Magazine article The New Yorker

THE BIG TIME MADE EASY Series: 4/5

Magazine article The New Yorker

THE BIG TIME MADE EASY Series: 4/5

Article excerpt

One recent evening at the Omni Berkshire Place Hotel, in midtown, sixty would-be producers and writers crowded into a conference room to attend a two-hour seminar given by the producer Jean Doumanian. The event, entitled "Learn How to Get Your Play or Movie Produced," was sponsored by the Learning Annex, so the audience was naturally expecting that all doors would be opened, all secrets revealed.

Doumanian, a slim woman of sixty-eight, is a producer of Broadway's "Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune" and the new film "All the Real Girls." The evening was mostly questions and answers, as Doumanian's presentation--an impressionistic tour of her resume--ended after seven minutes. When a question perplexed her, she frowned and batted at the bangs that hang over her eyes like a birdcage cover.

Believe in your stories, she declared several times, and then find the right people to fund and realize them. In Doumanian's case, those people were her wealthy boyfriend, Jaqui Safra, and Woody Allen. That trilateral relationship began in 1993, when Doumanian used a small part of Safra's fortune to bankroll Allen's film "Bullets Over Broadway," and ended eight films later, in 2001, when Allen sued her and Safra, claiming he'd been cheated out of about fifteen million dollars. (The suit, and her counterclaim, were quietly settled.)

A path like hers--first, befriend a world-famous director; then date a zillionaire--is not for beginners. A woman wearing a wool headband started things off by asking how to find a distributor for her film.

"Try to get a European sales agent," Doumanian suggested. "There's a fellow named John Sloss--"

"How do you spell it?"

"I don't know," Doumanian said. "I've never worked with him."

"Do you have to prepare a treatment if you're pitching a script?" a man asked.

"If you write a treatment as well as you write a screenplay, yes," Doumanian said.

"Do you need an agent?" someone else asked.

"An agent is best to have, but most people can't get an agent. If you have a very successful play, you can get an agent." Demystifying Hollywood still further, Doumanian explained, "Everybody can open a movie until they can't. John Travolta was hot, and then he wasn't, and then he was again. There's a pyramid." She made a steeple of her index fingers. "Over here is people on the way up. Over here, on the way down."

A playwright inquired how to get his play produced. "Take the bull by the horns," Doumanian replied. …

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