What’s the difference between this producing class and the other classes you’ve taught at?
KATZ & TOLKIN: They were young. They all seem so successful already. They are very ambitious and successful. We thought it’s a more for mid-career people. So they seem pretty young for mid-career.
What did you prepare for the class?
TOLKIN: We looked closely the list the most successful movies in China. I watched Monster Hunt. We discovered that the original Star War which every single one of Americans have watched, is anonymous here.
How did you feel about lecturing here?
KATZ: It seemed like a lot of students were already working with American companies, some of the companies to finance things. But they are a little bit out of the scene. They just are working with them but not that involved, not creatively involved. They wanna understand what else they should be doing and how they could be doing things. Hopefully we can answer some questions on how to get involved more creatively. How producers develop and work out a material, not just understand how the business is run, but understand how we act creatively, how we develop things.
What makes a good producer? Education or practice?
TOLKIN: Neither of us went to film school. We both learned the hard way. I wish that I could have more education before I jump into the lake, the freezing cold lake.
KATZ: To me that the most important quality is you are persistent and patient. Those are the two things. But you also have to be a good problem-solver and you have to anticipate problems, because you never know what the problem is. You have to try to stop things going wrong before they go wrong. You have to have a creative instinct, a gut instinct to tell you something it feels like it would be a good movie or a good story or what would make it better, what might make it worse. You have to understand people, how to put the right people together. Cause a lot of what you do is matchmaking.
Is the same in the US that people are craving to acquire IPs (Intellectual Property)?
KATZ: Everybody wants it more and more important because it gives you a sense that it has worked before, as a play or a television show, and it may work in another way as a movie. You’re trying find another use for it. There is so much success for previous IP, like House of Cards, like Homeland, like the Office, like so many movies that are based on plays or books.
In China there’s still the director-central system. What’s the importance of a producer to a well-established system?
KATZ: Producers can develop many things, it gives you more products for more directors. If the director is the only one developing things, they can only do so many things. If they’re going to direct it, then there are limit about the things they get made. The producer gets many things going. The problem with the directors controlling development is they don’t think necessarily like the producer, they only thinking about what they want to direct. While the producer is thinking, let’s see, let’s make something comedy, let’s make a drama, let’s make a thriller, let’s make science fiction and find things for lots of different directors. I think it will make the industry grow faster.
What’s the relationship like between a strong director and a strong producer?
KATZ: The problem with a director controlling development and controlling making it, is that there is no checks and balances. When you have a strong producer or a strong director, you can have checks and balances and maybe you can have a couple of strong points of view, maybe a better answer comes out a bit. The young producers study here have to just learn to be strong if they have good vision. They have to realize that their vision is as important just as the director’s. But even in America, automatically, the final creative set of movie is from the director. You are between the studio and the director, so you need to balance the financial interests from the creative interests and find the best solution all the time. But also you have to earn the director’s respect. Especially in China, when the director is really, really, really strong and an experienced one. When I was a partner with Wolfgang Peterson, I was much younger than him. I was just starting out as a producer. But he suddenly thought, oh, she is pretty smart, I want her opinion on this. And I gave him my opinion as if I’ve been doing it for 20 years, even though I just started doing it. I think you have to really just be as strong and smart as you can. You have to be knowledgeable, you have to see many, many movies, read many, many scripts. Even if you have made a lot of movies, you need to be as knowledgeable as you can be about what you’re trying to do.
TOLKIN: As a director, you must be smart enough to know you need producers. When I was directing, I want the producer to watch my back to make sure everything to support me, to help me work out, to help me solve the problems. You really want a good director with good sense. Even Martin Scorsese had the right producer and he was making good movies.
What’s your suggestion to the producers?
KATZ: Figuring out how to get a good script. If you don’t have a good script, you’ll never make good movies. You’ve got to understand all those things that make good story-telling. Just as simply as that.
TOLKIN: Hire everybody being very rigorously tough on themselves and making sure everything are really great before they shoot. Writers, directors, producers, studios, everybody.