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09/06/2005 - BOOK REVIEW - "SO YOU WANT TO BE A PRODUCER" - BY LAWRENCE TURMAN
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"SO YOU WANT TO BE A PRODUCER" - BY LAWRENCE TURMAN
Published by Three Rivers Press in early September 2005
ISBN: 1-4000-5166-5

Book Review By Matthew Terry

Please note: This is the first in a series of reviews of books that don't necessarily discuss the ins-and-outs, pros-and-cons of screenwriting. These deal with the business end of Hollywood. I call these reviews: KNOWING YOUR AUDIENCE.

Over the past few weeks I have been helping a co-worker with her screenplay. It is nearly "finished" (is a screenplay ever really finished?) and ready to be sent out. The inherent problem with her screenplay is that it is a hard sell. It's a biopic based on a true story and set in the early 20th Century. These days, biopics seem to be making money and winning awards ("Aviator," "Ray," "A Beautiful Mind," "Schindler's List," "Ali," etc.), but it's still going to be a hard sell for a first time writer. In my discussions with her on the next step, we've been talking about breaking down those walls and getting it directly to a producer. This is where this book comes in.

"So You Want To Be A Producer" is like opening the mind of a veteran producer and peering in. Lawrence Turman has produced everything from "The Graduate" to "American History X" and "A River Wild," and he currently runs a two-year master's program at USC (The Peter Stark Producing Program). His program is now over 14 years old.

Having not taken Mr. Turman's class, I can only surmise that this book is a breakdown of his teaching method, one accomplished with honesty, subtlety and humor. He breaks down all the aspects of producing, including finding and controlling a story, developing the story, getting the money, and producing the film (which includes choosing a director, casting the picture and even editing the film). What Mr. Turman does not go into is the actual marketing and distribution of the film, even though he admits late in the book that "... things had changed and that now it was all about marketing."

In teaching screenwriting, I often have to rein in those writers who think that all they have to do is write the script and put it in the envelope and ship it to Producer X in Hollywood, and then he'll grab hold, love it, buy it and make it. I have to show writers the reality, and this book talks about that reality. The late nights, the deal making, the confusion, the passions, and even the failures.

Lawrence Turman does an excellent job of helping the writer understand what a producer does. A producer does not sit in an ivory tower waiting for your Holy Grail script to land in his lap - you know the one - a comedy kind of like "Bambi" meets "Frankenstein" but with a "Fahrenheit 9/11" reality. No, producers are out there hustling, finding, buying, selling, working, pushing, prodding and, well, living.

If you want to be a producer - this is the book for you. Buy, read it, live by it. If you're a writer, though, this book is also for you - if only to glean from it - once again, the credit that is due the writer.

Turman indeed gives credit where credit is due: "You can start at the top if you control a super, terrific, dynamite script"; "I developed relationships with writers which fed my producer's soul"; "The story is the lifeblood, the be all, end all"; "The way to get one (big name star) is to have a stunning script with an acting role that is different."

Turman, like so many others, finds the answer elusive to the burning question on every writer's mind: "I've written what I think is a great screenplay, all my friends have read it, I've re-written it a gazillion times and now I want to send it out to Hollywood. How do I know it's any good?"

Turman's answer: "I wish I knew."

As a writer, one of the great things this book does is remind you that producers are working their tails off getting movies made. It brings you into their reality and, hopefully, it gives you an understanding of that person and why they might not have time to read your latest script or why they haven't gotten back to you in regards to that synopsis you sent them. Any producer worth his salt should be out there selling and talking and lunching and buying and interacting.

Some other great aspects of this book include:

1. Quotes and stories by other producers and writers that add depth. You are not just reading one producer's story, but getting feedback and confirmation from other producers.

2. Reprints of letters during the process of making "The Sundance Kid and Butch Cassidy" (yes, that is the original title).

3. In-the-trenches stories about Judy Garland, such as funny, behind-the-scene anecdotes of the process of making Judy's film, "I Could Go On Singing" and other tidbits from someone who has worked in Hollywood for nearly three decades.

As for my friend's biopic screenplay, we're still setting up our plan of attack, but with this book, we feel we know a member of our initial audience quite a bit better.

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