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PGA’s mentoring guru

Mark Gordon learns as he dishes advice

Just because my name is on the door or it says ‘produced by Mark Gordon’ doesn’t mean I have all the answers. Anyone out there can have a great idea,” says Mark Gordon, who’s produced or financed more than 70 films and TV programs, from “Saving Private Ryan” to “Grey’s Anatomy.”

That’s more than just modesty coming from an industry veteran who goes out of his way to share his experience with the next generation of talent — and learning from them in the process, he insists.

Within his capacity as VP of television for the Producers Guild of America, Gordon has been a regular speaker at the org’s annual Power of Diversity workshop, established in 2005 and designed to foster the development of up-and-coming minority voices by offering one-on-one face time with established pros.

As a speaker at the program since its inception, Gordon has coached a number of young producers, including 2008 participant, German-Michael Torres. According to Torres, who also founded the non-profit organization Professional Latinos In Entertainment, the two-month workshop was an “invaluable experience.” In particular, he remembers an “empowering” bit of advice from Gordon that ultimately gave his producing career the jump-start he was looking for.

“I was working on a half-hour comedy based on my life, and I couldn’t nail the essence of the show until I applied what I learned from Mr. Gordon in the workshop — to find that element and universal theme within stories that connects us all,” Torres says. With Gordon’s advice, he revamped his treatment and set up the project at CBS Paramount the following pitch season.

With more than a decade of outreach under his belt, Gordon is a veritable poster boy for the various professional mentoring programs around town. Through the PGA alone, he participates in such events as Morning Mentor and last year’s inaugural Produced By Conference, where he served on a panel and hosted intimate roundtables with attendees.

“Mark is so active and giving in the guild. He’s part of everything that comes up,” says producer Ryan Westheimer, who runs the bi-monthly Morning Mentor sessions.

But Gordon’s outreach goes back farther than his guild involvement. A graduate of NYU Film School, Gordon has served as a mentor for USC’s Peter Stark Producing Program for the past 10 years.

“As a young producer, I never really had a mentor,” he says. By sharing his insights, Gordon hopes to provide younger talent with the sort of advice and guidance he would have liked to get from more experienced colleagues earlier in his career.

“I think one of the most important things for people to realize in our industry is that there is no one way to do anything,” he says. “Whether you’re a producer, director or writer, it’s not like you go to a college and get a degree in your field and then get a job opportunity. This is not like being a lawyer, doctor or accountant, where you learn your craft and you are able to go do it.”

Since most young people interested in producing are entering a competitive field where “getting that (starting) opportunity is damn near impossible and always has been, I think the value of sharing one’s experiences is to see that there are an infinite number of ways of getting to the place where you want to be.”

Rather than being intimidated by all the ambitious young producers constantly coming up in the business, Gordon sees every interaction with this younger generation as a chance to pick up ideas and challenge the way he views things, reinforcing the notion that both parties can learn from each other.

“It’s really about being open to new talent,” he says. “The things that make the biggest splash are not necessarily the things we expect. They can just come out of the blue, so we have to continue to be open to all these new concepts and new people in order to find the ideas that entertain and inspire us.”

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