Lauren Shuler Donner

'X-Men' producer kept focus on character

Lauren Shuler Donner, the producer behind the “X-Men” franchise, says insiders used to give her filmmaker husband, Richard Donner, credit for her solo successes.

“People would congratulate Dick for my movies. It bothered me for a long, long time,” the Crystal Award honoree says. “At a certain point, I just had to relax. You can’t go around telling everybody, ‘It was me, it was me, it was me!’ ”

Shuler Donner, whose early efforts include “Mr. Mom” and “Pretty in Pink,” met Donner in 1985 when the two co-produced “Ladyhawke,” which he directed.

The couple has made three movies together.

“I totally learned from Dick, (but) working together is just not a good idea,” she says. “He’s a final-cut director — much more elevated in decisionmaking. That does not make for a good give-and-take.”

Having a husband in the same profession does have its upside, however. “Dick understands what I go through,” Shuler Donner says. “He understands the difficulty and the brutality of the business.”

Shuler Donner seems born to make her own decisions. She currently multitasks on six projects slated for release over the next year, including “Cirque du Freak,” based on the children’s books by Darren Shan, “Wolverine,” starring Hugh Jackman, and “The Secret Life of Bees,” based on the bestselling Sue Monk Kidd novel.

She read “Bees” in galley form and instantly fell in love with it. “It was the first time I ever plunked down my own money,” she says.

Shuler Donner recently wrapped “Unaccompanied Minors,” a comedy written and directed by Paul Feig.

Maybe because Shuler Donner’s given to swift decision-making, her best strengths, she says, are story shaping and casting.

“I like having an idea, or hearing an idea, and getting it into a proper script,” she says. “Often you get the screenplay, and it’s not in filming shape. Producing is figuring out how to make each character have a distinct voice, how to make the story twist and turn — that’s the biggest challenge …”

What was her most important contribution to “X-Men”?

“Early on, we were very daunted by ‘Matrix’s’ stupendous visual effects,” she recalls. “I figured, ‘No sense having effects for effects’ sake. Each character’s power will be a visual effect — that’s how we’ll use it.’ Keeping the focus on the characters and the heart made it a different kind of action movie.”

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