Kevin is joined by veteran producer and Hollywood creative executive, Todd Garner.
Todd Garner, Producer
Todd Garner, formerly the Disney co-head of production, emerged from one of the most turbulent periods in that studio's history and transitioned from executive to producer. He co-founded Revolution Studios and then started his own production company, Broken Road Productions. He has developed, overseen, executive produced, or produced more than 170 films for more than a dozen studios and streaming services, including 25 films & television shows under his banner.
The science and art of audience testing (4:51)
Todd and Kevin discuss some of the intricacies of audience testing. Kevin talks about what he calls the science and art of audience testing and moving the audience from simply liking a film to developing a love connection with it. Todd and Kevin both agree that it’s about more than just the numbers.
Todd’s journey (8:21)
Todd recounts his journey from doing sketch comedy in high school to studying art and economics in college to a job at a major bank, and how that led to working at the Arsenio Hall Show. He talks about how his combined business & art background provided the fertile ground for a career as a producer and creative executive.
Words of advice from Jerry Bruckheimer (21:57)
Kevin states how much he admires how Todd has both the creative and business sense to be such a prolific producer. Todd mentions one of the best pieces of advice he ever received from his mentor, Jerry Bruckheimer, who said “I just make movies for me.” Todd talks about how that has guided his decision making, and how he strives to be emotionally connected to his movies.
The business of movies (28:07)
Kevin and Todd discuss how movies are greenlit in the studio system and the economics of marketing and PR when dealing with a theatrical release versus a release on a streaming service. The pair discuss why comedies, particularly romantic comedies, are easier to produce on a streaming service. What follows is an insider’s perspective on the economic advantage the streaming services have over the Hollywood studios.
A wide range of mentors (36:44)
Kevin asks Todd about his mentors, and who he looks up to in the industry. Todd talks about filmmakers who influenced him like Howard Hawks and Mel Brooks. He then talks about mentors who he worked with like Jeffrey Katzenberg, Jerry Bruckheimer, and Adam Sandler.
Memorable audience screenings (45:16)
Kevin asks Todd about his most memorable audience screenings from the 500 or so they have worked on together. Todd talks about Kevin’s gift of analyzing what is going on behind the audience research numbers and improving the movie through the audience analysis. Todd relates a hilarious story from the Con Air test screening.
Host: Kevin Goetz
Guest: Todd Garner
Producer: Kari Campano
For more information about Todd Garner’s upcoming projects:
For more information about Kevin Goetz:
Audienceology Book: https://www.simonandschuster.com/books/Audience-ology/Kevin-Goetz/9781982186678
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram: @KevinGoetz360
Linked In @Kevin Goetz
Screen Engine/ASI Website: www.ScreenE
Podcast: Don't Kill the Messenger with Movie Research Expert Kevin Goetz
Guest: Veteran Producer & Hollywood Creative Executive Todd Garner
There's a little-known part of Hollywood that most people are not aware of known as the audience test preview. The recently released book, Audienceology, reveals this for the first time. Our podcast series, Don't Kill the Messenger, brings this book to life, taking a peek behind the curtain. And now, join author and entertainment research expert Kevin Goetz.
Kevin Goetz (00:24):
I set out on a narrow way many years ago, hoping I would find true love along the broken road, but I got lost a time or two, wiped my brow and kept pushing through. I couldn't see how every sign pointed straight to you. These are the lyrics from the song Bless the Broken Road, by The Rascal Flats, and the inspiration for the naming of my next guest's production company, Broken Road Productions. Todd Garner. I've known Todd for a long time, has indeed, indeed been down that road. He's formerly the Disney co-head of production where I first met him. He emerged from one of the most turbulent periods in that studio's history and transitioned from executive to producer. He co-founded Revolution Studios and then he started his own production company, Broken Road. He has developed, listen to this, overseen, executive produced, or produced more than 170 films for more than a dozen studios and streaming services, including 25 films and television shows under his Broken Road banner. I think I worked on probably, Todd, maybe three quarters of them with you over the years.
Todd Garner (01:36):
Probably more than three quarters actually.
Kevin Goetz (01:39):
Maybe more. And by the way, I do want to mention among all the things that Todd does, he has and has had his own wonderful podcast, Hollywood's Elite. I've been a guest on it, so I thought the only thing I could do to return that favor was to now turn the tables on you and hear your story. He is currently shooting in Hawaii and has taken the time out of his 10-hour day schedules to be here. Aloha Todd.
Todd Garner (02:09):
Aloha <laugh>. You know what's so funny is this is the sequel to Vacation Friends, a movie that we had a very hilarious preview process on.
Kevin Goetz (02:19):
Todd Garner (02:20):
We can, which we can get to, or we can start with
Kevin Goetz (02:22):
Start with, start with.
Todd Garner (02:24):
So, this movie is a 20th movie, and we started this movie in Puerto Rico, and we shot in two weeks and wrapped in Puerto Rico on March 13th, 2019, which was the day the world shut down. So, we came back seven months later and filmed this movie, the first one in the heart of the pandemic, no vaccines or anything. And then had to do the entire preview process during Covid. Had to be one of the first batch of movies that we're previewing during Covid because everybody thought, oh, you know what? They've had real success doing big, big movies, doing these Zoom company-wide previews. And I remember saying to Bob Iger, I think this is a really bad idea, <laugh>, because comedies are not, you know, they're so, so subjective. You know, everybody has a different idea of what a comedy was and I'm just worried that on Zoom it's not going to work, and using employees is not going to work. And it didn't <laugh> it didn't work at all.
Kevin Goetz (03:32):
But then I evolved my Virtuworks platform. And I will tell you that even in comedies, which is an online platform for screenings, even with the comedies, I have to tell you that you get is the story landing. Sure, you don't get maybe that contagious reaction and so forth about individual jokes that are working. Is the story landing? Do they care about the characters? Is the ending working? You still get that. So, I always think there's tremendous value in just polling an audience.
Todd Garner (04:02):
You know, what was great about that is I went completely crazy on everybody in your poor person that was on the call.
Kevin Goetz (04:09):
Todd Garner (04:10):
Like he went nuts.
Kevin Goetz (04:11):
Oh, I heard that last night. Your friend Todd is not happy.
Todd Garner (04:16):
And you texted me and I heard you're not happy. And I said, no, I just think it doesn't work. I think it might be too early. Whatever.
Kevin Goetz (04:21):
I actually think I said wtf
Todd Garner (04:25):
Kevin Goetz (04:25):
What the fuck? Why are you yelling at my people, Todd.
Todd Garner (04:29):
Specifically, I was yelling at everybody.
Kevin Goetz (04:31):
Todd Garner (04:32):
And then we went to Vegas and you, you and Clay Tarver, the writer/director went to Vegas. And my favorite thing you said is you said, Todd, we haven't had numbers like this on a comedy, well since your last comedy <laugh>. Ah, it was like, ah,
Kevin Goetz (04:45):
Wait, what was the last one? What was the last one before that? Do you remember?
Todd Garner (04:48):
Gosh, before that. It must have been either.
Kevin Goetz (04:49):
Because it was really tested high.
Todd Garner (04:51):
It probably was Isn't it Romantic, which reviewed really well. I don't remember. But yeah, so look, the thing about what you do is, which is so fascinating to me is if you don't truly understand data and testing, it can be a very, this process can be very fraught with a lot of dead ends, bad roads, cul-de-sacs and, you know, head on collisions because you know, it's hard. It's hard what you do and you're so good at it. And you always give such good perspective of like, look, these are the numbers, but, and that the but is always really important because you have to know and, and have the feeling for the numbers and the screenings to be able to not make the wrong choices going forward. Because you can, I've worked on movies or seen movies that the scores have gotten better, but the movie has not necessarily gotten better.
Kevin Goetz (05:50):
Exactly. Because it's not all about the numbers, it's all also about what people are saying, the quality of the response, like how they're embracing it. Like any brand or any good brand, you have to have sort of a love connection with it, right? And, and no better example of that is a movie that you have to sort of fall in love with it. And if you're not going to fall in love with it, you're what we call a fence sitter and we gotta figure out how to move you to the love category. But it is not a like category. It's a love category. And so, it's an emotional, you know, we say it's the science in my end of it, I say the science and the art of the audience instead of the art and the science. So science maybe gets a little bit more of the alchemy, but they're both super, super important. Todd, I want to find out a few things that I don't know about you. And, and I know that people who are smart enough to think, if I could grab some of Todd's fairy dust, perhaps I'll be, you know, half successful as he is. Where are you from? Like, where'd you, where did all this start?
Todd Garner (06:57):
Well, I'm from San Fernando actually.
Kevin Goetz (07:00):
So, you're, you're a Valley boy.
Todd Garner (07:01):
Well, yeah. Northeast Valley.
Kevin Goetz (07:04):
Todd Garner (07:04):
I grew up in San Fernando, in the town or city of San Fernando, not just the Valley.
Kevin Goetz (07:09):
They have a wonderful mission by the way, right?
Todd Garner (07:11):
Yeah. Beautiful mission. Absolutely. And no family in in the business, no connection really to the business other than when I was a kid, I just loved telling stories. And then really just got into comedy of like making my friends laugh and making tapes and making things that just made us laugh. And so, when I got into high school, I thought, I thought I would probably be a standup comic, but that, that turns out to be really hard. <laugh>
Kevin Goetz (07:41):
Todd Garner (07:42):
Yeah. Really hard. And so, um, I thought, well, hmm, if I don't do that, you know, what's another way to be able to entertain people, make people laugh? And so, I started writing. We did a lot of sketch. I created like a sketch show in high school. We did a ton of sketch. I wrote and directed I guess the closest thing would be Saturday Night Live, but in high school.
Kevin Goetz (08:04):
You mean like through the AV department, that kind of thing? The AV Club?
Todd Garner (08:08):
No, we put on, we put on shows like legit hour, 90-minute shows for the school.
Kevin Goetz (08:14):
Oh, oh, live, wow.
Todd Garner (08:15):
Yeah, that were skits like Saturday Night Live, and you know, back then we didn't have video. You know, I'm <laugh> that didn't exist. Video kind of came out right after I graduated from high school. And then, you know, from theater I thought, oh, maybe I would like to do movies maybe, maybe that's my calling. And I, and I happened to go to a college in California called Occidental College, which is a very small liberal arts college and didn't have a film program at all. Had an art program. So, I actually have, I have two degrees, a degree in economics and a degree in art. Because there's no way my father was just going to let me have an art degree.
Kevin Goetz (08:57):
Especially if he was paying for it.
Todd Garner (09:00):
Yes. Then he's a very traditional guy, doesn't still, still to this day…
Kevin Goetz (09:04):
Doesn't understand what you do.
Todd Garner (09:06):
Doesn't understand and sends me articles like, hey, I heard producing is getting harder.
Kevin Goetz (09:12):
My father does the exact same thing. Hey Kev, do you know about this thing? It's called, uh, you know, holy shit, your business could be in trouble. I, I don't, that's how my father talks. He's 93.
Todd Garner (09:24):
Streaming wars affecting you. I'm like, well, other than making 11 streaming movies.
Kevin Goetz (09:28):
Yeah. Right, right, right.
Todd Garner (09:29):
So, then I went to Occidental College and then I actually, my first job in the business, I was an editor, so I learned how to edit. I did commercials and music videos.
Kevin Goetz (09:41):
I'm looking at Gary in our booth here and he's perked up when you said that <laugh>
Todd Garner (09:49):
Well, it really was the best thing I've ever done because I use it every day.
Kevin Goetz (09:53):
Oh, absolutely. Oh, and you're so, you're so good at it. I have to just break in and say that because what you do is you are one of those rare filmmakers who can, because you were on, I think the, both the executive side, which gave you an arm's length sort of view of the process and then actually in the weeds, you got to use that skill set to know how to appropriately cut in a way that was doable. Because a lot of people propose things, but they don't have the footage. They don't have the, and you knew how to do that always. I always noticed that about you.
Todd Garner (10:30):
Well, thank you. I mean, one of the, one of the first times I ever used it in the movie business, my first movie was Father of the Bride. I was a very new CEO.
Kevin Goetz (10:41):
Junior executive. Yeah. Development executive. Creative executive.
Todd Garner (10:44):
And I was sitting in, back then we'd watch dailies all together.
Kevin Goetz (10:47):
That's where I first met you on Father of the Bride, by the way.
Todd Garner (10:52):
Yeah, yeah. We would watch dailies in a screening room all together. And I remember watching the dailies and it was myself, the senior executive and I think maybe David Hoberman might have been the president at the time and we’re all sitting in there and watching the dailies. I go, Ooh, Charles Shire and Nancy Myers directed it and like go, Ooh, ooh, they just jumped the line.
Kevin Goetz (11:18):
Todd Garner (11:19):
And the senior executive was like, what? And I go, Ooh, that's not going to cut. And the senior executive was like, after the dailies were over said, listen, you do not ever say anything like that again in daily. And I go, why? And she goes, you don't know enough to
Kevin Goetz (11:35):
Ask the right questions.
Todd Garner (11:36):
And the next day Charles <laugh> texted and said shit, we jumped the line on that. We have to reshoot <laugh>.
Kevin Goetz (11:42):
Todd Garner (11:44):
So, from then on, nobody ever questioned that.
Kevin Goetz (11:46):
I did know. You forgot to tell us who that person was. No, I'm joking. I know, I think I can make three guesses. <laugh>. That's wonderful.
Todd Garner (11:55):
And from then on, you know, no one ever thought, oh, he doesn't know how to edit. And so, the thing about editing is obviously yes, when we're in your neck of the woods and we're doing the previews, you already start thinking like, oh, okay, we gotta cut that. I can lose that. I can loop this over that. I've got coverage to be able to compress this, this scene is too long. I can get rid of this character. All that stuff. But while you're shooting, you can also just be in your head going, okay, we have enough. You know, so there's like, sometimes there's like 5, 6, 7 page scenes out here. I mean, we're literally on the beach, you know, with an eight page scene. And you know, as long as you have overs and you got closeups, you know, this is, this is Vacation Friends 2, so we have four core cast members and two new cast members. You have six people. I always feel confident that you don't have to get every take exactly right. Every word exactly right. You have enough to cut around.
Kevin Goetz (12:54):
Do you have, are you using only one camera per setup? Are you using a beat camera also, which is a very common technique now?
Todd Garner (13:01):
In comedy we always try to use two cameras. I mean, in a perfect world, if you could cross shoot everything, which means like, if you and I are having this conversation, a closeup on you and a closeup on me, that's ideal. Because you never know.
Kevin Goetz (13:14):
You never know where those happy surprises are going to come. Right.
Todd Garner (13:17):
Somebody can just do a little improv. And sometimes the reaction to the improv is the funniest thing. And it's very hard if someone does an improv to go, okay, all right now Kev, remember, remember how you felt the first time you heard that an hour and a half ago. Go. it never, you try and never is a strong word, but very rarely do you get that honest reaction. So if you can be cross shooting and you can be improving, you just have infinitely more chances to make something better.
Kevin Goetz (13:46):
I love that. And I know in movies that I've produced in the past, we've, we've done things like one would be more in, if you're doing like a two shot, you could do one more sort of a medium and one more of a wide or one in a closeup. You can play around a little bit particularly if you're on a very small budget and you don't have the ability to do a full out over and over again in different angles. You can light for like doing, you know, two different almost setups at the same time. Yeah. Which is really cool.
Todd Garner (14:15):
I mean, over the shoulders are your friend in comedy because you have both characters in the shot, but you can be on someone's back and loop a setup to a joke. Great point. So, they're always your friend and closeups are your biggest friend because you can be off the person <laugh>.
Kevin Goetz (14:31):
You know, you know, it's so funny that you said that about the editing because there was a, a filmmaker who recently said to me, I said, well why are you giving us that note? And I said, because I'm editing it as I'm going. Yeah. And he said to me, don't do that. You don't want to ever do that. And I'm like, why? And I kind of remember one of my heroes who directed the last movie before he died, Dan Petrie Sr. And I always saw him see the movie, which is why he was so economical. He was every producer's dream because he was so economical in the way that he shot that. I know he had to be looking exactly, editing exactly as he was going. Oh yeah. You know, I mean, wouldn't you want to do that?
Todd Garner (15:13):
Oh yeah. One of the greatest quotes I ever heard, we were shooting Blackhawk Down in Morocco and it was the big scene where the Little Birds and the Black Hawks were coming in and I don't know the exact number, but I think it was like 21 cameras shooting at the same time.
Kevin Goetz (15:30):
Oh, my Lord.
Todd Garner (15:32):
Kevin Goetz (15:32):
That was Ridley, right?
Todd Garner (15:34):
Yeah. And Charles Newirth, who is our head of production, who is now an incredible line producer, does most of the Marvel movies. He was our head of production. He was there and he turned, turned to Ridley. He was next to me. He goes, wow, this is a big, this is a big shot. And Ridley said, Charles, I've already seen this movie, I just have to make it.
Kevin Goetz (15:53):
Oh, oh, I have to stop for a sec. That's a good one. <laugh>. That is a wonderful one. Yeah. Thank you for confirming that for me, you know, by the way. So, tell us about your early growing up and then you moved into sort of, you went to college and had that double major. Incidentally, the double major, I just want to say I'm working on my second book. You know, my first book is Audienceology. The second book I'm working on is called How to Score in Hollywood. And it's about getting to a green light. And I just interviewed Tom Rothman at length and one of the things he says is that his job is, you know, that fiscal and financial prudence matched with, you know, being bold creatively and you had majors in two of those areas, which I find so fascinating.
Todd Garner (16:37):
Yeah, it looks…
Kevin Goetz (16:38):
Your father was kind of a help in a way because it served you well.
Todd Garner (16:45):
Right. Well, I also worked at a bank for two years because I thought I was going to go to Stanford Business School, so I went to work at Wells Fargo Bank for two years, which was a crazy, incredible experience where they taught me everything I needed to know.
Kevin Goetz (16:58):
Did you then go into an agency program after that or no?
Todd Garner (17:01):
No, so what happened was I went, well, I was going to go to, well I got out of, I was an editor, I got out of Occy and I thought, well I want to be a producer. I don't want to be an editor. So, I thought, well, I'll go to Stanford and, and kind of the train line from Occidental to Stanford was going through Wells Fargo. Because Wells Fargo back in that day used to be, used to be headquartered up in San Francisco. So, a lot of people from Wells, you know, that if you started in this training program, you'd go to Stanford. So, I went to this training program for two years and then crazily, this is the last part my dad will ever be a part of my career. He happened to be playing golf with a guy who was head of Paramount domestic television accounting.
Kevin Goetz (17:50):
Todd Garner (17:52):
So basically my dad starts talking about my career and he goes, this is the weirdest thing. It's like your son has created, trained his whole life for this one job. So, I got a job, I was Arsenio Hall’s accountant on his first year of his talk show.
Kevin Goetz (18:08):
What experience that must have been.
Todd Garner (18:10):
Because I knew production and I knew finance. And so, I remember walking onto the stage the first day at stage 30 in Paramount going, there's 500 seats in this, who's going to watch this show? <laugh>, It's a talk show. And that show became massive. I mean, Bill Clinton would play saxophone.
Kevin Goetz (18:30):
Remember that. Yeah, remember that.
Todd Garner (18:32):
So, I learned a lot about finance and accounting in production, but the thing it did more than anything is got me through those gates. And once you go through those gates, you jump forward three years in time in terms of where the business is. Cause everything you're seeing,
Kevin Goetz (18:47):
How long were you there? Sorry, how long were you there?
Todd Garner (18:49):
I was at Paramount for a year in domestic television because once I got in there, I realized there was a job called a creative executive, which I never knew existed. And you know, and everything the audience is watching right now was something that was started at least three years ago. So, when I was on the lot, I'm seeing things that are shooting and I'm like, whoa, these things aren't going to come out for two years, right? And so, there was this job called a creative executive. I go, well, I like all those words. I'm a banker. I want to be an executive and I think I'm creative. And so that I realized I didn't have the skills to do that job. And so in talking to people, they said, look, you gotta learn how to read a script.
Todd Garner (19:29):
You gotta know how to break a script down. You gotta learn how to develop. So, I took a class at UCLA extension from Bob Greenblatt, who ultimately becomes chairman of Warner Brothers, who taught me how to read a script and taught me how to break down and develop a script. And then I realized from there, after talking to everybody, guys like Jason Bateman, who I played basketball with on the Paramount lot, that you really gotta become an assistant first. So, I went to Columbia Pictures and became an assistant under the Frank Price regime.
Kevin Goetz (20:00):
Who was the person that you worked for?
Todd Garner (20:03):
I worked for Jordan Baer, who is now an agent. And he, it was the time right when Peter and John took over Columbia.
Kevin Goetz (20:11):
Oh Lord. And they redid the whole lot.
Todd Garner (20:13):
It was incredible. I was in the Thalberg building and it was just the most amazing thing to watch. Amy Pascal was an executive, John Jashni was an executive, Bob Jaffe. Darius Hatch. Wasn't Chris Lee? No. Yeah, it was, yeah Chris Lee, Teddy Zee.
Kevin Goetz (20:27):
Teddy Zee too. Oh Lord Teddy.
Todd Garner (20:29):
And so, and then from there, I realized that once you do that long enough, you learn the skills to become a creative executive. And that's when I went to Disney, and I was at Disney for 10 years.
Kevin Goetz (20:39):
And you ended up getting to the top job, which is extraordinary.
Todd Garner (20:43):
Yeah, Nina Jacobson and I were co-presidents when I left.
Kevin Goetz (20:46):
And you, you always were…I always looked at you and said, he's got it going on. Like, I always thought A, you were extremely hot, as you know, still are, still are, but also, what I loved about you, and now that I work with you in even a different capacity, we or I have come to appreciate just how decisive you are, and I love that because I'm that way too. And I think that's why we often see eye to eye. It’s like, you'll come in and say, okay, I like this project. I want to make it, here's what we're going to do. Here's the plan. Boom. And you do it. You don't think about it too much, you just f’ing do it. And that to me is like gold. And it's the reason you get to 170 movies, quite frankly. There are many people who are talented in our business, but few have the sort of that wonderful left and right brain that you can, you know, be creative but also get stuff done. And you are really a guy who gets green lights, who gets things made. You're a wonderful closer.
Todd Garner (21:57):
Yeah, I mean, one of the best pieces of advice I ever got was from Jerry Bruckheimer who just said, look, I just make movies for me. I don't know how to make movies for other people. And any time I've ever tried to guess what an audience would be for a movie; it's never worked out. If I connect to it, it in some level, I mean, look, I've made all genres. I've made female driven movies, male driven movies, but there's always, there's always something I can connect to emotionally in it, in the story or in the character. Then it generally works out. You know, it's like, it's any time I'm like, or somebody else is doing that, so let me try that, that seems like the audience wants that. I just, I'm just not great at it. So when I stick to my lane, I mean, one of the things I talked about when I started my podcast was I had an experience once when I was at a Nashville film festival. Marty Bowen had invited me to the Nashville Film Festival, and I was there, and I was with like Academy Award winners and Marty who had just come off of Twilight and I think the movie, I think I had just made Mall Cop or something.
Kevin Goetz (23:05):
<laugh>, Hey, don't laugh. That movie made some money, didn't it? Well, yeah, and now you're doing a series of it or something, right?
Todd Garner (23:12):
<laugh>? Well here's, here's what's so funny about that is out of nowhere this like older gentleman stood up and said, I have a question for Todd Garner. And he just said, why do you make such shitty movies? And Marty was like, really protective of me and was like ready to just rip this guy. I said, no, no, no, let me. I get, I get what he's saying, I get where he is coming from. So, I explained, have you ever, have you ever seen this movie called Sullivan’s Travels? And Sullivan’s Travels is a movie where this guy is a director and he's a comedy director and he is, you know, maligned and people don't really give him much respect and the critics don't love him and he decides he's going to make, make his opus, ironically called O Brother War Art Thou, which is a movie I ultimately, I ultimately made with the Coen Brothers.
Todd Garner (23:52):
But, and he goes to prison ultimately in this journey of self-discovery. And he sits in this prison and he just sees all these prisoners laughing at a, I think it's a Three Stooges movie. And he realizes what he does is important. And I feel the same way. You've been with me, I've sat in theaters where people just laugh and if I can give somebody like a couple hours of just a real solid entertainment where you can just forget your day, I think that's pretty valuable. And so, and I've had, you know, so many people throughout my career just tell me like, man, you say like, that movie saved me, like I was in a shit place, and I laughed my ass off. And I've seen it happen in my own life where people, and you're having just the worst possible thing and you can just forget your troubles for two hours. It's pretty cool.
Kevin Goetz (24:49):
I want to turn that on its ear for a second because I agree with you as a ticket to entry, you must have something that speaks to you, something that is your kind of clear purpose as a producer. Meaning it's got to touch you in some way. Whatever you're characterizing it as. Where I then have trouble with, particularly today in today's world, is you then to me need other data. You need audience feedback. You need to know, and I mean that because that's the art and the science or the science and the art because you have to know the size potentially of what you're making. And you also need to know what platform it needs to sort of ultimately go on before you shoot a frame of film, I think. And the reason I say that is because of the budgeting, otherwise you stand to be at risk, you increase your risk exponentially. Do you agree? Where do you stand with that?
Todd Garner (25:50):
I've come to you many times, I've come to you and said, hey, can you run some data for me on comps? Can you run some data for me on scores? Can you run data for me on titles? You and I've done, I've gotten into the weeds with you so many times with the data. I agree. It's interesting because I've worked for Joe Roth on my podcast. I had Mike Medavoy, I've had the big, I don't want to say old time because they're still
Kevin Goetz (26:16):
Well in our, but in our movie, in modern movies, they're that the new, they're the new, they're the new these
Todd Garner (26:22):
These guys green lit movies.
Kevin Goetz (26:23):
That's right. They're the ones they are, they…
Todd Garner (26:24):
They literally green lit them. Yeah. They green lit these movies themselves from their gut. Like these guys, Alan Horn back in the day, Teddy and you know Simolin and, and Daley, these guys green lit movies just from their gut. And, and I don't think the movies are more successful, less successful from one guy doing it or like this huge committee.
Kevin Goetz (26:44):
But if you look at Mike versus Joe, if you look at Mike versus Joe for a moment, I just want to say Mike definitely was more from the gut to me. Joe had also and has still a wonderful marketing brain. Not to say that Mike doesn't, what I'm saying is Joe would say, I would love to make Platoon and I would love to make Silence of the Lambs, but he would say, well what's the trailer look like? What's the one sheet look like? He really understood how the audience was going to perceive it. And I always respected that, you know, about how he approached the work, you know what I mean?
Todd Garner (27:23):
He taught me so much. He taught me so much about that when Jonathan Hensley and Michael Bay and Jerry Bruckheimer pitched Armageddon to Joe, they didn't have a title. And all Joe said was, it's Armageddon. And it was like, that's right. Everything clicked. That's right. And Joe said, he goes, I love one-word titles that can go on billboards.
Kevin Goetz (27:45):
Todd Garner (27:45):
Ransom, hundred percent, Armageddon.
Kevin Goetz (27:45):
You can just read 'em as you go by and you get what the movie is, you get what it is.
Todd Garner (27:51):
Home Alone. It just says what the movie is. He taught me a lot about that. And I will say, especially for comedies, I mean, I am always just happy to let the audience tell me if something's funny or not.
Kevin Goetz (28:07):
Go back to what I asked about the beginning of the process. Meaning as I said and acknowledge, you guys are rare, good executives are, almost all of them that I've worked with have some extra talent. They're hard jobs, they're hard jobs to get. They're hard jobs to keep. And you do get a certain skill set of a barometer, if you will, on what really works and what doesn't. Okay, that’s the ticket to entry. But then you're about to now green light it in this competitive world, you've got to know, right? This is where we were going before I brought us in another direction. You've got to know what you're making and, and for what price.
Todd Garner (28:46):
Well, there's two ways to look at that, right? So the first one is, well, I will say this, this is an overall thing. You mentioned you spoke to Neil Moritz before. There are guys like Neil, Marty Bowen, and Wick, and Lorenzo, and Bo Flynn, and these guys, and Jerry Bruckheimer, and there's tons, I mean, and their gut matches the popular world. Like when Neil decides I like that he just, his gut, just his innate ability is something where it's probably going to be hugely successful because he just has this innate ability to be able to put his finger on Fast and the Furious, Sonic, et cetera, et cetera. And Marty and Wick, same way. Bo obviously. And Jerry. The reason why they're getting so many movies made is it's like in line with what is going to be successful.
Todd Garner (29:40):
And not only that, they're supremely intelligent and they're really good at development. That's one thing. So just in the bigger overall picture why guys like those guys get a lot of stuff made is because they instinctively know what audiences are going to want. Even if it hasn't been done recently or isn't the popular thing at the moment. Like it becomes the next popular thing. Because just they're, you know, Jerry's gut is just golden, right? And they used to call Jeffrey that too. Katzenberg. And so that's first. Secondarily, so there's two ways movies get green lit. One is theatrical, which is everybody kind of comes together, reads the script, and everybody comes together and they have their projections. Uh, right. So, the domestic distribution has its projection, international has its projection, television, pay, cable all the way down the revenue stream have their projections of what they think the movies are going to do.
Todd Garner (30:42):
So those generally have comps. So, the comps are, this is an R rated comedy and so and so all the creatives are like, we're going to comp Hangover and Wedding Crashers. And the people that are doing the comps are like, well we're not going to comp those, we're going to comp more in the middle. So we kind of know what the risk is. And you have your high and your low estimates. Generally those estimates are pretty, are kind of padded because people want to get bonuses and not get fired <laugh>. So you're already pushing your number down and your bar higher. Then you have marketing and publicity, and marketing will be like, I know how to sell this movie or publicity's like, who's in it because I gotta get covers and talk shows. So all these people are making these decisions and, and the reason why these decisions are so fraught with danger is because not only are you spending X amount on the physical production of the movie, you have marketing, you have domestic marketing, international marketing and home video marketing.
Todd Garner (31:41):
Those three boxes are very expensive. And so, on top of just green light number, you've got this other number hanging out there that you are going to have to eventually commit to, which could be sometimes more than the movie cost. And the higher the budget of the movie, the more you want to spend to protect that investment. So it just keeps, it just keeps rising. So, it's a very, very high bar for theatrical. And has only gotten higher. And a pure streaming play is a different proposition, right? So, a pure streaming play. You're looking at a number and you have your own data and your data and their own data. And they're like, well on this movie, the comps are so many hundred hours or so many subscribers, eyeballs, or so many rewatches, or that seems like something a lot of people are going to want to watch so it should draw in a lot of eyeballs. We'll see what happens on when Top Gun hits Paramount Plus. So, it's like, how many new eyeballs are going to want to watch Top Gun Maverick? And so, are you going to add to that? So, then those metrics come in and those people come in and go look at this thing with these eyeballs and this thing, this movie's worth X. And that's pretty much it. I mean that's the number right? Because there's no other number downstream. You're not, you're not…
Kevin Goetz (32:57):
Todd Garner (32:58):
You’re generally not buying a bunch of commercials on the Super Bowl or maybe a couple movies here and there. A streamer will do that. But basically that's it. And so these numbers have been wildly disproportionate. Correct. So even on like an R rated comedy that I can make for say 25 million, that seems to everybody like, that's great. You know, an R rated comedy with this actor, actress and this thing. Great. But it's not that. Because first of all, all those people, if you're, if you're going, and, and again this is the misnomer of like, well, comedies don't work theatrical. Which, which isn't necessarily true, but what we have learned is it's far easier for a streamer to green light because it's, that's the number 25 million bucks. And they go and…
Kevin Goetz (33:43):
Because they've been so successful on the streamers, audiences have now moved towards embracing that genre, romantic comedies more so and associating them more with the streamers than theatrical. Because theatrical, you gotta remember theatrical is going as you said yourself, comedy is very subjective. So, if you feel as though it's not going to be something that is, you know, game changing and you've heard so much about, it's going to be really hard to get a big comedy to work or as I said, a romantic comedy because they are so easily accessible and they're not necessarily events. And, and now to get people to leave their homes, of course you need an event to get them out.
Todd Garner (34:28):
And there will be, and I firmly believe there will be an event and it'll change everything and there will be a Wedding Crashers or Hangover.
Kevin Goetz (34:35):
Of course, there will, of course there will.
Todd Garner (34:37):
And all of a sudden everybody will be like…
Kevin Goetz (34:38):
Todd Garner (34:39):
I mean this is, look, look at what's happened post pandemic. It's like, well no, streaming's great, but let's stay in theatrical marketplace. But, but the reason also, there's a number of reasons why comedies are easier on streaming. That is just an easier buy to be at 25 million than say 50.
Kevin Goetz (34:56):
But are they spending the same 25? The streamers on that?
Todd Garner (35:00):
They're spending more. And so why the streaming wars really heated up and why Netflix specifically could get so much material so fast is if you, any movie you're making, let's just put, I'll put any studio, let's, studio X could be Sony, Paramount, Warner Brothers, Universal, doesn't matter. Studio X and Netflix are going for any movie, any of the same movie, studio X is going to have to pay double mm-hmm <affirmative> what Netflix is going to have to pay mm-hmm. <affirmative> because Netflix generally markets to themselves, right? They generally will put a trailer out digitally, which means, which means either their subscribers will enjoy the trailer or apples to apples, it's a digital play.
Kevin Goetz (35:48):
They're also spending $5 million on marketing versus $35 million on marketing.
Todd Garner (35:52):
If that, I mean they're really only making trailers, right? And they're putting it online, which doesn't really cost that much. Right. So let, I'll benefit of the doubt, let's say it's five. There's no way you can spend five and get a movie open anywhere, right? In the world of course you're spending at least 30. Right? So, if a movie costs, let's say like Kevin, you have this great movie with really good stars and you're like the hard cost is 50 million bucks. Studio X is looking at it and going, it's not 50 guys, it's 50 plus 30 at least. Correct. So that's 80 at least. And plus, you know…
Kevin Goetz (36:28):
That's only for the domestic marketing.
Todd Garner (36:31):
And then we got international and all this other stuff and then the revenue streams, blah blah. Netflix can just go and go, Kev, don't worry about it. We'll give you 60.
Kevin Goetz (36:38):
Todd Garner (36:39):
Right. That's what would happen. Yeah, totally. Because it's not going to cost them 80 and it's the same proposition for them.
Kevin Goetz (36:44):
Todd, circling back to all those names you mentioned before, who was your, who are your like primary mentors? Or the people that you looked up to mostly when you were coming up as a wee lad?
Todd Garner (36:56):
Well I have a lot of mentors that I didn't know personally. Like Howard Hawks is one of my biggest mentors. That's a guy who I love all, mostly all of his movies. <laugh>. And he worked…
Kevin Goetz (37:07):
Todd Garner (37:08):
I mean he did Scar, he worked in different genres. He did comedies, he did man comedy, crazy thrillers. And so is Mel Brooks is a mentor. I've never met him. You know, so I read tons of film history. Like I have 11 books sitting on my desk right now on set. I just devour film history because it, first of all, it makes me feel better because nothing's changed since the thirties. It's exactly the same conversation.
Kevin Goetz (37:33):
Right, right, right.
Todd Garner (37:34):
And then my real Life mentors, my, my first real mentor was, was Jeffrey. I worked for Jeffrey. I'm in awe of him for bunch of reasons. One is that I could never ever keep up with him in any way, shape or form. Either his work ethic or as just his personal tenacity. And his, the way he conducts his life is incredible. And I learned so much from him. Joe Roth absolutely. Probably my deepest mentor ever, Jerry Bruckheimer taught me so much about making movies and he was really the first producer that I ever watched on set every day and kind of taught me like, hey man, if you want to be in the game and you want to really say something and contribute, you gotta be there. You don't get to phone it in from your desk. Sandler absolutely just massive about producing and about storytelling and about knowing your audience.
Kevin Goetz (38:26):
Knowing your audience. He does know his audience.
Todd Garner (38:29):
And being faithful to them and not giving a about what anybody else says.
Kevin Goetz (38:33):
And, and staying, and I don't mean this in a negative way. Staying in your box. Staying in the box.
Todd Garner (38:37):
Well, I was going to say that. And then he, then he comes out of his box and does Punch Drunk Love with me. He does Spanglish.
Kevin Goetz (38:42):
Did you do Punch Drunk Love?
Todd Garner (38:43):
Kevin Goetz (38:44):
Oh, I love that movie. It was very special. For those who haven't seen it, you really should. It's a very, very special movie.
Todd Garner (38:51):
Yeah. And then he does Uncut Gems, and he does The Hustle. So the guy is just phenomenal in knowing this is my core audience. I'm going to deliver to them a product that they're going to love. And then I'm also going to do these movies where I get to just throw myself at the feet of a filmmaker I admire. And nobody watches more movies than Adam Sandler. Adam Sandler called me when we released Senior Year on Netflix before anybody and goes, it's crushing on Netflix. I'm like, wow, I don't even want to know how you know.
Kevin Goetz (39:27):
Todd Garner (39:28):
And then an hour later the executive called me and goes, we're crushing. And I'm like, Sandler called me an hour ago, <laugh>. So this guy is just, not only is he, he's probably been the most generous to me in my career in terms of just personally and to my family. He's just, just an incredible person.
Kevin Goetz (39:44):
He's a wonderful, wonderful human being.
Todd Garner (39:46):
And then honestly doing 180 hours of my podcast, I've learned from every, I learned from every single person I talk to. I learned from Brad Fuller and Bo and Neil Moritz and Marty and Wick and like I said Joe and Mike and just, and DeLuca and like this, all my peers. I just, I learned so much from, and I'm, and I'm the type of person that I just, I'm the first guy to send an email or a text saying congratulations. Cause I know how hard it is.
Kevin Goetz (40:12):
You know, I've done a lot of podcasts, Todd, and many, many people say to me, I love that that podcast you did with Garner, he said you guys, he says you would challenge him. We love that. Like, because that's how you and I roll, you know.
Todd Garner (40:27):
So, for anybody that's not in the business, you don't, you don't have to even meet these people. Like, you know, you can read biographies and autobiographies about anybody now and really, you know, get a sense of who they are and, and how they operated. I did a podcast with Harry Koch Jr. And he goes, man, you know more about me than I know. How did you know all this?
Kevin Goetz (40:50):
I read your book. I did that podcast for his motion picture and television fund. That one.
Todd Garner (40:56):
Oh no, I did podcast with him for his book.
Kevin Goetz (40:59):
Oh, for his book. Got it. I was a guest on his show about, I guess a year ago. And it was great fun. And he does this wonderful job for the Motion Picture and Television Fund. Yeah. And you should check that podcast out too because it's really a shout out. I'm glad we brought him up. So, what was your big break?
Todd Garner (41:18):
I think my big break was honestly, I think, I mean it's sort of, there's like many, many, there's many pinnacle moments as opposed to big breaks. Like, I mean obviously getting the job at Disney was huge because that was right at the time. I think Pretty Woman had just been released just as I got there. And it was such an incredible time to be at Disney. And then I think for me, where my career really started to gel was, I think I had, you know, I worked on The Water Boy and then I inherited Armageddon at the end and then I did Con Air. And that period of time really started to accelerate what I knew I loved. So I did, I think I've done 13 movies with Sandler, either as an actor or as a producer. And I think like nine or ten with Jerry. And that whole period at Disney was really kind of cemented like what kind of movies I really loved and really wanted to work on.
Kevin Goetz (42:22):
And there were a lot of 'em and there were a lot of genres.
Todd Garner (42:24):
We made a lot of movies because at that point in time it was right.
Kevin Goetz (42:27):
A lot of different kinds of movies, which was so interesting. And it said something about you expanding as a man and as a professional, and explored because the original movies, the first movies were for more muscular, right? More male driven, I would say. And you sort of evolved more into, let's call it the sensitive side, <laugh> and more of the artistic side, which is a beautiful evolution. I mean, and the greats, in my opinion, you know, from Spielberg to Wilder to Hawks to so many had that variety in their cannons, you know?
Todd Garner (43:05):
As an executive, you're afforded more ability to do that as a producer. I remember right when I became a producer from Revolution, I went and spoke to David O'Connor, who was a partner at CA and he said, look man, this is hard. Like the business is getting harder. These deals are going to be few and far between. You're really good at comedy. Lock in, get your, get your feet under you and then you can start to spread out. And so I did, I did comedy out of the gate and then since then I've done, you know, Mortal Combat, Knight and Day, and some horror stuff. But look, as a producer when you're only getting paid when a movie gets green lit and getting a green light is a one in a 10,000 proposition, literally, you've gotta know your strength and really push towards that and do the best you can every day in that genre or that job.
Todd Garner (44:04):
So, like Jason Blum loved horror. Horror was dead when Jason Blum did his first movie. They were all these big bloated, huge budget horror movies that weren't working. And he did Paranormal and he just laser focused into that and has become the most successful horror producer probably ever. And, and he just locked into that and just made, did that. And then he did Whiplash and did all these other things, but he just drilled down into that as hard as he could and said, I'm going to be the best I can at this and do the best I can at that and, and then could expand. And you know, that's what Neil did with his action franchises and now he's spreading out into family stuff with Sonic.
Kevin Goetz (44:43):
Right. Very, very important. Very important. And great.
Todd Garner (44:46):
And Beau found this, Beau found this amazing partner in Dwayne and has been a fantastic partner for Dwayne. And Dwayne has been a fantastic partner for him, and they've had huge success together and you know, and Marty and Wick and their partnership and books and things like that. So, people have found their, I don't want to say niche, but found their thing that they really are the foundation of the business and built that up. And then once you have that strong foundation, you can start adding pieces to it that maybe are a little bit outside of what you're known for.
Kevin Goetz (45:16):
Yeah. Without question before we wrap this up, which I could talk to you all afternoon, I want to ask you about screenings in particular. And you and I have been through, I call it sort of a warfare on so many movies, you have a story that is memorable from a preview that perhaps because of the preview made a major change and that really affected the outcome of the movie?
Todd Garner (45:48):
Oh my God, every one, I mean every one has like a moment. And the other, the other thing I was thinking, every time I see your face, either when we're just out socially or in business, I always, if you come around the corner and I see this <laugh>
Kevin Goetz (46:08):
That's a thumbs. He's giving a thumbs up with a smile on his face.
Todd Garner (46:11):
Thank God. Like, you gimme the smile and then you come around the corner. Okay fellas, we got some work to do <laugh>. Right. And it's like you, I've seen it five, at least 500 times. Yeah. You coming around that corner with like, don't worry, you're in great shape. Or okay, we need to roll up our sleeves and get to work.
Kevin Goetz (46:28):
But always with answers because the audience speaks man, they speak and I'm just the sort of interpreter of what they're saying, right? Yeah. I mean I remember so many stories of that where they are just, you know, well…
Todd Garner (46:44):
For example, like the big, like there's been, there's been so many, but I'll just tell you a couple of, I'll tell you a funny one and then I'll tell you just my biggest takeaway from 30 years of doing this and 500 screenings with you. The, so the first one, I'll end with that. I'll end, I'll end with the funny story. But, so my biggest takeaway of all of it is, and we sort of touched on it for a moment, if you want to get your scores up, you just get rid of the stuff the audience doesn't like and give them more of the stuff they do like. <laugh>. I mean it's not that hard, right? It's not, it's not rocket science really. I mean just, just pure scores not going to make a better movie. I'm saying, look, you want to get.
Kevin Goetz (47:24):
Yeah, they like the comedy. Give more comedy, you know? Got it. And end on a huge joke.
Todd Garner (47:29):
Yeah. Give more of that. And if that's what you're shooting for is high scores, it's not saying that they're going to be high but higher. That's what you do. What you are so good at is saying what's underneath the numbers. Like what is, what is happening in your movie is this, they're not understanding this or they're not connecting to this or this ending isn't connecting because you have a problem in the beginning of the movie. That is what's been able for me to be so successful in my career, is being able to sit with you and listen and talk, get into the weeds, not just about the numbers. Because I, by the way, I'll tell you right now, Tomcats, go back and look, has huge numbers.
Kevin Goetz (48:22):
Yeah, because well I, the number I like the movie more than the critics did actually. That was your, it doesn't matter because that was your first movie out of the gate at Revolution, right?
Todd Garner (48:30):
That right, but we were just, we were just trying to see how the system worked. We, the movie cost us like $13 million.
Kevin Goetz (48:35):
Todd Garner (48:36):
And we were going in not losing money, but I'll tell you it was a self-selecting process because I think the recruit was 20 to one. I didn't even understand what that meant, which meant you asked 20 people and they're like, no, not coming to see that.
Kevin Goetz (48:48):
Of those kind one out of every 20 are coming.
Todd Garner (48:50):
One out of every twenty.
Kevin Goetz (48:51):
Which is not a good, not a good recruit ratio.
Todd Garner (48:54):
Yeah, it's awful. But weirdly you get a higher number because you're self-selecting people who only like those kinds of movies. Then you just pander to those people. You can get your scores up and the movie's not great by any means and it didn't do that great. So, what you're so good at is going under the numbers and saying, okay, here's what's happening in your movie. And if you listen and you figure out, okay, let's fix that core issue, the scores not only will go up, but your movie will always be better. So that's what I'm so grateful for you, for you on. And what I've been terrified, if there wasn't you, most people would just go to the lowest common denominator, get rid of everything that's not good in the movie. And that could be like, I don't like that character that I'm having an uncomfortable feeling. And you're like, that's what movies are supposed to do. They're supposed to make you uncomfortable. You're supposed to not like that character. Right, right. And so if you, if you water that down and give them more sugar, you know, it's like sugar's great. It's just not good for you.
Kevin Goetz (49:54):
Yeah. So thank you so much for saying that. I really do appreciate that.
Todd Garner (49:58):
Having you being able to explain that is everything.
Kevin Goetz (50:00):
Ah, thank you. Thank you. And part of the challenges in what I do often, Todd, is, and you know, you've gotta like I worked on a movie this week that is now slated for January, which is, and it was the first screening, and the movie is good. It could be really good. The question is, I love what Sherry Lansing used to say. She says, we're making a movie, we're not making a release date and she'd move the date. But because of corporate compliance and accountability and so forth and, you know, it's become very, very difficult to do, to do that. And so, what part of my interpretation needs to take into account what is realistically able to be done. I.E., no reshoots, or finishing the special effects.
Kevin Goetz (50:50):
No, I mean it's very difficult we’re in October, you know, and they, they going to have to lock in five weeks. It makes it tough because you want to be able to do even more. And so, I do hope that people begin to test their movies earlier and because you want to see if the DNA is working, if the sort of the story is landing, if there's any major confusions. And I think if they had done this particular movie a month before, but everyone was like, we don't want to show without effects, the audience will go with it. It's okay. You don't have to do a large screening. Just get some feedback from people real unfettered, unbiased feedback, you know?
Todd Garner (51:34):
Well, that's also a problem because they're, they're shooting for scores because your marketing sometimes depends on your scores.
Kevin Goetz (51:39):
That's dangerous. It's dangerous. To your point.
Todd Garner (51:42):
It’s all dangerous.
Todd Garner (51:44):
Here’s my funny story.
Kevin Goetz (51:45):
Todd Garner (51:46):
And only because I'm working with Steve Buscemi right now am I reminded of it. <laugh>. So, Jerry Bruckheimer always likes to test or did, I don't know if he still does, used to like to test his movies in Phoenix. So, we take Con Airthe first cut of Con Air to Phoenix, and I am sitting, Joe Roth is sitting to my left
Kevin Goetz (52:04):
And I know the theater.
Todd Garner (52:05):
My right is Michael Eisner. I'm in the middle because I'm the executive on the movie and if either of these gentlemen have notes, I have a pad to take notes. I think Jerry's sitting behind me and the movie is playing. And the original cut of Con Air, that Garland Green little girl scene went on for about five minutes. Where Garland Green, who is played by Steve Buscemi, the worst serial killer in the world, is sitting in a pool a drained kiddy pool playing dolls with this five-year-old girl. And it goes on so long that it's terrifying because you're just, what is he? Oh God, he is going to kill her right now. And this woman stands up, turns around because she knows people who at the movie are back there and screams, why are you doing this to us? Why are you doing this? This is terrible. And walks out and Michael Eisner turns to me and goes, we're going to trim that scene down. I, oh yeah, definitely, Michael.
Kevin Goetz (53:05):
Note to self. Great story.
Todd Garner (53:08):
Not so long.
Kevin Goetz (53:09):
And a big high to end on. Todd Garner. I love you. You're a great, great friend and an inspiration in the business and I'm just thrilled to have you as a guest. So really thank you, thank you, thank you, or Mahalo. Mahalo <laugh>. Take care. Bye. Take care. Bye buddy. What an extraordinary guy Todd is. Thank you. Thank you again. To our listeners, I hope you enjoy today's interview. Todd is on social media, including Instagram and Twitter at Todd_Garner. Also check out his podcast, the Producer's Guide and his upcoming movie, Reunion. For other stories like this one, please check out my book, Audienceology at Amazon or through my website at KevinGoetz360.com. You can also follow me on my social media at KevinGoetz360. Next time on Don't Kill the Messenger, I'll welcome Academy Award-winning film editor William Goldenberg, who has more than 20 films and television credits to his name, including Argo, The Insider, Seabiscuit, Zero Dark 30, and The Imitation Game. Until then, I'm Kevin Goetz and to you, our listeners, we appreciate you being a part of the movie-making process. Your opinions matter.
Host: Kevin Goetz
Guest: Todd Garner
Producer: Kari Campano