When you bring together some of today’s greatest film producers, you’re bound to learn something. The Hollywood Reporter recently sat down with Ridley Scott, Judd Apatow, Seth Rogen, Amy Pascal, Jason Blum, and Eric Fellner, to pick their brains on today’s ever-changing, politically-charged cinematic landscape. And while their perspectives vary widely, everyone agreed on one thing: this is hard. Watch the entire conversation here, or read our top takeaways below.
“The budget is as much a creative decision as anything else.”
1. Don’t wait for the money
"No one wanted to make it," said Apatow on his breakout hit Superbad, which was written by Rogen. "The funniest part about it is that for a while there was a producer working with us, and he said ‘yeah let me try to get it made,’ and he couldn’t. Then he got a job as the head of a studio and we said ‘Oh, I guess we'll make it now!’ And he said: No.”
When someone finally took a chance on Superbad, it went on to make millions at the box office and catapult several careers, including that of Academy Award winner Emma Stone.
Struggling to get the green light was a common theme at the table. “I think the budget is as much a creative decision as anything else,” said Rogen. We “essentially work backward from ‘what’s the number where you’ll leave us alone?’”
Jason Blum has found a way to navigate this by essentially slashing budgets. Blumhouse doesn’t look at a script until it’s at or under five million dollars. “We make our movies in 21 days, we take no producing fees, and all the above the line is zero,” he reveals. While the company’s films often go on to make huge sums at the box office, with hits like Get Out and Split, it’s through low budgets that they maintain creative control.
2. Take risks
Another common theme at the table was risk-taking. Everyone is trying to make something fresh and interesting, but in an industry where hundreds of millions of dollars can be on the line, studios are hesitant to rock the boat.
“If you’re afraid of being wrong… it’s a really tough job,” said former co-chair of Sony Pictures Amy Pascal, “You have to be driven by what you see.” Rogen described the first preview screening for Pineapple Express, which Pascal produced. During the opening 10 minutes, she leaned in and told him: “Now I get this.”
Seth was shocked. “I was like ‘wow,’ you let us get this far without getting it?” But Amy trusted the filmmakers, and took a chance.
“It’s all about the last five minutes.”
3. Focus on the script
Veteran filmmaker Ridley Scott weighed in on what he believes is the most important part of making movies. “Writing is everything…everything else is dressing.” Scott has produced and directed some of the most revered films of all time, including Alien, Blade Runner, and Thelma and Louise. “You know immediately if it’s a movie,” Pascal chimed in.
Among all of the producers, some of their most successful films came from their most unusual scripts. Apatow discussed The Big Sick and its ability to tell a very human, difficult story that really hadn’t been shown on the screen before. Rogen has also made it his life’s work to make films that he claimed “they don’t make anymore.”
“It’s all about the last five minutes,” shared Fellner, “in terms of audience and the way they go out of the cinema and talk about the movie.”
4. Be both practical and persistent
The panel ended with some of the producers offering advice to those just starting out.
“You always have a choice between your ambition and your ego,” advised Pascal. “Be very clear which one you’re choosing… it’s really hard not to choose your ego, and it doesn’t work.”
Jason Blum had a more logistical piece of advice: when you’re first starting out, you should “put passion over here for a second, and be pragmatic.” He explained that, in the beginning, it was less about the passion he had for the script and more about whether he could get it made.
Ridley Scott had perhaps the most humble answer, coming after a long illustrious career: “Be grateful, keep trying."