Ever wonder what movie and TV producers talk about when they’re alone? Star salaries might be near the top of the list, if a lively panel at today’s Produced By: NY 2015 conference is any indication.
“Studios will pay an actor $20 million, which is f***ing crazy,” said veteran producer Paula Weinstein to audience laughter, “and then they’ll spend a million and a half on their trainers!” Weinstein, president of Spring Creek Productions (and producer of her longtime pal Jane Fonda’s Netflix hit Grace and Frankie) tilted the blame for runaway production costs toward the studios, insisting that actors are usually amenable to “cut their fees” if and when necessary. (Weinstein said she herself routinely takes fee cuts to maintain budgets).
Until the subject of star paychecks and bloated budgets came up during the audience Q&A, the “State of Producing” discussion had mostly veered toward personal, how-I-found-success reflections – Meryl Poster (Project Runway, Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce) name-checked Harvey Weinstein, Donna Gigliotti (Silver Linings Playbook) tipped her hat to Martin Scorsese. But when an audience member identifying himself as a line producer said he’s often asked to take on projects for less money than he made during the 1990s, the discussion got blunter and closer to the bone.
“I know this is politically incorrect,” said Gigliotti, “but I can’t stand the unions. I can’t stand SAG, I can’t stand DGA.” She was particularly miffed about not getting back her DGA bonds on smaller budget movies — “I need that $47,000.” she said.
Moderator Gary Lucchesi, president of both Lakeshore Entertainment and the event’s sponsor Producers Guild of America, focused on Hollywood’s comic book obsession. “There’s no question that the Marvel movies, the big tentpoles, the Spider-Mans, the Supermans, the DC comics – they’ll spend a fortune on those movies. It is the dramas that are being squeezed.” Lucchesi, whose films include Million Dollar Baby, suggested that the action movie bias is a problem for producers in part because “it’s the dramas that make movie stars.”
“How did Leonardo DiCaprio become a movie star?” Lucchesi said. “Most actors who became movie stars became movie stars because their faces were in big, dramatic close-ups, not because they put on a Spider-Man costume.”
Despite whatever hurdles producers face, the panelists agreed they joined the business out of passion — and stick with it for the same reason. Michael J. Travers of Blue Sky Studios, producer of the imminent Peanuts Movie, said he left a career in mechanical engineering at a nuclear power plant to find satisfaction in animation. After a stint at Sony – where “I felt like I was not part of the story-telling process” – he joined the much smaller Blue Sky, a company Travers said was notably lacking in (his word) “jerks.”
“You better love this to do this,” Weinstein said at one point about producing. “Because it’s a lousy job. And I love it, but you are your only source for your own ego gratification. It ain’t coming from anywhere else.” If you’re looking for love, she suggested, be an actor.