Stars adding ‘pro­ducer’ to re­sume

The Daily Herald - - SHORT TAKES - By Lynn El­ber

LOS AN­GE­LES — The ac­tor’s clas­sic mantra: “What I re­ally want to do is di­rect.” The re­vised ver­sion: “I want to pro­duce.”

More en­ter­tain­ers are get­ting the chance to play the role of pro­ducer as the ex­pand­ing uni­verse of ca­ble chan­nels and, es­pe­cially, on­line plat­forms make for big op­por­tu­ni­ties on small screens.

With mo­ti­va­tions ranging from pas­sion projects to ca­reer ad­vance­ment, stars — and even their jour­ney­men coun­ter­parts — are get­ting into the game.

“Ac­tors need to pro­duce be­cause they need to con­trol ma­te­rial and be ahead of the busi­ness,” said Roy Ash­ton, the Gersh Agency’s head of TV. “With the Net­flixes and Hu­lus and ev­ery­thing else, it’s re­ally about own­ing con­tent, con­trol­ling it and con­trol­ling your des­tiny.”

The flashiest ex­am­ples re­main the­atri­cal re­leases from heavy­weights such as Brad Pitt, who’s dab­bled in TV but largely used his clout to help pro­duce films in­clud­ing the Os­car-win­ning “12 Years a Slave” and “Selma.”

Pitt is mak­ing se­ri­ous TV for­ays as a pro­ducer for the up­com­ing minis­eries “Lewis and Clark” and the lim­ited series “Feud.” Ac­tress and film pro­ducer Reese Wither­spoon (“Wild,” ”Gone Girl”) is pro­duc­ing and star­ring in the an­nounced lim­ited series “Big Lit­tle Lies.”

While in­di­vid­ual re­spon­si­bil­i­ties vary de­pend­ing

on the project, a pro­ducer or pro­duc­tion team’s tasks in­clude ob­tain­ing fi­nanc­ing and su­per­vis­ing cast­ing, writ­ing and the di­rec­tor who will guide film­ing.

Amid the crush of out­lets and shows jock­ey­ing for view­ers, a celebrity’s be­hind-the-cam­era in­volve­ment may be seen as a way to build a project’s buzz.

Ac­tors who have a way with words can be­come sought-af­ter pro­duc­ers, the re­sult of TV’s tra­di­tional re­liance on writer-showrun­ners in con­trast to film­dom’s wor­ship of di­rec­tors. Tina Fey (“Un­break­able Kimmy Sch­midt”) and Amy Poehler (“Broad City”) are among the ex­am­ples.

“Peo­ple like Amy and Tina are be­ing given pro­duc­tion deals by net­works look­ing for these peo­ple to ex­pand on their voice,” said Steve Carell, who wears a pro­ducer’s hat for “Angie Tribeca,” TBS’ po­lice par­ody series.

Mu­sic star John Le­gend is an in­creas­ingly ac­tive pro­ducer with projects

for TV (“Un­der­ground”) and the big screen (film­maker Cary Fukanaga’s in-de­vel­op­ment “The Black Count”).

He dis­misses any no­tion he’s in it for the so-called van­ity credit which, with a mon­e­tary bonus, can be a lure for some.

“Peo­ple find out pretty quickly I don’t just do it to slap my name on things,” Le­gend said. “I care about the kinds of sto­ries be­ing told un­der my name, so I try to in­ter­act with writ­ers and di­rec­tors as much as pos­si­ble.”

Al­though to­day’s big­gest names can’t en­sure suc­cess — HBO re­versed its de­ci­sion to re­new the drama series “Vinyl” for a sec­ond sea­son de­spite the in­volve­ment of pro­duc­er­cre­ators Mick Jag­ger and Martin Scors­ese — “Sur­vivor’s Re­morse” is re­turn­ing July 24 for its third sea­son on Starz with Mike O’Mal­ley, a vet­eran ac­tor (“Glee,” ”Yes, Dear”) and writer (“Shame­less”), in charge as cre­ator and ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer.

The chang­ing world of TV of­fers more op­por­tu­ni­ties for sto­ries told by and about peo­ple of color and other mi­nori­ties — es­pe­cially no­table given this year’s all-white slate of Os­car act­ing nom­i­nees.

“What’s great about tele­vi­sion right now is there are so many dif­fer­ent av­enues for con­tent. It al­lows tele­vi­sion to have real di­ver­sity,” Le­gend said.

“Any of us who have power should try to use that power to tell great sto­ries that re­flect what’s hap­pen­ing in the world and re­flect the au­di­ence that’s out there,” he said. “They are thirsty for con­tent fea­tur­ing peo­ple who look like them, and it’s not just black peo­ple: it’s Asians, it’s Lati­nos, it’s the gay and les­bian com­mu­nity.”

In an in­dus­try in which men dom­i­nate on- and off-screen jobs, pro­duc­ing is giv­ing women an in­flu­en­tial path. Wither­spoon’s pro­duc­tion com­pany, for ex­am­ple, has fo­cused on film and TV projects with fe­male pro­tag­o­nists.

Af­ter Joanne Frog­gatt read a grip­ping script about Mary Ann Cot­ton, a 19th-cen­tury se­rial killer in Eng­land, she used the ca­chet she gained as Anna Bates on PBS’ hit drama “Down­ton Abbey” to help drive “Dark An­gel.”

As as­so­ciate pro­ducer as well as star, Frog­gatt was tasked with get­ting PBS’ agree­ment to air the minis­eries, due in 2017, and had a hand in choos­ing the di­rec­tor, hair and makeup artists, and cos­tume de­signer.

“It’s not some­thing that hap­pens a lot in tele­vi­sion in Eng­land, much more so in the States,” the Bri­tish ac­tress said. “It’s re­ally nice to voice that opinion and be heard.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS Mu­si­cian John Le­gend’s pro­duc­tion cred­its in­clude “Un­der­ground” and “The Black Count.”

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