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The film business is much tougher than it once was, and the contrast was easy to see at this year’s Produced By Conference.
On Saturday, for instance, at a panel on independent film finance, the mood was almost funereal.
“Our philosophy is to try to stay alive,” said Lakeshore Entertainment president Gary Lucchesi. “The watchword is staying in business,” offered James Stern, president and CEO of Endgame Entertainment. “We don’t want to go out of business,” echoed producer and indie stalwart David Linde, former head of Focus Features and former chairman of Universal. The mood was equally dismal at a panel that day on tax incentives, many of which have evaporated in the last year. It’s not exactly the sort of talk one imagines in the hallways and cubicles at Netflix or elsewhere in Silicon Valley.
But the film business wasn’t always beleaguered by low expectations.
On Sunday – and like an ambassador from another era – legendary producer and studio executive Lawrence Gordon dispensed forceful and sometimes salty advice.
Wondering whether to buy a bad script? Go ahead, if the idea’s good. And if the price gets bid up, say from $50,000 to $600,000? Buy it anyway, then fix the script over the weekend. The result, in Gordon’s case at least, was a hit: 1989’s K-9, a buddy cop pic starring James Belushi and a German shepherd.
That was just one in a string of successes for the strong-willed Gordon, whose dozens of producing credits include 48 Hrs., Predator, Die Hard, Boogie Nights, and, more recently Watchmen (2009) and the Hellboy franchise. In his telling, greenlights appeared almost haphazardly: for instance, when Fox balked at his pitch for Die Hard, Gordon reminded the studio that without the project, the studio would have nothing for summer 1988.
“Trumpets blaring and all that crap,” Gordon remarked – referring to the Twentieth Century–Fox animated logo – the studio would have nothing for prime movie-going season except the logo. He got his greenlight.
And 1982’s 48 Hrs.? Gordon was sitting in the office of then-Paramount executive Michael Eisner as Eisner conducted a telephone argument with ICM agent Jeff Berg, the upshot of which was that Paramount would have to pay Nick Nolte a sizable sum even if the studio had nothing for Nolte to star in at the time.
After the call, a frustrated Eisner turned to Gordon; perhaps he might have something for Nolte? As a matter of fact, he did. And, flipping pages in a calendar, Eisner asked whether Gordon could get the picture into theaters by December. Yes, indeed, Gordon replied, if I get a commitment from the studio today.
He got his greenlight, of course.
When asked by an audience member to talk about failures, Gordon initially demurred – “why would I want to ruin my goddamn night?” – then freely acknowledged that he had had bombs as well. Still, his ethos seemed best summed up by his twin mantras: “No excuses!” and “It’s not complicated.”
“You’ve got to make your own breaks (as a producer),” Gordon concluded. “What level you’ll get to, who knows. But it’s a hell of a ride.”
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