Six Degrees of Kevin – aka Producers or Puppets?

TAKE (NZ Director’s Guild Magazine)  November 2009


Besides the technical stuff of f-stops, t-stops, foot candles and colour temperature, there’s the more subjective notion of becoming a director which will (it can’t be avoided) involve the dreaded aspects of the ‘pitch’ and the ‘meeting’. As a freelance film school tutor I recently detected a small reality gap in this sharing of knowledge and wisdom so I invented a hypothetical exercise – you could call this class ‘how to have a successful studio meeting in this post-modern world’. This mythical exercise involves Kevin Bacon and it goes something like this:

Kevin finds a novel he likes. He options the rights. He commissions a script and gets a director attached. He will star in the movie and produce. He scores a meeting with a large studio in Culver City.

After the small talk the meeting starts proper.

‘So Kevin wadaya got for us?’

Kevin cuts to the chase, ‘So here’s this guy who’s just out of ‘the can’, on parole, that’s the part I will be playing…’

The meeting is already nodding and smiling approval.

Kevin continues, ‘and this guy moves back to his small home town and takes an apartment overlooking a grade-school playground – he’s been away 12 years and is a convicted pedophile.

There are five executives in the room and three have stopped smiling and nodding, the other two hold Kevin’s eyes and haven’t flinched – they might be interested – it could be shock?

So what was the next thing (remember this is a film school exercise) that was said at the meeting? Who spoke first?

I don’t know the answer, nor do I know if there was ever such a meeting but there might have been. What I do know is The Woodsman was made and became one of the great must-see-flicks of the last century.

It’s an ideal exercise to run in film school because it’s a good way to introduce to the students the different types and style of producers who they will meet in their future careers. It’s simple. In my opinion they come down to two types: those that ‘will’ and those that ‘won’t’ – will or won’t take a risk – and why not mention doing something original while we’re at it.

Recently I’ve been having a succession of meetings and had a series of ‘Kevin Bacon’ moments and I’ve become aware of one of those really annoying sayings that goes something like – ‘I don’t know much about art but I know what I don’t like’ – just take out the word ART and replace with TV and you’ve got it.

That recent morning of meetings I pulled my confidence up with my trousers and headed to the first of three – if you’ve forgotten the lie of the TV land it goes something like this – there are three ‘free-to-air’ channels of significance – two of them involve an Andy and the other one involves a Sue – the independent TV providers (read Producers) are very aware of these two people – in all three meetings the ‘brown folks’ channel was dismissed as a viable option because they, apparently, ‘do what they do’… a curious observation indeed. I don’t know much about art… but I thought the ‘brown folks’ channel was achieving more in terms of community than the other three combined – but then, it seems, my opinion is not worth much at all – I’m just a filmmaker that doesn’t know anything about the complexities and ‘how hard our job of programming and commissioning is; what with issues of balance and fairness, whilst still maintaining an entertaining premise and don’t mention charter – HELL! – you try programming one of these ‘free-to-air’ channels’.

All three meetings involved a catch-22 moment (going forward) that required at some unknown point I was somehow expected to compare my pitch to something that already exists somewhere else on the planet – preferably, it seemed, something that pulled from the ether an evocative childhood memory from the ‘Producer’ and (going forward) was original but was already like something else – you know what I mean? – um no, but I pretended to.

I sheepishly asked why? I was told ‘because the first thing the programmers would ask them (if, as independent ‘Producers’ they took one of my projects on) was what is it like and can we buy it cheaper from somewhere else?’ I then realised that I wasn’t talking with Producers I was talking with Puppets… what would Kevin have done in this situation?

’No, I’m sorry, did I say Pedophile?’

’Silly me, I meant to say Philanthropist’.

I don’t think so.