Oscar-Winning Producer Ed Saxon’s Seminar – Part 1
On December 3, 2010 Oscar-winning producer Edward Saxon (Silence of the Lambs, Married to the Mob, Adaptation, Beloved) launched his new all day seminar titled “How It Works – Practical Lessons from 25 Years in the Movie Business” at the Red Rock Casino Resort in Las Vegas. Convinced that aspiring filmmakers need access to accurate industry related information in order to make informed career choices, Ed will soon be offering his program in other venues and locations as well beginning in England this spring. Although there was more information offered than I can possibly review, several topics covered during the day included suggestions related to script writing, details about casting and simple facts that need to be taken into account when producing a project.
Among some of the more interesting facts he discussed were how a producer could have as many as a dozen films in production at one time in various stages of development. He also explained that he spends two hours working on a script for every hour that he spends with a screenwriter. He advised writers to come fully prepared when attending meetings and is a definite proponent of the collaborative process stressing the benefits of working with people who want to improve on ideas and make them better. Saxon related that sometimes it is difficult to predict how long a project will take and set an accurate timeline since the amount of time needed for development could vary anywhere from one month to 30 years depending upon how long it takes to option material, do rewrites, hire a director, cast actors, set up a shooting schedule and handle editing and post production.
Taking into account contracts and guild guidelines a writer typically has 12 weeks in which to draft a script, yet Ed admitted this timeframe isn’t exact and that often it may be closer to 16 weeks before one is ready and 22 weeks until a rewrite is good enough to be submitted to a studio. Saxon admitted that part of what keeps him on his continuous search for good stories is that he likes going to movies. He also emphasized the need for collaboration and mutual respect warning how easily creative differences can ruin a project. He offered additional advice to writers that originally came from Francis Ford Coppola recommending that scribes boil their stories down to a sentence or two making sure that the description feels right and serves the story. Using “Silence of the Lambs” as an example he said it was about a woman trying to save another woman. He explained that what makes this different from a logline is that it is not the actual plot, but rather the theme of the story and the drama reflected through the character’s motivation.
Saxon spent a great deal of time discussing the various sources where stories come from and what producers can expect when they work with writers as well as covering several aspects of the casting process. Although the writers are not usually there during auditions producer can join the director and casting director, which Ed prefers to do a majority of the time. As for rehearsals, some directors like Jonathan Demme and Jim Sheridan don’t do it fearing they’ll what they want from the actors in the take if they do through it beforehand. He touched on the variety of ways in which a character could be portrayed and suggested that it’s best to let people have responsibility for their own work first before asking them to try it a different way. He brought up Roger Corman’s advice about heading in one direction and letting actors show off their ideas knowing that you can always go back later and change it. In this way as a director you make people happy about the suggestions they make.
Once the film is cast and you’re in production some directors like having writers on the set while others don’t claiming that each point of view is valid and that people have different styles. Often when writers aren’t there during filming, they see the movie during post-production although some experienced ones prefer to wait and see the movie after it’s finished. Ed also spoke about the importance of producers and directors viewing dailies during the shoot since they offer a fresh look at the material and can sometimes solve editing issues early on. He went on to explain that the production time for a simple studio film is approximately 40 weeks. The first 8-14 weeks is spent in pre-production and involves finding locations, working on the script, hiring crew, building sets and all other prep work. Depending on the size of the budget, whether special effects are in the script or shooting is taking place the film production could last from 6-16 weeks or longer based on a five day work week. Post-production which includes editing, sound including music and finishing touches could last as long as 40 weeks and then the DGA specifies that directors don’t have to show the film to the studio, producers or anyone else for 12 weeks. Because of these time and budget constraints significant reshoots are done while still in production and not afterwards and often audiences are recruited in major cities for test screenings after which they fill out cards rating the production while there is still time for final edits to be made.
For more info about upcoming events and resources check out www.saxonlasvegas.com and stay tuned for more info about the seminar in Part 2 with Ed.