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Don't worry -- be happy

Producer Mark Gordon doesn't really fit the mold. He likes writers and execs, they like him, he's calm on the set. Weird thing is, he's got a future in this town.

May 21, 2006|Mary McNamara | Times Staff Writer

IN the public imagination, there are three kinds of successful producers -- the schemer, the screamer and the extremer.

Certainly there are actual people who embody these characteristics -- uber-schmoozer Robert Evans is, as he lately informed us, still in the picture; Scott Rudin's assistant body count is legendary, and though Jerry Bruckheimer has calmed down significantly since the overdose death of partner Don Simpson, his name is still synonymous with the era of the Bad Boy.

But mostly, these are archetypes, attempts to capture the mixture of ambition, narcissism, talent, greed and good old fear that has always been the hottest cocktail in town. In no figure is it more combustible than the producer.

Mark Gordon is a successful producer who is neither a schemer, screamer or extremer, which may explain why he is not a household name like Bruckheimer. In fact, if he walked into a restaurant, a stranger would have no inkling he was in the industry at all. Soft-spoken, with a tendency to slump so far into a chair that he becomes one with the fabric, he has been known to cut short a meeting with studio executives because it was time for him to pick up his kids. He has a habit of asking other people their opinions and then actually sitting still -- no peeking at the BlackBerry, no shouted conversations with his assistant in the next room -- long enough to listen to it. When people ask him for money, and they often do, he tells them yes or no. Using those words.

"People appreciate directness and honesty," he says with a shrug, as if several tenets of Hollywood were not crashing around his ears. "The best bullshit is truth because it's totally disarming."

Unusual traits in a power player.

Yet with more than 40 films to his credit, including big action hits such as "Speed" and critically acclaimed dramas such as "Saving Private Ryan," that he is. With 20 or so features in various stages of production and still others in the inevitable "development," he recently migrated to television, where he is currently executive producing two hits -- "Grey's Anatomy" and "Criminal Minds" -- and "A House Divided," a hopeful of pilot season. He is, his friends and colleagues like to say, building an empire.

Which doesn't mean Gordon, 49, is some kind of local saint. He spent the first part of his career behaving, if not as badly as some of his peers, then certainly with the same ferocious ambition.

He second-guessed everyone he worked with, certain that whatever he thought was somehow better. Too often, he says, the voices in his head drowned out the voices of those around him. Then one day, he noticed that he wasn't having any fun. "My shrink said, 'You have a nice family, good friends, a good job -- why don't you try enjoying yourself?' "

It didn't happen overnight. He had kids, and that helped, especially when he became a single, shared-custody dad. Slowly, he says, he learned that having a real personal life made him more successful in his career, not less.

"The more grounded I am in my personal life, the better I am in the office," he says. "I've got nothing to prove. I've made successful movies, and not-successful movies. I've learned that you really never know which way it's going to go, so you might as well enjoy it while it's happening.

"In the early part of my career," he adds, "I was so focused on the carrot, I didn't appreciate the process. Now I have much better results if I'm not focused on the end."

Which would seem to be, well, building an empire.

*

The grind behind the glitter

THE thing most people outside the movie and television industry don't realize is that as glamorous as the finished product, with its ambient premieres, festivals and awards shows, may be, the actual making of a movie or a television show is, in most cases, a long, difficult, often tedious, always meticulous, series of try-it-agains.

Pitch meetings lead to script meetings lead to drafts and rewrites. Deals are made and fall apart, actors and directors attach then detach themselves, deadlines are made then modified, and this is all before you have to figure out how to get a cast and crew of 200 up to Toronto or down to Texas and keep them on schedule and budget.

Then comes post-production, with its 14-hour days holed up in an editing room, piecing different takes together -- the close-up, the side angle, the one with the added dialogue, the one without the dog.

The only person who is part of every single stage of this process, which can take years, is the producer. "Most people think, 'Oh, the producer's the guy who gets the money,' " says Gordon. "And that's part of it. But the producer also develops the script, brings in the director, works as an editor, is involved in the marketing ... it's really hard to define."

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