Tuesday, February 24, 2009

HW Producers & Samuel Johnson

Thought these Slate articles might interest you guys:

What Does a Hollywood Producer Do, Exactly?

…The top post of "producer" is just the tip of the iceberg, as anyone who's watched the opening credits of a movie knows well. Although
Slumdog Millionaire, for example, credits only one producer, it lists two executive producers and two co-executive producers, along with a co-producer, an associate producer, and a line producer.

An executive producer often owns the rights to a book or story idea or secures at least 25 percent of the film's budget. Executive producers rarely have creative or technical involvement and are often caught up with several projects at once. The "co-executive producer" title applies to studio executives or distributors who have a limited financial stake in the project. A co-producer works under the producer and often helps with casting, financing, or postproduction. The line producer is on the set at all times to supervise the budget but has little or no creative input.

"Associate producer" is a largely honorary title. Sometimes it's a form of recompense for exceptional performance on-set. A script doctor who saves a bad screenplay, for example, might be granted an associate-producer credit. The title is also frequently an inexpensive way for a producer to pay back a favor or reward an assistant or colleague who had little to do with the film. As David Mamet wrote in
State and Main, an associate producer credit is "what you give to your secretary instead of a raise…"

See also this rather amusing article: Money Made Him Do it: What Samuel Johnson can teach us about writing.

Johnson's father, a bookseller, never made much money, and in time his business failed completely. Johnson got to spend a year at Oxford, after he came into a small legacy, but the money wasn't enough to keep him there until he could earn a degree. He spent his 20s trying, and largely failing, to find work as a schoolteacher. When Johnson got married at age 26 to 46-year-old widow Elizabeth Porter—whom he called Tetty—he used most of her money to start up a school, which attracted exactly three pupils and closed after 15 months. By the time he set out for London in 1737, with no assets except a play he hoped to get produced, it could not but seem, as Meyers writes, that "his life thus far had been catastrophic."

But London proved to be Johnson's salvation. He made a connection with the editor of the popular Gentleman's Magazine and started to earn a living by hackwork. Soon enough his reputation was made by his satirical poem "London"; his heroic labor on the dictionary, which appeared in 1755, made him famous. Working alone, with just a few assistants, he did for the English language what it had taken the whole Academie Francaise 40 years to accomplish for the French. The terms of the book trade, however, were not generous to the author in the 18th century. Johnson spent his fee for the dictionary well before the book was published, and he earned no royalties. This may seem unfair, but as Boswell wrote, "[W]e must, at the same time, congratulate ourselves, when we consider that to this very neglect, operating to rouse the natural indolence of his constitution, we owe many valuable productions, which otherwise, perhaps, might never have appeared."

"Fame is the spur the clear spirit doth raise/(That last infirmity of noble minds)/To scorn delights and live laborious days," said Milton. But while Johnson cared about fame, it was simple need—the need to eat and keep a roof over his head—that made him accomplish so much. Over the course of his career, beyond the dictionary, he produced an edition of the complete plays of Shakespeare; an encyclopedic series of Lives of the English Poets; the poem "The Vanity of Human Wishes," one of the great satires in the language; the moral tale Rasselas, a kind of English Candide (written in one week, Johnson claimed, so that he could pay for his mother's funeral); A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland; and the 208 essays of The Rambler, which for more than 100 years were known to every well-read person in England and America. And that is not to mention the translations, book reviews, lectures, sermons, parliamentary reports, and assorted journalism...


Ugly Deaf Muslim Punk Gurl! said...

oh, i thought that "executive producer" was an honorary title, as opposed to 'associate producer.' that's what I read in Joe Eszterhas's book "The Devil's Guide to Hollywood for Screenwriters." he said that screenwriters can demand for an executive producer credit to increase their visibility in Hollywood.

what do you reckon of that, MM?

Mystery Man said...

I'd say that's possible if you're more established as Eszterhas was, but in today's world, you can still get plenty of media visibility without needing to pull a stunt like that.


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