We all watch movies. Many of us also read the increasingly long list of credits. We see the names of producers in huge type on the screen and occasionally wonder one simple thing: What do they actually do?
Lawrence Turman answers that question � and plenty of others � in his book “So You Want to Be a Producer” (Three Rivers Press/Random House). And he should know. Before heading the Peter Stark Producing Program in the USC School of Cinema-Television, Turman produced more than 40 films, including “The Graduate,” “The River Wild” and “American History X.”
Part memoir, the book contains advice from a number of colleagues Turman interviewed, including above-the-title figures such as Brian Grazer, Curtis Hanson and David Wolper. But the book’s backbone is a guide to the field Turman chose five decades ago.
“A producer is a generalist, acting as an ‘editor’ to everyone else on the film,” Turman said. But primarily, we’re entrepreneurs: starting each and every film from scratch, deciding what to try to make into a movie. We start the ball rolling, then � like a sheepdog � keep it and everyone on the film on the rolling path that the producer had in mind from the get-go.”
Turman said that for him, the choice of which film to make has always come from the heart. “When I come across a story that makes my blood race, I can’t sleep until I get my hands on it. For ‘The Graduate,’ I even put up my own money for the option, a cardinal producing sin.”
While filming is under way, a producer often has the least to do, Turman said, “if he or she has done their planning and pre-production well,” that is. “Then it’s a matter of crisis management if or when things go wrong. As for sure they will.”
During filming, he said: “I worry a lot. Are we getting from each scene, from each actor, from the creative technical crew all we had hoped and expected? As we watch the rushes [daily takes with the cast], are the scenes clear, entertaining, engaging? Most importantly, are they adding up to a compelling, dramatic or funny whole? The problem is you rarely get that answer until you are finished shooting and see the rough cut.”
After filming, the producer gives collaborative input on the music, editing and, just as critically, the marketing, ad campaign and distribution. “A good producer is working on the marketing during shooting, because it is so vital,” Turman said.
Why share all this insider’s knowledge in a book?
Turman got a cold call from a New York literary agent who had read a New York Times story about the Peter Stark Program’s graduates.
“I was so flattered I said yes with alacrity, forgetting that I had to actually write the darn thing,” Turman said. “Incidentally, that lit agent did what I try to teach my students: be enterprising.”