On July 16, 2004, we had the pleasure of welcoming producer Julie Richardson of Imaginarium Entertainment Group to our chat room.
Jacinthe/TwoAdverbs> Welcome to the chat, Julie. Love2code, the first question is yours.
[love2code] How did the project “Collateral” get to you? and How long was the process from when you got involved to actually getting the project off the ground?
[julie_richardson] Well, go pour yourself a cup of coffee, because this is a long one…
I met Stuart Beattie in a script analysis class at UCLA in 1996. Shortly afterward, I heard that Edge City — Chuck Russell, Rob Fried and Frank Darabont’s company — was looking for thrillers. I went to Stuart (after a period of time searching for him) and asked if he had any ideas for thrillers. The genre was $5M movies. The outlet was HBO. And this was his first idea for a screenplay which he thought of getting out of a cab when he was….17, maybe.
I asked Stuart to write the script — and this is before either of us were working at all in the industry –and waited, about 6 months actually. Stuart was working on an animation project of his own. Finally, I was tired of waiting and pitched the idea to Darabont, who invited us to pitch the Edge City Team.
It was, hands down, the worst pitch ever for the both of us. Neither of us had pitched prior to this. We both showed up in khakis, white button down shirts and loafers. We looked more like the wait staff than professionals.
HOWEVER, a good idea is a good idea, and with Collateral, the idea was there. Frank caught on, stood up in the middle of the pitch, excited about the two guys in a cab. Rob Fried instantly woke up — like I said, we were dazzling no one, and the idea caught fire. They bought it, developed it under their deal to do genre movies with HBO. HBO passed, thank goodness. After tirelessly trying to shop COLLATERAL around town, and being rejected, we had a breakthrough.
About a year later, I received a call from Marc Haimes at DreamWorks, who had heard about the script. Marc asked that I send it to him that night — it was 6 PM on a Wednesday. Thursday he pitched it to Jeffrey Katzenberg and Walter Parkes, and Friday they put in an offer. The next Monday it sold.
Four years and four months after that, we have a movie coming out. Total time, you count…6 years?
[sarajb] As a producer, does the amount of story control you take on change with each project and how much do you prefer, comfort-wise?
[julie_richardson] Control is a loosely defined word in Hollywood. All stories, unless they’re my originals, and even then there are exceptions, are team efforts. They are actually better that way. I don’t know anyone who writes in a vacuum and does not solicit outside opinions. I’m a very hands on creative producer. I have strong creative opinions, but I don’t believe anyone legislates — unless they’re greenlighting the movie — the way a story should evolve.
What am I comfortable with? Well, I trust my instincts on story; however I’ve also learned that it’s only one woman’s opinion. Hence, I develop stories that I believe I can sell. There would be any number of ways to develop a project, but not all would be the most commercial.
Jacinthe/TwoAdverbs> You describe yourself as a creative producer — how would you depict your involvement in Collateral?
[julie_richardson] I’ll share my experience. Stuart wrote a draft of the screenplay. We put it aside completely, and chose to take another approach to the story. Stuart would write some pages, then I would sit in a room with him and give notes as he reworked it. This lasted the better part of a summer. We turned it in to Edge City. Had a story meeting with Chuck and Frank, who had some FABULOUS IDEAS. They are a dynamic team. To watch Darabont and Russell play off of each other is like watching outtakes of the MASK. They are riotously talented and funny. This continued for the next two years. Stuart did another draft. We turned it in to HBO. Once at DW, we redeveloped the script with Marc Haimes.
It should be mentioned that Stuart did a terrific job. However, Frank Darabont, who will not get credit on the movie and is rarely mentioned, wrote the draft that attached Michael Mann, Russell Crowe, Tom Cruise, et al.
Jacinthe/TwoAdverbs> I find the fact this project took some time to take shape, and ended up quite a vehicle (pun intended, I guess), rather inspiring. Thanks for the answer.
[sarajb] Yes, thanks much!
[Electric_Gumshoe] This is a little long (sorry), but it’s really just one question. It’s been my experience that writers learn a lot about a script from hearing it read, and that you can learn even more from hearing it read with the actual cast. Do you use readings at all during development? Do you ever continue to work with the writer during rehearsals and production? Does a different writer handle rewrites “in the field?”
[julie_richardson] I think writers should use whatever tools they find effective for them. I personally, when writing, have had readings. However, as a producer, I have not.
[Electric_Gumshoe] That makes sense…
[julie_richardson] I happen to know, though, that Tom Cruise and Frank Darabont will read scenes together as they are honing the pages (as we type) to MI3.
[Electric_Gumshoe] Thank you.
[julie_richardson] Thank you.
[Karenp] What changes (i.e., to character, theme, etc.) did Darabont make to the draft that attached Cruise, Crowe, et al?
[Julie_richardson] Darabont did what he does best, which is add a real heart to the story. Now, it was not missing from Stuart Beattie’s draft. He is one of the most big hearted, normal man you’ll ever meet. However, Darabont brought on a narrative focus to the story that sharpened the plotting of the thriller elements. It’s also challenging because Darabont had been giving extensive notes on the story all along, trying to direct Stuart towards the determined objective. I believe what Darabont did was finally execute the vision to which he was directing Stuart.
[julie_richardson] Thank you.
[reblscribe] A. Just like to add another wow to the whole development process that went into bringing Collateral to fruition. B. I noticed 3 Comedies on your slate – when you read a script, what makes you laugh?
[julie_richardson] Funny scripts. Very generic. It’s the truth. I do love comedies and believe that we need them now.
[reblscribe] I’d agree.
[julie_richardson] After working so hard on a few intense and dark projects, I was ready for lighter fare. I just read a script recommended by Chris Lockhart called THE PASSION OF THE ARC, that was utterly delightful. It sold for 1.5 against 2.5 M. Quite the spec sale. A terrifically penned piece of material. It had well developed characters, a huge heart to the story, and a specific goal which needed to be accomplished. God, an old woman who looks like Barbara Streisand, appears to a writer (of DUMMY guides) and tells him she’s gonna clean up. Build an arc, the earth is going down. He can’t keep a goldfish alive, use a hammer, or find a date.
[julie_richardson] Quite a dilemma.
[Nicola] A little earlier you had said that you develop stories that you believe you can sell. What do you consider commercial? Besides the commerciality aspect, what else attracts you to a script or pitch?
[julie_richardson] This is a great question for writers. The first two things an executive wants to know is WHAT IS THE POSTER? and WHAT IS THE TRAILER? Studios don’t want a project they cannot sell — now, I do have a few of those that are tougher arthouse fare.
[sarajb] That’s an eye-opener. Seriously.
[julie_richardson] SERIOUSLY. It’s business for them. It’s all about the bottom line. Good dramas are fine, and the story about your grandmother coming to America is deeply moving, however who are they going to sell it to? It’s a business. They are looking for good pieces of business. A bad year can almost put a studio out of “business.” Hence, they deserve a little compassion for the amount of financial risk they are taking on every project.
Now, I don’t like negotiating with them any more than the next guy, but it’s important to understand their mindset. They are your market, and you need to know THEIR market. So, how are they going to sell this piece of material? That’s what they want to know. An executive at a studio told me that a good title is 50% of the battle. If a project comes into his office without a title, it already has two strikes against it. So NEVER submit and untitled screenplay.
Jacinthe/TwoAdverbs> Very good to know.
[julie_richardson] Oops. Don’t want to give advice.
[julie_richardson] However that has been my experience.
[sarajb] We’ll take any advice you’ve got.
[Nicola] Very interesting. Thank you so much, Julie.
[love2code] I’m still weeping about the 6 YEARS comment
[Karenp] I’ve heard that producers are looking for comedies with one or two huge set pieces but, overall, a movie that could be made cheaply. Is that true?
[julie_richardson] I don’t know what other producers (mysterious, generic term) want, however I know what I’m looking for. I think audiences want good, funny stories with strong characters. What producers are looking for is what they believe audiences want to see. The (very talented) flavor of the minute in comedy is Jack Black/Will Farrell. If you have a script that will land either of these guys, then it will most likely sell.
[Karenp] Thanks — this has been helpful!
[sarajb] Did you want to be a producer early on or did that goal evolve through your other industry experiences?
[julie_richardson] I actually wrote my first short film when I was 17 but, being from GA, didn’t really have the exposure to the industry. I could not have told you what a producer did.
[sarajb] Neither can I.
[julie_richardson] Not many can. It’s a vague job to me. Still.
[julie_richardson] I have, however, always been a good businesswoman. It was learning the art of telling a story that took a lot of work to learn. Are you asking for a bit of career history here?
[sarajb] It’d be interesting to hear your journey to producer.
[julie_richardson] I guess I did it the hard way. I knew no one in LA when I moved here. Had no family in the business, but absolutely anything is possible with hard work and a little luck. Thank god my parents told me that as a child. I was naive enough to believe it, and oddly enough, still do. I worked as a commercial actress briefly, while taking classes and working in commercial production. I learned how to haul trashcans, lay banded, tie in, and show up on time. I did not, however, learn anything about story on those sets. I learned that by doing exactly what you’re doing: asking questions. I would read everything I could get my hands on and try to determine what was wrong with the stories. I hounded poor Mr. Darabont and Mr. Russell with questions.
[sarajb] Kind of what we do here with CL.
[julie_richardson] I wanted to know what they thought, not trying to tell them what I thought. I’ve learned so much more by listening and asking questions.
[julie_richardson] CL is a master.
[sarajb] Agreed. Totally.
[julie_richardson] I think he is one of the smartest men I know. He’s brilliant at story.
[boofies] Do you have story development people and how would they work with a new writer?
[julie_richardson] Diligently. More Dili-than gently. They’ll tell you the truth.
[love2code] CL is her development exec.
[julie_richardson] Chris and I develop as a team. He will sometimes take projects on his own, however I prefer to involve him in the process as much as possible.
SO, yes, we work with new writers. I’ll give you an example, because most of the writers we’re working with have never sold a screenplay. Great story that you’ll appreciate. Had a meeting at FLOWER films, Drew Barrymore’s company. Terrific executive asked what projects I had for Drew and Adam Sandler (the answer was none) so I said, “Let me check.”
Went back and read everything on my shelves to try to find something and did. This little script called MOOSEBEND DISPATCH. The writer was named John Robert Marlow, and no one knew where he was. Not the guild, the Academy, the state government. I couldn’t find him online. I wanted this script, and by god, was going to track him down. So I hired TWO detectives to find this guy. The last address had been in Sacramento. It was no longer his and there was no forwarding address. We looked everywhere. Finally, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences called. He had submitted a script for the Nichol Fellowship, and I found my man. It was too late to submit that to FLOWER, but I had a new project with a great, raw, young writer.
Jacinthe/TwoAdverbs> (note to self: submit to the Nicholl)
[perfumegirlie] How did the script ever got to you?
[julie_richardson] My partner, Nathan Holtz, had read the script back in 1999 and approached John about it. John had also submitted it to Nicholl, as well. Chris and I have worked with John over the past year to develop the project. He has blossomed as a writer. The script had been sitting on our shelves on the (do not toss) pile for that long.
[reblscribe] So about this story idea – a comedy/thriller about a cab driver who drives around two detectives trying to find a writer to make him an offer he couldn’t refuse?
[sarajb] That’s fantastic – so, you’re saying you CAN be discovered in BF, WI.
[perfumegirlie] Incredible you didn’t toss it (into the trash).
[julie_richardson] Isn’t it?
[julie_richardson] Because right now I have about 50- 60 scripts behind my desk waiting to be read.
[perfumegirlie] It’ll be a huge hit.
[julie_richardson] I hope so. He deserves it. He’s worked really hard.
[boofies] After you found him how did you work together? Did he pitch ideas? Submit finished scripts?
[julie_richardson] It was a great conversation. Imagine how flattered he was by that. I told him I wanted the project, what could we do?
[Deus_Ex_Machine] He even has the story on his website.
[julie_richardson] He pitches ideas every time we get together (lol). He’s a regular idea machine. I welcome them, but want to finish this one first.
Jacinthe/TwoAdverbs> Seems like you have a full and interesting slate…and an exciting premiere coming up.
[julie_richardson] Love my life. Am grateful for it.
[boofies] How formed are the ideas? Concepts or the whole story or…
[julie_richardson] Some are rough, some are more formed. I’ll tell you, if you’re going in to pitch a studio, you should know every beat of your story. (I’m doing it again!!! giving advice…)
[boofies] Advice is good.
[julie_richardson] My experience is, my pitches sold when the ideas were well plotted and complete.
[sarajb] That makes sense.
[julie_richardson] We were fortunate with COLLATERAL that the idea was concise. It only needed a few sentences. A real elevated genre movie. HOWEVER, generally they want more.
[boofies] So you had a few sentences. What happened when you read Collateral?
[julie_richardson] Collateral was a pitch. It wasn’t a script. Wait. That’s not entirely true. Stuart had penned like 11 pages of a story about a female cop who was sitting at a fountain, ready to toss in her badge as a hit man was executing a hit. Let’s see if I can remember this… I believe the killer was up for trial the next day and they broke him out of prison to make the hits, then broke him back in. Wow. It was a completely different story.
[perfumegirlie] Do you like female-driven comedies?
[julie_richardson] LOVE FEMALE DRIVEN COMEDIES. Love comedies. Please note that thrillers (Man on Fire aside) are not selling as well right now. Write them, but hold them.
[love2code] <— /search replace HE to SHE and HIM to HER in script
[perfumegirlie] Do you have any first look with any studio?
[julie_richardson] I do not have a deal at this time. However, if you know anyone offering, my number is…
[julie_richardson] We work with all the studios. Some more than others. It’s like being with your friends. You have your favorites, but there are times when you hang with one more than another.
[julie_richardson] Hey guys, keep writing. I hope it goes so well. Listen to Mr. Lockhart. He’s a talent. Write lots of great scripts and send them our way.
[love2code] Thanks for your time.
[Karenp] Thanks, Julie, for your time.
[reblscribe] Julie, thank you! Inspiring stuff.
[sarajb] Thanks so much, Julie.
[perfumegirlie] Thanks for the session!
[julie_richardson] Thank you. Hope you enjoy the film.
[Nicola] Thanks, Julie
[sarajb] I’m sure we will.
[Electric_Gumshoe] Thanks again, Julie.
Jacinthe/TwoAdverbs> Thanks very much for your time and the open door, Julie.