It was one of those moments.
As a screenwriter or filmmaker you’re constantly studying structure, dialogue, what makes a good scene, distribution, financing, who’s hot, who owes you a favor, and pondering your latest rejection. Then one of those moments happens. One of those moments that reminds you why you decided to become involved in this craziness.
This particular moment happened at the Producers Guild of America’s “Produced By Conference,” held June 4-5, 2011 at The Walt Disney Studios, during the session titled “Conversation: Mark Gordon and Harvey Weinstein.”
The session, moderated by PGA East’s Chairman John Hadity, brought together two Hollywood heavyweights: on stage, Mark Gordon (Producer: Source Code, 2012, Saving Private Ryan, The Patriot, Speed, Grey’s Anatomy, Criminal Minds) and, via satellite from New York, Harvey Weinstein (Producer: The King’s Speech, The Fighter, Inglourious Basterds, Rambo, Sin City, The Lord of the Rings, Chocolat).
Neither of these gentlemen come across as emotional softies. They project old-school Hollywood, with over 300 movies produced between them; they’ve been there and done that.
So, what about that moment?
The conversation turned to Gordon’s production Saving Private Ryan.
Gordon said he had heard about how so many veterans had been emotionally touched by Saving Private Ryan. “I wasn’t trying to do that with it,” he said. “I spent a year with the writer working on these characters, working on their relationships. I wasn’t trying for that effect. It just happened.”
Then Weinstein joined in. “You know, I once wrote a letter to Steven Spielberg about that film.” Spielberg directed Saving Private Ryan.
On the Disney sound stage where this conversation was taking place, Weinstein’s roughhewn face was projected on a giant screen. As he began to tell the story you could see the very honest emotion overtake him. “When we were kids,” he said, “and those Errol Flynn and John Wayne World War II movies would come on the TV, my dad would turn them off and walk out of the room. He would never talk about it and we couldn’t get my mom to talk about it either.”
Weinstein was very moved as he continued: “When Saving Private Ryan came out, of course, Dad was dead by then, I thought I began to understand. So, I talked to Mom and she finally opened up. I learned a lot about my dad and so did the rest of the family. I got to understand my dad in a way I never had while he was alive. It was something that never would have happened without that film.”
Touching people and connecting them; that’s what it’s all about. The cynic will always say, “Sure, but what about making millions of dollars?”
Gordon put it this way: “I do not subscribe to the ‘Let’s find out what people like and give it to them’ school of film making. I subscribe to ‘What gets me excited and moves me.’” Gordon explained, “Unless we are passionate about it we don’t do it, or we know for sure it’s going to make us a lot of money, OK? If both, that’s better.”
Weinstein agreed, citing two of Gordon’s films as examples, 2012, an end-of-the world visual thrill ride, and The Messenger, about soldiers assigned to notify survivors that their loved one has been killed. “So, you make 2012,” he said, “which is a great popcorn movie. I saw it with my kids. Then you take your profits from that and make The Messenger.”
End result: you touch people’s lives, and those are moments worth working toward.