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HOLLYWOOD BRIEF / RACHEL ABRAMOWITZ

Apatow team has gal pal

August 06, 2008|Rachel Abramowitz
  • APATOW COHORT: Shauna Robertson works with the producer and his stable.
APATOW COHORT: Shauna Robertson works with the producer and his stable. (Ken Hively / Los Angeles…)

IN HER mind, Shauna Robertson is a 23-year-old guy, always ready with a fart joke, an ever-ready plea for more nudity, and a belly laugh for any raunchy gag.

In reality, she's a pretty, 33-year-old, pixie-sized, blond Canadian high school dropout with a producing resume that would make a studio executive's mouth water. That would include "Elf," "Anchorman," "The 40-Year-Old Virgin," "Knocked Up," "Superbad" and "Forgetting Sarah Marshall."

I first met Shauna Robertson last summer in Torrance on the set of her new movie, the stoner buddy comedy "Pineapple Express," which hits theaters today. Frankly, I didn't know there were any women in Judd Apatow's comedy mafia other than Apatow's wife, Leslie Mann. On-screen, it's a guy-centric world, often devoted to male sexual anxiety and ribald language (albeit with a frequently sweet, almost feminine undercurrent).

Furthermore, the employment stats for women in all aspects of the film business has actually gotten worse in the last decade, according to Martha Lauzen, a professor at San Diego State who tracks this stuff. In 2007, only 22% of the top 250 domestic-grossing movies employed a female producer, and Robertson produced two of them.

On the day I met her, the team was filming the sequence in which process server Dale (Seth Rogen) and his drug-dealer-turned-best friend, Saul (James Franco), escape from a hydroponics pot-growing warehouse, and the atmosphere was festive, like a groovy bunch of kids somewhat amazed that the grown-ups had shelled out millions of dollars for their use. In the middle of it all was a tiny, adorable woman, who looked about 12. She buzzed with the high energy of the super-efficient without any of the irritating officiousness or bossiness that occasionally accompanies movie-biz competence. I remember her watching her surroundings as if her antennae were permanently up.

I now understand that what she was doing was producing, as she defines the job. "I think one of a producer's greatest talents is to be able to listen to a bunch of conversations going on at once -- the grips and electricians talking to one another, the talent talking to the director over my shoulder. Everyone's problems become my problem, so I can figure them out before they become each others' problems," she said at the time.

I've always found it hard to know what a producer actually does, because almost anybody can hang up a shingle and declare himself or herself a producer. Clearly a business card does not automatically a new Jerry Bruckheimer make. These days, there seem to be a lot of trustafarians or investment-banker types with wads of cash floating around sets. Others are simply people who happen to know a writer and end up attached to a project. And then there are those producers who've worked their way from the ground up, who actually do know about script improvement or set management, or studio jujitsu. And a few (Bruckheimer, Scott Rudin, Brian Grazer) are tastemakers in their own right.

Robertson is clearly in the mold of being a director's best friend, shrink, advocate, personal logician and defender of the vision from budgetary constraints.

I recently had lunch with Robertson at Real Food Daily, a health food restaurant in Santa Monica. She brought along "Pineapple Express" director David Gordon Green. While she's hardly shy, she seems vaguely embarrassed that anyone would want to hear her "blather on" about herself. The previous night was "Pineapple's" Los Angeles premiere, which ended with an after-party with 200 of Rogen and co-writer Evan Goldberg's closest friends, in a "purple haze," Robertson says with a laugh. "I saw the people there unscrewing the smoke detectors."

Green has a Southern accent and an earnest manner, as befits the maker of "George Washington" and other micro-budgeted coming-of-age tales set in Southern mill towns. Those are the kinds of films he was doing before Judd Apatow and Robertson enticed him into their camp, via mutual friend actor Danny McBride, whose film "Foot Fist Way," was a comedy mafia favorite.

Green says Robertson calms anxiety rather than revs it up. "There are tremendous curveballs thrown at you during filming. She lets you know when you're hearing something you don't want to hear, that it's going to be OK. It's like a warm hand on the shoulder that soothes rather than amplifies the conflict."

"Shauna is obsessed with getting every detail correct," says Apatow via e-mail. Robertson has produced all of Apatow's directorial efforts and co-produced with Apatow several films by his young proteges, like "Pineapple."

Apatow says that she fits right in with his crowd's aesthetics. "She is the rare woman who always wants to take the joke farther than any man wants to go. All nudity in my films is a result of Shauna pushing me and calling me a wimp. If it wasn't for her I would be making 'Bratz 2.' "

Robertson admits that most of her friends -- but not all -- have been guys.

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