Tuesday, January 04, 2011

The Producer

There's a great interview by Mike Fleming with top dog movie producer Scott Rudin in Deadline: Hollywood that is not to be missed. He's won the 2008 Best Picture Oscar (the statuette that goes to the Producer/s) for No Country for Old Men and this year he has The Social Network and now True Grit headed for nominations galore, both great at the box office as well -- as Rudin notes, might have been low-budget indies in years past.

Rudin has an infamous reputation for working and firing assistants brutally, although I haven't heard if he's mellow in old age, but years ago I heard this same story from an interview comments post:
A good friend, Peter Hrisko (RIP), worked as an assistant to Rudin several years ago. He met Rudin at LAX one afternoon to pick him up after a flight. During the drive back, after Peter respectfully tendered his resignation and gave his two weeks notice to pursue his own writing career, Rudin asked him to pull over, then kicked him out of the car and made Peter walk home. This became a legendary story for a while. Still, even Hrisko himself maintained respect for Rudin’s skill and tenacity at his work and could laugh about the immature shit. Says something I guess that even he couldn’t badmouth Rudin.

What's obvious is that high-quality, bold directors want to work with him because he gets the dough they need and protects their vision. What makes a creative producer rise above the financial/executive producer is how he helps the writer and director develop their vision, keeping the whole schema of the movie ecosystem in mind:

DEADLINE: These are two very different projects. How did you support each as producer?
RUDIN: They needed very different things. In the case of True Grit, it has always been, pulling together the financing, pulling together the cast, running the marketing, giving them what they need. They need no help of any kind making the movie. They don’t want it, and I wouldn’t presume there was anything I could tell them about the making of a movie. We worked great together because we know what we each do and that’s a very comfortable place. There are aspects of the movie they’re very happy to run on their own, and aspects they are happy for me to run alone. We got that very clear and right the very first time we worked together on Raising Arizona, so I go back with the guys basically to the very beginning of their careers.

DEADLINE: Will they take a script note from you?
RUDIN: Yes. I have done that, and I do. We did a lot of work on the script of No Country, and on True Grit. There are big differences between Charles Portis’ book and this movie, and some of the best things in No Country are their invention. They are so brilliant at the calibration of moment to moment narrative that they can break down material better than almost anybody I’ve ever worked with. Most of the things we talk about on the script have to do with the math of the story. Is this clear? Is the context clear? Have we set something up as well as we need to? One of the big challenges in True Grit was getting the bookend idea to work. That wasn’t in the first movie. A lot of equity went into making sure we had done that right. That end narration got rewritten several times in post.

DEADLINE: And your role on The Social Network?
RUDIN: I worked very close with Aaron Sorkin on the script. A lot of the really good thinking about how to tell it out of the litigation, the big structural ideas, came out of those conversations. David Fincher needs no help in making a movie. He’s a brilliant filmmaker who has more mental calibration available to him than any human being I’ve ever met. The way he handled the anthropology of the movie was extraordinary. He really got so brilliantly underneath the culture that the movie was describing. He knows what it’s like to be 19 and come up with something and have somebody older and more monied try to take it away from you. Things he didn’t know, like the Harvard and Palo Alto parts, he learned. He’s recreating a very specific time and place and doing it with an unbelievable level of detail, confidence and skill, in service of Aaron’s script. I’m most proud of the unlikely marriage of those two collaborators. But it worked out so that it feels completely inevitable.

It's that combination of taste, financial leadership and showmanship that makes a great movie Producer. Read the whole thing, the best film interview I've read in awhile.

Congrats to Mr. Ruden, the passionate guy.

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