Ray Richmond contributes to Deadline’s conference coverage.
The 5th Annual Produced By Conference, sponsored by the PGA, kicked off this morning on the 20th Century Fox lot with a panel discussion entitled “The Real Deal: Producers Who Direct? or Directors Who Produce?”. Producer Mark Gordon of Grey’s Anatomy fame moderated the discussion in the packed Zanuck Theater, peppering panelists Jon Favreau (Iron Man 1, 2 and 3) and Roland Emmerich (White House Down, Independence Day) with questions about how producers can effectively navigate the directorial waters and vice-versa. Of course, working with filmmakers at the level of Favreau and Emmerich who have abundant experience is rarely a problem, Gordon repeatedly acknowledged.
“There is a comfort level with directors who have a body of work,” said Gordon, who doesn’t direct. “It’s more difficult now because everybody specializes. In the old days of the Hollywood studio system, guys like John Ford and Billy Wilder did it all. They directed comedies. They directed dramas. They directed musicals. Today, you hear, ‘This guy is an action director, this guy directs comedy.’ I don’t believe in that. If you direct, you should be able to direct everything.” But Favreau pointed out that inexperienced directors are becoming less of a dice roll for producers and studios, what with the cost of admission to the club dropping to relative pennies. “There are tremendous filmmakers doing strong pieces of content online,” he said. “Those content walls are coming down. It’s becoming less and less of a guess. It isn’t like picking the new Dalai Lama. You can see what’s being done and say, ‘This kid’s got some vision’.”
However, Emmerich cautioned that while everyone thinks they can direct, a select few are truly qualified. “You can be the best writer or the best cameraman, but directing is a different thing,” he said. “It’s something very specific. Not everyone can do it.” This is why Gordon admittedly discriminates in favor of experienced helmers. “I am much more willing to presume a strong point of view as we begin the process of making a film from someone who has done it before than from someone who hasn’t,” he said. “If I’m going with a young or first-time director, I’ll be much more vigilant in watching what they’re doing moment-by-moment and guiding them to make sure they’re getting it right.” He added that he has worked with directors who lack the experience but act as if they know it all on the set, anyway. “And I say, ‘Fuck that’,” he said. “I’m much more willing to give leeway to people who have earned it.”