Scott's World -- UPI Arts & Entertainment

By VERNON SCOTT, United Press International  |  Feb. 19, 2002 at 5:23 PM
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HOLLYWOOD, Feb. 19 (UPI) -- Perhaps the most ambiguous title in Hollywood is "producer," a term that covers a multitude of jobs, chicanery, nepotism, blatant fraud and maybe even bribery.

The dictionary identifies a show business producer: "a person in charge of the financing and coordination of all activities in connection with the production of a play, film, radio or TV program."

This, of course, begs the question, leading to a variety of interpretations.

To a beautiful young wannabe actress, a producer is a paunchy, baggy-eyed old goat who promises her a role in his new movie in exchange for a weekend in Las Vegas.

To a studio executive a producer may be his brother-in-law, an unemployed pal short of cash, or his son who needs a screen credit.

To an agent a producer might be a rich guy looking for glory or a trip to Vegas with a cutie and who is willing to toss a few million bucks into a film project.

To the uninitiated he is an anonymous Tinseltown bigshot who makes movies or takes credit for making them.

Today's producers can be all of these things.

They may also be hard-working individuals with a property (novel, script, treatment or outline) who has an actor and director interested in bringing it to the screen.

The term originated in the early days of Hollywood when somebody had to be boss of a movie.

Sometimes it was a star or a director or an executive charged with the responsibility of seeing that a movie was made on budget and who could keep a carnival of psychotics in line until a motion picture could be completed in a limited time frame.

This was no easy task when all the actors wanted close-ups, the directors demanded a free hand, the crews called for more money and the writers rebelled.

Louis B. Mayer and other studio moguls often hired relatives to take charge; they were called producers. They were paid large salaries and took a good many soubrettes to Vegas.

After a time, it was discovered many an ineffectual producer knew little about movie-making, necessitating the hiring of assistant producers, associate producers, co-producers, line producers, executive producers.

A classic story involves the night "Casablanca" won the Academy Award for best picture (1942).

When the announcement was made, Hal Wallis, the film's executive producer and the man who shepherded the picture all the way through, started down the aisle to accept the Oscar, but studio boss Jack Warner was faster and closer to the stage.

The astonished audience was left non-plussed by the race for the podium.

Warner smilingly accepted the award as Wallis retreated to his seat. A few weeks thereafter Wallis severed his long-term contract with Warner Bros. and set up shop at Paramount. The breach was never healed.

In recent years announcement of best picture of the year has resulted in low comedy at the Academy Awards when as many as eight "producers" jostled one another on stage to share the Oscar.

They shook hands, patted one another on the back and elbowed for better position in front of the cameras so friends and relatives could see them.

They were a bunch of guys in tuxedoes looking for 10 seconds of ostentatious hypocrisy.

The academy has pushed these clowns off stage. But they cannot, of course, keep their names off movie credits.

It was voted by the Producers Guild of America two years ago to limit the number of producers on stage to three, a move that pleased the academy and spared viewers the unsightly litter of nobodies in the limelight.

The decision was made following the 1999 awards. Five "producers" stormed the stage when "Shakespeare in Love" was announced as the winner of best picture.

The thank-you speech was made by Harvey Weinstein, head of Miramax, who was listed as producer of the picture in the credits.

It is a rule that only ONE individual may be credited as Producer, no matter how many other people are given credit as associates, assistants ad nauseam.

Ed Zwick, no stranger to taking bows in public as a producer, was one of the five camera hogs on stage struggling to get to the microphone that ill-fated night. He didn't make it, however, and later voiced his displeasure at having been aced out of the distinction.

That night Zwick was just another glory-seeker in a tuxedo lost among the other characters seeking eminence and distinction for his connection with the picture. Perhaps such a nicety is relevant in Hollywood where every hint or tweak mention on the most important Hollywood TV special is important to the ambitious.

Now, two years later, aside from a few souls in Hollywood no one knows or cares who Weinstein is, much less Zwick.

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