Boozy Poolside Lunches

December 15, 2009

Brightlight Pictures is located at the Bridge Studio

Roadshow stop: Film Executive
Roadshow mentor: Liz Levine, Brightlight Pictures Inc.

It’s pretty obvious from some of my previous posts that I watch too many movies. Or, more accurately, I’m prone to conjure unrealistic fantasies about particular professions based on their on-screen depictions. (See News Reporter or Stockbroker.) I know I’m doing it. And I know it’s wrong. But I can’t help it. Movies often create such a romanticized or ridiculous version of reality that it’s sometimes just hard to resist.

It is because of my willingness to succumb to these film fantasies, that I approached the Roadshow’s next stop with some apprehension. I was going to be a film executive. I wondered if seeing the behind-the-scenes action of this position, which in itself is a behind-the-scenes kind of role, was going to dispel or perpetuate my unrealistic notion of this job. Was I going to wine and dine actors and attend fabulous Hollywood parties? Would I get to zip around the studio lot in a golf cart? Might I discover the next big hit? Would I sacrifice a budding young director’s artistic vision for the sake of making a box office blockbuster? Or was this all just purely the media portrayal that I had bought into?

Just like in the movies--the studio's gated security entrance

I was going to find out while spending a day at Brightlight Pictures, which is located at the Bridge Studio. Before I even stepped foot in the Brightlight office, my film fantasies were reinforced. I pulled up on my scooter to a gated security booth, (just like you see in the movies) and gave the security guard my name. She looked it up on a clipboard, and after verifying my identity, directed me to a parking spot–which had apparently been reserved for my scooter. (I suppose in my film fantasy of this, I would be in a more luxurious vehicle, like a Volkswagon Golf or something.)

Reserved just for my scooter

Brightlight is a Vancouver-based production company that makes independent movies and TV series. They’re probably best known for shows like The Guard and movies such as White Noise, 88 minutes, and The Wicker Man. My mentor for the day was Liz Levine, the Executive Director of Development. Liz has been in the business for more than a decade, and started with Brightlight eight months ago. Her job at Brightlight is to find new concepts and scripts, assess them, and push them forward to production. For some projects she sees them from concept to completed and released product.

Liz’s office was filled with stacks of scripts–all potential projects awaiting their fate. The bound pages representing the heart and soul, and talent, of the author. The number of scripts Liz receives is overwhelming. They are sent in by agents and from people connected to individuals at Brightlight. There’s no way she can read them all on her own, so she’s helped out by a team of creative executives. They write “coverage”, which includes an overview of the story, the reader’s opinion of the script, and a recommendation to Liz on whether or not the project has any potential at Brightlight.

Executive Director of Development Liz Levine

After setting up my laptop on Liz’s leather sofa (which she assured me was not a casting couch), I was given my first script and asked to write the coverage. I had never read scripts before but I know from personal experience that writing dialogue is tough. In fact, I would say it’s one of the hardest things to write well. People tend to write exactly as they speak, and that doesn’t always translate. In a script, so much of the story has to be conveyed in conversation–the plot, the character development, the tension, the themes. This is not an easy feat.

My first script was a TV show–a fast-paced political intrigue drama. And it was pretty good. As I flipped through the pages, I could hear the dialogue, see the characters, and was pulled into the plot. I wanted to know what happened next. So I wrote a coverage that said as much.

My next script was the complete opposite. It was a poor attempt at a TV comedy. I found this genre harder to evaluate, since so much depends on the timing and delivery of the actor. But even the most talented of comedians would have trouble making the lines of this script entertaining, or anything more than shockingly offensive. I wrote a scathing coverage that indicated as much. But as I jotted down words like infantile, cliche, unoriginal, I couldn’t help but think about the editor who passed on Harry Potter. And how quick he was to dismiss the manuscript. It made me second-guess my decision to so easily write off the script as crap. Just because it didn’t appeal to me, didn’t necessarily mean it was a flop. I wondered, was I fulfilling one of my preconceived stereotypes? Was I the ruthless film executive who couldn’t see the artistic vision in front of me?

Just one of the many stacks of scripts in Liz's office

Just one of the many stacks of scripts in Liz's office

I expressed this to Liz, in between her countless phone calls, and she explained that’s why scripts are all read and vetted by at least two people. But even then, it’s sometimes difficult to determine what’s going to be a hit and what’s going to be a bust. Because it’s not just about the script–there is so much more involved in making something a success–the timing, the actors, the director, the producers, the current market, the intended audience. But according to Liz, one thing can be guaranteed:

“If you start with shit, you end up with shit.”

That’s why she advises people to “read, read, read–the more you see the easier it is to identify quality when you see it.”

I decided to trust my gut and give my honest opinion on script #2–that it was “shit”. And hope that I wasn’t passing on the next Arrested Development. (I found out afterward that the second reader also found the script to be an insult to the written word.)

The Bridge Studio's alternative to a fleet of golf carts--a fleet of cruisers

For the rest of the day, I sat in on Liz’s countless meetings. There are so many pieces to putting together a film or TV series–schedules, budgets, talent, marketing–just one film is a huge operation. And Liz and her colleagues work on multiple projects at once. In one breath Liz was trying to fix historical inaccuracies in a dramatic period piece’s script, in the next she was figuring out how to cut millions from an over-budget production plan. And while it wasn’t exactly the Hollywood glamour that I had conjured in my mind (there were no boozy poolside lunches with the talent), it was still exciting. (I especially liked that Liz and all her co-workers referred to actors on a first name basis–dropping names like “Dustin”, “Jamie-Lee” and “Robin”.) The day’s activity didn’t pander to my fantastical notions, nor did it really do anything to dispel them. It just made them a bit more realistic. A film executive has a fast-paced, enthralling job–but it’s not all parties and premieres. They actually have to work, and work hard, in order to get their schmoozing, cutthroat movie and TV counterparts up on the screen.

The Bridge Studio's sole golf cart


One Response to “Boozy Poolside Lunches”

  1. Brenton Says:

    I have a friend who is a producer at CTV, and I think next time I’m in Toronto I’ll ask to follow her for a day. In the summer. I’m sure it’s all patios and martinis and white wine spritzers.

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