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10 to Watch: Elisabeth Robinson

Tackling an 'egoless' job with bravado

Elisabeth Robinson wears a leather jacket and seems to embrace contradictions. She’s critical of the business but clearly loves it. She lives in New York but knows Hollywood like the back of her hand. She’s book smart and driven but also a bit goofy and irreverent, sometimes preferring to steer the conversation to cooking rather than what she does for a living.

A former Hollywood studio exec who worked her way up from staff reader at United Artists and Lorimar to VP of production at MGM to head of production at Paramount-based the Ladd Co., Robinson is one of a dying breed of literate producers.

Finding and developing smart properties, and getting the director’s movie made, is the heart of producing for Robinson. She calls producing an egoless job that sometimes seems better suited for women than for men: It requires nurturing and bringing out the best in everyone, not competing.

The Sony Pictures Classics release “Last Orders,” starring an ensemble cast that includes Michael Caine, Bob Hoskins and Helen Mirren, was Robinson’s first producer credit.

She recalls staying up all night, while on location on “The Man Who Knew Too Little,” to finish reading “Last Orders.” Upon completing the book, she secretly hoped it was under option by someone else because it would be tough to get made.

When Robinson contacted author Graham Swift, who had just won the Booker Prize, she recalls that he wasn’t inclined to option his book to anyone, let alone an unknown Hollywood producer.

But that’s where her studio contacts paid off. She gave the book to Australian director Fred Schepisi, the pic’s eventu-al director, who helped win over Swift.

“When I look at a piece of material,” Robinson says, “I ask, ‘Is it castable?’ and ‘Is it about something?’ If the answer is yes to both questions, then you go about trying to raise the money to make it — whether it’s $10 million or $100 million.

“My experience as a studio executive has helped me as a producer in a number of ways,” she continues, “but most importantly I think it taught me that a movie is a product that is supposed to make money — it’s not only an artistic expression, though I insist that these are not mutually exclusive.”

Snapshot:

Primary credits: “Last Orders” (producer); “Simply Irresistible” (exec producer); “The Man Who Knew Too Little” (exec producer); “Braveheart” (associate producer)

Definition of a producer: “A person who sees a movie in a story, then guides a writer toward the best script he or she can write, helps the director direct the best movie he or she can, and convinces a studio to spend more money than they want — while making sure every step of the way all these people think it was their idea.”

Strengths: New York and London contacts; sense of humor

Achilles’ heel: “I should advertise this?”

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