Tuesday, January 18, 2011

What's a Post-Production Exec?/Being Steven Spielberg

Los Angeles, CA.  January 6, 2011.

     Marty Cohen, an old friend, has resigned as head of post-production at Paramount.  The truth is, I don’t think Marty ever liked the job.  He took it after running post at Dreamworks (and Amblin, its predecessor), simply because Steven Spielberg asked him to.  Amblin and Dreamworks were boutiques, built around one great filmmaker (Mr. Spielberg.)  Paramount is a large corporate entity inside a mega-conglomorate.  And Marty’s always been more of a boutique kind of guy. 

     His departure brings back a fond memory of the Amblin days.  But before sharing it, I should explain what a studio post production head does, since no one outside the movie business would know.  In fact, aside from those who work in post-production itself -- the period from the end principal photography on a film through the striking of prints that will be shipped to shopping mall cinemas -- most people in  the film industry  are unaware of the position.

     Marty’s job was to oversee the studio’s post supervisors.  The supervisors are responsible for budgeting, making deals on and scheduling every aspect of the editing, sound editing, sound mixing, visual effects, color correction and titles of the company’s movies.  They’re the ones who approve overtime for any of the dozens of editors, assistant editors,visual effects technicians and sound editors whose names you see in end title sequences.   Consulting with the post v.p., they have to schedule test screenings in a way that accounts for the filmmakers’ needs and  the time commitments of  busy studio executives.  

     In addition to monitoring and guiding the work of supervisors, Marty’s former job and that of his colleagues at the other studios, entails being a laison between filmmakers and heads of the studios.  It is often the post executive’s difficult task to present an estimate of overages that getting a film into theatres on its release date will entail.  Even more stressful, the work often requires saying “no” to extremely demanding producers and directors. 

     But, to be sure, the job has its lighter aspects.   One of these is simply getting to know a lot of editors and sound editors (and their strengths and weaknesses).  That part, dining and chatting with cutters, brings me back to my fond recollection.

     Marty, in a way, was the Tom Hagen of post supervisors:  like the Godfather’s cosigliere,  he had “a special practice with only one cllient.”   Nonetheless, he managed to keep up with editors.  He and I met when I edited “Swing Kids,” a film that Spielberg producing partner Frank Marshall executive produced in 1992.  About a year later, we planned a catch-up lunch at Joseph’s Cafe on Yucca and Ivar in Hollywood, which, at the time, didn’t accept credit cards.  [The most hardcore fans of Billy Wilder’s “Sunset Boulevard” will recognize that intersection of Yucca and Ivar as the location of Joe Gillis (William Holden)’s apartment.]

     Marty was due back from London (where he’d been on a mission for Amblin) the day before we were to dine.  But flight delays caused him to arrive at LAX a mere few hours before our scheduled meal.  Somehow, he made it right on time.  In order too do so, however, he’d had to forego exchanging his British pounds for dollars.  So I picked up the tab.  For Steven Spielberg’s head of post production!  We had a good laugh.

     It turned out, though, that Marty took it seriously.  Within minutes of my return home, a runner from Amblin was at my door with cash to reimburse me for the lunch.  In Hollywood, where image is everything, Steven Spielberg picks up the tab.  Always.

     Ironically, about ten years after that incident, I had another “only in Hollywood” experience with Mr. Spielberg and dining out.  I’d decided to sport a beard, which grew in kind of salt-and-pepper.  My dress style at the time was L.A. casual:  jeans, white tennis shoes, baseball cap.  I wore wire framed glasses.  Underneath the cap, the glasses and the beard, I had what my grandmother used to call a yiddishe punim (a Jewish face).  And at my stature, I wasn’t getting signed by the Lakers any time soon.  

     So I began to get exceptionally good treatment in cafes and restaurants.  Suspecting what was up, I started to tip really well.  Way above the norm.  After all, I didn’t want Mr. Spielberg -- for whom I’d been mistaken -- to get an unearned reputation as a tightwad.  

     One Sunday night my wife and I went to a lovely eatery, called Cynthia’s on Third.  The place was quite empty; there were lots of vacant tables.  But Cynthia sat us right next another couple... J-Lo and Ben Affleck!  Our meal was great, if a bit pricey for a film editor and a speech therapist -- the more so because of my exhorbitant tip.  

     I went home and shaved.

     Of course, the above has nothing to do with Marty Cohen or post production.  Except that it’s hard for most editors to think about Marty without thinking of his long-standing professional relationship with Steven Spielberg.  He was, after all, Mr. Spielberg’s post supervisor on every film the director made in the past two decades.  That’s an incredible track record in a crucial job about which the general public and most people in the film industry know next to nothing.  We editors, I'm sure, all wish Marty the best of luck in his post-Paramount period!    


1 comment:

  1. Michael I missed this blog and I give you a big reach out and Thank You for the kind words!!!!!!!!!!