it personally in the way actors and directors do.
With World War Z, there was so much attention on that film, how do you deal with that?
GARDNER: I wouldn't wish that on anyone in the world. You have to just put your head down and tune out all the noise. You have to just stay focused, and I feel very fortunate to have Brad [Pitt] and Jeremy [Kleiner] as partners. But that was wretched on every level. It was horrible. And I had a great time making Z, but I didn't like the scrutiny that comes along with the size of it. I really found that uncomfortable. I guess it's a natural thing because of the size and the investment, but I felt this is no one's business until we're finished with this movie.
ROVEN: I've had many films that had some weird stuff going on -- before "social media" was the term. We did keep our head down, tried to stay true to our vision, and the film came out and it was very successful. I had one film where, based on the person we cast, we were getting [comments] that his parents should have killed him at birth; that his parents should have smothered him with a pillow.