MICHELE NORRIS, host:
This Sunday marks the 83rd annual Academy Awards, and we've noticed that nearly all of the nominees for Best Picture have one thing in common. I'm talking about the credits. Usually at the beginning of the movie, when you see the names of the producers and companies that got the movie made, they flash onscreen, one after another after another after another.
NPR's Cory Turner tried to find out why there are so many producers these days.
CORY TURNER: This year's 10 Best Picture nominees have 110 producers among them: co-producers, line producers, associate producers, executive and co-executive producers. Trying to decipher who actually made these movies left me feeling like Laurence Olivier on the hunt for the real Spartacus.
(Soundbite of film)
Unidentified Man #1 (Actor): (As character) I'm Spartacus.
Unidentified Man #2 (Actor): (As character) I'm Spartacus.
Unidentified Man #3 (Actor): (As character) I'm Spartacus.
Unidentified People: I'm Spartacus.
TURNER: A hundred and ten producers seemed like a lot. But what do I know? So I called up one of the masters.
Mr. LARRY TURMAN (Producer): Wow.
(Soundbite of laughter)
TURNER: That's Larry Turman. He produced a little picture called "The Graduate." 110 seemed like a lot to him, too, and way too many for me to explain. So I'm going to focus on one movie.
(Soundbite of music)
TURNER: "The King's Speech" began as a stage play. The writer's agent, Joan Lane, gave it to a pair of enterprising young movie producers: Simon Egan and Gareth Unwin, our first two producers.
They optioned David Seidler's stage play and paid him to turn it into a screenplay. The pair had little going for them except for a good story and one very good actor, Geoffrey Rush, who'd also gotten the play from Seidler's agent. Here's Gareth Unwin.
Mr. GARETH UNWIN (Producer): Basically, she posted the stage play through his front door, and he came down to breakfast one morning, and there was this little orphan script sort of sat on the doormat.
TURNER: Rush not only read it, he liked it and let the producers put his name on it. And for that, he's not only in the credits as actor but executive producer.
Screenplay in hand, Unwin needed help raising the film's $15 million budget. So he brought in Iain Canning and Emile Sherman.
It's these three lead producers you'll see take the stage Sunday if "The King's Speech" wins Best Picture. There was just one very big problem, says Canning.
Mr. IAIN CANNING (Movie Producer): We were financing the film with the backdrop of the financial crisis. It was a time when any film which, whatever the prefix, that had drama in it, was seen as being very hard from an audience commercial perspective.
TURNER: But with Geoffrey Rush involved, the project did attract some backers, including Mark Foligno and partner Deepak Sikka. They put in a small piece of the budget. And in return, they got executive and co-executive producer credits.
For those of you counting at home, that makes seven. To sift through the financing offers, the producers of "The King's Speech" hired Libby Savill. What does she do?
Ms. LIBBY SAVILL (Producer): Well, I'm a partner in a law firm.
TURNER: A lawyer for people trying to make movies. Among the project's suitors was The Weinstein Company. In the 1990s, Harvey and Bob Weinstein all but cornered the market on small, award-winning movies. But a few years ago they lost their way in a wilderness of bad choices and bad movies.
"The King's Speech" must have seemed, to Harvey Weinstein and his team, like a chance to return to form. Libby Savill.
Ms. SAVILL: They kind of jumped on the airplane and came over here and parked themselves at my offices, which is - and I mean, I know them incredibly well. So I know the modus operandi. But it's incredibly effective, actually.
TURNER: Two more executive producers, Harvey and Bob Weinstein. Plus, for her trouble, Libby Savill got a co-executive-producer credit.
Now, if you're thinking, after 10 producers and a big money commitment from the Weinsteins that "The King's Speech" was a go, you're wrong.
Ultimately, they needed five more producers to make their movie. And that brings our grand total to 15.
Mr. MARK GORDON (Movie Producer): From the financial side, the fact that these people have chosen to take credit, I wish that they wouldn't.
TURNER: That's Mark Gordon, producer of "Saving Private Ryan" and co-president of The Producers Guild. The fact is, there haven't always been this many producers' names in the credits. Just ask Larry Turman how many people produced "The Graduate."
Mr. TURMAN: One person, moi, me alone.
TURNER: Turman optioned the novel with his own money and then raised outside financing when the Hollywood studios all said no.
Mr. TURMAN: There's been a slow but inexorable devaluation of producing.
TURNER: Mark Gordon agrees. He was one of eight producers on "Saving Private Ryan." But he made a far smaller film, released just last year, called "The Messenger," and it needed 13 producers.
Mr. GORDON: Because that movie was cobbled together financially, that was the price that had to be paid in order to get the movie made.
TURNER: In other words, it's often true that the bigger the movie, the fewer the producers. That's why "Toy Story 3" has three producers, and "The Kids Are All Right" needed 20.
The allure of getting your name on a movie has become a kind of bait to lure investors to movies that big studios just won't touch. To be fair to producers who do more than write a check, Gordon and The Producers Guild are working on a system that would make it clearer in the credits to audiences who did the heavy lifting.
In the meantime, we're left with 10 very good movies up for Best Picture, 110 producers and one nagging question. Does it matter how many people take credit for a good movie, as long as the movie gets made? Again, Gareth Unwin.
Mr. UNWIN: You know, it's about getting that film into production, getting it made and getting it as good as you possibly can. And, you know, whether that's from the toil of one person or 50, then, you know, we're a results-based industry, as they say.
TURNER: An industry that will always find a way to leave us speechless.
Cory Turner, NPR News.
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