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Book Review: Producing by Geoffrey Macnab

Book Review: Producing by Geoffrey Macnab“Producing” by Geoffrey Macnab & Sharon Swart (find it on Amazon) is a book without an audience. It gives the impression of a series of quickie interviews done for an industry publication and then later tossed together into a book to allow the reporters to re-sell their material.

This book has very pretty pictures. Nicely reproduced and printed.  Some photos are publicity shots from the films’ marketing campaigns or poster pics that are not exclusive to this book. But there are a good number of production stills and truly intimate behind the scenes shots that I don’t remember having seen before.

These pictures look like they’ve been obtained from the archives of the production companies. The pictures and their captions encompass about half the pages in the book.

The pictures are the best part of this weak book.

The book can’t seem to decide if it’s a coffee table book, a peek behind the curtains for film fans or … or what? It ends up being an uncomfortable cross. Who’s the audience?

It certainly isn’t a book for filmmakers or industry insiders, as it doesn’t include any substantive craft or history. Even the gossip is veneer-thin. The introduction takes a stab at appealing to film insiders, with references to the old, long dead and musty Daryl Zanuck, Adolf Zukor, Samuel Goldwyn and Irving Thalberg. But these references are simply in passing, as if to fulfill a requirement.

As a filmmaker, I already know about these guys’ history and contributions; I want to know insider details about craft and process from my more modern peers.

On the other hand, if I were a film fan, I wouldn’t learn anything from the preposterous language substituting for a meaningful analysis of these men’s influence, such as:

“One part mountebank, one part magician, the producer is the ringmaster who keeps the circus going.”

Holy mixed metaphors. Or:

“The control freakery and creative interference … is part of movie lore.”

Yes, do tell.

But they don’t tell.

They do go on with more flowery, insubstantial language:

“A producer must have a Napoleon-like flair for logistics, an eye for talent and the balance sheet … enough charm to woo investors … flintiness to strike tough deals … keen instinct for marketing.”

Please, give us something we can’t’ get from Wikipedia.

The lack of real information continues in the chapters. In a discussion of “Breaking the Waves,” Pete Aalbaek Jensen notes that he not only had to finance the production of the film, but also to “finance the financing.”

As a filmmaker, I want to know more. I want the details. What does he mean? How can I learn from him? But the book once again disappoints; there is no explanation or further elucidation. That thought ends with a single sentence.

So, it’s not a book for filmmakers, industry insiders or producer wannabes. But it isn’t really a coffee table book, either. The copy I received is an oversized paperback, not a nice, large hardcover.  I couldn’t find a hardcover version available for sale. The photo reproduction, though nice, as mentioned above, is nothing spectacular. At just about 50 percent of the book, the picture content is too slim to make a luscious, indulgent coffee table book.

The glossy paper and text color choices make reading many of the pages difficult — perhaps adequate for photo captions or mini-sidebars, but tedious for paragraphs. I don’t think my eyes are that old, but I found it tedious to read the relatively small lilac and white print on a black background on the inside front flap, and impossible to read the pale lilac print on a medium lilac background on the back cover.

The copyright page — yeah, I read these things — has miniature white print on a glossy black background. Can you say “glare”? It might be a designer’s idea of arty (well, 1980s arty), but it’s not legible. The print choices improve on some, not all, interior pages, but overall, most of the book is not comfortable to read.

Luckily, there isn’t much missed by not reading.

Indeed, before I stopped reading, I had found several jarring copyediting and proofreading errors that make the effort seem sloppy, reinforcing my notion that this is a series of fluff interviews done for “The Hollywood Reporter” or “Variety,” and hurriedly squashed together into a book without the care of editorial partners. The entire book appears to be a series of quotable quotes, not giving the reader any understanding of the craft of producing.

On the upside, I found some of the quotes to be very quotable. The chapter about Peter Aalbaek Jensen (producer of “Europa,” “Melancholia” and the Oscar-winning “In a Better World”) is delightful.  He is a funny, outspoken, and down to earth creature.

To balance my overall weak impression of the book, I’ll leave you with some happy quotes from Jensen about directors with whom he’s worked for 30 years.

“Suzanne [Bier] was a great partner for me because she was quite obnoxious and didn’t have any respect for anything.”

“You could say, at that time, career-wise, he [Lars von Trier] was so hated and that was for good reasons, because he was really an asshole. He was so hated that nobody wanted to work with him. Since I was bankrupt also, I think we felt we were two flops who could unite.”

“Was it a good film? Yes. But I never understood what the story was about. It was so arty farty you couldn’t understand the movie.”

When he expanded into international films and using Hollywood stars, he recalls, “At times I thought maybe we had some advantages coming from a shitty little country [Denmark].

Jensen is delightfully frank. It’s fascinating to me that someone who is that outspoken and critical can be a producer, since producing requires one to get along with people. He claims his best skill is in putting people together, which is a great definition of a producer.

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