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What Producers Want

Producer Lynda Obst loves literature. She’s shepherded five novels to the big screen with more in the works. So, what does the producer of films like Contact, How Lose A Guy in Ten Days, and The Fisher King, look for when reading a book or article? By John Folsom

Producer Lynda Obst loves literature. She’s shepherded five novels to the big screen with more in the works. So, what does the producer of films like Contact, How Lose A Guy in Ten Days and The Fisher King, look for when reading a book or article?

• I have a wide range of interests: romantic comedy, non-fiction, drama. As a former newspaper editor, I like things that reflect the zeitgeist in all the genres. That's what excites me.
• I have a passion for science: Astronomy, biology, anthropology. This is "science faction." True stories of scientific discoveries, scientists’ quests for knowledge, but grounded in real scientific fact or theory.
• If it has a great hook.
• Big ideas. Something transcendent. Stories with epic ideas if not epic scope. Stories with a universal appeal. Driven by great characters.

On working with authors:
• It depends. Some want to be a part of the process, while others want nothing to do with it.
• For Contact, I insisted Carl Sagan be brought on as producer and be a part of the process from the beginning.
• He and I argued about the ending of the book being in the movie. The ending of the book involves the concept of pi. He wanted to keep it in, but I didn’t think a mainstream audience would know what pi was. In the end, he agreed.

On working with the screenwriter:
• When adapting a novel, I have a list of screenwriters whose work I know and love. Or, if they have shown they have a talent for a particular genre I’ll work with them.
• There are meetings between myself and the screenwriter and among the screenwriter, the producer and the studio. Everybody brings his ideas to the table.
• The screenwriter then goes off to write. I become a bit of an organizer, the captain, the person who brings everything together and pushes it through to a final draft, and remembers why we bought it in the first place.

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