Don't Kill the Messenger with Movie Research Expert Kevin Goetz

Mark Gordon (Film & Television Producer) on Filmmaking, Getting into Television, and More!

May 03, 2023 Kevin Goetz / Mark Gordon Season 2023 Episode 18
Don't Kill the Messenger with Movie Research Expert Kevin Goetz
Mark Gordon (Film & Television Producer) on Filmmaking, Getting into Television, and More!
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Kevin is joined by Mark Gordon, film and television producer, Academy Award nominee, and Golden Globe winner.

Mark Gordon, Producer
Mark Gordon, a visionary producer and executive in the entertainment industry, boasts an impressive array of career highlights. From producing critically acclaimed dramas to commercially successful films, his portfolio is a testament to his creative prowess. Notable highlights include producing groundbreaking television series like Grey's Anatomy and Criminal Minds, as well as blockbusters such as Saving Private Ryan and Speed. With a knack for identifying compelling projects and pushing boundaries, Gordon has solidified his status as a true trailblazer. His exceptional talent and creative vision have been recognized with industry honors including Emmy Awards, BAFTA Awards, PGA Awards, and an Acadamy Award nomination.

Early beginnings and challenges (8:24)
Mark Gordon talks about his decision to go to film school and focus on producing, despite the fact that film schools were primarily for aspiring directors and writers. Mark Gordon talks about his early struggles in the entertainment industry and how he picked himself up after feeling like a failure.

Swing Kids and the making of Speed (15:50)
Kevin and Mark talk about the making of the movie Swing Kids, the background of the movie, and the cast. Mark goes on to discuss the development and production of the movie Speed, including how it was almost made at Paramount, the surprising audience test screening, and the unexpected success it had at the box office.

Saving Private Ryan and the challenges of screenwriting(24:08)

Mark discusses how he got involved in producing the movie Saving Private Ryan, including the process of developing the story with Bob Rodat and pitching it to studios. Mark shares the story of keeping the involvement of Steven Spielberg a secret from the studio.

Transitioning to television and Grey’s Anatomy (31:09)
Mark discusses his transition from producing movies to producing television, including his first project with Shonda Rhimes. Mark Gordon talks about his early creative relationship with Shonda Rhimes and his involvement with Grey's Anatomy, including casting decisions and the editing process. Mark shares his philosophy on producing and how sometimes the best thing a producer can do is get out of the way.

Full circle (40:25)
Mark addresses his decision to leave Hollywood for New York and London. Kevin and Mark talk about their mutual background and love for New York, and Mark’s current project, The Life of Pi on Broadway.

Tune in to hear Kevin and Mark and their fascinating conversation about producing film and television. 

Host: Kevin Goetz
Guest: Mark Gordon
Producer:  Kari Campano

For more information about Mark Gordon:

For more information about Kevin Goetz:
Audienceology Book: https://www.simon

46s Film Making
46s: Filmmakers talk origins, challenges, budgets, and profits.

Listen on: Apple Podcasts   Spotify

Podcast: Don't Kill the Messenger with Movie Research Expert Kevin Goetz 
 Guests:  Award Winning Film and Television Producer Mark Gordon
 Interview Transcript:

Announcer (00:02):

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):

Welcome, listeners. My guest today is a phenomenal film and television producer, financier, and deal maker, and I would like to just start by reviewing a list of some of his industry nominations and awards. In film, he's an Academy Award nominee, a Golden Globe winner, and two-time nominee, and a one-time BTA winner, as well as a seven-time nominee and a three-time PGA award winner. In television, he's won a Golden Globe in addition to five Emmy nominations and two wins. And in 2015, he was awarded the Norman Lear Award for Lifetime Achievement in Television by the Producer's Guild of America, an organization for which he also served as president for four years. Friends, I have Mark Gordon here with me today, and a small sampling of his many producing credits are, sit down for this one, Saving Private Ryan, Speed, The Patriot, Tomb Raider, Molly's Game, War Dogs, Steve Jobs, and in television, shows like Criminal Minds, Ray Donovan, and one of the most significant shows in television history going into its 20th season, Grey's Anatomy. More importantly than that, I have to say, when I look at Mark Gordon, I am reminded of a relationship that began 30-plus years ago.  I call him a friend and I have to say I smile when I look at him. Thanks so much, Mark, for being here.

Mark Gordon (02:17):

I am so happy to see your smiling face. And I'm smiling too. If anybody could see it <laugh>, they would see me grinning from ear to ear to be able to talk to you.

Kevin Goetz (02:27):

Well, I don't even know where to start. I keep hearing this voice saying, Swing Kids, Swing kids.

Mark Gordon (02:34):


Kevin Goetz (02:35):

That's, I think where we got to know each other. I actually, you did Opportunity Knocks I think even before that. Yep. You were partnered with our mutual great friend and someone that we both share a bromance with, Chris Meledandri.

Mark Gordon (02:50):

My dearest friend and my former partner. We found very quickly that we were much better friends than we were partners, as you know, because you've worked, worked with him for so long, he has a very deliberate, deliberate <laugh>. A deliberate, how about that?

Kevin Goetz (03:05):

That was, that was, that was the exact word if you saw I was forming or intentional. 

Mark Gordon (03:17):

You know, it's interesting, with Chris, this is the perfect Chris story, and obviously, you know, your, your listeners will presumably know that he's the producer of the Despicable Me movies and Sing and the new Super Mario Brothers movie. 

Kevin Goetz (03:35):

He's the Walt Disney of today. 

Mark Gordon (03:37):

Well, he's unbelievable. He's one of the most talented men I've ever known. And yet when we were partners, I would come into his office saying, I've got the greatest, I just heard this incredible idea, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. I'd be all excited about something. And he would do, he would basically sit there with his hands in front of his mouth and say nothing. Now he was thinking, but it took a long time to get something to come out of his mouth. And by the time he was ready to respond, I was so frustrated I had left the office because, because our rhythms were so different and, and what we found was that our approach to work was so different that we drove each other mad.

Kevin Goetz (04:30):

It's so funny. He chartered a plane for us to go to a preview two days ago on Sunday. Yeah. And made sure I sat next to him because he loves to talk about the business and theory and what's going on. And I so love that about him. He truly is just an extraordinary human being and shared with me that he had just gotten back from Jamaica with you and the family. 

Mark Gordon (04:59):

Yeah, my dearest friend. And what's interesting about Chris is, as you know, he's so serious. He's so focused. He's so exacting and such a perfectionist and you would never presume that that guy would make these joyous, wild, spontaneous movies.

Kevin Goetz (05:26):


Mark Gordon (05:26):

Funny, funny, joyous, fun. I know. And he's not those things. <laugh>

Kevin Goetz (05:32):

<laugh>. Well, I mean, Chris, if you're listening, you know how we feel about you, and keep up the good work. I was just interviewed for The New Yorker magazine, and they asked me about different folks, and I said, Chris Meledandri is so intentional, he never makes a mistake. And he says, you jinxed me or something. I said, no, no, no, it's impossible. And he doesn't because of that intentionality. It's so interesting. Now, you started, Mark, as what I relate to, and I thought I even coined this expression, but I guess you were there before I was, a hyphenate. You did a lot of things and you were speaking to areas of interest in your life early on and before you finally hit it, ultimately in Hollywood with Speed, which really kind of put you on the map. But tell me about your early beginnings, the little boy Mark, and what, what the little guy wanted. Where were you from? How did it, how did it get to be?

Mark Gordon (06:37):

I grew up in Newport News, Virginia, and you don't think about a career in show business growing up in Newport News, although I did have an uncle, a couple of uncles who owned movie theaters in Newport News. So I did go to the movies a lot, but it never really occurred to me to think that I could work in the film industry. I went to college at Boston University for a year. I was studying, I was a freshman, but I was studying psychology, and I thought that was something that I wanted to do. Ultimately, what I realized about halfway through that first year was that my real passion was photography. And so I dropped out of school, I moved to New York. I had a series of jobs from chauffeur to working at the front desk of a hotel, all kinds of things to make a buck.

Mark Gordon (07:37):

And at the same time, I was pursuing my love, which was photography, both as an artist and working for fashion photographers as an assistant and learning and shooting bootleg album covers and doing whatever I could do. Very quickly, I realized I was not ready for the real world. New York was too scary for me at 19 years old. So I decided that I would go back to school and I had a friend who had written a play, and we put the play up off off Broadway and there's a, an indie director who's been around for a long time, a guy named Henry Jaglom.

Kevin Goetz (08:24):

Oh, sure.

Mark Gordon (08:24):

And my friend's mom was going out with him at the time, and we were talking about this little play and what we were doing, and he sort of looks at me and goes, well, you're a producer. And I thought, oh, oh, okay. And a few months later I was trying to figure out what I was going to do, and I decided to go back to school. And I thought, I'll go to film school and I will go to film school and focus as a producer, not as a director. And it's very rare in film schools particularly. What was the sort of mid to late seventies film schools were art schools for people that wanted to be directors primarily, and writers and artists. And although I think that the producer is as important and as vital to the process as any other job, it was the director that was the author, the auteur, which I'm, I'm not such a big believer in unless it's somebody who really deserves that title. Anyway, I went to film school. I graduated, I moved out to L.A. I worked as a production assistant on a few television shows, the Bad News Bears TV series, Here’s Boomer, story about a dog, couple of pilots, and got an opportunity to go back to New York and produce an off-Broadway play by the same playwright friend that I was speaking of before. And it was a terrible flop. It was really depressing. I thought…

Kevin Goetz (10:00):

How'd you get the money for it?

Mark Gordon (10:03):

Beg, borrowed and stole. You know, interestingly enough, the cost of the production at Circle in the Square downtown, it was a play called The Buddy System was $150,000, which sounds like 5 cents now. And I did the play, I didn't know what I was doing. I learned an incredible amount, but at 24, I thought my life was over, that I was a failure. When we, I suspect not unlike you, the pressure that we put on ourselves is much greater than the pressure we get from the outside. And I really felt like I had failed, and it was depressing, but like anything, you pick yourself up, and I started to produce after-school specials.

Kevin Goetz (10:49):

Well, not like anything else. Not like anything else, like producers picked themselves. That's, that's the difference. That's true. Yeah. That's the difference. Others would crumble and settle and leave the business potentially, but not a great producer.

Mark Gordon (11:05):

Well, Chris always says that I'm the most resilient person that he knows.

Kevin Goetz (11:10):

And you might very well be because you have an innate enthusiasm that is infectious. But you just feel, you imbue this feeling of confidence because you really are passionate and believe in something. I was almost going to ask you what your superpower is, but I think I just answered it.

Mark Gordon (11:31):

Well, I think that's true. It's, it's basically work harder, work harder, never give up, keep going, you know, all of these, you know, what's the, what's that, uh, great book that was written a hundred years ago, How to Win Friends and Influence People, you know, just the idea that that, and, you know, this talent gets you so far, hard work gets you farther if you have a little bit of talent.

Kevin Goetz (11:59):

Absolutely. But you can't do it without talent. You can't just do it with hard work. You have to have…

Mark Gordon (12:04):

Or it's like luck. It's like luck. You have to work really hard to get lucky.

Kevin Goetz (12:09):

Preparation meets opportunity. Indeed. Yep. Yeah. Yep. Absolutely. So you come out, you do some afterschool specials, you were about to say. And you, how did you land your first feature?

Mark Gordon (12:22):

I partnered with Chris.

Kevin Goetz (12:24):

How'd you guys find each other?

Mark Gordon (12:26):

We were friends. We were introduced by mutual friends and really liked each other. I was looking to partner with someone. It's very lonely as you know, working on your own, especially when you're knocking on doors every day and mostly getting rejected. I was producing these afterschool specials, which was great because I was able to make a living. I was able to practice. I didn't have to wait tables while I was trying to do what I really wanted to do. I was fortunate that I could, could do that, you know, on a smaller scale.

Kevin Goetz (12:57):

Did you go to film school, by the way?

Mark Gordon (12:59):

Chris was working at the time for a uber producer by the name of Dan Melnick who produced a number of films and was a studio executive, and he was ready to go out on his own. And I think I was 31, Chris was 28 or 29, and we said, let's team up and see what we can do. The first movie that we produced was a very, very, very low-budget movie. I'll say that quite candidly it was a piece of garbage. It was called Brothers in Arms. And it was a $400,000 action picture about a group of survivalists who kidnap a young woman from a mall with the idea that they're going to make babies with her to continue to…

Kevin Goetz (13:51):

Oh gosh, Handmaid's Tale <laugh>.

Mark Gordon (13:53):

Yeah. It, it was really intense and violent and not something that I, I talk about very often, although I do have the poster in my office.

Kevin Goetz (14:03):

<laugh>, it's where it all began, in a world.

Mark Gordon (14:05):

Exactly. But then I had an old friend who called and said, Hey, I wrote this script, would you mind looking at it? And that was Opportunity Knocks. And that was the first legitimate movie, if you will, that Chris and I produced together.

Kevin Goetz (14:22):

Donald Petrie directed. Right?

Mark Gordon (14:24):

Donald Petrie directed it. He had just come off of directing Mystic Pizza, which was a big indie hit, made by the Samuel Goldwyn Company.

Kevin Goetz (14:33):

And it was a clue in the today, yesterday's, or no, today's New York Times crossword puzzle. 

Mark Gordon (14:39):

Is that right? Yeah. Oh, how funny. Yeah. And Chris and I produced that movie with Donald, and once that movie was done, we were only partners for a few years. He really, he really didn't like the stress of being an independent producer on his own. Sure. And he took a job working for Dawn Steel, who was at various times the President of Columbia Pictures, Paramount, and produced a number of movies with her, one of which was the first movie that they made called Cool Runnings, which was a terrific picture. And, and interestingly enough, you mentioned our trip to Jamaica. He was supposed to meet Leon, who was an actor in Cool Runnings, a Jamaican actor who was in Cool Runnings and was also supposed to, to meet the president of Jamaica because he was a bit of a, Chris was a bit of, of a celebrity in Jamaica because of Cool Runnings. So he went off and took a job and I continued to produce.

Kevin Goetz (15:43):

And that's when we first worked with each other on Swing Kids. Right. Because you made Swing Kids, not with Chris, but by yourself. Yeah.

Mark Gordon (15:50):

Yes, I did a bunch of television after he and I split up, but Swing Kids was the next movie after Opportunity Knocks.

Kevin Goetz (15:57):

I remember Django Reinhardt.

Mark Gordon (15:59):

Django Reinhardt. Yeah. Well, you know, one of the, the movie was a flop, but the…

Kevin Goetz (16:03):

The movie was so good though. The movie was, oh, thank you. And it would never get made today. It would be made maybe as a streamer.

Mark Gordon (16:10):

Or maybe as a, as a play. Maybe as a musical. 

Kevin Goetz (16:13):

Yeah. But it was something at the essence of that movie, because it has the background of the Holocaust. Right. Or the beginning of…

Mark Gordon (16:21):

Well, it deals with young Germans that lived in Hamburg. All true, historically true. These young people were anti-Hitler youth. They listened to swing jazz music. They had long hair, they wore funny English clothes. They were sort of the punks of the late 1930s in Hamburg, Germany. Had a great cast. Christian Bale in one of his earlier quasi-adult roles. Ken Branagh, Robert Sean Leonard.

Kevin Goetz (16:51):

Terrific in the movie. Yeah. Wasn't Matt Damon in it?

Mark Gordon (16:54):

No, no. Matt Damon was in Saving Private Ryan. He would've been in the third grade probably when that movie came out. Was he in Newsies?

Kevin Goetz (17:02):

No, I don't believe so. But I remember seeing a young Matt Damon and going, wow. It was a school class.

Mark Gordon (17:10):

I know what it was. It was, it was the movie about the boarding school.

Kevin Goetz (17:13):

That's right.

Mark Gordon (17:14):

And it was called School Ties. 

Kevin Goetz (17:18):

School Ties. Yes. And can I tell you, so I gotta share something with you. So not only, talk about hyphenate. So when you mentioned both Swing Kids and School Ties, I was doing voiceovers at the time as an actor, as a hyphenate, because I was a focus group moderator, but I was an actor and doing work with Barbara Harris who did your ADR on Swing Kids. And so I worked on that. I still get residuals for Swing Kids and I still get residuals for School Ties. Wow. And many, many other movies and television shows that I did like 30, 35 years ago.

Mark Gordon (17:53):

Yeah. That's a long time ago.

Kevin Goetz (17:54):

I know. And I mean, I'm getting 7 cents here and 39 cents here. And, I am a vested and proud vested member of SAG. By the way, I'm also a member of the PGA. Thank you very much for your work you did on The Mark and Oh, you're welcome. We share so much in that regard as well. And Mark, going back to you as your sort of meteoric success, Speed comes along. You read this like on a plane or something? The script?

Mark Gordon (18:22):

Yeah. It was submitted to us. I read the script and the elevator sequence, the first act of the movie, the first 15, 20 minutes of the movie was so riveting. I had never read action on the page. I'd never seen something that jumped off the page so aggressively and I was just knocked out by it.

Kevin Goetz (18:46):

And you sold it to Paramount, right?

Mark Gordon (18:48):

We sold it to Paramount and it literally took a year to make the deal for the writer who was paid scale. So don't ask me why it took forever.

Kevin Goetz (18:57):

And then Paramount never made it.

Mark Gordon (18:59):

No, they didn't make it. It's a funny story actually. We developed the script, we did a number of drafts at Paramount, and they decided that they didn't want to make the movie. So I said, okay, disappointed. But what a surprise, things don't always work out the way you expect them to. I sold the movie to Fox and about a week later I get a call from John Goldwyn, who was the president of Paramount, president of production at the time. And a new chairman came in, Sherry Lansing. And evidently, as I understand it, they gave her a big stack of scripts to read. And she came in on a Monday, you know, she read these scripts over the weekend, her first weekend read in her new job there. And she said, I don't like anything except this movie Speed.

Kevin Goetz (19:51):


Mark Gordon (19:53):

<laugh>. There was an, oops, let me get back to you on that. And so I got a call from John saying, could we have it back? Is there anything happening with it? And I said, listen, I've already made a commitment to Fox and I can't let you have it. And needless to say, they threw a lot of money at me to bring it back to them. And I didn't feel that it was ethically and morally correct. And I ended up making the movie at Fox, and I suspect given who the studio at Paramount wanted to make the movie with, and I won't name his name because he's still living the movie would've not…

Kevin Goetz (20:31):

Director, you mean?

Mark Gordon (20:31):

Yes, the director. And we made the movie at Fox with Jan de Bont.

Kevin Goetz (20:37):

Jan de Bont was a cinematographer, wasn't he?

Mark Gordon (20:38):

He was a cinematographer. Had never directed a movie before. Colossal fucking pain in the ass--

Kevin Goetz (20:48):

But delivered quite a picture!

Mark Gordon (20:51):

Oh my God. What he delivered was unbelievable. And you moderated Speed.

Kevin Goetz (20:59):

Oh yes. It's one of those nights when you watched magic happen. I don't know how else to say it. It was shocking. Tom Sherrick was like, I gotta put this thing in a prime position.

Mark Gordon (21:10):

Well, that's what happened. We came out of the screening. Look, I really liked the movie, but I had no idea that it would be an audience-pleaser. It was not an expensive movie. Keanu wasn't really a star.

Kevin Goetz (21:22):

It was such elevated suspense. Like you couldn't believe just the DNA of it. It's what you read on the plane, man.

Mark Gordon (21:31):

It's what I read on the plane and more. And Tom came out of the screening saying, we're going to put this movie on June 10th. And I was stunned. I said, Tom, we're going to get creamed by City Slickers 2. There's no way we can release this movie in June. It's not big enough. And he said, listen to me, this movie is going to be a giant hit. That's exactly where the movie should go. And I remember the day that we opened, we had a, and you'll get a kick out of this, knowing what grosses are now, we had a giant opening weekend, 16 million dollars<laugh> <laugh>, and the movie went on. You know, that was when movies could run for 15 weeks. Absolutely. Now you're in and out of the theater in five minutes and you, you better make all your money in three weekends. But that movie ran all summer. Grossed, I think domestically about 180 million, which was huge for a little under a 30 million movie. And Tom was right.

Kevin Goetz (22:36):

And spawned a sequel.

Mark Gordon (22:38):

<laugh>. Yes. Which I want to say I had nothing to do with.

Kevin Goetz (22:40):

<laugh>. Well, that, that was less than successful, but…

Mark Gordon (22:43):

That was less than successful and terrible.

Kevin Goetz (22:45):

Donald DeLine had a very similar story with The Italian Job about underestimating it. And it was Sherry Lansing that said, we're going big with this. It's fantastic. And it also proved to be a real big success for him and the studio. 

Mark Gordon (22:59):

Yeah, it was a great movie too.

Kevin Goetz (23:00):

Yeah, yeah, totally. I want to take a break right now. And when we come back, I want to get into two areas that fascinate me, how you got involved in Saving Private Ryan, and of course Grey's Anatomy. We can't not talk about Grey's Anatomy. We'll be back in a moment.

Announcer (23:21):

Get a glimpse into a secret part of Hollywood that few are aware of and that filmmakers rarely talk about in the new book Audienceology by Kevin Goetz. Each chapter is filled with never before revealed inside stories and interviews from famous studio chiefs, directors, producers, and movie stars, bringing the art and science of audienceology into focus. Audienceology, How Moviegoers Shape the Films We Love, from Tiller Press at Simon and Schuster. Available now.

Kevin Goetz (23:52):

We're back with Mark Gordon. And Mark, I wanted to talk about Saving Private Ryan. How did you get involved in what many consider to be one of the best movies of the last 25 years?

Mark Gordon (24:08):

I had read a script by Bob Rodat who wrote the screenplay for Saving Private Ryan. It was a Jack the Ripper story, but I thought it was beautifully written. I had never met Bob. He had had one movie made and I can't remember what it was. And I called his agent and I said, listen, I really, I think Bob's a terrific writer. Can I set up a meeting and throw some ideas around with him? So we met and we agreed because we really liked each other. And I know movies pretty well, and he's an encyclopedic person of knowing so many movies. And we really were having a great time together. I said, I'll tell you what, why don't we meet every two weeks until we come up with a story that we like? So we had two or three of these meetings over a couple of months, and he brought out all of his ideas and I brought out all of my ideas, and neither of us were particularly excited by anything that we had talked about.

Mark Gordon (25:09):

And he came in the third or fourth meeting, I can't remember exactly what it was, and he said, you know, I just read this story about this guy, and he's trapped behind enemy lines right after D-Day. And he had two or three brothers, not the Sullivan Brothers who all died on the same ship in the Pacific, but they were in different places. But he had a brother who had died and another brother who had died the week before. And the Army decided that they needed to get him out no matter what the cost that they needed to save this young man. He said, what do you think? And I said, that's the best story I've ever heard in my life. He said, do you think we can sell it? I said, of course we can sell it. So we prepared a pitch. I had a deal at Fox at the time. It was right after Speed, and I think I had just made a movie called Broken Arrow for them. And we took it to Fox. They passed, we took it to Warner Brothers, they passed Tristar, everybody, everybody passed. And we pitched it to Don Granger at Paramount. And he loved it. And he had to convince…

Kevin Goetz (26:26):

I thought you were getting emotional because you took your glasses off.

Mark Gordon (26:29):

Oh, no, no, no.

Mark Gordon (26:31):

It is an emotional story though. He finally convinced Paramount to buy it. Everyone else passed. Nobody was interested because who wants to see…

Kevin Goetz (26:41):

World War II, War?

Mark Gordon (26:43):

It's like Westerns, you know, until there's a great Western, nobody wants to make a Western. So they gave us the money to develop the script, and I made a deal with Bob. I said, listen, we're going to get one shot at this. We cannot give them a draft that isn't perfect. I want you to take any other work that you get, but you and I have to make an agreement that nobody gets to see this script until we're both a hundred percent happy with it. So Bob agreed, and we worked on the script for about a year. Nobody else saw it. It was just the two of us. And we literally had so many different variations. They found Private Ryan on page 30. Ryan was dead when they found him. There were just many, many, many stories. And we must have done 20 drafts of the script.

Mark Gordon (27:36):

And we finally settled on a draft and we gave it to them. I thought it was certainly the best work that I had ever done, the best script that I was ever involved in. It was certainly Bob's best work. And we did not get the kind of reaction from Paramount that I was hoping for. They liked it. But there was another movie that they were thinking about doing over there. Sergeant Rock, which was a Bruce Willis movie, was kind of a cartoony thing. And then there was an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie there called On Wings of Eagles, which was a story about a good German soldier in the Second World War. And they basically said to me, look, we've got these other projects, we're not sure which one we want to make. If you can put your movie together. And I said, listen, this is a great script. I'll give you the money back, give it back to me. And by the way, it wasn't that the script was that expensive, but I also didn't have any money. So they said no.

Kevin Goetz (28:33):

That's called belief.

Mark Gordon (28:34):

<laugh>. Yeah, it is. I believed in that script. So there were a couple of directors who were sniffing around it. And there was one director in particular who said that he wanted to do the movie. And this was a good, not great director, but we're sitting there thinking, well, you know, if they'll make it with him, we should really seriously consider this. And I got a call from Richard Lovett, who was one of the major agents at CAA.

Kevin Goetz (29:11):

Young Turks.

Mark Gordon (29:12):

Yeah. And he said, look, you cannot tell anybody about this, but Steven Spielberg is interested in directing the movie. Now, this is after I had met with Tom Hanks to see if he might be interested. I get a call from Paramount saying, we're willing to make a deal with this other director. And I said, don't do it. And they said, what do you mean? I said, you can't make that deal. I've got somebody better, but I can't tell you who it is. And they said, well, you gotta tell us. I said, I can't tell you. I don't want to fuck it up. I'm not going to tell you. So John Goldwyn said, okay, we'll wait for a minute. And this was right when Dreamworks had started. So it was a little complicated for Steven to decide to do a movie for another studio when he just started his own studio. So there was a number of conversations, and ultimately he decided that he wanted to do it. And I had the great pleasure of calling up Paramount, Sherry Lansing and John Goldwyn and saying, well, would you like to make the movie now <laugh>? And, and that, and that was me putting Tom and Steven into the movie with a great help from CAA.

Kevin Goetz (30:29):

And you put Tom into it before without a director.

Mark Gordon (30:33):

Tom was interested before there was Steven. Wow. So it all kind of happened relatively quickly. Tom spoke to Steven about it. A wonderful young agent, Karen Sage, who was an agent at CAA at the time, brought it up to Steven in a staff meeting with his group, and he decided to do it. And that's how the movie came together.

Kevin Goetz (30:54):

Wow. Wow, wow, wow. Well, what a great story that is. Let me tell you that just had me riveted. When did the relationship with Shonda Rhimes come to be? How did that happen? I think it might have been Chris Silverman.

Mark Gordon (31:09):

Chris Silverman? Yes.

Kevin Goetz (31:11):

Who represented her, or you, or both?

Mark Gordon (31:13):

Well, one of the people that worked with me on the film side of my company, Suzanne Patmore, who passed away in the last few years, she went to ABC studios to work in television. And I had gotten a call from Chris Silverman sometime around that time.

Kevin Goetz (31:35):

He ran ICM, for those of you who aren't aware yet.

Mark Gordon (31:38):

Ran ICM at the time. He was an agent at Broder Kurland Webb Uffner. And they were a smaller boutique agency who had great clients. And he called me up, I didn't know who he was. And he said, listen, I've had some success with feature producers helping them transition into working in television. Would that be something of interest to you? And I said, absolutely. And you have to remember that television was pretty much at that time, purely a writer's medium. There were very few non-writing executive producers. There was Jerry Bruckheimer who had just dipped his toe into television.

Kevin Goetz (32:14):

Brian Grazer.

Mark Gordon (32:15):

Brian who had, I'm not sure at that point…

Kevin Goetz (32:19):

If he was in television yet?

Mark Gordon (32:21):

I don't know that he had done any series. I know he had done movies, but it was very early days. We're talking 20 years ago. And back then there were movie producers and there were television producers. Sure. And there was no, there was no crossover. So I was interested in getting into television because I thought it was interesting and it was another way of telling interesting stories. And he said, would you be interested in meeting with me? So I had lunch with him and he said, this is how I think we could set you up as a television producer. So I ended up starting to develop some projects and I developed a couple of things. One of the things that I developed was a project with his client, Shonda Rhimes. The first thing that we worked on together was a story about female war correspondents.

Mark Gordon (33:10):

It was a great script. And we got very, very close to getting a pilot made, but they didn't make it. And so the next year, Suzanne, my friend was at ABC, so she was very supportive. Guy named Mark Pedowitz who went on to run the CW among other things, and was the head of ABC Studios, or I think it was called Touchstone at the time. They were very supportive of me. And so Shonda had a line deal at the studio and we decided that we would work on something else for the next pilot season. We went in, we pitched a few things and I can't even remember what they were. And the executive who we were sitting with said, well, we need a medical show. So we said, yeah, we could do a medical show. So Shonda went off and came up with Grey's Anatomy and we pitched it, they bought it, she wrote it, they agreed to make the pilot.

Mark Gordon (34:08):

We hired a director who was, in my view, incredibly talented, but didn't really have any heat on him. But I really believed in him. A guy named Peter Horton who was an actor on 30 Something. Yep. And he had directed a few pilots, but was frankly a little cold. But I really believed in him. Peter, myself, Shonda, and a woman who worked for me at the time, Betsy Beers, who now and has worked with Shonda for many, many years, cast the show. One of the big arguments that we had with the studio was that they wanted us to cast Rob Lowe in the McDreamy part. Oh. That Patrick Dempsey played. And we said, we really don't think that's a good idea. And pushed really hard. And we were able to win that fight. And obviously he was a big part of the success of the show.

Mark Gordon (35:04):

We cast Meredith Ellen Pompeo. She really hadn't done much. We saw her in a little movie that she did with, I think it was Jake Gyllenhaal, it might have been Dustin Hoffman or both of them. And we really liked her. We cast her in the part. We cast the rest of the roles with unknowns. We made the pilot. An executive who shall be unnamed, thought that after three days of shooting, we should fire the director. And I said, absolutely not. He's doing a great job. And I'm sorry you don't see it, but wait till we cut it together. And we finished the pilot and we were sitting in the editing room, and this is when I realized how unbelievably talented Shonda was and is. And I'm sitting in there with Betsy and Shonda, Peter Horton and myself. And she had never really been in the editing room before.

Mark Gordon (36:02):

Wow. And I had edited a number of movies and after-school specials. And so I was pretty confident mm-hmm. <affirmative> in the editing room, as was Peter. And we had an editor that Peter had worked with and Shonda says, what if we try this? And I said, I don't think that's going to work, but let's try it. And we tried it. I don't remember what it was. And I was like, oh, that's really, oh, that worked. That's a surprise. A few minutes later she goes, well what if we, what if we put this music under this scene?

Kevin Goetz (36:32):

Oh, I knew you were going to say, the music was such an integral part of that show.

Mark Gordon (36:35):

I said, you can't put music with lyrics under dialogue, but let's try it. Fuck if it didn't work.

Kevin Goetz (36:43):

Oh man.

Mark Gordon (36:44):

There were a couple of other things. And so I said to her, I'm going to leave now <laugh>, what do you mean? I said, you clearly have such an understanding of what you want and what this thing should be. And now we're talking 20 years ago. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, I was in my mid-forties. I said, I'm an old guy. I've been thinking about putting the Rolling Stones music in here. And you know exactly the kind of music, you know exactly how it should go. You have this in your head, I'm going to leave and I'll come back at the end of the day and show me what you've done. And it was unbelievable. And I've always believed that a producer's job is to make the best film or television show that you can. And sometimes that means getting out of the way.

Kevin Goetz (37:34):

Oh, Amen. Amen.

Mark Gordon (37:37):

And so I said to Peter, we're leaving. You're old too. He said, I'm not leaving. I said, you're leaving because she's in charge. And I left her and Betsy there and we came back and we all worked together.

Kevin Goetz (37:50):

Sure, sure, sure.

Mark Gordon (37:51):

But it was her vision. And at that point, I realized this woman is unbelievably talented. Yes, she wrote a great script, but she knows exactly what she wants. Mm wow. And what she wants is Right.

Kevin Goetz (38:06):

Wow. What a story. And as I said, 20 years on the air. Yeah. Unbelievable. Are you still on that project? Are you still a producer of Grey’s Anatomy?

Mark Gordon (38:17):

I still get paid <laugh>. I will tell you that in the spirit of get out of the way, I was very involved in the first year. But it, it became very clear to me that my job was to do what was asked of me and be another cook in the kitchen. And I give her all the credit for the show because after the first year we had a lot of problems with cast and the show.

Kevin Goetz (38:48):

Oh, negotiations. 

Mark Gordon (38:51):

And yeah, it was very, very difficult. But after that, I mostly got out of the way.

Kevin Goetz (38:55):

It's a great thing for listeners to hear about that as an element of success is you don't always have to be in there and control it. Yeah. Good lesson for me as a business owner. I've had to learn the hard way how to be less of a micromanager and really let the people who you're hiring to, it's not even a self-facing comment. Sometimes I'll say, Kevin, why is your company so successful? I say, well, I hire people better than I am. I mean, believe me, I know I've got a healthy ego, but never a big ego. So I know exactly how to say, oh, that's not my wheelhouse. Let me get out of the way if you will. We share so many things that way, Mark, I love that philosophy.

Mark Gordon (39:38):

What's interesting, and the opposite can be true too. I've had shows, television shows, or movies where I never ever left the building, so to speak. I was there for every minute. I had a show that had multiple showrunners over a period of time. I had a show that was quite successful that the creator got fired for some inappropriate behavior after the third episode, the showrunner didn't want to stay. I was in there on every script. I was in the editing room, cutting the episodes for years until the show really found its feet. So you just have to know when to stay in, when to get out, and everything in between.

Kevin Goetz (40:25):

Now you had a romance with Hollywood for years and years, and then you decided to move to London and to New York and leave Hollywood. Why?

Mark Gordon (40:37):

Yeah, you know, I had sold my company to a company.

Kevin Goetz (40:42):

The Mark Gordon Company.

Mark Gordon (40:44):

The Mark Gordon Company. Eight, nine years ago. I sold them 50% of the company. And it was a, a wonderful speaking of romance, it was an incredible time for me because I had the money to be able to finance shows that we actually owned as opposed to just being a producer for hire. So aside from the fact that I was able to put some money in my pocket, I also had a cashflow that generated internally that allowed us to finance our own shows, which made the company ultimately in success more valuable. After about three and a half years for a number of reasons, I sold them the other half. And my job, and I had a five year contract, was to run their entire operation, folding my operation, which had been independent into theirs.

Kevin Goetz (41:38):

You're referring to eOne.

Mark Gordon (41:39):

eOne. And they were a public company. Whereas prior to that time, I really didn't have to pay much attention to quarterly reports and all the things that are critical in a public company. It's not just, are you doing good work, but it's, when's the money coming in and how much is going out and how do we push this here? And after a year, I realized this is not what I want to do. This is not how I want to spend my time. And frankly, this is not what I'm good at. I thought I was good enough, but I kept saying to them, I'm spending so much time managing and not enough time doing. And the value that I have to you is the doing, is the making. And I'm spending too much time in board meetings and quarterly earnings business.

Kevin Goetz (42:33):

It's not who you are, it's not truly who you are. You can do it, but it is not your DNA.

Mark Gordon (42:40):

Exactly. And I realized, okay, both of my kids are older, children are out of the house in college. My youngest is six, so moving her wouldn't be so difficult. And I thought now's a great time to move to New York and continue to be a producer, but also to start producing theater and producing Broadway and producing off-Broadway and in London in the West End. And so I wanted to try something new.

Kevin Goetz (43:15):

That's a full circle, man, that's a full circle from your time. Um, with Henry Jaglom and the Off-Off Broadway theaters.

Mark Gordon (43:25):

And also I thought, you know what? I need a change. I don't love living in L.A. I've always wanted to move back to New York. I was happy to move to London because my wife is British. We still have four television shows on the air, Grey’s, Criminal Minds, The Rookie, and The Rookie Feds. So I'm very engaged in our television business, plus all the new things that we're developing. We're making a series of film and television shows for Netflix based on the C.S. Lewis Narnia books. We've got another movie that we're getting ready to do and some limited series getting ready to be made. It's funny because I moved to New York, six months later COVID hit and now even if you're in L.A., people don't want to meet with you in person. They want to meet, we'll resume. There is a look, I'd rather be in a room with a writer than on Zoom, but I've adapted.

Mark Gordon (44:24):

But when it comes to certain kind of meetings with executives or pitch meetings, when you think about the fact that you would drive an hour from your office to Netflix, you'd sit in the lobby for 15 minutes, you'd go up, you'd shoot the shit for a while, it's half a day instead of literally 45 minutes. So the ability to get more work done, particularly with executives and pitches and meetings that are less creative, so to speak, in terms of writers and so on, which I much prefer doing in person if I can. Covid changed our business so dramatically. You don't have to be in L.A.

Kevin Goetz (45:01):

So you're loving it now in New York?

Mark Gordon (45:04):

Oh, I love being in New York. It's been off and on.

Kevin Goetz (45:07):

I'm a New Yorker at heart.

Mark Gordon (45:08):

I know you are, like me, and there's an energy to this city. And I find creatively that there's so much going on and that it stimulates me creatively. I go to the theater, I go to the movies. I see ballet, I go to the concerts. L.A. is just a different kind of town.

Kevin Goetz (45:27):

I have to say this as we end this interview is our lives are very paralleled in terms of our trajectory as sort of where we started, the different ways that we got there, but going to a certain place in our careers and then coming back to what we loved. And yep, there's a self-awareness to that, I think. And I just applaud you for it, and I'd like to think that I possess it also. And thank you so much for taking this time to share in what I think is going to be one of my best interviews because you are just who you are.

Mark Gordon (46:05):

Thank you, my friend.

Kevin Goetz (46:06):

A mensch, and Hamish are my two words for you,

Mark Gordon (46:08):

<laugh>. I'll take both of them. And ditto, you're the same kind of guy as me in that respect too, and I so appreciate it.

Kevin Goetz (46:16):

Have a wonderful rest of the day. To our listeners, I hope you enjoyed our interview today. And I encourage you to check out Mark's body of work, including the new Broadway show that he is involved with called Life of Pi. For other stories like this one, please check out my book, Audienceology at Amazon or wherever books are sold, or through my website at You can also follow me on my social media at KevinGoetz360. Next time on Don't Kill the Messenger, I'll welcome Jim Gianopulos, who previously was the chairman of both 20th Century Fox and Paramount Pictures. Until next time, I'm Kevin Goetz, and to you, our listeners, I appreciate you being part of the movie-making process. Your opinions matter.


Host: Kevin Goetz

Guest:  Mark Gordon

Producer: Kari Campano



(Cont.) Mark Gordon (Film & Television Producer) on Filmmaking, Getting into Television, and More!