Visions from mission

Santa Barbara panelists see complex pic terrain

SANTA BARBARA — A justly celebrated highlight of the Santa Barbara Film Festival in recent years has been its first weekend screenwriters’ symposium. On this year’s second weekend, however, directors and producers more than held their own on separate panels that addressed some of the burning issues of the day as well as offering informed speculation about the future of the industry.

Naturally, a considerable amount of talk centered on the potential upcoming strikes and their implications

At the Saturday morning conclave, “Directors on Directing,” chaired by Premiere magazine West Coast editor Anne Thompson, director Philip Kaufman maintained that “writers and directors shouldn’t be at each others’ throats, but it’s sort of been positioned that way.”

Kaufman, who generally writes his own films, said that on “Quills,” he insisted that playwright-screenwriter Doug Wright be paid to be present for the entire shoot; he was also welcome in the cutting room.

On the thorny issue of possessory credit for directors, the writer-helmer is not in favor of cutting back on the recognition that directors receive but said, “I’d like the writers to be brought up to the level of the directors.

“We should find a way of making writers and directors allies,” he added.

On the afternoon “Movers and Shakers” panel moderated by Variety VP and editor-in-chief Peter Bart, the producers were adamant about a strike’s down side.

“If it happens,” offered Paula Wagner, “it will not only affect the film industry but the surrounding industries — the restaurants, the businesses.” In addition, she claimed, “The setbacks can never be regained. And unless the strike lasts for a year, it won’t have the desired impact.”

Quality control

There was some disagreement, however, on whether the rush to get so many films launched before a strike would result in better or worse films. David Brown speculated that “some films could benefit from being rushed into production,” a proposal seconded by Thom Mount: “It’s very difficult to find a good script that’s been developed through a layer of executives.”

Laurence Mark countered that “maybe 50% of the movies in Hollywood shouldn’t be made, and maybe right now it’s about 70%.”

Paula Wagner agreed that “too many movies are made, and they’re made too quickly. It’s better to let them breathe.”

The directors seemed to lean toward the latter view. “There are so many movies being made right now without a script being ready that you’re going to see a lot of turkeys,” proposed Michael Bay.

The studios came in for some bashing from both groups. The directors griped about “the McDonald’s approach to making movies” (Kaufman), paranoia about ratings (Bay, who said he had spent the past week “trying to hide the violence” and “taking out a butt shot” in “Pearl Harbor,” would welcome a PG-15 tag) and the tyranny of test screenings (Roach). De Luca and Bill Mechanic were specifically singled out by the group, which also included Kenneth Lonergan and Ed Harris, as excellent, filmmaker-friendly execs. Both were recently fired.

The Movers and Shakers panel, which along with Brown, Wagner, Pollock, Mark and Mount, also included Lucy Fisher and Michael Shamberg, searched for definitions of the producer’s role in the current climate. Wagner said that an ideal producer should “augment the director’s vision and act as a go-between with the studio.” She further explained that the motors for getting a good film made today are money, “a great piece of material, which can be a magnet on its own,” and a star actor or director.

Veteran Brown met with unanimous agreement when he said, “I would rather merge myself to the passion of one executive at the top than to the collective wisdom of the ‘creative group.’ ” The producer’s role, he opined, is “to identify a piece of literature and be able to control it.

Creative opportunities

Fisher seemed to reflect the panelists’ general view that the influx of business-oriented, non-creative execs into the top studio jobs presents a great opportunity for bright, resourceful producers. “It’s much better to be a producer now than it was,” she ventured. “The studios need somebody strong to tell them what to do. Studio executives are busy looking at numbers. The studios are completely afraid, and are being run without a gut.”

When Bart asked all the panelists to name a producer role model, the name of Sam Spiegel came up repeatedly. Brown also stressed the greatness of his mentor at 20th Century Fox, Darryl F. Zanuck, because “he believed that the subject matter was the star.” Mark cited his admiration for Barry Diller, while Bart praised the methods of Arthur Krim during his stewardship of United Artists.

Another major issue broached was the proliferation of producer credits on pictures, which is something that Mount, in his lead position at the Producers Guild of America, is trying to curtail. All agreed that producer credits have been handed out willy-nilly by studios willing to exchange credit for a few dollars saved, and Mount seemed to be speaking for all his colleagues when he said that, “I don’t think it’s just, acceptable or ethical to give these credits to those who don’t do the work.”

Over the weekend at Santa Barbara, Diane Keaton received the Modern Master Award at a gala evening, “Gladiator” producer Douglas Wick was honored with the Visionary Award and indie pioneer Rob Nilsson was accorded a special evening.

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