Not so long ago, producer Lauren Shuler recalled, movie executives' dialogue about her went something like this:
"What do we need her for?"
"Well, she developed the script and brought in the actor."
"Oh, great, good work. . . . We'll see her later."
Shuler, 35, chuckled at the memory during a recent interview. She's heard it all before and is well aware of the similarity between producers and Rodney Dangerfield--neither gets any respect.
"If the producers went on strike," she quipped, "they'd (the studios) keep on making movies. The movies wouldn't be as good; they'd fall apart, but nobody would care."
She laughed--briefly--before continuing.
"But producing is a crucial job--especially if you produce the way I do. You're the captain of the ship, the mother--you're the one who guides it, pushes it and brings it together in the first place. . . . It's very under-appreciated."
So are women who enter the film business looking to be more than assistant whatevers.
From the moment Shuler hit Hollywood--eager to direct--she was told, "You're out of your mind; you're a woman," she said.
It's likely that the former film student might have more to say on both subjects . . . but she's too busy producing movies to take the time.
Shuler's credits to date include "Ladyhawke," the coming "St. Elmo's Fire" and a co-producer credit on "Mr. Mom." She currently has seven-plus projects in various stages of development at Warner Bros., Paramount Pictures, Columbia Pictures and Lorimar. And Walt Disney Productions just signed her to a three-year deal.
"Yeah, it's amazing who's become my friend these days," Shuler said, smiling. As she took a brief pause from a hectic-turned-killer schedule, she resembled no less than a whirlwind in repose.
Sitting in her comfortably spare Paramount office, Shuler got down to business after a quick demonstration of her remote-control robot, which fired tiny plastic discs on command. Dressed in a casual jacket, shirt, jeans and tennis shoes, the husky-voiced dynamo was candid about her past without being whiny or bitter. Shuler's finely tuned sense of humor ran throughout her staccato, rapid-fire sentences as she ran down her present responsibilities.
Just as "Ladyhawke," the medieval fantasy starring Matthew Broderick, was released last month, Columbia decided to move up the release date for "St. Elmo's Fire" (which stars Emilio Estevez, Ally Sheedy, Judd Nelson, Rob Lowe, Mare Winningham and Demi Moore) from late summer to June, which shortened the post-production process.
On top of that, Shuler was readying "Pretty in Pink," starring Molly Ringwald.
Despite the pressures, Shuler remained semi-euphoric over seeing "Ladyhawke," the first project she ever optioned, finally released.
"After all the hard sweat and the five years it took to get it made," she explained, "to see my name on the screen and the way the audiences responded to the film gave me the chills."
"Ladyhawke" hasn't been the only uphill climb for Shuler. She reflected--without rancor--that her pursuit of a producing career hadn't been easy:
"I've got battle scars all over me. They're deep," she said, her smile gone for the moment. "It's been real hard. It feels to me that there's never been a movie I've been involved in that anybody ever wanted me to produce."
She could afford to be gracious . . . now. While it would be easy to attribute such problems to the fact that she is a woman, Shuler disdained the cliche.
"I think every producer starting out goes through that," she maintained. "Perhaps it was a little more difficult because I was a woman, but I have to think that even if I was a man trying to get those movies off the ground, I would have come into some sort of resistance.
"It's rough; it's rough for anyone in the film business. It's tough to get a movie made. . . . You're dealing with a bunch of egos."
How Shuler chooses to deal with those egos has earned her a reputation for being "tough," an adjective that amuses her.
"It's almost psychological, because you have to find the way to get your ideas across and then to get people to listen to them.
"Is it by yelling? Is it by humor? By just being nice? You have to very quickly be able to assess people and figure that out."
When it comes to dealing with studio executives, she said, "Unfortunately, half the time it's by yelling. You have to jump up and down and scream and yell and then they'll say, 'Oh, OK. OK.' "
That was her initial experience on "Ladyhawke."
"Ladyhawke" drifted in and out of various production companies' schedules for several years (the Ladd Co. originally optioned the project; Warner Bros. and Fox ultimately co-financed). Not only were the studios struggling with the high budget, but also with an overall reluctance to make a medieval/fantasy film (especially before "Excalibur").
The film took so long to get in front of the cameras that Shuler managed to co-produce "Mr. Mom" in between.